“Every teacher I worked with said not to write my essay about trauma — but I wanted to write about my life, how hard I have worked, and what I have been able to accomplish despite, and also because of, my past struggles.”
- Hometown: Indianapolis, IN
- High School: Public
- GPA: 4.0/4.4 (weighted)
- SAT: 1490
- ACT: 34
- Major: Biological sciences
- Goal: Medical school to become an OB/GYN
- Extracurriculars: Technical theater, softball team, natural resources internship with town parks department, co-president of high school women’s rights club, part-time job with chiropractic center, National Honor Society.
Like a lot of academically “advanced” kids, I wanted to go to Harvard or Yale in elementary school. I originally considered those schools with no idea what college actually was like. I just knew everyone on Disney Channel went to one of those schools, so I thought I would try to go to one too.
When I started really looking into colleges, I realized the Ivies were not right for me. They felt too competitive. Plus, I wanted something closer to home. So, I started looking for other academically challenging colleges that were in large cities and close-ish to home but not in my home state.
I landed on Chicago, and on my 17th birthday my mom and I went there to tour colleges. I booked a University of Chicago tour “just because.” I knew almost nothing about it other than its low acceptance rate and national rank, which I found very intimidating. I planned on touring UChicago just for fun and to get ideas about what I liked and disliked about colleges.
Love at First Tour
After taking the UChicago campus tour, I fell in love with its historic and enchanting campus, its many resources and opportunities, and its quirky student culture. The people I met were so kind, welcoming, funny, and supportive. I learned about fun traditions, such as the annual four-day scavenger hunt, and about UChicago’s amazing biological sciences program and Core Curriculum. I also attended a financial aid session where I was told about the “No Barriers” policy, which guaranteed that, at a minimum, my tuition would be completely covered by scholarships. From the moment the tour ended, UChicago was my first choice.
But Will I Get In?
UChicago has a very low acceptance rate — around five percent — so I knew I would have to work a lot on my application. I actually started working on it on the drive home from the tour.
I had to write three essays for my UChicago application: The Common App essay, a statement about why I wanted to attend UChicago, and the UChicago supplemental essay – which is famous for its unusual essay prompts. I started my essays in July, so I could give myself plenty of time.
What I wrote for UChicago’s “Uncommon App” Essay
My favorite part of the process was writing UChicago’s supplemental essay. I am a really creative person, so I had a lot of fun reviewing the unique prompts – which are written by current students — and I let my imagination run wild. In my essay, I wanted to highlight my creativity and present quirky ideas that were compatible with UChicago. I also wanted to demonstrate my knowledge of history and different perspectives on history.
I picked this prompt: If you could give any historical figure any piece of technology, who and what would it be, and why do you think they’d work so well together?
I wrote about what Leonardo da Vinci could have done if he had a Keurig. It is well known that da Vinci was an accomplished artist, inventor, and scientist. But he also began many projects he was never able to finish, like anatomical studies, the plane, and medical breakthroughs. He also kept to an odd sleep schedule that made him fatigued most of the time. I talked about how different the world might be and what events might have been changed or eliminated if da Vinci was caffeinated and able to finish his projects.
Should I write about family trauma in the Common App?
Landing on a topic for the Common App essay, on the other hand, was stressful and frustrating. I had a complicated childhood that included family mental health issues, financial problems, and instability. I had heard that students who write about trauma have a good chance of getting in. But every teacher and advisor I worked with explicitly said not to do that.
However, I wanted my Common App essay to show colleges what type of person I am, and I wanted to write about my life – specifically how hard I have worked and what I have been able to accomplish despite, and also because of, my past struggles.
I found it difficult to tell my story but not trauma-dump, talk about my future, have a cohesive theme and demonstrate my creative writing ability. Finally, I decided to write about how many times my family moved. That theme let me allude to my family’s financial struggles and instability but not explicitly write about any one person or specify my family’s issues. I wrote four different versions before I settled on one that I liked.
How I handled UChicago’s Video Profile
In addition to the essays, UChicago recommends that applicants submit a short video introducing themselves. I submitted one but it was pretty basic. I had planned on being really creative and going over the top, but I was really busy and ended up just spending a few hours on it. I did a silly intro where I was on a longboard while introducing myself. I included basic stuff like my name, my family, my cats, my favorite outfits, and my biggest accomplishments (my book drive for my high school’s women’s rights club). I don’t know how much it impacted my application, but I think it was a good idea to do it, and it helped the admissions department see me as something other than words on a paper.
The Phoenix Brings Good News
On the day early decisions were released from UChicago, I checked the application portal all day – like every five or ten minutes. I finally got the update around 6 p.m. and ran downstairs to open it with my mom and little brother. When I saw I had gotten in, I really couldn’t believe it. I kept rereading the acceptance. My mom started crying and then I started crying too, over how excited I was to go to my dream school.
What I LearnedCollege sticker-prices can be misleading. It was important for me to have an idea of my college costs as early as possible, so I calculated them using the financial aid calculators on college websites. These show how much a student might pay after financial aid is factored in. That’s how I found out that UChicago — which has a very high sticker price — might actually cost less for me than some public state schools. To my surprise, Butler University, which had a lower sticker price than UChicago, was my most expensive option.
The Money Factor
I received a need-based scholarship from UChicago called the Odyssey Scholarship. It covers about 90 percent of my total cost as well as funding for study abroad and a lot of support services for low-income students. I received two scholarships from my high school, which covers about 3 percent. My parents and I will be covering the remaining 7 percent with loans and money I have received from working during high school.
- Don’t automatically rule out schools until you know more about them. I almost ruled out University of Chicago before I even looked into it, and it ended up being my dream school. Also, I never thought I would want to go to a school in my home state, but I really loved Butler University and Indiana University and I would have been very happy at either of them.
- Demonstrate interest. For the schools on my list, I subscribed to their emails, followed their social medias, and actively participated in prospective student events, video calls, and advice panels.
- Leadership counts. It’s important to participate in extracurriculars and clubs in high school, but also try to have a leadership or captain role. I think that my leadership in my high school’s Women’s Rights Club really helped my application.
How CollegeData Helped Me on My Road to College
CollegeData’s College Search, college profiles, and student stories helped me understand how the application process works, how to estimate college costs and pay for college, and how to find colleges that might be best for me.