The goal of the essay is to tell a story that illuminates something new about you to the admissions committee. Many students take this as an opportunity to try and get deep. Students frequently write about tragedy or major, life-altering obstacles they’ve faced. Some students choose to write about how they’ve grappled with something like addiction or disease. While those experiences are valid, there is a whole separate section just for them. This essay is not the appropriate platform. The trouble with writing about, well, trouble, is that one often falls short of connecting with the anonymous readers, and the whole point if the exercise is to connect with those very people.
Similarly, writing an essay about moving can miss the mark. Essays are supposed to demonstrate growth. Moving is an obvious way to demonstrate that you grew or made a change in some capacity. But the problem is, this topic is sometimes too obvious. We love essays whose stories are set against an everyday, run of the mill backdrop. We find that those are the essays that allow peoples’ personality traits to shine through, whereas more dramatic tellings just focus on the details of a given circumstance. However, a story about moving from one home to another is just too run of the mill. The point of the essay is to demonstrate a character trait. If moving houses is the only circumstance in which you experienced growth or exhibited a characteristic, you’re not digging deep enough.
Another issue with the ‘moving’ essay is that it often has the unfortunate byproduct of revealing privilege. If you talk about moving as though it was some big challenge to overcome, the reader will also assume you haven’t faced much adversity in your life. We want to stress, once more, that this does not mean you should fish around for an ostensibly sympathy-invoking obstacle. On the contrary, you should sooner write about your drive to school or your desk at home. The ‘moving’ bit can also flag privilege by highlighting details. If you end up mentioning the neighborhood in which you grew up, the size of your house, the fact that you had a great big yard as a kid, or any other seemingly minor detail, you could end up sounding like a snob.
The Exception to the Rule
There are, however, a few cases in which writing about your move is a good idea. If moving has actually been a central theme of your life, it’s fair game. One of our kids was born in the Philippines. By the time she was 14 she had moved to Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Hong Kong, New Jersey, and New York City. But it should be noted that her story didn’t follow the old “I moved a lot. It was really hard. I grew,” narrative. It was about how she kept certain things consistent from place-to-place to stay grounded and avoid going crazy. As an artist, drawing is what helped stabilize her. As a result, she grew to love art and became very dedicated to her craft.
As we’ve mentioned time and time again, you need to convey a personality trait. Part of our student’s essay showed how close she was to her family, and in turn, herself. Most kids have moved from house-to-house or state- to-state. That trite arc tends to have the most obvious takeaways and metaphors. The thing that made our kid’s work was that she wanted to convey her own internal stability as a personality trait throughout the chaos. It wasn’t about the places in which she moved at all. It was all about her, and ultimately, the traits she developed to maintain consistency in her life. She was adaptable and stable, and able to remain still when the world around her moved. Those things shone through and they were crystal clear.
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