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I get questions all the time. Here’s a popular one I receive from applicants..

Q: I’ve read lot of essays online and so many seem like sob stories. Do I have to find something sad to write?

A: I get this question all the time! And the answer is a resounding “no!” A few days ago a friend sent me an article in The Chronicle. Read it here. The applicant appears to have fabricated a sad, violent history in her admissions essay. UPenn must’ve liked the essay because they accepted her. After she graduated, the school got an anonymous tip that the essay was, essentially, a lie. They did an investigation, and perhaps a lot of what she wrote was a lie. Ugh.

A sad story bout your upbringing could be something the school needs to know, it could be cathartic for you, and it could show strength of character. Or it could just sound depressing. I don’t think it’s a good approach, here’s why. If you are under-served or a minority, the school will know about this from your application. They’ll see where you were raised, what your parents do, how much money they may make, etc. Why use the personal statement to hammer all that home? It could send the wrong message, that you feel like a victim, someone who deserves to be at that college. Avoid all that! My approach would be to write an essay that stays away from all that. This will give you bonus point to the admissions office, as if to say, “this applicant showed us another side of them.” Look at it this way: I worked with recruited athletes a lot. Do I want them to write about sports? No! I work with STEM kids a lot. Do I want them to write about STEM. No way! Stretch a little, show another side, give them an essay they aren’t expecting from what they read in the rest of your application. I believe this will serve you better and differentiate you from other applicants with a similar story and background.