4 years ago
Admissions Advice

Are "sob stories" a strong essay for common app to get into selective colleges?

I've heard that some colleges don't like it when you write about a sad thing that happened in your life or a "pity story" on your application, but I feel like my "sob story" would be really beneficial in explaining some deficiencies in my applications. For example, for the common app prompt asking for a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful, my application would be incomplete without it, I was thinking about writing about my medical history. I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and alopecia when I was 10, and while those two health issues aren't uncommon, they are uncommon among 10-year-olds. Long story a little shorter, I went on high levels of medication because of how bad my hyperthyroidism is (if I don't get my thyroids removed after the age of 25, I have a very high risk of heart failure, but 25 is just a medical estimate), and the medication made me so unmotivated and reduced so much of my thyroid production from what I was used to, that all I did was sleep, eat, and repeat. My medication led to weight gain and lethargicness to the point where my mental and physical health had a steep decrease and I went from being Clara in The Nutcracker with straight a's, to having no passion and earning 5 C's combined during Freshman and Sophmore year. My parents took me off of the medication because of this, and now I'm getting straight A's in even more rigorous classes (5 AP, 1 Honors,) and my weighted GPA is a 4.87. I've started trying to regulate my hyperthyroidism through yoga (several studies have shown that it helps) and it now provides me with a calmaity and I rarely have heart palpatations anymore. However, because of the medication my freshman and sophomore year, my unweighted GPA is a 3.42 and my weighted is a 4.12. Should I include this despite colleges not wanting "sob stories"?


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2 answers

Accepted Answer
4 years ago[edited]

Many colleges do not like the tone that is evoked through sob stories. If you employ more uplifting, inspiring diction, it is not a sob story anymore. It is a story of perseverance and resilience. Should you choose to write about your condition (which makes you unique), don't forget to put a positive spin on it and emphasize that your life is way more than just your condition; you are not your illness!

Hope this helps!

4 years ago

I know you've already received your answer, and it was a good one, I'm responding for anyone else who might come across this question. Sob stories by themselves don't make strong essays for the common app, I'd say they probably do the exact opposite. However, it's definitely possible to write a strong essay that includes a sob story. It's all about how you frame the story for the reader. There are smaller things you need to consider when writing, like sentence structure, and then more obvious things like word choice and tone which can influence the reader. If you write your essay in a way where you can spin the circumstances into something positive or inspirational, like @briannaf said, then it's completely fine to include in your essay.

The illnesses you have are part of your background and identity and sounds like they've shaped some of your experiences. It is definitely important to include that in your essay, in my opinion, and it sounds like you agree. As long as the essay isn't ONLY about your illness and if you can avoid sounding like you're asking for "pity" then you should include it. First, it can help explain your initial dip in grades. Second, think about if you can include the impacts of these illnesses and how they've helped define who you are and your outlook on life. I'm sure there are memories and experiences you've faced as you've grown-up that are unique to you and which can put an interesting take on your story. If you can weave in ways in which you've grown because of your experiences, and do it in a positive and natural way, you'll be OK including the story in your essay.

What are your chances of acceptance?
Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
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Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

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