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Should you discuss mental health issues in your college essay?

by Erica L. Meltzer | Oct 20, 2018 | Blog , College Essays | 6 comments

Image ©Nickshot, Adobe Stock

Note, January 2022: This post was written in 2018, before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Obviously, many things have changed since then, not least the amount of psychological pressure that many high school students have experienced. Clearly, some of the boundaries and expectations surrounding acceptable/advisable topics for admissions essays have shifted, and applicants undoubtedly have more leeway in discussing mental-health issues than they did in the past. That said, I would still caution against making this subject the exclusive focus of your essay(s). If it happens to be relevant—and it very well might be, given the events of the last couple of years— then you should focus on discussing it in a mature way that conveys qualities such as empathy and resilience, and that demonstrates your ability to reflect insightfully on what may have been very difficult situations.  

As regular readers of my blog may know, I periodically trawl the forums over at College Confidential to see what’s trending. Recently, I’ve noticed a concerning uptick in the number of students asking whether it’s appropriate for them to write about mental health issues, most frequently ADD and/or anxiety, in their college applications.

So the short answer: don’t do it.

The slightly longer version:

If you’re concerned about a drop in grades or an inconsistent transcript, talk to your guidance counselor. If these types of issues are addressed, the GC’s letter is the most appropriate place for them. If, for any reason, the GC is unable/unwilling to discuss them and the issues had a significant impact on your performance in school that unequivocally requires explanation, you can put a brief, matter of fact note in the “is there any additional information you’d like us to know?” section, but think very carefully about how you present it. Do not write your main essay about the issue.

The full version:

To understand why these topics should generally be avoided, you need to understand what information colleges are actually seeking to gain from the personal statement. Although it is technically a personal narrative, it is, in a sense, also a persuasive essay: its purpose is to convey what sets you apart from the thousands of others with equally good grades and scores, and to suggest whether you have qualities that make you more likely to thrive at university x than the other 10 or 15 or even 20 applicants clamoring for that spot.

Now, whether such thing can actually be determined from 650 words (with which some students receive significant help) is of course questionable; however, the bottom line is that, adcoms are looking for students who will be successful in college. Discussing one’s inability to focus or intense aversion to social situations does not exactly inspire confidence, even if a student insists those problems have been overcome. Leaving home, dealing with professors and roommates and more challenging classes… Those are all major stressors. There is a tacit understanding that of course some students will flame out, have breakdowns, etc., but adcoms are understandably hesitant to admit anyone who is already at a higher risk for those issues. You want them to be excited about the prospect of admitting you, not debate whether you’ll really be able to handle college. (In fact, I had multiple students with various issues who were not truly ready for college and who did flame out — colleges have good reason to take these things seriously.)

This concern goes beyond any particular student’s well-being: graduation rates get factored into rankings, and every student who doesn’t make it through drags that statistic just a little bit lower. If a student does develop serious problems while on campus, there are also potential legal/liability issues involved, and no school wants to deliberately court those.

Besides, if your grades are iffy, it is extremely difficult not to sound as if you are making excuses. You are much better off talking about an experience or interest that will make them look past the transcript and think, “Hey, I really like this kid.” And the reality is that if your grades are that iffy, you’re probably not a competitive candidate at super-selective colleges anyway. These schools are looking for applicants who are on the way to fulfilling their potential, not for ones who need to explain away chronic underachievement.

In addition, one thing applicants — and sometimes their parents — have difficulty wrapping their heads around is the sheer number of applications the average admissions officer has encountered. Situations that may seem extreme and dramatic to adolescents who have recently confronted them may in fact have already been experienced — and written about — by thousands of other applicants. A 17-year old may believe that describing their anxiety in morbid detail will make them seem complex and introspective, but more likely it will only come off as overwrought and trite.

I know that might sound harsh, but please remember that admissions officers are coming at this process with no pre-existing knowledge of you as a person, only a few minutes to spend on your essay, and hundreds of other applications to get through. They are also under intense pressure to ensure that the appropriate demographics targets are being met and all the various institutional constituencies (coaches, development office, orchestra conductor) are being satisfied. They’re not ogres, and they’ll try to give you the benefit of the doubt, but if yours is the fifth essay about overcoming anxiety they’ve seen in the last 48 hours, they will look at it and reflexively think, “oh, another one of these.” That is not a first impression you want to make.

Now, are there exceptions? Yes, of course, but they are rare. In all the time I did college admissions work, I had exactly one student successfully discuss anxiety in an essay. It was, however, introduced in the context of a family tragedy that had profoundly shaped the student’s life; given that background, the discussion seemed natural and matter of fact rather than overdramatized. Even so, I made the student take a good week to think about whether that topic was truly the one they wanted to write about.

Ultimately, of course, the decision is yours, and the choice depends on the larger story you want to tell as well as your ability as a writer, but these topics are so difficult to pull off well that you are best off avoiding them if you can (particularly if you don’t have access to someone with a lot of admissions experience who can review your essay). Find another topic/ experience that you enjoy writing about (and that others are likely to enjoy reading about); that presents you as someone interesting and thoughtful; and that suggest you are ready to thrive in college.

If you really are concerned about your ability to function in college, most schools have plenty of resources for you to take advantage of (academic support, counseling center, etc.). But those are things to investigate after you get admitted. Before that, don’t go out of your way to fly red flags where none are warranted.

Why is Dyslexia ok to mention on an essay, but overcoming selective mutism is not?

Dyslexia is a learning disability that lends itself to proof that it has been overcome through excellent scores in reading and writing. It’s not easy to overcome or cope with dyslexia so an essay showing how a student did it demonstrates their tenacity and resourcefulness. Grades and scores are proof that the dyslexia will not be a problem in college, while the essay can highlight the characteristics that led to the student’s success and which will serve them well in college.

I wrote about how my dog helped me overcome me ending my life/depression and moving to another school is that too common

Thanks for the tips and perspective. It seems like common sense to me as a parent and tutor, but now I have an “established author” to cite!

I want to write about how depression had change me. But my grades and statistics are all great. Is this okay to write? My bad mental health somehow didn’t manage to get to the others parts of my life.

Is it okay to write about how despite psychosis I could manage to get good grades?

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Mental Health in College Students – From Application to Enrollment

August 16, 2022

should i write about anxiety in my college essay

Sometimes it takes unspeakably tragic events to bring the existence of a widespread problem into the national conversation. In the past decade, highly-publicized suicides at Penn, Hamilton College, MIT, NYU, and Cornell, among others, have moved the discussion of mental health in college students right to the forefront of the higher education discourse.

Thankfully, these are, of course, extreme cases of mental health challenges. However, the shift in focus could benefit the massive numbers of students who enter college each year with depression/anxiety. According to a survey by the CDC in 2022, 44% of American adolescents report feeling persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness; 28% said that they had thoughts of self-harm at some point in their lives. Perhaps even more startling is the fact that only an estimated 40% of those suffering actually receive any form of treatment (the National Institute of Mental Health). According to just about every survey in the world conducted after March 2020, the pandemic has had a profoundly determinantal impact on teens’ (and everybody’s) mental health.

In this piece, we will offer recommendations for dealing with depression/anxiety on your college application. But perhaps more importantly, we will share what mental health experts and current research says are important considerations for managing your illness on campus.

*Disclaimer: Mind you, we are college planning experts, not mental health experts. We are merely summarizing mental health considerations as related to college admissions and attendance. Your mental health provider may offer additional advice based on the specifics of your situation .

Impact on your high school career

For many, dealing with a mental health condition will negatively impact their high school career in some way, potentially impacting areas such as academic performance, school attendance, teacher relationships, and extracurricular involvement. There is ample statistical evidence to support this. For example, students with social phobia are twice as likely to fail a grade as those without. Students with a depression diagnosis have been found to earn significantly lower grades than their similarly-abled peers.

Given the impact of mental illness on a teen’s academics, a significant number of high school seniors are faced with a difficult choice each year—do I reveal my condition on my college application? There is no blanket answer that will guide every applicant. Ultimately, the decision to reveal your condition is an entirely personal one.

Did your academic performance suffer?

Perhaps your mental health issues were managed successfully and never impacted your grades. If this is the case, we advise that there is no reason to reveal your condition on an application. You should, however, still check out our recommendations on how to check out a college’s mental health services (below).

If your academic performance did suffer as a result of your condition and you do choose to share your challenges with prospective colleges in an essay and/or interview, we recommend that you consider framing your experience in one of the following ways:

The “overcoming obstacles” angle

Overcoming challenges and citing evidence of personal growth can be a winning story arc. If a bout of depression during your sophomore year contributed toward failing grades but you received treatment and rebounded academically the following year, then revealing that journey may be extremely helpful to your admissions chances. Knowing that you faced a significant challenge in your life and successfully emerged from it speaks volumes about your resilience, maturity, and grit, traits that are greatly valued by admissions officers.

Weakness as strength

Another approach is highlighting the strength that you draw from what others call an “illness.” An associate of Abraham Lincoln said of our 16th president that the “melancholy dripped from him as he walked.” Yet, many historians feel that Lincoln’s lifelong depression helped sparked his legendary wisdom, insight, and brilliant strategic thinking. Lincoln was hardly alone. Many of the greatest, most creative minds throughout history were, at least in part, driven by mental conditions. Darwin, Michelangelo, and Einstein were all likely sufferers of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. If we were to list all of all the great writers, artists, comedians, actors, and directors who were influenced by depression and anxiety, this blog post would be longer than the 1,017 page novel, Bleak House,  penned by Charles Dickens, who was himself a lifelong victim of severe depression.

The semantic shift

Cautious applicants might consider simply substituting the term “medical condition” for “mental illness.” After all, mental health issues are treatable medical conditions in the same vein as mono or a broken bone. Simply stating that you were afflicted by a “serious medical condition” which caused a temporary academic decline and led to you quitting the school newspaper and the baseball team will suffice.

Check out a college’s services ahead of time

In a recent survey of college students with a diagnosed mental health condition, 45% rated their respective college as being somewhere between supportive and very supportive. The other 55% felt that mental health care on campus was less than ideal. Factors that were rated as being most important by students included: access to a psychiatrist for medication management, a 24-hour crisis hotline, community connections to additional mental healthcare, and the school’s overall culture of understanding that college can be stress-inducing and that mental health is paramount.

It is essential that parents and students research the mental health services on campus ahead of time. Check out each prospective college’s counseling office online to get a sense of what is available to students. If a college does not offer long-term therapy on campus, then parents should take the reins and find a good private therapist located near campus who accepts their insurance. Do this well before school starts.

Colleges are expanding mental health services

Many state universities, despite budget crunches, are recognizing the need to expand their mental health offerings. For example, in the fall of 2017, UCLA began offering free online screenings for depression; 2,700 students took advantage. Ohio State opened a dozen new mental health clinics in 2016. Penn State has increased their spending on mental health significantly in the last few years. The University of Michigan and Virginia Tech, in an attempt to make mental health more accessible, have embedded counselors in buildings around campus, rather than at one centralized location. Many schools operate prevention/wellness programs that assist students before they enter a crisis. These schools include Harvard, Georgia Tech, UVA, and Bowdoin College.

Amherst, Skidmore, Princeton, Drexel, and Carnegie Mellon are just a handful of schools that now offer access to 24-hour crisis hotlines manned by either peers or professional counselors. Unfortunately, excessively long wait times for a counseling appointment at many schools persist. At schools like Northwestern, Carleton College, and WashU, wait times to see a counselor range from one-to-three weeks.

Relevant statistics on mental health at college

Just to highlight some other meaningful stats on the subject:

  • Only 50% of college students report disclosing their mental health issue to their school
  • Of those with a diagnosed mental illness who dropped out of college, 64% directly attribute this event to their condition/disorder.
  • Only 36% of college students with a mental illness are sure that their university includes mental health information on their website.
  • 39% of students reported a wait time of 5+ to obtain an appointment for clinical services and supports.
  • 73% of those entering college with previous mental health concerns have experienced a “mental health crisis” while on campus.
  • Half of students believe that their peers will think less of anyone receiving treatment for mental health.
  • The percentage of college students seriously considering suicide has doubled in the last decade.
  • More than 1,000 suicides occur on college campuses each year.

College Transitions bottom line

If you are going to discuss your depression, anxiety, or other mental condition in your application, do so in a strategic manner for the purpose of illuminating otherwise unexplained inconsistencies in your academic record. A well-conceived and well-delivered narrative about your struggles with mental illness can be beneficial to your admissions chances. Contrarily, a poorly crafted disclosure may have the opposite effect.

Of even greater importance is that you do your research on the mental health services offered at each prospective college. Ensuring that the necessary supports at your disposal is critical to your overall well-being.  It is also likely critical to your academic performance over the next four years.

To view hundreds of free and easy-to-sort tables of higher education data, visit our DATAVERSE .

  • Application Strategies

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Andrew Belasco

A licensed counselor and published researcher, Andrew's experience in the field of college admissions and transition spans two decades. He has previously served as a high school counselor, consultant and author for Kaplan Test Prep, and advisor to U.S. Congress, reporting on issues related to college admissions and financial aid.

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Is it OK to discuss mental health in an essay?

Mental health struggles can create challenges you must overcome during your education and could be an opportunity for you to show how you’ve handled challenges and overcome obstacles. If you’re considering writing your essay for college admission on this topic, consider talking to your school counselor or with an English teacher on how to frame the essay.

Also Found On

Writing Anxiety

What is writing anxiety?

“I sit down but then choke.”

“I paralyze myself by overthinking.”

“I feel completely unprepared.”

“I’m terrified that my ideas won’t be good enough.”

If you’ve had thoughts like these, you’re not alone. Many experience writing anxiety as “negative, anxious feelings (about oneself as a writer, one’s writing situation, or one’s writing task) that disrupt some part of the writing process”  (McLeod) . The word  anxiety  originates in a Latin verb for “choke, strangle, squeeze.” By reflecting on what causes these panicky feelings and by devising strategies to handle them, you can discover how to breathe better. You can gain more confidence in yourself as a writer and have more optimism when a teacher says, “Please write an essay on. . . .”

Who experiences writing anxiety?

Everyone from first-year students in composition classrooms to tenured faculty members “are agitated as they compose”  (McLeod ,  Scott ). So are anthologized authors. In  Slouching Towards Bethlehem , the iconic collection of essays on sixties counterculture, Cal graduate and master prose stylist Joan Didion describes writing as an activity that can make a person feel brain-damaged: “[T]here is always a point in the writing of a piece when I sit in a room literally papered with false starts and cannot put one word after another and imagine that I have suffered a small stroke, leaving me apparently undamaged but actually aphasic.”

Once you start looking for famous writers who had difficulties writing, the examples add up fast. Novelists Thomas Mann and Gabriel García Márquez experienced writing anxiety, though they also persevered to receive Nobel Laureates in Literature. Mann points out: “A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people” as quoted in  The Writer’s Chapbook  edited by George Plimpton. No one picks up gel pen or pounds a keyboard because it is easy; even starting is hard, as García Márquez admits, “One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph” (Plimpton). Even Franz Kafka, creator of unforgettable Gregor Samsa whose creepy transformation into a huge critter has mesmerized readers for over 100 years, confides in his diary: “June 7. Bad. Wrote nothing today. Tomorrow no time” ( Diaries of Franz Kafka ).

These well-known names help us remember a positive point. Writing anxiety happens to those who  can  write, to those “intellectually capable of the task at hand, but who nevertheless have difficulty with it”  (McLeod) . Difficulties are not unexpected. In  From Student to Scholar  Keith Hjortshoj points out, “[R]unning into trouble, getting confused, and feeling temporarily immobilized are normal writing experiences.”

That writing anxiety is both common and conquerable is comforting for us all.

What causes it?

Writing anxiety is often situational, as Hjortshoj explains in  Understanding Writing Blocks . A student may feel confident crafting a letter to a newspaper editor about LGBTQ+ rights, but not a literary analysis essay. Another student might happily draft countless versions of a short story but balk at the thought of writing a research project. Someone else might prefer writing only financial analyses for economics class.

Several worries and uncertainties contribute:

  • Fear of judgment
  • Fear of not doing well
  • Fear that criticism of an essay is the same as criticism of a person’s self-worth
  • Fear from past bad memories and negative experiences with academic writing
  • Fear that a teacher will not agree with your argument
  • Concerns for grade point averages
  • Fear of being judged “arbitrarily”
  • Conflicting information on how to write
  • Pressure of feeling the first draft must be perfect
  • Misconception that every word must be edited as you work on a first draft
  • Fear of writing any essay that is less than “perfect”
  • Disorientation from not managing time and multiple projects well
  • Impatience with creating any draft past the first one
  • Feeling alone in the process

What strategies are helpful for dealing with writing anxiety?

Get support.

  • Remember that for all the ways that writing is a solitary activity, it is also about community and dialogue. Reach out for help to your campus Writing Center. Read “Why Visit Your Campus Writing Center?”  (Raforth) .
  • Find a good tutor.
  • Get to know your teacher. Drop in for office hours. Make an appointment.
  • Talk to friends and family. Sound out ideas over the phone. You can hone an argument that way.
  • Find a writing buddy who encourages you throughout the semester to keep revising, who reads your work and gives you feedback, who listens to you worry, and who cheers when you’re successful.
  • Engage in peer reviews in class.
  • If the stress feels too much, go for a walk, listen to music, step out into nature (could even be a park or a green neighborhood). Then try again.
  • If the I’m-too-stressed feeling persists, find a counselor on campus, or ask your teacher to help you find a counselor to talk with.

Develop a mindset focused on the opportunity to return to and revise your work.

  • Shift your writing perspective from judgments fossilized in words like  wrong, right, mistakes,  and  correct, to  assessmentslike  I think this paragraph is vague, but I can revise it.
  • Focus on learning and improving, not solely on the grade.
  • Shift from a descriptive thesis for book-report-type writing to a claim based on analysis of evidence  (Sommers and Saltz) .
  • Accept that university-level writing demands “something more” from your writing than previously expected  (Sommers and Saltz) .
  • Embrace being a novice because those who know they are inexperienced “are most capable of learning new skills”  (Sommers and Saltz) .
  • View writing as a psychophysical activity (Hjortshoj,  Understanding ). You must write regularly—fingers moving over keyboard or across a page of paper—to learn how to write well.
  • Accept the truth that because writing is not linear, each essay needs many drafts. Writing is a process of  revising , of  re-seeing , not one of simply “chang[ing] words around” or replacing vocabulary  (Sommers and Saltz) .
  • Your “primary objective” as a writer is “finding the form or shape of [your] argument”  (Sommers and Saltz) .
  • Always keep in mind your “readership”  (Sommers and Saltz) .
  • Remember that writing an essay begins with reading a text well. Annotate. Read actively. Reread. Write down quotes that speak to you, and their page numbers.
  • Read with the prompt beside you.
  • Read the rubric, or if none is given, ask for guidelines. Reread the rubric.
  • Read handouts and study other course materials.

Break the ice.

  • Mindmap. Or outline.
  • Still can’t get started? Freewrite. Set your timer for ten minutes. Write nonstop what you are thinking about the prompt or assignment. During this time, forget about mechanics and grammar.
  • If still stumped, ask these questions, write down answers, and make a plan (Hjortshoj,  Understanding ):
  • What kind of writing am I trying to do?
  • How should I approach this task?
  • At what point, exactly, does my progress end?
  • What have I done up to the point where I reach an impasse?
  • When I am stuck, what do I do next, and why?

Nudge perfection to the curb, gently but firmly. Remember that perfectionism is a key cause of procrastination.  Perfect  is better as a verb, not an adjective. “Perfect” (pər-ˈfekt) will “do and redo,” not “create a flawless [ˈpər-fikt] product.”

  • Try turning off spellcheck to focus less on editing as you draft a strong argument.
  • If grammar scares you, become good friends with the OWL at Purdue  website.
  • Look up words you don’t know. Merriam-Webster is a good dictionary and has sample sentences.
  • Nobel laureate Michael Chabon reminds, “[P]ut your — put  this  [points to phone] — away”  (Barnett) . Unplug social media.
  • Aim to write “a really shitty first draft” as Anne Lamott would say in  Bird by Bird because everyone does it, and only the people we don't like very much refuse to acknowledge it.

Remember the positives.

  • Remember that writing well is a worthwhile life skill.

Identify your strengths and goals as a writer. Write these down. Do you have the ability to persuade others? Can you explain an event or activity well? Are you gifted at analyzing what you read? Are you a good listener? Are you able to make connections between assigned readings and other sources like refereed articles, TED Talks, magazine articles, movies, and other credible sources? Are you able to argue well? Do you want to honor your voice? When you hear yourself thinking internally, “Writing is hard for me,” or “I can’t write,” think instead on one of your core strengths or goals. Keep one on a 3” x 5” card near you: “I will honor my voice.”

You are not your essay grade. Even when your essay earns an A, that grade and your self-worth are not equivalencies. You are so much more than any grade can represent. Your worth rests in the simple fact that you were born and are loved and are priceless just as you are.

Write essays that reflect what you value  (Sommers and Saltz) .

Develop your voice when writing in the more formal, academic essay style.

Writing Confidence.

Award-winning novelist and memoirist Reyna Grande offers wisdom on writing anxiety. She shares this advice in an  interview.

I get frustrated and scared. There are times when I say to myself—Reyna, who are you kidding? You can’t do this. You have no talent. Your writing sucks. But that’s just fear speaking. . . . Remind yourself that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Failure is not putting anything down on the page. Just write—and revise, write and revise, write and revise, and little by little you will get there.

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Writing Anxiety

What this handout is about.

This handout discusses the situational nature of writer’s block and other writing anxiety and suggests things you can try to feel more confident and optimistic about yourself as a writer.

What are writing anxiety and writer’s block?

“Writing anxiety” and “writer’s block” are informal terms for a wide variety of apprehensive and pessimistic feelings about writing. These feelings may not be pervasive in a person’s writing life. For example, you might feel perfectly fine writing a biology lab report but apprehensive about writing a paper on a novel. You may confidently tackle a paper about the sociology of gender but delete and start over twenty times when composing an email to a cute classmate to suggest a coffee date. In other words, writing anxiety and writers’ block are situational (Hjortshoj 7). These terms do NOT describe psychological attributes. People aren’t born anxious writers; rather, they become anxious or blocked through negative or difficult experiences with writing.

When do these negative feelings arise?

Although there is a great deal of variation among individuals, there are also some common experiences that writers in general find stressful.

For example, you may struggle when you are:

  • adjusting to a new form of writing—for example, first year college writing, papers in a new field of study, or longer forms than you are used to (a long research paper, a senior thesis, a master’s thesis, a dissertation) (Hjortshoj 56-76).
  • writing for a reader or readers who have been overly critical or demanding in the past.
  • remembering negative criticism received in the past—even if the reader who criticized your work won’t be reading your writing this time.
  • working with limited time or with a lot of unstructured time.
  • responding to an assignment that seems unrelated to academic or life goals.
  • dealing with troubling events outside of school.

What are some strategies for handling these feelings?

Get support.

Choose a writing buddy, someone you trust to encourage you in your writing life. Your writing buddy might be a friend or family member, a classmate, a teacher, a colleague, or a Writing Center tutor. Talk to your writing buddy about your ideas, your writing process, your worries, and your successes. Share pieces of your writing. Make checking in with your writing buddy a regular part of your schedule. When you share pieces of writing with your buddy, use our handout on asking for feedback .

In his book Understanding Writing Blocks, Keith Hjortshoj describes how isolation can harm writers, particularly students who are working on long projects not connected with coursework (134-135). He suggests that in addition to connecting with supportive individuals, such students can benefit from forming or joining a writing group, which functions in much the same way as a writing buddy. A group can provide readers, deadlines, support, praise, and constructive criticism. For help starting one, see our handout about writing groups .

Identify your strengths

Often, writers who are experiencing block or anxiety have a worse opinion of their own writing than anyone else! Make a list of the things you do well. You might ask a friend or colleague to help you generate such a list. Here are some possibilities to get you started:

  • I explain things well to people.
  • I get people’s interest.
  • I have strong opinions.
  • I listen well.
  • I am critical of what I read.
  • I see connections.

Choose at least one strength as your starting point. Instead of saying “I can’t write,” say “I am a writer who can …”

Recognize that writing is a complex process

Writing is an attempt to fix meaning on the page, but you know, and your readers know, that there is always more to be said on a topic. The best writers can do is to contribute what they know and feel about a topic at a particular point in time.

Writers often seek “flow,” which usually entails some sort of breakthrough followed by a beautifully coherent outpouring of knowledge. Flow is both a possibility—most people experience it at some point in their writing lives—and a myth. Inevitably, if you write over a long period of time and for many different situations, you will encounter obstacles. As Hjortshoj explains, obstacles are particularly common during times of transition—transitions to new writing roles or to new kinds of writing.

Think of yourself as an apprentice.

If block or apprehension is new for you, take time to understand the situations you are writing in. In particular, try to figure out what has changed in your writing life. Here are some possibilities:

  • You are writing in a new format.
  • You are writing longer papers than before.
  • You are writing for new audiences.
  • You are writing about new subject matter.
  • You are turning in writing from different stages of the writing process—for example, planning stages or early drafts.

It makes sense to have trouble when dealing with a situation for the first time. It’s also likely that when you confront these new situations, you will learn and grow. Writing in new situations can be rewarding. Not every format or audience will be right for you, but you won’t know which ones might be right until you try them. Think of new writing situations as apprenticeships. When you’re doing a new kind of writing, learn as much as you can about it, gain as many skills in that area as you can, and when you finish the apprenticeship, decide which of the skills you learned will serve you well later on. You might be surprised.

Below are some suggestions for how to learn about new kinds of writing:

  • Ask a lot of questions of people who are more experienced with this kind of writing. Here are some of the questions you might ask: What’s the purpose of this kind of writing? Who’s the audience? What are the most important elements to include? What’s not as important? How do you get started? How do you know when what you’ve written is good enough? How did you learn to write this way?
  • Ask a lot of questions of the person who assigned you a piece of writing. If you have a paper, the best place to start is with the written assignment itself. For help with this, see our handout on understanding assignments .
  • Look for examples of this kind of writing. (You can ask your instructor for a recommended example). Look, especially, for variation. There are often many different ways to write within a particular form. Look for ways that feel familiar to you, approaches that you like. You might want to look for published models or, if this seems too intimidating, look at your classmates’ writing. In either case, ask yourself questions about what these writers are doing, and take notes. How does the writer begin and end? In what order does the writer tell things? How and when does the writer convey their main point? How does the writer bring in other people’s ideas? What is the writer’s purpose? How is that purpose achieved?
  • Read our handouts about how to write in specific fields or how to handle specific writing assignments.
  • Listen critically to your readers. Before you dismiss or wholeheartedly accept what they say, try to understand them. If a reader has given you written comments, ask yourself questions to figure out the reader’s experience of your paper: What is this reader looking for? What am I doing that satisfies this reader? In what ways is this reader still unsatisfied? If you can’t answer these questions from the reader’s comments, then talk to the reader, or ask someone else to help you interpret the comments.
  • Most importantly, don’t try to do everything at once. Start with reasonable expectations. You can’t write like an expert your first time out. Nobody does! Use the criticism you get.

Once you understand what readers want, you are in a better position to decide what to do with their criticisms. There are two extreme possibilities—dismissing the criticisms and accepting them all—but there is also a lot of middle ground. Figure out which criticisms are consistent with your own purposes, and do the hard work of engaging with them. Again, don’t expect an overnight turn-around; recognize that changing writing habits is a process and that papers are steps in the process.

Chances are that at some point in your writing life you will encounter readers who seem to dislike, disagree with, or miss the point of your work. Figuring out what to do with criticism from such readers is an important part of a writer’s growth.

Try new tactics when you get stuck

Often, writing blocks occur at particular stages of the writing process. The writing process is cyclical and variable. For different writers, the process may include reading, brainstorming, drafting, getting feedback, revising, and editing. These stages do not always happen in this order, and once a writer has been through a particular stage, chances are they haven’t seen the last of that stage. For example, brainstorming may occur all along the way.

Figure out what your writing process looks like and whether there’s a particular stage where you tend to get stuck. Perhaps you love researching and taking notes on what you read, and you have a hard time moving from that work to getting started on your own first draft. Or once you have a draft, it seems set in stone and even though readers are asking you questions and making suggestions, you don’t know how to go back in and change it. Or just the opposite may be true; you revise and revise and don’t want to let the paper go.

Wherever you have trouble, take a longer look at what you do and what you might try. Sometimes what you do is working for you; it’s just a slow and difficult process. Other times, what you do may not be working; these are the times when you can look around for other approaches to try:

  • Talk to your writing buddy and to other colleagues about what they do at the particular stage that gets you stuck.
  • Read about possible new approaches in our handouts on brainstorming and revising .
  • Try thinking of yourself as an apprentice to a stage of the writing process and give different strategies a shot.
  • Cut your paper into pieces and tape them to the wall, use eight different colors of highlighters, draw a picture of your paper, read your paper out loud in the voice of your favorite movie star….

Okay, we’re kind of kidding with some of those last few suggestions, but there is no limit to what you can try (for some fun writing strategies, check out our online animated demos ). When it comes to conquering a block, give yourself permission to fall flat on your face. Trying and failing will you help you arrive at the thing that works for you.

Celebrate your successes

Start storing up positive experiences with writing. Whatever obstacles you’ve faced, celebrate the occasions when you overcome them. This could be something as simple as getting started, sharing your work with someone besides a teacher, revising a paper for the first time, trying out a new brainstorming strategy, or turning in a paper that has been particularly challenging for you. You define what a success is for you. Keep a log or journal of your writing successes and breakthroughs, how you did it, how you felt. This log can serve as a boost later in your writing life when you face new challenges.

Wait a minute, didn’t we already say that? Yes. It’s worth repeating. Most people find relief for various kinds of anxieties by getting support from others. Sometimes the best person to help you through a spell of worry is someone who’s done that for you before—a family member, a friend, a mentor. Maybe you don’t even need to talk with this person about writing; maybe you just need to be reminded to believe in yourself, that you can do it.

If you don’t know anyone on campus yet whom you have this kind of relationship with, reach out to someone who seems like they could be a good listener and supportive. There are a number of professional resources for you on campus, people you can talk through your ideas or your worries with. A great place to start is the UNC Writing Center. If you know you have a problem with writing anxiety, make an appointment well before the paper is due. You can come to the Writing Center with a draft or even before you’ve started writing. You can also approach your instructor with questions about your writing assignment. If you’re an undergraduate, your academic advisor and your residence hall advisor are other possible resources. Counselors at Counseling and Wellness Services are also available to talk with you about anxieties and concerns that extend beyond writing.

Apprehension about writing is a common condition on college campuses. Because writing is the most common means of sharing our knowledge, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves when we write. This handout has given some suggestions for how to relieve that pressure. Talk with others; realize we’re all learning; take an occasional risk; turn to the people who believe in you. Counter negative experiences by actively creating positive ones.

Even after you have tried all of these strategies and read every Writing Center handout, invariably you will still have negative experiences in your writing life. When you get a paper back with a bad grade on it or when you get a rejection letter from a journal, fend off the negative aspects of that experience. Try not to let them sink in; try not to let your disappointment fester. Instead, jump right back in to some area of the writing process: choose one suggestion the evaluator has made and work on it, or read and discuss the paper with a friend or colleague, or do some writing or revising—on this or any paper—as quickly as possible.

Failures of various kinds are an inevitable part of the writing process. Without them, it would be difficult if not impossible to grow as a writer. Learning often occurs in the wake of a startling event, something that stirs you up, something that makes you wonder. Use your failures to keep moving.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Hjortshoj, Keith. 2001. Understanding Writing Blocks . New York: Oxford University Press.

This is a particularly excellent resource for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. Hjortshoj writes about his experiences working with university students experiencing block. He explains the transitional nature of most writing blocks and the importance of finding support from others when working on long projects.

Rose, Mike. 1985. When a Writer Can’t Write: Studies in Writer’s Block and Other Composing-Process Problems . New York: Guilford.

This collection of empirical studies is written primarily for writing teachers, researchers, and tutors. Studies focus on writers of various ages, including young children, high school students, and college students.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay

College admission committees sift through thousands of college essays each year. Here’s how to make yours stand out.

Pamela Reynolds

When it comes to deciding who they will admit into their programs, colleges consider many criteria, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, and ACT and SAT scores. But in recent years, more colleges are no longer considering test scores.

Instead, many (including Harvard through 2026) are opting for “test-blind” admission policies that give more weight to other elements in a college application. This policy change is seen as fairer to students who don’t have the means or access to testing, or who suffer from test anxiety.

So, what does this mean for you?

Simply that your college essay, traditionally a requirement of any college application, is more important than ever.

A college essay is your unique opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees who must comb through thousands of applications each year. It is your chance to stand out as someone worthy of a seat in that classroom.

A well-written and thoughtful essay—reflecting who you are and what you believe—can go a long way to separating your application from the slew of forgettable ones that admissions officers read. Indeed, officers may rely on them even more now that many colleges are not considering test scores.

Below we’ll discuss a few strategies you can use to help your essay stand out from the pack. We’ll touch on how to start your essay, what you should write for your college essay, and elements that make for a great college essay.

Be Authentic

More than any other consideration, you should choose a topic or point of view that is consistent with who you truly are.

Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.

Inauthenticity could mean the use of overly flowery language that no one would ever use in conversation, or it could mean choosing an inconsequential topic that reveals very little about who you are.

Use your own voice, sense of humor, and a natural way of speaking.

Whatever subject you choose, make sure it’s something that’s genuinely important to you and not a subject you’ve chosen just to impress. You can write about a specific experience, hobby, or personality quirk that illustrates your strengths, but also feel free to write about your weaknesses.

Honesty about traits, situations, or a childhood background that you are working to improve may resonate with the reader more strongly than a glib victory speech.

Grab the Reader From the Start

You’ll be competing with so many other applicants for an admission officer’s attention.

Therefore, start your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately seizes the imagination. This might be a bold statement, a thoughtful quote, a question you pose, or a descriptive scene.

Starting your essay in a powerful way with a clear thesis statement can often help you along in the writing process. If your task is to tell a good story, a bold beginning can be a natural prelude to getting there, serving as a roadmap, engaging the reader from the start, and presenting the purpose of your writing.

Focus on Deeper Themes

Some essay writers think they will impress committees by loading an essay with facts, figures, and descriptions of activities, like wins in sports or descriptions of volunteer work. But that’s not the point.

College admissions officers are interested in learning more about who you are as a person and what makes you tick.

They want to know what has brought you to this stage in life. They want to read about realizations you may have come to through adversity as well as your successes, not just about how many games you won while on the soccer team or how many people you served at a soup kitchen.

Let the reader know how winning the soccer game helped you develop as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Make a connection with your soup kitchen volunteerism and how it may have inspired your educational journey and future aspirations. What did you discover about yourself?

Show Don’t Tell

As you expand on whatever theme you’ve decided to explore in your essay, remember to show, don’t tell.

The most engaging writing “shows” by setting scenes and providing anecdotes, rather than just providing a list of accomplishments and activities.

Reciting a list of activities is also boring. An admissions officer will want to know about the arc of your emotional journey too.

Try Doing Something Different

If you want your essay to stand out, think about approaching your subject from an entirely new perspective. While many students might choose to write about their wins, for instance, what if you wrote an essay about what you learned from all your losses?

If you are an especially talented writer, you might play with the element of surprise by crafting an essay that leaves the response to a question to the very last sentence.

You may want to stay away from well-worn themes entirely, like a sports-related obstacle or success, volunteer stories, immigration stories, moving, a summary of personal achievements or overcoming obstacles.

However, such themes are popular for a reason. They represent the totality of most people’s lives coming out of high school. Therefore, it may be less important to stay away from these topics than to take a fresh approach.

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Write With the Reader in Mind

Writing for the reader means building a clear and logical argument in which one thought flows naturally from another.

Use transitions between paragraphs.

Think about any information you may have left out that the reader may need to know. Are there ideas you have included that do not help illustrate your theme?

Be sure you can answer questions such as: Does what you have written make sense? Is the essay organized? Does the opening grab the reader? Is there a strong ending? Have you given enough background information? Is it wordy?

Write Several Drafts

Set your essay aside for a few days and come back to it after you’ve had some time to forget what you’ve written. Often, you’ll discover you have a whole new perspective that enhances your ability to make revisions.

Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time.

Read It Aloud

Writer’s tip : Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy, long-winded, or false.

Don’t Repeat

If you’ve mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don’t repeat it again in your essay.

Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.

Also, be sure you’ve answered whatever question or prompt may have been posed to you at the outset.

Ask Others to Read Your Essay

Be sure the people you ask to read your essay represent different demographic groups—a teacher, a parent, even a younger sister or brother.

Ask each reader what they took from the essay and listen closely to what they have to say. If anyone expresses confusion, revise until the confusion is cleared up.

Pay Attention to Form

Although there are often no strict word limits for college essays, most essays are shorter rather than longer. Common App, which students can use to submit to multiple colleges, suggests that essays stay at about 650 words.

“While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would,” the Common App website states.

In reviewing other technical aspects of your essay, be sure that the font is readable, that the margins are properly spaced, that any dialogue is set off properly, and that there is enough spacing at the top. Your essay should look clean and inviting to readers.

End Your Essay With a “Kicker”

In journalism, a kicker is the last punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together.

It provides a lasting impression that leaves the reader satisfied and impressed by the points you have artfully woven throughout your piece.

So, here’s our kicker: Be concise and coherent, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes that deftly illustrate your point.

While writing a fantastic essay may not guarantee you get selected, it can tip the balance in your favor if admissions officers are considering a candidate with a similar GPA and background.

Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!

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About the Author

Pamela Reynolds is a Boston-area feature writer and editor whose work appears in numerous publications. She is the author of “Revamp: A Memoir of Travel and Obsessive Renovation.”

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13 Reasons Why It’s OK to Write About Trauma in your College Applications — And How to Do So (a joint post by AdmissionsMom and McNeilAdmissions)

should i write about anxiety in my college essay

Hi everyone. This post is written by me, AdmissionsMom and McNeilAdmissions , TOGETHER. It’s a subject we both care about. We (your dynamic college-co nsultant duo) took up pens together to write what we believe is the first collaborative advice post in the sub’s history. Yay!  Enjoy and thanks for reading. 

Content warning: discussion of traumatic subjects: suicide, sexual abuse, trauma, self-harm

There is always a debate about what topics should be avoided at all cost on college essays. The short-list always boils down to a familiar crew of traumatic or “difficult” subjects. These include, but are not limited to, essays discussing severe depression, self-harm, eating disorders, experiences with sexual violence, family abuse, and experiences with the loss of a close relative or loved one.

First and foremost, you do NOT have to write about anything that makes you uncomfortable or that you don’t want to share. This isn’t the Overcoming Obstacles Olympics. Don’t feel pressure to tell any story that you don’t want to share. It is your story and if you don’t want to write about it, don’t. Period.

BUT, in our view, ruling out all essays that deal with trauma is wrong for two big reasons.

The first is that there is no actual, empirical evidence that essays that deal with trauma are less successful than those that don’t.  The view that essays dealing with trauma correlate with lower admissions rates is based on counselor speculation and anecdotal evidence from students who applied, weren’t admitted, then tried to find a justification and decided it was their essays.

Both of us reflected on this. Here’s what we had to say.

  • AdmissionsMom : I work with lots of students who have suffered from anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and addiction. They nearly always have to address their issues because of school disruption, and I have to say that their acceptances have remained right in range with the rest of my students.
  • McNeilAdmissions : I counted, and I can provide more than 17 accounts about students of mine who have written about trauma and been admitted to T10 schools. I also asked a colleague of mine who is known as the “queen of Stanford admissions” and she said there was no trend among her students.

The other big reason is that traumas, while complex, can be sources of deep meaning, and therefore are potentially the exact sort of thing you want to consider . Traumatic experiences are often life-shaping, for better or for worse. So are the ways that we respond to and adapt in the face of trauma. The struggle to adapt and move forward after a traumatic experience may be one of the most important and meaningful things you’ve ever done. So a blanket prohibition on traumatic topics is equivalent, for many, to a blanket prohibition on writing an essay that feels personally meaningful and rewarding.

Categorically ruling out trauma stories also conflicts directly with  the core lesson  that most college consultants and counselors (including ours truly) are trying to advocate. That is, write a story that matters to you. This is a piece of corny but non-bullshit advice. As it turns out, it’s a rare moment (in a process that can be somewhat cynical) where meaning and strategy overlap. AOs want to read good essays. Good essays are good when they’re written about things that matter. You can attempt to hack together a good essay on a topic you don’t care about, but good luck.

So there are a few big intersecting threads about why you MIGHT want to write about your experience with trauma. First, there is no empirical evidence to recommend against it. Second, traumatic experiences are huge sources of personal meaning and significance, and it would be sad if you couldn’t use your writing as a tool for processing your experience. Third, meaningful essays = good essays = stronger applications.

So for anyone out there who wants to talk about their experience but who is struggling with how to do it, here are some things we want to say:

  • You ARE allowed to talk about trauma in college apps.
  • Your story is valid even if you haven’t turned your experience into a non-profit focused on preventing sexual assault, combating abuse, or eating disorders or done anything whatsoever to address the larger systemic issue.  Your  story and experience —  your  personal growth and lessons learned — are intrinsically valuable.

Now, here are some things to keep in mind if you decide to write an essay about a challenging or traumatic subject.

13 Reasons Why It’s OK to Write About Trauma in your College Applications —  And  How to Do So

  • Colleges are not looking for perfect people . They are looking for real humans. Real Humans are flawed and have had flawed experiences. Some of our most compelling stories are the ones that open with showing our lives and experiences in less than favorable light. Throw in your lessons learned or what you have done to repair yourself and grow, and you have the makings of a compelling overcoming — or even redemption — story.
  • Write with pride : This is your real life. Sometimes you need to be able to explain the circumstances in your life — and colleges want to know about any hardships you’ve had. They want to understand the context of your application, so don’t worry about thinking you’re asking the colleges to feel sorry for you (we hear kids say that all the time). We recognize you for your immense strength and courage, and we encourage you to speak your truth if you want to share your story. Colleges can’t know about your challenges and obstacles unless you tell them. Be proud of yourself for making it through your challenges and moving on to pursue college — that’s an accomplishment on its own!
  • Consider the position of the admissions officer :  “We’ve all had painful experiences. Many of these experiences are difficult to talk about, let alone write about. However, sometimes, if there is time, distance, and healing between you and the experience, you can not only revisit the experience but also articulate it as an example of how even the most painful of experiences can be reclaimed, transformed, and accepted for what they are, the building blocks of our unique identities.

If you can do this, go for it. When done well, these types of narratives are the most impactful.  Do remember you are seeking admission into a community for which the admissions officer is the gatekeeper. They need to know that, if admitted, not only will you be okay but your fellow students will be okay as wel l.”  from Chad-Henry Galler-Sojourner ( www.bearingwitnessadmissions.com )

  • Remember what’s really important : Sometimes the processing of your trauma can be more important than the college acceptances — and that’s ok. If a college doesn’t accept you because you mention mental health issues, sexual assault, or traumatic life experiences, in my opinion, they don’t deserve to have anyone on their campus, much less survivors. Take your hard-earned lived experiences elsewhere. The stigma of being assaulted, abused, or having mental health issues, is a blight on our society. That said, be aware of any potential legal issues as admissions readers are mandated reporters in some states.
  • Consider using the Additional Info Section : If you do decide you want to share your story — or you need to because of needing to explain grades, missed school, or another aspect of your application or transcript, don’t feel compelled to write about your trauma, disability, mental health, or addiction in the main personal essay. Instead, we encourage you to use the Additional Info Essay if you want to share (or if you need to share to explain the context of your application). Your main common app essay should be about something that is important to you and should reveal some aspect of who you are. To us (and many applicants), your trauma, disability, mental issues, or addiction doesn’t define you. It isn’t who you are and it isn’t a part you want to lead with.

Putting some other aspect of who you are first in your main essay and putting trauma, addiction, mental health issues, or disability in the Add’l Info Essay is a way to reinforce that those negative experiences in your life don’t define you, and that your recovery or your learning to accommodate for it has relegated that aspect of their experience to a secondary part of who you are.

  • You CAN use your Common App essay if you want:  IF you feel like recovery from the trauma or learning to handle your circumstances  does  define you, then there is no reason you can’t put that aspect of who you are forward in the main personal essay. If the growth that stemmed from the crisis is central to your narrative, then it can be a recovery, or an “overcoming” story. It’s a positive look at your strengths and how you achieved them. If you want to place your recovery story front and center in the primary essay, that’s an appropriate choice.
  • Write from a place of healing : Some colleges fear liabilities. So, wherever you decide to put your essay in your application, make sure you are presenting your situation in a way that centers how you have dealt with it and moved forward. That doesn’t mean it’s over and everything is all better for you, but you need to write from a place of healing; in essence, “write from scars, not wounds.” (we can’t take credit for that metaphor, but we love it)
  • M ake sure your first draft is a free draft.  With any topic, it can be hard to stare at a blank page and not feel pressure to write perfectly. This can be doubly true when addressing a tough topic. For your first draft, approach it as a free write. No pressure. No perfection. Just thoughts and feelings. Even if you don’t end up using your essay as a personal statement or in the additional info section, it can be useful to sit and write it out.
  • Establish an anchor. Anything that makes you feel safe while you’re writing and exploring your thoughts and experiences. Have that nearby. It can be a candle, an image, a pet, a stuffed animal.
  • Check-in with how you are feeling.
  • Pay attention to your body and what it’s telling you.
  • Take breaks
  • Go for walk
  • Talk to someone who makes you feel safe
  • Remember this kind of essay is NOT a reflection of you. It is only  part  of your story. (Ashley Lipscomb & Ethan Sawyer, “Addressing Trauma in the College Essay,” NACAC 2021)
  • Who supported you in the aftermath of the experience? What did you appreciate about their support and what did you learn about how you would support others?
  • Did your self-perception change after the experience? How has your self-perception evolved or grown since?
  • How did you cultivate the strength to move through your experience?
  • What about how you dealt with the experience makes you most proud?
  • Remember that all writing is a two-way street and should serve you and the reader : All writing leaves an emotional impression or residue with the reader. This is especially true with personal essays. Good writers are able to look at their writing and understand how it can serve themselves (that sweet, sweet catharsis) while still meeting the reader halfway. This can be particularly challenging on the college essay, where your goal is to be both personally honest and to help an AO see why you would be a wonderful addition to their school’s student community. When you’re writing, be cognizant of your reader – tell your story
  • Shield your writing itself from excessive negativity : When writing about difficult experiences, it can be easy for the writing itself (your phrasing, your diction) to become saturated with a tone of hardship and sorrow. This kind of writing can be hard to read and can get in the way of the underlying story about growth, maturity, or self-awareness. Push yourself to weed out any excessive “negativity” in your writing – look for more neutral ways of stating the facts of your situation. If you’re comfortable, ask a trusted reader to read your essay and point out the places where language seems too negative. Think of ways to rephrase or rewrite.
  •  Think of your application — and therefore your essay — kind of like a job application. Sure, it’s more personal than a job occupation, but it’s not necessary to share every detail. Focus on the relevant information that validates the power of your journey and overcoming your challenges. Focus on the overcoming.

A framework for writing well about trauma and difficulty: “More Phoenix, Fewer Ashes”

Here’s a framework that we think you could apply to any essay topic about a traumatic experience or challenge. This is not a one-size-fits-all framework, but it should help you avoid the biggest pitfalls in writing about challenging topics.

The framework is called “More Phoenix, Fewer Ashes.” The metaphor actually comes from one of our parents who used to be active on A2C back when her kid was applying to college; she took it down in her notes at a Wellesley info session. In short, however, the idea is to pare down the “ashes” (the really hard details about the situation, past or present) to focus on who you’ve become as a result.

  • Address your issue or circumstance BRIEFLY and be straightforward. Don’t dwell on it.
  • Next, focus on what you did to take care of yourself and how you handled the situation. Describe how you’ve moved forward and what you learned from the experience.
  • Then, write about how you will apply those lessons to your future college career and how you plan to help others with your self-knowledge as you continue to help yourself as you learn more and grow.
  • Show them that, while you can’t control what happened in the past, you’ve taken steps to gain control over your life and you’re prepared to be the college student you can be.
  • Remember to keep the focus on the positives and what you learned from your experiences.
  • Make sure your essay is at least 80% phoenix, 20% ashes. Or another way to put this is, tell the gain, not the pain.
  • The ending, overall impression should leave a positive feeling.
  • Consider adding a “content warning or trigger warning” at the beginning of your essay, especially if it deals with sexual violence or suicide. You can simply say at the top: Content Warning: this essay discusses sexual violence (or discussion of suicide). This way the reader will know if they need to pass your essay along to someone else to read.

Use that checklist/framework to read back through your essay. In particular, do a spot check with the 80/20 phoenix/ashes rule. Make sure to focus on growth!

Good luck and happy writing,

AdmissionsMom and McNeilAdmissions ( www.McNeilAdmissions.com )

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I agree with both of You! When we experience a traumatic event, it can be difficult to share our experiences with others. We may feel like we are the only ones who can understand what we went through. We may feel like we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. But sharing our experiences with others can help us heal and can help prevent further trauma. Although, for me, it’s ok to share. If you can’t, then there’s nothing bad about that. After all, it’s difficult to get back to your dark past.

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I love your perspective. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here!

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Do you think if you write about a parent who was abusive, they can somehow contact the parent or something? I don’t wanna get in any trouble.

They might have to because of their state laws. I’d research that and talk to your school counselor.

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As someone who works closely with high school students, I will definitely be sharing your article with them. It’s a valuable resource that can help them navigate this important aspect of the college application process with confidence and integrity.

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College Essay: Overcoming Social Anxiety

“William, you’re up first,” the teacher said excitedly. 

I was instantly anxious when my ninth-grade English teacher announced I would be the first person presenting. As I walked to the front of the classroom, I was fidgeting and could feel  my face turning red. My classmates’ eyes followed me, looking like they were planning something. I started by introducing the title of the poem I was going to recite. I included some hand gestures and facial expressions while reciting the poem to make it better and less awkward, but I was still stiff. I felt like I did a solid job of engaging the audience and helping them understand the poem. People started applauding for me because they didn’t expect me to be that good because I was a shy dude. I finished by making some personal connections to the poem I chose. I went back to my seat, my face feeling hot because of how red I was. A classmate who sat next to me told me I did an outstanding job. This compliment really made my day because I thought I did OK.  This experience was the moment I realized I had some hope of overcoming my social anxiety. At the end of the presentation I felt like it wasn’t that bad, and I overcame something that was always with me throughout middle school. Now, it could change.

Social anxiety has especially affected me during middle school. I probably first realized I had social anxiety when I had to present in front of the class in seventh grade; I felt a little weird as soon as my classmates’  eyes were on me. In the middle of my presentation, I started crying because my teacher insisted I continue after pausing multiple times because of my nervousness. Since I refused to present in front of the class again, my grade was an automatic zero. 

I finally overcame my social anxiety after joining a program called Minnesota Business Venture, which was recommended by the college counselors. I signed up for it because it was going to help me feel and live a little bit of that college experience at St. Thomas by staying in dorms and learning on campus for a whole week. This program helped with my social anxiety significantly because I was able to see new faces and meet really kind people. Being in an inclusive environment allowed me to express myself better, without being judged or teased. I realized I have had some friends in the past who made me feel like I was kinda worthless. But since my peers from the St.Thomas program helped me and complimented me on my work. I felt like I had worth and confidence in expressing myself.

I noticed how having this social anxiety and awkwardness had really taken a toll on me and prevented me from making friends and feeling comfortable talking. I feel confident now that I’m opening up more. When it’s time to start college, I will be facing many obstacles, but I feel like I just took my biggest obstacle away. Joining a new university will help me start fresh. As I’m becoming  friends with the right people, I will be able to feel more comfortable because I know I am able to socialize with strangers. 

Through this program, an experience of meeting new people, I felt relieved and free. I interacted with random people and made new friends. Now, when I am connecting and collaborating with my classmates, teachers and relatives I am confident, feeling like I’m a new and improved person. What I learned is how putting yourself out there not only reduces your shyness; everyone can go far if they push themselves out of their comfort zone.

should i write about anxiety in my college essay

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College Essays


If you grow up to be a professional writer, everything you write will first go through an editor before being published. This is because the process of writing is really a process of re-writing —of rethinking and reexamining your work, usually with the help of someone else. So what does this mean for your student writing? And in particular, what does it mean for very important, but nonprofessional writing like your college essay? Should you ask your parents to look at your essay? Pay for an essay service?

If you are wondering what kind of help you can, and should, get with your personal statement, you've come to the right place! In this article, I'll talk about what kind of writing help is useful, ethical, and even expected for your college admission essay . I'll also point out who would make a good editor, what the differences between editing and proofreading are, what to expect from a good editor, and how to spot and stay away from a bad one.

Table of Contents

What Kind of Help for Your Essay Can You Get?

What's Good Editing?

What should an editor do for you, what kind of editing should you avoid, proofreading, what's good proofreading, what kind of proofreading should you avoid.

What Do Colleges Think Of You Getting Help With Your Essay?

Who Can/Should Help You?

Advice for editors.

Should You Pay Money For Essay Editing?

The Bottom Line

What's next, what kind of help with your essay can you get.

Rather than talking in general terms about "help," let's first clarify the two different ways that someone else can improve your writing . There is editing, which is the more intensive kind of assistance that you can use throughout the whole process. And then there's proofreading, which is the last step of really polishing your final product.

Let me go into some more detail about editing and proofreading, and then explain how good editors and proofreaders can help you."

Editing is helping the author (in this case, you) go from a rough draft to a finished work . Editing is the process of asking questions about what you're saying, how you're saying it, and how you're organizing your ideas. But not all editing is good editing . In fact, it's very easy for an editor to cross the line from supportive to overbearing and over-involved.

Ability to clarify assignments. A good editor is usually a good writer, and certainly has to be a good reader. For example, in this case, a good editor should make sure you understand the actual essay prompt you're supposed to be answering.

Open-endedness. Good editing is all about asking questions about your ideas and work, but without providing answers. It's about letting you stick to your story and message, and doesn't alter your point of view.


Think of an editor as a great travel guide. It can show you the many different places your trip could take you. It should explain any parts of the trip that could derail your trip or confuse the traveler. But it never dictates your path, never forces you to go somewhere you don't want to go, and never ignores your interests so that the trip no longer seems like it's your own. So what should good editors do?

Help Brainstorm Topics

Sometimes it's easier to bounce thoughts off of someone else. This doesn't mean that your editor gets to come up with ideas, but they can certainly respond to the various topic options you've come up with. This way, you're less likely to write about the most boring of your ideas, or to write about something that isn't actually important to you.

If you're wondering how to come up with options for your editor to consider, check out our guide to brainstorming topics for your college essay .

Help Revise Your Drafts

Here, your editor can't upset the delicate balance of not intervening too much or too little. It's tricky, but a great way to think about it is to remember: editing is about asking questions, not giving answers .

Revision questions should point out:

  • Places where more detail or more description would help the reader connect with your essay
  • Places where structure and logic don't flow, losing the reader's attention
  • Places where there aren't transitions between paragraphs, confusing the reader
  • Moments where your narrative or the arguments you're making are unclear

But pointing to potential problems is not the same as actually rewriting—editors let authors fix the problems themselves.

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Bad editing is usually very heavy-handed editing. Instead of helping you find your best voice and ideas, a bad editor changes your writing into their own vision.

You may be dealing with a bad editor if they:

  • Add material (examples, descriptions) that doesn't come from you
  • Use a thesaurus to make your college essay sound "more mature"
  • Add meaning or insight to the essay that doesn't come from you
  • Tell you what to say and how to say it
  • Write sentences, phrases, and paragraphs for you
  • Change your voice in the essay so it no longer sounds like it was written by a teenager

Colleges can tell the difference between a 17-year-old's writing and a 50-year-old's writing. Not only that, they have access to your SAT or ACT Writing section, so they can compare your essay to something else you wrote. Writing that's a little more polished is great and expected. But a totally different voice and style will raise questions.

Where's the Line Between Helpful Editing and Unethical Over-Editing?

Sometimes it's hard to tell whether your college essay editor is doing the right thing. Here are some guidelines for staying on the ethical side of the line.

  • An editor should say that the opening paragraph is kind of boring, and explain what exactly is making it drag. But it's overstepping for an editor to tell you exactly how to change it.
  • An editor should point out where your prose is unclear or vague. But it's completely inappropriate for the editor to rewrite that section of your essay.
  • An editor should let you know that a section is light on detail or description. But giving you similes and metaphors to beef up that description is a no-go.


Proofreading (also called copy-editing) is checking for errors in the last draft of a written work. It happens at the end of the process and is meant as the final polishing touch. Proofreading is meticulous and detail-oriented, focusing on small corrections. It sands off all the surface rough spots that could alienate the reader.

Because proofreading is usually concerned with making fixes on the word or sentence level, this is the only process where someone else can actually add to or take away things from your essay . This is because what they are adding or taking away tends to be one or two misplaced letters.

Laser focus. Proofreading is all about the tiny details, so the ability to really concentrate on finding small slip-ups is a must.

Excellent grammar and spelling skills. Proofreaders need to dot every "i" and cross every "t." Good proofreaders should correct spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. They should put foreign words in italics and surround quotations with quotation marks. They should check that you used the correct college's name, and that you adhered to any formatting requirements (name and date at the top of the page, uniform font and size, uniform spacing).

Limited interference. A proofreader needs to make sure that you followed any word limits. But if cuts need to be made to shorten the essay, that's your job and not the proofreader's.


A bad proofreader either tries to turn into an editor, or just lacks the skills and knowledge necessary to do the job.

Some signs that you're working with a bad proofreader are:

  • If they suggest making major changes to the final draft of your essay. Proofreading happens when editing is already finished.
  • If they aren't particularly good at spelling, or don't know grammar, or aren't detail-oriented enough to find someone else's small mistakes.
  • If they start swapping out your words for fancier-sounding synonyms, or changing the voice and sound of your essay in other ways. A proofreader is there to check for errors, not to take the 17-year-old out of your writing.


What Do Colleges Think of Your Getting Help With Your Essay?

Admissions officers agree: light editing and proofreading are good—even required ! But they also want to make sure you're the one doing the work on your essay. They want essays with stories, voice, and themes that come from you. They want to see work that reflects your actual writing ability, and that focuses on what you find important.

On the Importance of Editing

Get feedback. Have a fresh pair of eyes give you some feedback. Don't allow someone else to rewrite your essay, but do take advantage of others' edits and opinions when they seem helpful. ( Bates College )

Read your essay aloud to someone. Reading the essay out loud offers a chance to hear how your essay sounds outside your head. This exercise reveals flaws in the essay's flow, highlights grammatical errors and helps you ensure that you are communicating the exact message you intended. ( Dickinson College )

On the Value of Proofreading

Share your essays with at least one or two people who know you well—such as a parent, teacher, counselor, or friend—and ask for feedback. Remember that you ultimately have control over your essays, and your essays should retain your own voice, but others may be able to catch mistakes that you missed and help suggest areas to cut if you are over the word limit. ( Yale University )

Proofread and then ask someone else to proofread for you. Although we want substance, we also want to be able to see that you can write a paper for our professors and avoid careless mistakes that would drive them crazy. ( Oberlin College )

On Watching Out for Too Much Outside Influence

Limit the number of people who review your essay. Too much input usually means your voice is lost in the writing style. ( Carleton College )

Ask for input (but not too much). Your parents, friends, guidance counselors, coaches, and teachers are great people to bounce ideas off of for your essay. They know how unique and spectacular you are, and they can help you decide how to articulate it. Keep in mind, however, that a 45-year-old lawyer writes quite differently from an 18-year-old student, so if your dad ends up writing the bulk of your essay, we're probably going to notice. ( Vanderbilt University )


Now let's talk about some potential people to approach for your college essay editing and proofreading needs. It's best to start close to home and slowly expand outward. Not only are your family and friends more invested in your success than strangers, but they also have a better handle on your interests and personality. This knowledge is key for judging whether your essay is expressing your true self.

Parents or Close Relatives

Your family may be full of potentially excellent editors! Parents are deeply committed to your well-being, and family members know you and your life well enough to offer details or incidents that can be included in your essay. On the other hand, the rewriting process necessarily involves criticism, which is sometimes hard to hear from someone very close to you.

A parent or close family member is a great choice for an editor if you can answer "yes" to the following questions. Is your parent or close relative a good writer or reader? Do you have a relationship where editing your essay won't create conflict? Are you able to constructively listen to criticism and suggestion from the parent?

One suggestion for defusing face-to-face discussions is to try working on the essay over email. Send your parent a draft, have them write you back some comments, and then you can pick which of their suggestions you want to use and which to discard.

Teachers or Tutors

A humanities teacher that you have a good relationship with is a great choice. I am purposefully saying humanities, and not just English, because teachers of Philosophy, History, Anthropology, and any other classes where you do a lot of writing, are all used to reviewing student work.

Moreover, any teacher or tutor that has been working with you for some time, knows you very well and can vet the essay to make sure it "sounds like you."

If your teacher or tutor has some experience with what college essays are supposed to be like, ask them to be your editor. If not, then ask whether they have time to proofread your final draft.

Guidance or College Counselor at Your School

The best thing about asking your counselor to edit your work is that this is their job. This means that they have a very good sense of what colleges are looking for in an application essay.

At the same time, school counselors tend to have relationships with admissions officers in many colleges, which again gives them insight into what works and which college is focused on what aspect of the application.

Unfortunately, in many schools the guidance counselor tends to be way overextended. If your ratio is 300 students to 1 college counselor, you're unlikely to get that person's undivided attention and focus. It is still useful to ask them for general advice about your potential topics, but don't expect them to be able to stay with your essay from first draft to final version.

Friends, Siblings, or Classmates

Although they most likely don't have much experience with what colleges are hoping to see, your peers are excellent sources for checking that your essay is you .

Friends and siblings are perfect for the read-aloud edit. Read your essay to them so they can listen for words and phrases that are stilted, pompous, or phrases that just don't sound like you.

You can even trade essays and give helpful advice on each other's work.


If your editor hasn't worked with college admissions essays very much, no worries! Any astute and attentive reader can still greatly help with your process. But, as in all things, beginners do better with some preparation.

First, your editor should read our advice about how to write a college essay introduction , how to spot and fix a bad college essay , and get a sense of what other students have written by going through some admissions essays that worked .

Then, as they read your essay, they can work through the following series of questions that will help them to guide you.

Introduction Questions

  • Is the first sentence a killer opening line? Why or why not?
  • Does the introduction hook the reader? Does it have a colorful, detailed, and interesting narrative? Or does it propose a compelling or surprising idea?
  • Can you feel the author's voice in the introduction, or is the tone dry, dull, or overly formal? Show the places where the voice comes through.

Essay Body Questions

  • Does the essay have a through-line? Is it built around a central argument, thought, idea, or focus? Can you put this idea into your own words?
  • How is the essay organized? By logical progression? Chronologically? Do you feel order when you read it, or are there moments where you are confused or lose the thread of the essay?
  • Does the essay have both narratives about the author's life and explanations and insight into what these stories reveal about the author's character, personality, goals, or dreams? If not, which is missing?
  • Does the essay flow? Are there smooth transitions/clever links between paragraphs? Between the narrative and moments of insight?

Reader Response Questions

  • Does the writer's personality come through? Do we know what the speaker cares about? Do we get a sense of "who he or she is"?
  • Where did you feel most connected to the essay? Which parts of the essay gave you a "you are there" sensation by invoking your senses? What moments could you picture in your head well?
  • Where are the details and examples vague and not specific enough?
  • Did you get an "a-ha!" feeling anywhere in the essay? Is there a moment of insight that connected all the dots for you? Is there a good reveal or "twist" anywhere in the essay?
  • What are the strengths of this essay? What needs the most improvement?


Should You Pay Money for Essay Editing?

One alternative to asking someone you know to help you with your college essay is the paid editor route. There are two different ways to pay for essay help: a private essay coach or a less personal editing service , like the many proliferating on the internet.

My advice is to think of these options as a last resort rather than your go-to first choice. I'll first go through the reasons why. Then, if you do decide to go with a paid editor, I'll help you decide between a coach and a service.

When to Consider a Paid Editor

In general, I think hiring someone to work on your essay makes a lot of sense if none of the people I discussed above are a possibility for you.

If you can't ask your parents. For example, if your parents aren't good writers, or if English isn't their first language. Or if you think getting your parents to help is going create unnecessary extra conflict in your relationship with them (applying to college is stressful as it is!)

If you can't ask your teacher or tutor. Maybe you don't have a trusted teacher or tutor that has time to look over your essay with focus. Or, for instance, your favorite humanities teacher has very limited experience with college essays and so won't know what admissions officers want to see.

If you can't ask your guidance counselor. This could be because your guidance counselor is way overwhelmed with other students.

If you can't share your essay with those who know you. It might be that your essay is on a very personal topic that you're unwilling to share with parents, teachers, or peers. Just make sure it doesn't fall into one of the bad-idea topics in our article on bad college essays .

If the cost isn't a consideration. Many of these services are quite expensive, and private coaches even more so. If you have finite resources, I'd say that hiring an SAT or ACT tutor (whether it's PrepScholar or someone else) is better way to spend your money . This is because there's no guarantee that a slightly better essay will sufficiently elevate the rest of your application, but a significantly higher SAT score will definitely raise your applicant profile much more.

Should You Hire an Essay Coach?

On the plus side, essay coaches have read dozens or even hundreds of college essays, so they have experience with the format. Also, because you'll be working closely with a specific person, it's more personal than sending your essay to a service, which will know even less about you.

But, on the minus side, you'll still be bouncing ideas off of someone who doesn't know that much about you . In general, if you can adequately get the help from someone you know, there is no advantage to paying someone to help you.

If you do decide to hire a coach, ask your school counselor, or older students that have used the service for recommendations. If you can't afford the coach's fees, ask whether they can work on a sliding scale —many do. And finally, beware those who guarantee admission to your school of choice—essay coaches don't have any special magic that can back up those promises.

Should You Send Your Essay to a Service?

On the plus side, essay editing services provide a similar product to essay coaches, and they cost significantly less . If you have some assurance that you'll be working with a good editor, the lack of face-to-face interaction won't prevent great results.

On the minus side, however, it can be difficult to gauge the quality of the service before working with them . If they are churning through many application essays without getting to know the students they are helping, you could end up with an over-edited essay that sounds just like everyone else's. In the worst case scenario, an unscrupulous service could send you back a plagiarized essay.

Getting recommendations from friends or a school counselor for reputable services is key to avoiding heavy-handed editing that writes essays for you or does too much to change your essay. Including a badly-edited essay like this in your application could cause problems if there are inconsistencies. For example, in interviews it might be clear you didn't write the essay, or the skill of the essay might not be reflected in your schoolwork and test scores.

Should You Buy an Essay Written by Someone Else?

Let me elaborate. There are super sketchy places on the internet where you can simply buy a pre-written essay. Don't do this!

For one thing, you'll be lying on an official, signed document. All college applications make you sign a statement saying something like this:

I certify that all information submitted in the admission process—including the application, the personal essay, any supplements, and any other supporting materials—is my own work, factually true, and honestly presented... I understand that I may be subject to a range of possible disciplinary actions, including admission revocation, expulsion, or revocation of course credit, grades, and degree, should the information I have certified be false. (From the Common Application )

For another thing, if your academic record doesn't match the essay's quality, the admissions officer will start thinking your whole application is riddled with lies.

Admission officers have full access to your writing portion of the SAT or ACT so that they can compare work that was done in proctored conditions with that done at home. They can tell if these were written by different people. Not only that, but there are now a number of search engines that faculty and admission officers can use to see if an essay contains strings of words that have appeared in other essays—you have no guarantee that the essay you bought wasn't also bought by 50 other students.


  • You should get college essay help with both editing and proofreading
  • A good editor will ask questions about your idea, logic, and structure, and will point out places where clarity is needed
  • A good editor will absolutely not answer these questions, give you their own ideas, or write the essay or parts of the essay for you
  • A good proofreader will find typos and check your formatting
  • All of them agree that getting light editing and proofreading is necessary
  • Parents, teachers, guidance or college counselor, and peers or siblings
  • If you can't ask any of those, you can pay for college essay help, but watch out for services or coaches who over-edit you work
  • Don't buy a pre-written essay! Colleges can tell, and it'll make your whole application sound false.

Ready to start working on your essay? Check out our explanation of the point of the personal essay and the role it plays on your applications and then explore our step-by-step guide to writing a great college essay .

Using the Common Application for your college applications? We have an excellent guide to the Common App essay prompts and useful advice on how to pick the Common App prompt that's right for you . Wondering how other people tackled these prompts? Then work through our roundup of over 130 real college essay examples published by colleges .

Stressed about whether to take the SAT again before submitting your application? Let us help you decide how many times to take this test . If you choose to go for it, we have the ultimate guide to studying for the SAT to give you the ins and outs of the best ways to study.

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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Should I Mention Depression on My College Application?

Colleges scrutinize applications from troubled students more closely.

Should I Put Depression on My College Apps?

Mental illustration

Phil Bliss | TheiSpot.com for USN&WR

Growing up in New York City, Emily Isaac studied Hebrew, performed in school musicals, and played soccer. She fantasized about going to a prestigious university like Harvard and becoming a lawyer for Hollywood celebrities. But her drive and ambition faded when she reached high school. She ignored homework assignments and argued with teachers. Her grades dropped to mostly C's and D's. She was so difficult that she was asked to leave three private schools in two years. Emily says she was angry and depressed over a family member's drug use. At age 17 last fall, she was applying to colleges and had a tough decision to make: How to present herself to admissions officers increasingly wary of troubled students?

Concerned about liability and campus safety in the wake of shootings at Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech, more colleges and universities are scrutinizing the character of applicants. They want to know about students' past behavior, and, if there is any doubt, they will call high school counselors for answers. Admissions officers say "youthful indiscretions" like a schoolyard brawl or an unpaid traffic ticket aren't likely to result in denial letters. But a pattern of troubling behavior could cost someone an admission.

"We're not only admitting students for intellectual reasons but for community reasons," says Debra Shaver, director of admissions at Smith College, a private women's liberal arts school in Massachusetts. "We want to make sure they will be good community members." Smith and other schools acknowledge that making judgments about character is sometimes a messy process. It doesn't involve precise measures like SAT scores or grade-point average. "In some cases, you say, 'This makes me nervous,' and maybe it is an intuition and some reasonable people would disagree, but it goes with the territory," says Bruce Poch, dean of admissions at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.

Full disclosure. It's not surprising, then, that students like Emily agonize over the decision to disclose personal and academic problems. "We finally hired an independent counselor," says Lisa Kaufman, Emily's mother.

Not all counselors agree on what advice to give families. Some discourage students from bringing up mental illnesses and emotional problems altogether. Others say full disclosure helps when a student's records show poor grades or other inconsistencies that are likely to make colleges suspicious. Shirley Bloomquist, an independent college counselor in Great Falls, Va., says she once called a liberal arts college in Massachusetts to say she was disappointed by its decision to reject an applicant who had written about overcoming a drug addiction. The student had completed a drug rehabilitation program and had been clean for a year. "Colleges are more concerned than ever about student emotional stability," Bloomquist says. "I think it is imperative that the student, the parent, and the high school counselor discuss the situation and decide what should or should not be revealed."

Sally Rubenstone, senior counselor with CollegeConfidential.com and coauthor of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admission, says being forthright about past behavior or mental health problems doesn't mean "The Jerry Springerization of the College Admissions Essay." "Sometimes I have to implore [students] to stay mum," she says. "There are clearly times when personal problems are too personal—or inappropriate—to include in a college essay."

Emily's problems, however, needed airing—but not all of them. For example, she didn't disclose her troubles in middle school because colleges asked only (via the Common Application) about academic and behavioral misconduct in high school. She says she was asked to leave one high school after a confrontation with another student, but the offense was never recorded in her file, so she didn't volunteer that information either. On the advice of her counselor, Emily wrote cover letters and an essay focusing instead on the reasons for her documented troubles in school and how she had grown from those experiences.

Although colleges would know from her transcripts that she had been at a boarding school for troubled teens, Emily didn't explicitly mention depression in her essay. Rubenstone, who served as Emily's counselor in the admissions process, says, "Colleges can run scared when they hear the word depression. " Emily, who got treatment, hoped colleges would pay attention to her improvement instead. "I thought I was taking a risk, but I had faith that people would understand," she says. In one of her cover letters, Emily wrote: "What I am trying to say is that my past no longer dictates my future and that I am a far more capable, hard-working, mature student than depicted in my forms."

Colleges cannot legally deny admission specifically on the basis of mental illness, but it's hard to account for how that characteristic figures into the calculus of who gets in and who doesn't. Admissions officers undoubtedly are aware that the shooters at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois had troubled histories before they applied to school: Indeed, the graduate student responsible for the NIU attack had written about his emotional struggles in adolescence in his admission application. Admissions officers, ever mindful of the diversity on campus, also are aware that reports of depressed college students are on the rise.

Not all colleges offer students a second chance. One high school senior in Tucson, Ariz., with an impressive academic record was rejected by a selective liberal arts college after his counselor says he told the school that the student had been disciplined for smoking marijuana on a field trip. The counselor says he helped the student with his essay, believing that if it struck the right tone and offered a sincere apology and a pledge from the student that he would not make the same mistake again, the essay would persuade the college to admit him. It didn't. "This particular school was trying very hard to diminish its reputation as being 'kind of tolerant of druggies'—the very words used by the college representative," the counselor says.

Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers says too much pressure is being put on college admission officers who lack the expertise to evaluate the seriousness of an offense or an applicant's emotional well-being. In the absence of clear guidelines, Nassirian says, colleges should stop asking about past behavior altogether. "It's very tempting for colleges to say we're excluding the next Jack the Ripper from sitting next to your son or daughter," he says. "But it's really your son or daughter who is getting nabbed and getting nabbed for having done something stupid in high school."

Common Application. That may be the reason that many high schools don't disclose information about a student's disciplinary history. A recent survey of 2,306 public and private high schools found that only 23 percent of schools said they allowed for the disclosure of such information to colleges, 39 percent said they disclose sometimes, and 38 percent said they never do. The results refer to questions asked by about 340 colleges that use the Common Application, which inquires if students have ever been convicted of a crime or been severely disciplined in high school. This year, 347,837 high school students used the Common Application. Of those, only 2 percent said they had a serious discipline problem in high school, and 0.22 percent said they were convicted of a misdemeanor or felony.

It's not clear how many students refuse to answer the questions or conceal their past troubles. In what one admissions counselor sees as a separate, disturbing trend, high schools that once suspended or expelled students for offenses such as academic dishonesty now strike deals with parents and students that result in less severe consequences and no record of the student's indiscretion. One New York student who has been accepted to several competitive schools says he caught a lucky break when the private high school he attended his freshman year decided that rather than expel him, it would let him quietly transfer to another school after he was caught stealing a biology exam. The school told him it would not notify colleges about the incident. At his new high school, the student was suspended for insulting another student. And again he was able to cut a deal with the principal at that school. The student, who requested anonymity, says he was able to "work off" the suspension from his record by performing community service. He says his guidance counselor discouraged him from bringing up either incident on his college applications. "It's not that I wanted to lie," he says. "I just didn't want to lose everything that I've worked so hard for."

If an applicant's school records raise suspicion, colleges say they will make every effort to verify the information. Some, for instance, will turn to Google, Facebook, or another source on the Internet. But it's not clear how thorough most colleges are when high schools don't cooperate. It is often the case, some say, that an anonymous tipster or an upset parent of a child who was not admitted to the school will come forward. Colleges say a high school's refusal to share information could damage the school's relationship with the college, especially in the event that the applicant is admitted and later commits a crime.

Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions at Harvard, says high schools that knowingly withhold troubling information about applicants will be held responsible. "We're not a detective agency," she says. "We operate on the assumption that schools are behaving honorably." If administrators learn that an applicant has lied, colleges can rescind offers of admission. That's what happened in 1995 when Harvard administrators found out that an admitted applicant had killed her mother when she was 14. The applicant, a straight-A student, had not disclosed the incident in her Harvard application on the advice of her lawyer.

Seth Allen, dean of admissions at Grinnell College, a liberal arts school in Iowa, says colleges expect that students will answer questions about their past behavior truthfully and completely. "We want to understand if you slipped up why it happened," he says. "If we understand that there is a death in the family or a personal crisis that would help us say, 'This is not a normal pattern of behavior,' we can forgive you." Sometimes, he adds, an honest and thoughtful response can make a candidate more appealing.

Earlier this year, Emily was offered admission to six schools; she has decided to attend Simmons College in Boston. She was turned down by four other schools. "I'm grateful because I feel people are willing to take a chance on me," she says. "It just makes me hopeful that the world is moving away from fear and towards acceptance of those of us who haven't had the easiest times."

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College essays are an entirely new type of writing for high school seniors. For that reason, many students are confused about proper formatting and essay structure. Should you double-space or single-space? Do you need a title? What kind of narrative style is best-suited for your topic?

In this post, we’ll be going over proper college essay format, traditional and unconventional essay structures (plus sample essays!), and which structure might work best for you. 

General College Essay Formatting Guidelines

How you format your essay will depend on whether you’re submitting in a text box, or attaching a document. We’ll go over the different best practices for both, but regardless of how you’re submitting, here are some general formatting tips:

  • There’s no need for a title; it takes up unnecessary space and eats into your word count
  • Stay within the word count as much as possible (+/- 10% of the upper limit). For further discussion on college essay length, see our post How Long Should Your College Essay Be?
  • Indent or double space to separate paragraphs clearly

If you’re submitting in a text box:

  • Avoid italics and bold, since formatting often doesn’t transfer over in text boxes
  • Be careful with essays meant to be a certain shape (like a balloon); text boxes will likely not respect that formatting. Beyond that, this technique can also seem gimmicky, so proceed with caution
  • Make sure that paragraphs are clearly separated, as text boxes can also undo indents and double spacing

If you’re attaching a document:

  • Use a standard font and size like Times New Roman, 12 point
  • Make your lines 1.5-spaced or double-spaced
  • Use 1-inch margins
  • Save as a PDF since it can’t be edited. This also prevents any formatting issues that come with Microsoft Word, since older versions are sometimes incompatible with the newer formatting
  • Number each page with your last name in the header or footer (like “Smith 1”)
  • Pay extra attention to any word limits, as you won’t be cut off automatically, unlike with most text boxes

Conventional College Essay Structures

Now that we’ve gone over the logistical aspects of your essay, let’s talk about how you should structure your writing. There are three traditional college essay structures. They are:

  • In-the-moment narrative
  • Narrative told over an extended period of time
  • Series of anecdotes, or montage

Let’s go over what each one is exactly, and take a look at some real essays using these structures.

1. In-the-moment narrative

This is where you tell the story one moment at a time, sharing the events as they occur. In the moment narrative is a powerful essay format, as your reader experiences the events, your thoughts, and your emotions with you . This structure is ideal for a specific experience involving extensive internal dialogue, emotions, and reflections.

Here’s an example:

The morning of the Model United Nation conference, I walked into Committee feeling confident about my research. We were simulating the Nuremberg Trials – a series of post-World War II proceedings for war crimes – and my portfolio was of the Soviet Judge Major General Iona Nikitchenko. Until that day, the infamous Nazi regime had only been a chapter in my history textbook; however, the conference’s unveiling of each defendant’s crimes brought those horrors to life. The previous night, I had organized my research, proofread my position paper and gone over Judge Nikitchenko’s pertinent statements. I aimed to find the perfect balance between his stance and my own.

As I walked into committee anticipating a battle of wits, my director abruptly called out to me. “I’m afraid we’ve received a late confirmation from another delegate who will be representing Judge Nikitchenko. You, on the other hand, are now the defense attorney, Otto Stahmer.” Everyone around me buzzed around the room in excitement, coordinating with their allies and developing strategies against their enemies, oblivious to the bomb that had just dropped on me. I felt frozen in my tracks, and it seemed that only rage against the careless delegate who had confirmed her presence so late could pull me out of my trance. After having spent a month painstakingly crafting my verdicts and gathering evidence against the Nazis, I now needed to reverse my stance only three hours before the first session.

Gradually, anger gave way to utter panic. My research was fundamental to my performance, and without it, I knew I could add little to the Trials. But confident in my ability, my director optimistically recommended constructing an impromptu defense. Nervously, I began my research anew. Despite feeling hopeless, as I read through the prosecution’s arguments, I uncovered substantial loopholes. I noticed a lack of conclusive evidence against the defendants and certain inconsistencies in testimonies. My discovery energized me, inspiring me to revisit the historical overview in my conference “Background Guide” and to search the web for other relevant articles. Some Nazi prisoners had been treated as “guilty” before their court dates. While I had brushed this information under the carpet while developing my position as a judge, it now became the focus of my defense. I began scratching out a new argument, centered on the premise that the allied countries had violated the fundamental rule that, a defendant was “not guilty” until proven otherwise.

At the end of the three hours, I felt better prepared. The first session began, and with bravado, I raised my placard to speak. Microphone in hand, I turned to face my audience. “Greetings delegates. I, Otto Stahmer would like to…….” I suddenly blanked. Utter dread permeated my body as I tried to recall my thoughts in vain. “Defence Attorney, Stahmer we’ll come back to you,” my Committee Director broke the silence as I tottered back to my seat, flushed with embarrassment. Despite my shame, I was undeterred. I needed to vindicate my director’s faith in me. I pulled out my notes, refocused, and began outlining my arguments in a more clear and direct manner. Thereafter, I spoke articulately, confidently putting forth my points. I was overjoyed when Secretariat members congratulated me on my fine performance.

Going into the conference, I believed that preparation was the key to success. I wouldn’t say I disagree with that statement now, but I believe adaptability is equally important. My ability to problem-solve in the face of an unforeseen challenge proved advantageous in the art of diplomacy. Not only did this experience transform me into a confident and eloquent delegate at that conference, but it also helped me become a more flexible and creative thinker in a variety of other capacities. Now that I know I can adapt under pressure, I look forward to engaging in activities that will push me to be even quicker on my feet.

This essay is an excellent example of in-the-moment narration. The student openly shares their internal state with us — we feel their anger and panic upon the reversal of roles. We empathize with their emotions of “utter dread” and embarrassment when they’re unable to speak. 

For in-the-moment essays, overloading on descriptions is a common mistake students make. This writer provides just the right amount of background and details to help us understand the situation, however, and balances out the actual event with reflection on the significance of this experience. 

One main area of improvement is that the writer sometimes makes explicit statements that could be better illustrated through their thoughts, actions, and feelings. For instance, they say they “spoke articulately” after recovering from their initial inability to speak, and they also claim that adaptability has helped them in other situations. This is not as engaging as actual examples that convey the same meaning. Still, this essay overall is a strong example of in-the-moment narration, and gives us a relatable look into the writer’s life and personality.

2. Narrative told over an extended period of time

In this essay structure, you share a story that takes place across several different experiences. This narrative style is well-suited for any story arc with multiple parts. If you want to highlight your development over time, you might consider this structure. 

When I was younger, I was adamant that no two foods on my plate touch. As a result, I often used a second plate to prevent such an atrocity. In many ways, I learned to separate different things this way from my older brothers, Nate and Rob. Growing up, I idolized both of them. Nate was a performer, and I insisted on arriving early to his shows to secure front row seats, refusing to budge during intermission for fear of missing anything. Rob was a three-sport athlete, and I attended his games religiously, waving worn-out foam cougar paws and cheering until my voice was hoarse. My brothers were my role models. However, while each was talented, neither was interested in the other’s passion. To me, they represented two contrasting ideals of what I could become: artist or athlete. I believed I had to choose.

And for a long time, I chose athlete. I played soccer, basketball, and lacrosse and viewed myself exclusively as an athlete, believing the arts were not for me. I conveniently overlooked that since the age of five, I had been composing stories for my family for Christmas, gifts that were as much for me as them, as I loved writing. So when in tenth grade, I had the option of taking a creative writing class, I was faced with a question: could I be an athlete and a writer? After much debate, I enrolled in the class, feeling both apprehensive and excited. When I arrived on the first day of school, my teacher, Ms. Jenkins, asked us to write down our expectations for the class. After a few minutes, eraser shavings stubbornly sunbathing on my now-smudged paper, I finally wrote, “I do not expect to become a published writer from this class. I just want this to be a place where I can write freely.”

Although the purpose of the class never changed for me, on the third “submission day,” – our time to submit writing to upcoming contests and literary magazines – I faced a predicament. For the first two submission days, I had passed the time editing earlier pieces, eventually (pretty quickly) resorting to screen snake when hopelessness made the words look like hieroglyphics. I must not have been as subtle as I thought, as on the third of these days, Ms. Jenkins approached me. After shifting from excuse to excuse as to why I did not submit my writing, I finally recognized the real reason I had withheld my work: I was scared. I did not want to be different, and I did not want to challenge not only others’ perceptions of me, but also my own. I yielded to Ms. Jenkin’s pleas and sent one of my pieces to an upcoming contest.

By the time the letter came, I had already forgotten about the contest. When the flimsy white envelope arrived in the mail, I was shocked and ecstatic to learn that I had received 2nd place in a nationwide writing competition. The next morning, however, I discovered Ms. Jenkins would make an announcement to the whole school exposing me as a poet. I decided to own this identity and embrace my friends’ jokes and playful digs, and over time, they have learned to accept and respect this part of me. I have since seen more boys at my school identifying themselves as writers or artists.

I no longer see myself as an athlete and a poet independently, but rather I see these two aspects forming a single inseparable identity – me. Despite their apparent differences, these two disciplines are quite similar, as each requires creativity and devotion. I am still a poet when I am lacing up my cleats for soccer practice and still an athlete when I am building metaphors in the back of my mind – and I have realized ice cream and gummy bears taste pretty good together.

The timeline of this essay spans from the writer’s childhood all the way to sophomore year, but we only see key moments along this journey. First, we get context for why the writer thought he had to choose one identity: his older brothers had very distinct interests. Then, we learn about the student’s 10th grade creative writing class, writing contest, and results of the contest. Finally, the essay covers the writers’ embarrassment of his identity as a poet, to gradual acceptance and pride in that identity. 

This essay is a great example of a narrative told over an extended period of time. It’s highly personal and reflective, as the piece shares the writer’s conflicting feelings, and takes care to get to the root of those feelings. Furthermore, the overarching story is that of a personal transformation and development, so it’s well-suited to this essay structure.

3. Series of anecdotes, or montage

This essay structure allows you to focus on the most important experiences of a single storyline, or it lets you feature multiple (not necessarily related) stories that highlight your personality. Montage is a structure where you piece together separate scenes to form a whole story. This technique is most commonly associated with film. Just envision your favorite movie—it likely is a montage of various scenes that may not even be chronological. 

Night had robbed the academy of its daytime colors, yet there was comfort in the dim lights that cast shadows of our advances against the bare studio walls. Silhouettes of roundhouse kicks, spin crescent kicks, uppercuts and the occasional butterfly kick danced while we sparred. She approached me, eyes narrowed with the trace of a smirk challenging me. “Ready spar!” Her arm began an upward trajectory targeting my shoulder, a common first move. I sidestepped — only to almost collide with another flying fist. Pivoting my right foot, I snapped my left leg, aiming my heel at her midsection. The center judge raised one finger. 

There was no time to celebrate, not in the traditional sense at least. Master Pollard gave a brief command greeted with a unanimous “Yes, sir” and the thud of 20 hands dropping-down-and-giving-him-30, while the “winners” celebrated their victory with laps as usual. 

Three years ago, seven-thirty in the evening meant I was a warrior. It meant standing up straighter, pushing a little harder, “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am”, celebrating birthdays by breaking boards, never pointing your toes, and familiarity. Three years later, seven-thirty in the morning meant I was nervous. 

The room is uncomfortably large. The sprung floor soaks up the checkerboard of sunlight piercing through the colonial windows. The mirrored walls further illuminate the studio and I feel the light scrutinizing my sorry attempts at a pas de bourrée , while capturing the organic fluidity of the dancers around me. “ Chassé en croix, grand battement, pique, pirouette.” I follow the graceful limbs of the woman in front of me, her legs floating ribbons, as she executes what seems to be a perfect ronds de jambes. Each movement remains a negotiation. With admirable patience, Ms. Tan casts me a sympathetic glance.   

There is no time to wallow in the misery that is my right foot. Taekwondo calls for dorsiflexion; pointed toes are synonymous with broken toes. My thoughts drag me into a flashback of the usual response to this painful mistake: “You might as well grab a tutu and head to the ballet studio next door.” Well, here I am Master Pollard, unfortunately still following your orders to never point my toes, but no longer feeling the satisfaction that comes with being a third degree black belt with 5 years of experience quite literally under her belt. It’s like being a white belt again — just in a leotard and ballet slippers. 

But the appetite for new beginnings that brought me here doesn’t falter. It is only reinforced by the classical rendition of “Dancing Queen” that floods the room and the ghost of familiarity that reassures me that this new beginning does not and will not erase the past. After years spent at the top, it’s hard to start over. But surrendering what you are only leads you to what you may become. In Taekwondo, we started each class reciting the tenets: honor, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, courage, humility, and knowledge, and I have never felt that I embodied those traits more so than when I started ballet. 

The thing about change is that it eventually stops making things so different. After nine different schools, four different countries, three different continents, fluency in Tamil, Norwegian, and English, there are more blurred lines than there are clear fragments. My life has not been a tactfully executed, gold medal-worthy Taekwondo form with each movement defined, nor has it been a series of frappés performed by a prima ballerina with each extension identical and precise, but thankfully it has been like the dynamics of a spinning back kick, fluid, and like my chances of landing a pirouette, unpredictable. 

This essay takes a few different anecdotes and weaves them into a coherent narrative about the writer’s penchant for novel experiences. We’re plunged into her universe, in the middle of her Taekwondo spar, three years before the present day. She then transitions into a scene in a ballet studio, present day. By switching from past tense to present tense, the writer clearly demarcates this shift in time. 

The parallel use of the spoken phrase “Point” in the essay ties these two experiences together. The writer also employs a flashback to Master Pollard’s remark about “grabbing a tutu” and her habit of dorsiflexing her toes, which further cements the connection between these anecdotes. 

While some of the descriptions are a little wordy, the piece is well-executed overall, and is a stellar example of the montage structure. The two anecdotes are seamlessly intertwined, and they both clearly illustrate the student’s determination, dedication, reflectiveness, and adaptability. The writer also concludes the essay with a larger reflection on her life, many moves, and multiple languages. 

Unconventional College Essay Structures

Unconventional essay structures are any that don’t fit into the categories above. These tend to be higher risk, as it’s easier to turn off the admissions officer, but they’re also higher reward if executed correctly. 

There are endless possibilities for unconventional structures, but most fall under one of two categories:

1. Playing with essay format

Instead of choosing a traditional narrative format, you might take a more creative route to showcase your interests, writing your essay:

  • As a movie script
  • With a creative visual format (such as creating a visual pattern with the spaces between your sentences forming a picture)
  • As a two-sided Lincoln-Douglas debate
  • As a legal brief
  • Using song lyrics

2. Linguistic techniques

You could also play with the actual language and sentence structure of your essay, writing it:

  • In iambic pentameter
  • Partially in your mother tongue
  • In code or a programming language

These linguistic techniques are often hybrid, where you write some of the essay with the linguistic variation, then write more of an explanation in English.

Under no circumstances should you feel pressured to use an unconventional structure. Trying to force something unconventional will only hurt your chances. That being said, if a creative structure comes naturally to you, suits your personality, and works with the content of your essay — go for that structure!

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should i write about anxiety in my college essay

Daniel Flint Ph.D.

Why You Can’t Cope Your Way Out of Anxiety

How can using coping skills be short-sighted and perpetuate anxiety.

Posted May 4, 2024 | Reviewed by Ray Parker

  • What Is Anxiety?
  • Find a therapist to overcome anxiety
  • Coping skills are helpful for temporarily managing symptoms of anxiety.
  • Managing symptoms like taking painkillers after breaking a bone provides exclusively short-term relief.
  • Avoidance of psychological distress perpetuates and often worsens anxiety.
  • The only way "out of anxiety" is by confronting the "scary thing" head-on.

I’ll come right out and say it: I'm anti-coping skills. The phrase triggers me almost as much as the chronic overuse of the phrase “triggers me” to mean “I don’t like it.” Being anti-coping skills might be a controversial perspective. But it’s really just my mildly rebellious response to the overreliance on pathology-worsening avoidance tactics frequently prescribed during the course of psychotherapy .

It's one of my greatest pet peeves as a therapist when I ask a patient what they’ve done in previous therapy, and their answer is that they’ve been working on coping skills. I have a hard time understanding why that would take more than a session or two. Coping skills are pleasurable, relaxing behaviors we engage in to mitigate anxiety . Certainly not a long-term strategy for success in your battle with anxiety symptoms. There is a distinction between coping skills and risk-reduction behaviors (like calling a friend instead of relapsing into addiction or engaging in healthy exercise instead of self-harming), which I fully support.

I contend that you can’t cope your way out of anxiety because coping is anxiety avoidance, and anxiety itself is a symptom of avoidance. Like trying to put out a fire with matches. To be fair, I’ll admit that in high-pressure, time-limited situations, like before a job interview, we might all be wise to take a few deep breaths, go for a run, or remind ourselves that our success in the interview does not define our value as human beings (coping skills). But, if coping skills remain our approach to anxiety management after months (years?) of treatment, then we’re simply putting a band-aid on a wound that requires stitches.

Source: Courtesy of Daniel Flint

So what’s to be done instead? Effective psychological treatment for anxiety can be accurately summarized as follows: clearly identify the scary thing, slowly and surely confront the scary thing, and continue to do so until the scary thing is not as scary. According to most empirical research, this roadmap is the core effective component of psychotherapy (Wampold & Imel, 2015; Ougrin, 2011, among many others). Whether it’s fear of spiders (understandable, if you ask me) and your psychologist recommends exposure with response prevention (ERP) or fear of crowds and your psychologist recommends cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for social anxiety or post- traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD ) and your psychologist recommends narrative exposure therapy (NET), the core mechanism is shared: that the scary thing (spiders, crowds, or memories) must be confronted until it’s not so scary anymore. Good therapy enacts this process in a supportive, empathetic , and genuine context.

Instead, what would therapy that focused primarily on identifying and practicing coping skills be communicating? The way to improve your anxiety is by avoiding it. There are few (are there any?) aspects of life where the easy/pleasurable route is the most advisable. And this approach to therapy almost implies that there isn’t a clear solution. But there is. The only way out is through working with your therapist on facing the scary thing head-on. Slowly, yes, have a plan for confronting your fears. If coping skills must be used, ensure that they are only being used to help you confront the fear instead of to help you avoid the fear.

Perhaps we should define and contrast confrontation coping with avoidance coping. I can confront my anxiety about my upcoming work presentation by practicing and thinking back on all the good presentations I’ve given in the past. Or, I could listen to music, watch TV, and take a bath every time I think about my presentation to cope with the anxiety. The latter perpetuates the psychopathology of avoidance and, ironically, increases the likelihood of a sub-par presentation and future low self-efficacy beliefs about my ability to present.

As long as therapy is particularly careful not to enable avoidance, I might be willing to reconsider my anti-coping skill stance.

Ougrin, D. (2011). Efficacy of exposure versus cognitive therapy in anxiety disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry , 11 (1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-244x-11-200

Wampold, B. E., & Imel, Z. E. (2015). The great psychotherapy debate: The evidence for what makes psychotherapy work . Routledge.

Daniel Flint Ph.D.

Daniel Flint, Ph.D. , is an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine and a pediatric psychologist at Texas Children's Hospital, where he specializes in the treatment of child and adolescent eating disorders.

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When Should You Start Writing Your College Essay? 

Let's be frank: there's never an ideal moment to craft college essays. At best, there are times that are somewhat less unfavorable. Why is...

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When Should You Start Writing Your College Essay? 


Let’s be frank: there’s never an ideal moment to craft college essays. At best, there are times that are somewhat less unfavorable.

Why is that? Simply put, there’s constantly going to be something else that requires your attention right now. A more captivating event, a task that eats up more time, a thrilling experience, pressure-filled situations — you get what I mean.

Nevertheless, it’s important to tackle the task of writing your college essays, and it’s best to do so well in advance of submission dates. My extensive experience with a diverse range of students has taught me that composing an essay becomes much more manageable when divided into more digestible segments. Thus, beginning the process early, approaching it gradually, and allowing ample time for introspection and idea generation are crucial steps. 

For those seeking additional support or guidance throughout the essay writing process, considering the assistance of professional essay writing services can provide valuable expertise and assistance in crafting compelling and polished essays.

When should I start writing my college essay ?

For every student, it’s best to begin thinking about essay topics early, for example, around winter during your junior year. The most challenging aspect of essay writing for college applications is identifying what to write about, as it requires extensive self-examination and time. Consequently, if your school assigns the task of composing the personal statement (also recognized as the Common App essay) in the spring, you’ll be well-prepared to tackle it.

In most cases, the best time to write my college essay is the summer following the junior year. You should aim to complete it before the senior year kicks off. By doing so, you can remove the burden of essay writing from your to-do list and concentrate on finalizing your application submissions, as well as dedicating attention to your final-year courses and extracurricular engagements.

Students planning to attend summer camp should aim to complete their personal statements before going there. Additionally, they should have all additional essays finished by October 31st.

Students aiming for Early Action or Early Decision should aim to have their essays completed by the end of September, which is a month prior to the typical ED/EA application deadlines. Doing this will ensure you have ample opportunity to review your essay and refine it if necessary before sending in your application in early to mid-October.

Students who have numerous supplement essays should aim to complete them by October 31st. It will allow you to concentrate on your senior year, where maintaining high grades is crucial, and also have ample time to respond to any potential deferrals or waitlist decisions.

When to write college essay depends on your goals and commitments other than applying for college. Yet, it is best for all students to complete their essays at least a month prior to the due date. Doing so allows ample opportunity to carefully review them, make adjustments, and refine the work without the stress of an approaching deadline.

should i write about anxiety in my college essay

Who can help me in crafting college application essays?

Your mentors, teachers, tutors, and professional admission essay writers can all help you maximize your chances for success. They can oversee your writing process and ensure you meet your deadlines, removing that burden from parents. Additionally, they motivate you to engage in self-reflection about your personal narratives and offer constructive criticism for every version of every essay and application. Essay writers can help you with the entire writing process, ensuring you get a well-crafted and polished essay to submit. 

Reach out for help early, during your junior year in November, with the winter months being the preferable period to initiate the writing process. This gives you the necessary time to brainstorm ideas and approach the task in a thoughtful and organized manner. 

Final Thoughts 

Starting your college essay early is key to creating a compelling and thoughtful piece. By beginning the process during the junior year and aiming to finish by the start of senior year, students can alleviate the pressure of deadlines and dedicate the necessary time to refine their essays. Remember, the support of mentors and professional essay writers can be invaluable in navigating this crucial step towards your college journey, ensuring your essays are both profound and polished.

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Where do I explain my Social Anxiety Disorder on college application?

I was finally diagnosed with social anxiety disorder last year as a junior and completed treatment this February, so social anxiety isn't really an issue for me anymore. However, before I received this treatment, I simply wasn't able to communicate with other students or teachers very easily. This means that I couldn't make friends with others very well, and I never answered a question in class unless I was directly asked, and my presentations were weak as well.

Since this was not my fault, I would like to explain this illness somewhere in my application in case my teacher recommendations suffer because of it. My teachers appreciate my work ethic, and a few of them know about my anxiety and have helped me with it, but there simply isn't much for them to write about when it comes to class participation.

I do not want colleges to think that I am lazy, uninterested, or any other reason students may not participate in class. I want them to know that the opposite is true: I have worked very hard to overcome this condition and am now much stronger and look forward to finally being able to participate in classes at college.

I know there is an "additional information" section in the common app, but I am applying through the coalition app, so I'm not sure where to put this information, or how to put it.

I firmly believe that my recovery from anxiety gives me unique and valuable experience/skills, and is certainly not a disadvantage, which I acknowledge colleges may see. How/where should put this in my application? Thank you! :)

Earn karma by helping others:

Congrats on your recovery process.

Congrats for being brave to disclose this in your question.

Congrats on feeling good about yourself.

Read this article and see if it makes any sense to you. The author is someone currently attends Columbia U. but got there through a winding circuitous arduous journey after being rejected from every college they applied to for disclosing their mental illness in their college application. One could say that in the couple years perhaps things have changed or are changing in the college admissions process but I would err on the side of caution about what you think application readers want to read about.

I believe colleges do no have the right to ask you about your health or mental health in the admissions process but if you volunteer it and create an essay about then who's to say they will not use that in your best interest.

I am not someone who has struggled with mental illness although I can say that in our current COVID-19 world, that might change. I truly only care about helping people make informed decisions and wish everyone to get into their dream college.

Best of luck in your college admissions process.


I agree with @mrids_xo and I am also writing about mental illness in my essay. The key is to focus on how you've grown and reflect on your experiences rather than dwell on the negative aspects. However, do explain the challenges you have faced and how they have made you stronger. Make the essay unique to you, and you should be fine.

As someone who has struggled with mental health myself, You can try including about your journey with anxiety in your essay if you are comfortable. This might be a good place to talk about it if required. I too have been thinking about writing about GAD in my essay and if you are really able to outline your struggles and how you come out of them, It might make an impressive personal essay.

Note- I in no way mean to romanticise the idea of having a mental disorder.

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