College Application: Choosing An Essay Topic

By Michele Turk

One of the most nerve-wracking and intimidating aspects of the college application process is writing the college admissions essay. Many students (and their parents) engage in and even manufacture experiences so they can write about something meaningful—all with the aim of impressing college admission officers.

The good news is that kids with LD and ADHD may actually have an advantage when it comes to the college admissions essay. Below are a few tips for how to benefit when it comes to writing the admissions essay:

  • Focus on your abilities, not your disabilities. Kids with LD usually don’t have to look far for a compelling essay topic because so many of them figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are early on in life. Likewise, these kids are encouraged to find things they excel at so they can build self-confidence and competence. As a result, kids with LD often find their passion—a hobby, talent or ability that they excel at—in their formative years. Ask any college admissions officer and they will echo the same advice: write about something you are passionate about, and make sure it reveals something about who you really are.
  • Share your struggles. Another oft-repeated piece of essay advice is to write about a personal challenge or problem. In their scant 17 years, high school seniors with learning differences have faced personal challenges that belie their age. While other kids rack their brains trying to come up with examples of adversity they have faced, kids with LD have surmounted one obstacle after another academically and socially. The only problem writing about this subject will be keeping within the 650-word limit on the Common Application!
  • Be honest. Kids with LD may be reluctant to share stories about their shortcomings, and the heartache they caused, but this type of authenticity is what makes a great essay. Some college advisors dissuade students from mentioning the fact that they have any type of disability, but if a child is applying to college, it’s a huge achievement, and they should take credit for the hard work that got them to this point.
  • Celebrate your differences. According to a recent U.S. News & World Report article, “Colleges are looking for diversity, and having a learning disability represents a form of diversity.” If a student divulges that he or she has LD or ADHD in their essay, admissions officers might look at the child’s grades and test scores in a different light. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes students make is to write what they think admissions officers want to read. These essays often end up being forced and inauthentic. Instead, the best approach is to choose something the reader may not know about you from looking at the rest of your application.

Michele Turk is the founder of A Bloc of Writers, Inc., a Greenwich, CT-based company offering writing, editing and tutoring services.

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