Stories in college essays matter a great deal. They speak to who you are, where you come from, and where you want to go. But too many students share stories in their college essays that have little if not nothing to do with them. They try to impress college admissions counselors with these stories — only it backfires on them. What students should be sharing in their college essays are stories that reflect their own personalities, their own life experiences.
There’s nothing wrong, say, with writing about apartheid in South Africa, but don’t just share a history lesson. Don’t just try and impress us with facts that you’ve read in your history textbook. Don’t just write about the facts surrounding Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Don’t just write that he received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 with F.W. de Klerk. Spewing out facts will not improve your odds of admission. They will only improve your odds of putting college admissions counselors fast to sleep.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with writing about history. If you want to write about apartheid in South Africa, though, there is more to share than facts. Write about what you’ve read — outside of textbooks — about the impact apartheid continues to have on South Africa, long after the end of this terrible time in world history. Write about what you’ve read that wasn’t required reading on the subject. Write about how it makes you feel, about how South Africa can continue to distance itself from the horrors of its past. Your voice needs to be heard in this story and that’s why it’s always essential to “write what you know.” If you don’t know much about apartheid, don’t choose to write about it. It’s that simple. Don’t try to impress. Write what you know. Write what you care about. And that’ll come through.