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“Can I Write About Abortion?” and Other Controversial Application Essay Subjects

August 23, 2010

A few days ago a student I was working with from Stamford asked me if she could write about abortion.  Half an hour later she was back on the phone asking if she could write about drugs.

Should you write about controversial subjects in your college application essay? I don’t recommend it. You don’t know who’s reading your essay. He or she might have a real problem with the subject matter or the side of the topic you decide to take. You just don’t know. Why take the risk when the process is already so competitive?

If you still want to go ahead, you have to cover your subject matter maturely, from both sides. That’s not to say you can’t have your own ideas. You can and you should. But there’s no room for petulance.

Why, by the way, are you writing about this subject? Are you passionate about it? Do you have a personal experience dealing with it? Does it somehow reflect (or affect) your sense of self in the world,  your sense of right and wrong? I asked the young woman who called me, and she gave me an interesting answer. She said that lately some of her struggles with her parents had been over their differing ideas of right and wrong. She extrapolated from that, and ended up at abortion and drugs.

What had happened was the student started with a personal experience, and then, feeling she had to have a “big topic,” chose one that she actually had very little connection to.  The connection she had was to her own experience, her own sense of right and wrong. I asked her to think about that and perhaps develop it into what could be a compelling essay — a true personal statement.

Every college essay has to reflect the writer — who you are, your interests, your goals and personality.  If you’re going to write about a controversial subject you’re taking a risk. But ultimately the subject has to boil down to you.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 23, 2010 9:51 pm

    Great advice. Students should write what they know, and you expressed that clearly. I look forward to reading your next missive.

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