One of the most common questions I got from students working on their college application essays when I was a high school teacher was "Is it okay to write about...?"
Is it okay to write about my depression? Is it okay to write about coming out as homosexual? Is it okay to write about how I used to be a really bad student? Is it okay to write about being an abuse survivor? Is it okay to talk about being bullied? Is it okay to talk about the time I was a bully?
Yes, it is okay. Nobody is asking you to hide any part of yourself, to feel shame, or feel unworthy. In many cases, it would literally be illegal for an admissions officer to discriminate against you based simply on the topic your essay. They ask you to write essays to make sure your writing skills are sufficient, yes, but also to get to know you as a person.
That being said, it's important to think about why you would write about that. Whatever specific narrative or example you give, you want your essay to illustrate personal qualities or traits that aren't already demonstrated in your transcript and that show your readiness to do well in college.
Battling depression, or being queer, or having suffered academic setbacks doesn't make you any less able to do well in college. But it doesn't necessarily make you any more able to do well in college, either. So decide what personal qualities this particular issue might highlight as evidence.
So, for example, your essay isn't about the incredible difficulty of coming out to your family, it's about how you've learned to have difficult or contentious conversations without falling apart. Coming out is the example you give, or one of several examples you give.
For example, your essay isn't about your diagnosis as bipolar, it's about how self-knowledge has made you a stronger person and better thinker. Working through your bipolar diagnosis is your example, or one of your examples.
The main idea is this: the difficult thing you want to talk about but aren't sure you should talk about? Go ahead and talk about it. But it's not your thesis, it's your concrete evidence.
I don't say that to diminish the importance of your identity or the reality of your struggle, just to make sure you keep your eye on the key parts of your essay. Always begin with asking yourself: what about me makes me likely to do well in college, and how do I best show that?
Once you know it's perfectly fine to be yourself, however you define that, go back to focusing on how to write the best essay.
If you haven't yet decided that it's fine to be yourself, if you haven't yet got help or had a real discussion about something you need help with or need to discuss, there are people out there who care and who want to help. Please find them and take care of yourself.
Thanks for reading! This post originally ran in October 2016. Please share this with everyone you know, or at least with someone you think will find it helpful. There are lots of ways to get regular updates from Apply with Sanity: like me on Facebook and Twitter, get the monthly newsletter, or connect on LinkedIn.