All about college essays: Things to consider when writing the “Special circumstances” additional question

Post By: COYD Staff

special circumstances essayThis is the last of post in the “All about college essays” series. Today we are going to discuss the additional information question: “If there is any additional information you’d like to provide regarding special circumstances, additional qualifications, etc., please do so in the space below or on an attached sheet.”

Many students use this space as an opportunity to discuss circumstances that might have caused any weaknesses on their application. If you are using this space to discuss these circumstances, please make sure to take into consideration the following points:

1. Keep the writing quality consistent with the rest of the essays.

Just because they don’t provide a word count, it doesn’t mean you should approach this essay question any differently than the other questions. You should give this answer the same kind of precision and attention you give your other essays.

2. Nobody likes a sob story. Instead, it should be a triumphant one.

There’s no doubt that hardships and tragedies can adversely affect a student’s grades in high school. However, every student should always keep in mind that the admissions officers have a job to do. The admissions officer’s job is to create the best freshman class possible. So even if you do happen to get a sympathetic or empathetic admissions officer, remember that your audience has a job to do and it’s not admitting people they feel sorry for. This essay, like the others, must show your character, your maturity, and your values.

It is imperative to show that your hardships in high school were not just hardships but experiences as well. Aldous Huxley does a great job of explaining what experiences are: “Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.”

Admissions officers want to admit students who exemplify maturity. If you have experienced tragedy or hardship in your life, focus on how you overcame this hardship, how it has shaped you as a person, and how it has influenced your desire to go to college and pursue your dreams.

3. Focus more on yourself than the tragedy, and be an inspiration.

First, I’m sure you don’t want to divulge too much about the tragedy since it’s probably quite personal. Second, keeping it more about yourself than the tragedy will also avoid the admissions officers thinking that you feel entitled to special treatment or pity. Nobody likes self-pity even if the tragedy was immense.

Overall, the essays are to show who you are outside of your grades and accomplishments. All the essays are designed to allow admissions officers to learn more about your values and character. Make sure to keep that in mind regardless of which essay you choose.

Good luck!


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