Writing Tip Wednesday: Own your story...all of it
More often than you might think, I work with students who feel ashamed of something on their transcript or school record. This may be a B- in Chemistry for some, or a dismissal from school for others. Whatever the case may be, students are hesitant to tell me let alone the admissions office of their dream college about it. They are sheepish and want nothing more than to hide this discrepancy under the rug.
That's just about the worst thing they could do. For the most part, admissions officers aren't snooty old ladies, perched in an ivory tower who never have even broken the speed limit. They're people. Usually young people. They love their school and they are looking to see which applicants will be a great fit for that school. They want the people they let in to succeed. Therefore, when they see a hole in a transcript or something that looks less than perfect, they don't automatically laugh and throw the file into the furnace. But they do get curious.
Here are three reasons why owning your story is the best way to go, especially if you are nervous about doing so:
1. It is a golden opportunity to explain troublesome issues. Give the admissions office some context if it would be helpful. If there's a very good reason why you had to change schools midway through your Senior year, tell them about it. Chances are, their imaginations are a lot more scandalous than your situation. Sidenote, notice I said explain troublesome issues not excuse them, which brings me to #2
2. It gives you a chance to own your mistakes. DO NOT blame anyone else for your mistakes. That WILL get your application tossed into the rubbish bin....for good reason.
3. It allows you to show some growth. The only reason you shouldn't write about that time you failed Algebra or that time you got suspended for fighting is if you really learned nothing from it. Don't leave out this vital part of your story! In fact, that's the part your essay should really feature. What did you learn and even more importantly, what do you do differently now?
Everyone makes mistakes, some just are more public than others. Welcome to the human race. But not everyone is brave enough to grow from them and then talk about them. Colleges are filled with students who have not yet learned from their mistakes and are undoubtably going to keep committing them until they do. In fact, there's an alarmingly growing dropout trend after the Freshmen year due to this lack of resiliency.
Please note: I am not talking about divulging information that is too personal or would be harmful to others, by the way. This isn't a journal entry or a therapeutic endeavor. It's not a chance to air some grievances or heal some wounds. But as a general rule, if you have a part of your story that you're nervous about sharing, it may be worth your while to feature it rather than wish it had never happened.