Can College Essays Be Sad?

Tragedy and sadness are a part of life, and with it comes various stories that shape our very being and personalities. Let’s dive into the topic and explore whether college essays can be sad.

When choosing a topic for your college essay, selecting one can take a lot of work. And often, the best stories to evoke emotions in others are the sad types.

Nevertheless, these types of stories can include very serious and personal topics that can be challenging to write about and share with others. Which further makes these topics hard to write about. 

Topics can include the death of a loved one, such as a parent, sibling, or friend, or a traumatic first-person experience. These experiences can feel heavy or sometimes even wrong to write about, especially if it was something that did not happen directly to you.

college essays can be sad

College essays can be sad; if written correctly, these emotions can create a vacuum and draw in your readers, who, in this case, are admission officers. Some particular topics, however, are overly used and can become bland, overrated, and a big cliche.

Right around now, you might be thinking, “Can I Write My College Essay About Anything?” You’ll have to take a peek at my other article to find out 😉

Below we will discuss how to avoid writing a cliche college essay, especially if you choose to focus on a tragic topic or story.

Why you need to stand out

Imagine getting to work and seeing a pile of papers sitting at your desk. One after the other, you have to read a little about the life of a kid you have never met. 

This will somewhat weigh into the decision of whether they are admitted or rejected from their chosen college. Soon enough, the pile will begin blending into one, and you will desperately wish for some entertainment.

If you, as an applicant, do not capture the reader in your first sentence or two, it is probable that they will skim through your essay and never look at it again. But working towards this can be a slippery slope, especially if you don’t take caution with your writing. 

Think Before You Write

Avoid coming across as a victim or even showing that you might be a bad fit for the university. It would be best if you aimed to stand out by portraying how the story has changed you, your life, or some crucial aspect. 

Before writing a sad college essay, ensure you and the people affected by the story are okay with the story being told. This can become a larger issue if the topic is still playing out, a fresh wound, or an ongoing investigation of some sort.

As an applicant, you should also show that you are emotionally and mentally stable toward the situation and even open to discussing it further. To take it a step further, mention how the course of events led you to volunteer, sponsor a club, or anything else that ties your story with a positive note.

Note: You should never lie or exaggerate the truth when writing your college essay, especially when it is a sad and heartfelt topic. Be honest about what you did! For instance, if you did not get to start a club to honor or help others in the same situation you went through, mention that it is a goal you hope to achieve in your time with the university.

How to write a sad college essay

College applications often play a significant role in students’ lives after leaving high school. Admission essays are a big part of that! This can overwhelm students new to the university scene but worry not. 

There are tons of resources to answer all questions, for instance, Can College Essays Be Informal? Check out the article if you want to learn more. 

But the main idea here is to write the perfect essay, one sure to succeed. And what better way to do that than to know the five flaws found in most college application essays.

To help you grow your knowledge and understanding of what admission officers are looking for in a college essay, you can get your hands on a College Essay Guide that can aid you, step by step.

Now, let’s dive into the tips and tricks on how to write a sad college essay while steering clear of all the cliches.

Show Respect

Being respectful can come in all sorts of ways, but privacy is vital in this scenario. Stories of tragedy can often include the loss of loved ones, and with it must come respect.

First and foremost, you should have the approval of others included in the story to use it. Remember that just because the story included you does not mean that it is yours to tell.

Students willing to write about this topic must keep the personal information of others involved private. The only name that should be tied to the story is yours because you will submit your application.

Do your best to avoid mentioning names or other details that are private. If you must include names in the story to make it flow better, then change the names.

Try your best to keep any unneeded information away from the essay and be respectful of the story itself. The lack of details in these types of stories will not reflect poorly on your essay.

On the contrary, admission officers will recognize you for being discreet and respectful and are more focused on looking at the bigger picture and how the events affect you.

Choose Your Words Carefully

It goes without saying that college essays must be respectful; this means that no cursing or profanities should be on them. Furthermore, keep any and all controversial thoughts and feelings away from the paper too!

A tragic topic can bring severe thoughts and feelings to the table and, with it, somber words. In this case, there has to be an established balance between the tragic event and the silver lining.

Though college essays can be sad, they should not feel empty. Students must take the time to draft their ideas and re-write the essay as many times as needed.

To ease the process, start with a simple sentence: “it made me sad.” Then start elaborating and evoking emotions to build the sentiments further, like, “it brought me to tears to reflect on…”

Focus on finding the right words to convey the emotions you felt at that time, but also add in the feelings you have now towards the situation. See the good and the bad that came from it, what you learned and how you grew.

Prompts Are Guidelines

Unless you are given a prompt that lets you explore any possible topic, such as the Princeton Review, “Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.” then skim the list and choose one that ties in nicely with your story. 

It is crucial to visualize your prompt as a guideline for your writing. Remember that colleges are not going to directly ask you questions such as, “Why did you last cry?” You won’t find a prompt centered around a sad topic or tragedy, mainly because it reflects badly on universities if they ask their applicants to talk about tragic personal issues or challenges.

Nevertheless, they do leave the door open for interpretation in most of their prompts. For example, a commonly used prompt is, “Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

In this case, you could definitely connect it to an emotional story, tying in the resolution and talking about how it made you grow as a person. Regardless of the story, you are willing to tell, stay on task and answer the prompt.

By no means does that mean you should change the route of the story or what you are trying to portray, but you should be cautious of how a prompt can change the theme of your story.

Don’t get overly obsessed with telling the story; instead, look at it as an inspiration. You might want to be a surgeon because you have undergone countless surgeries. Or the passing of a childhood friend motivated you to be an educator.

Whatever it may be, you can mention it in your essay, but that does not mean the whole essay must be based on it. There is a significant difference between the two.

Maintain Focus

Don’t get lost in the story; focus on the prompt and let it guide your story along. Bring only the most crucial details to the table, and leave the details for embellishment. 

To practice this, I suggest writing your story in bullet points. Now remove as many as you can while still keeping the story intact. Those are the most vital details you should mention.

When drafting, you should include these points and add other details where you see fit. This exercise can help keep the word limit from skyrocketing and keep the reader’s attention on the prize.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Regardless of what topic you are writing or what prompt you chose, you must always be truthful. The college admission officers are looking for genuine candidates willing to open up and share their stories.

Feel free to write about something other than a tragedy. Contrary to popular belief, admission officers do not expect sad and tragic topics from applicants. You should only do so if you feel that the topic has moved and changed you in exceptional ways.

Keep yourself true; only mention the ways you were truly impacted and the truthful consequences you had to go through. The goal is to come across as authentic as you can be.

Me, Myself and I

When discussing a loss, sad story, or tragic event, you must remember to center the story around you and how it changed or affected you. This can sometimes be difficult to do if the story revolves around someone else.

Colleges look at you as an applicant, not the people mentioned in the story. Though this can seem somewhat selfish, it can be more detrimental to your essay to focus on other people instead of yourself.

Balance how much time you spend talking about the story and how much you develop the resolution and silver lining of the story. Refrain from spending so much time talking about someone else or their story; concentrate on how the story is yours too.

To better keep yourself in line, ask questions like, ” What were the short and long-term impacts? How has this altered my way of thinking or goals? And when did I feel like I could use this to my benefit?”

Final Thoughts

College essays can be sad. In fact, they can be exceptionally effective if performed the right way. Nevertheless, you should always be honest, stay true to the story, and respect the privacy of others involved.

Concentrate on how the story has impacted you and made you a better person. Admission officers want to have a better insight into your life, and a tragic story can be an unconventional way to do so, but it can be successful if performed correctly.

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