What if the admissions officer thinks I'm part of a cult based on my community essay?
UMich has a Culture and Diversity Prompt that asks you to describe a community that you are part of. I talked about a community called Swadhyay, which is a spiritual community that tries to revive ancient Indian Culture (Bhagavad Gita, Vedas, etc.). What if the admissions officer thinks I'm describing a cult?
Anytime you write about a personal subject area that is unique to the mainstream culture of the country whose college you are applying to you risk misinterpretation, judgment, bias, and possible rejection. First of all, you don't know who is going to be reading your application file. Best case it's an East Indian American citizen, worst case it's someone who has never traveled outside of the US who doesn't know anything about East Indian (as opposed to American Native American) culture. If I applied to a Chinese university and said I was an active member of an evangelical megachurch in Alabama (which is in the deep South, home of very conservative politics and Trump supporters), would that be a red flag or would they not care? I don't know.
You have a limited number of words to advocate for yourself in your college essay. If you have to spend a paragraph explaining what Swadhyay is to a layperson is just so you don't risk them thinking its a cult, then you have not used your allotted space to put your best foot forward in the admissions process. Most application readers only spend 10-20 minutes reading a file so they are not going to take a break and research Swadhyay like I did to figure out whether its a cult or not. If they think it sounds unconventional, they might pass judgment. I can't recommend what you should do or not do.
You should decide if being Swadhyay gives you an advantage in supporting your narrative in the college admissions process.
So I agree with VeggieDance but want to speak a bit more about how AOs read essays.
—- International Applicant Applicable —-
As UMich gets a lot of international applicants they would highly likely have a AO who is dedicated to Indian applicants (if you are intl applicant I’m guessing your Indian) so they would likely be knowledgeable about Hinduism etc so it’s not a huge risk as veggiedance implies it is.
—- Domestic Applicant Only —-
It’s more risky to write it as a American citizen as you have a lot more variation in who will read it. I’m 99% confident that UMjch has admissions officers who covers specific geographical areas. You can search them up and either read thier bio or just email them and ask if you know about the swadhay movement.
—- Essay tips —-
Don’t dedicate a paragraph to describing the movement but sprinkle in sentences about what you do. For example if you talk about x culture, You can write a sentence saying I have done insert thing to revive x culture. Then talk about said culture in like a sentence.
I will say if admissions was based off of essay uniqueness you’d get in 100%.
This is a fairly good resourse for UMich applicants
Hope this helps and please comment if you need clarification as I’d be happy to help clarify!