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Articles / Applying to College / Should I "Recall" My Common App Essay on Depression?

Oct. 29, 2018

Should I "Recall" My Common App Essay on Depression?

Should I "Recall" My Common App Essay on Depression?
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My high school English teacher had us turn in our Common App essays as an assignment. She made suggestions and corrections, and I submitted my Common App with that essay version on it a few weeks ago. Now I'm doing some supplemental essays for other schools and my mom hired an essay specialist to review them. For one of my supplementals, I used my Common App essay (this is a school not on Common App, so they won't see it twice). The essay consultant ripped it to shreds, said it didn't fit the prompt at all and was on a subject (my depression after my parents' divorce) that she said is sort of forbidden. Now I'm wondering if my English teacher was just looking for grammatical problems and doesn't know what colleges are looking for so she didn't edit the content -- just the grammar and structure. Since I already turned in the common app, I'm really nervous now. Can I "recall" my Common Apps or would that be worse? Two of my deadlines already passed.

Once you've submitted your Common Application essay, it's usually a bad idea to write to colleges to say “Never mind." This conveys a message to the admission committees that suggests, “I didn't put adequate thought into my initial try, so now I expect you to take extra time to deal with a non-standard situation." Yet, over the eons, “The Dean" has sometimes seen students send second essays with no apparent penalty. Thus, I'll occasionally say, “Go ahead and try it," but only when the pros seem to outweigh potential cons.


In your case, however, they may not. For starters, even if you send a second essay, it's likely that the admission officials will look at your first one as well. (This will depend on protocol at different colleges, which will vary.) Secondly, because your English teacher signed off on your essay, I assume that the organization, spelling and mechanics were fine. So the real issue here is that you wrote about depression which your private counselor has told you is a no-no, but may actually not be. It depends on what you said.

I, too, often discourage students from writing about depression unless this depression caused low grades or other transcript anomalies that cry out to be explained. But even then, I typically advise using the “Additional Information" section of the application for this explanation, rather than the primary essay. Nonetheless, I've read primary essays written on depression that were excellent ... and appropriate. The quality of the writing is what counts the most. However, it's also important for a depression essay to state (or to at least imply) that its author is fully ready to embrace college life ... with all of its potential stresses.

So if you think that your essay shows that you've overcome your post-divorce depression and that your essay won't leave admission folks wondering if you can handle the adjustment to college life, then don't worry about this anymore. But if you suspect that this essay will spawn concern in admission offices that you're not ready for the demands just ahead, then you might want to send an “update" letter to all your colleges that clarifies your readiness. Ask the college officials to add this to your file. (And if you fear that perhaps you're really not ready, consider a gap year. Then you can reapply with a brand-new essay!)

From your question, it sounds as if one reason that the consultant disliked your Common App essay was that it didn't fit the prompt provided for the supplemental essay. Of course, “The Dean" can't weigh in on this without seeing both. However, if the consultant's main objection was that you raised a red flag by mentioning depression, you should rest assured that it may not be a problem at all, as long as admission committees don't question your fitness to start college next fall.

Finally, keep in mind that the struggle with depression is part of who you are, and even if you've been told that it's not the wisest essay topic choice, it's certainly an honest one. So take comfort in the fact that the colleges that accept you anyway are welcoming the real you, and not some whitewashed version that was created for your applications.

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Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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