The Ivy Coach Daily
May 13, 2021
Writing About Overcoming Obstacles in College Admissions
If my child hasn’t overcome significant obstacles in life, she really has nothing to write about — certainly nothing that will set her apart, right? Wrong. It’s a common refrain we hear from folks who are not our clients. They seem to be under the assumption that young people need to overcome significant obstacles in their childhood or young adulthood to distinguish themselves in the elite college admissions process. The presumption is, of course, false. While, yes, there are college applicants who build windmills out of spare bicycle parts in their villages in Malawi to harness the wind to power their villages and, yes, there are homeless students in the applicant pools too, one does not need to live in a village with no power or lack shelter to earn admission to highly selective universities.
Audrey Smith, Vice President for Enrollment at Smith College, says it best in a letter to the editor published in yesterday’s New York Times. As she writes, “I agree wholeheartedly that we do a disservice to college applicants when we signal that overcoming adversity is the only way to distinguish oneself in the college admission process. Resilience is an important characteristic for future college students. But even more important factors for colleges to consider are how applicants approach learning, what they see as the purpose of their education, how they investigate their intellectual interests, and how they react when their assumptions are challenged. Too many students worry that if they have not faced major adversity in their young lives, they don’t have a college essay topic. Is this really the message we want to send to our future scholars and leaders?…I have read thousands of essays. Those that I remember best are not the essays that reflect the greatest hardship or the most pain, but those that show the ability to make meaning from everyday situations, demonstrate a sense of humor, reflect a commitment to the community and, most of all, demonstrate the joy the student finds in learning.”
Well said, Audrey! Well said indeed. We salute you, Audrey, at the conclusion of your 40-year career in elite college admissions, for telling it like it is.
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