What to do if you’re Boring

I have worked with a range of students from very diverse backgrounds. Some come from low-income neighborhoods and are the first in their family to attend college. They have overcome their share of hardships. I have also worked with students from affluent and middle class families, most of who have never had to worry about being evicted, deported, or what to eat for dinner.

And of course there are many exceptions on both sides – affluent students who overcame great challenges, or low-income students who’ve had relatively easy lives.

But regardless of their background, when it’s time to write their college essay, students who haven’t faced hardships are often jealous of the students whose have.

“I wish my life had been harder so I had something interesting to write about.”

“Poor kids are lucky, writing their personal statement must be so easy.”

“I haven’t had cancer or lost a parent. I’m so boring!”

Comments like this stem from one of the biggest misconceptions about the college essay: That it needs to be about overcoming some huge life challenge in order to be powerful and memorable.

It’s simply not true! Not every 17 year old will have faced illness, loss of a loved one, poverty, violence or natural disaster. And admissions officers know this.

Here’s the truth: a college essay doesn’t need to be about tragedy or hardship to be memorable. Many of the best college essays are about boring, everyday things. The secret is to describe them in a thoughtful way, and use these descriptions to reveal what matters most to you.

A few of my favorite student essays this past application cycle were about totally mundane topics, described in a way that left vivid images in the reader’s mind and gave a glimpse into the student’s innermost self.

One student wrote about listening to music on his dad’s old record player, and described how records taught him how to focus on the present moment, a skill that was essential in his chosen major. Another student described his battle to convince him mom to allow him to play baseball, revealing his tenacity and determination. Another student wrote about having ugly feet. All these essays could have been really dull, but they came to life because the students used beautiful descriptions and were not afraid to reveal their vulnerabilities, flaws and quirks.

So don’t worry if you’ve had a boring life. Your essay can still be brilliant – it’s all in how you tell it.

I provide personal essay coaching to students applying to college. Learn about working with me here.

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