Breaking News
The Student News Site of Northwood High School

The Northwood Howler

The Student News Site of Northwood High School

The Northwood Howler

The Student News Site of Northwood High School

The Northwood Howler

Trading trauma for college admissions

Keyur Joshi
TRAUMA FOR SHOW: Presenting your trauma for college admissions shouldn’t be the norm.

College essays are like gifts, wrapped in a sparkly bow, intending to satisfy college admissions officers just enough to accept you. But a new trend in college essay writing, the trauma essay, goes a step further, intending to demonstrate maturity and resilience in response to a tragic event. The normalization of the trauma essay desensitizes both students and admissions officers to depths of trauma itself and trivializes the lasting emotional impact on the victim.

Trauma essays depict a tragic life event, written to evoke strong emotions in order to leave a striking impression on college admissions officers. With the growing emphasis placed on essays as part of the admissions process, writing something intimately personal may feel like it can tilt the admissions odds in your favor.

“What we were really looking at was the individuality and uniqueness of the essays we received,” student teacher and former admissions officer Tyler Sparks said. “Over time, students seemed to write more and more trauma essays because it may seem super unique, but in reality, it is actually one of the most common types of essays. ”

The flaw of the trauma essay and its increased visibility through social media is that students will inevitably believe eye-catching traumatic experiences are necessary to differentiate themselves from other applicants.

“The most important thing is that students are true to who they are and that their voice is authentic,” college and career counselor Kathi Smith said. “Not everyone has had a traumatic experience nor should they hope to have one.”

The trauma essay also operates on the presumption that everyone’s relationship with trauma is not only linear, but something that can be spun into a positive story of growth. This reductive perception invalidates the ongoing struggle that some survivors of trauma carry with them. Survivors may feel pressured to just “get over it” and frame themselves as brave and resilient in their essays, even though they still may be grappling with the effects of those events.

“It is harmful to glorify trauma in that way that makes students feel they have to have experienced something tragic to be able to get into college,” IUSD mental health specialist Amanda Mills said. “The normalization of talking about your trauma can be healing for some but detrimental for others.”

This isn’t to discount that some people could have traumatic experiences that legitimately show growth and maturity. If an experience provides necessary context to your application, then addressing it in a personal statement might be beneficial to providing a fuller picture of you to admissions officers.

However, the intent of a college essay is to emphasize your character, not to obtain pity from admissions officers. To combat the trending trauma essay, university officials need to reconsider prompts such as “describe a challenge in your life” that demand students write an emotion-evoking essay.

College applicants should also feel free to tell the story of themselves that they want to tell, not a story that they believe admissions officers may like the most. Although manufacturing or selling trauma to admissions officers may seem like an effective strategy, students should highlight the best parts of themselves that truly reflect their character and showcase what they would bring to each particular university. What that looks like depends entirely on the individual student.

“It is difficult to give advice as each situation is so different and personal,” Smith said. “If you need more in-depth advice, please see me or your counselor. We are happy to look at your essay and help you brainstorm ideas.”

Leave a Comment
About the Contributors
Aishwarya Ramasubramanian is a junior and THO editor of The Northwood Howler. With an iced pumpkin spice chai latte in one hand and an Apple pencil in the other, she is likely the top user of Goodnotes at Northwood High School. 
Keyur Joshi, Photographer
Keyur Joshi is a junior, photographer, and business team member for The Northwood Howler. Keyur is a fan of 80s and light rap music, and he often listens to music while working or when he has free time. One of Keyur's hobbies is competing in competitive robotics.

Comments (0)

All The Northwood Howler Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *