How To Write A Personal Statement Colleges Will Want to Read
2013 LA CASH FOR COLLEGE
How To Write A Personal Statement
Colleges Will Want to Read
Rebecca Joseph, PhD
facebook: getmetocollege freeadvice
Iphone/Google App: All College
To get us started
Why do you think admissions officers get so bored reading college application
On your paper. List…
What are three major ways you have contributed to your community?
What are three major ways you have shown leadership or initiative?
What about your life are you most proud? Why?
One quick and easy brainstorming strategy:
Letter to Future Roommates
I love making lists. A series of lists serve as decorations of my walls, lockers and notebooks—speckles of organization in a lifestyle characterized by
One of my most recent list-making tasks began at two in the morning, with my trying to write about some part of my personality that I wanted to
share. I began listing small things about myself, and found myself inspired to create a large list of tiny things that define many parts of who I am.
The first one on the list goes without saying.
I have problems falling asleep.
The pronunciation and spelling of my names serves a conversation starter wherever I go.
I move my lips when I anticipate other people talking.
I have the ability to create and develop different fonts in my handwriting.
The first things I look for in someone’s room are the books they keep.
I've been sleeping with a 2-foot stuffed bear for nine years.
All I want is to be able to buy a keychain with my name already on it.
I've been told that I have a silly sense of humor.
I have enough journals to fill an entire bookshelf.
I love documentaries.
One of my favorite words is “ubuntu,” which means humanity in Xhosa.
When I was thirteen, I tried writing an autobiography comprised of poems.
I am most compatible with people who I think are most like me.
I feel like a four-star chef when I make salads.
I'm an ENTJ.
My favorite colors are coral and cerulean.
If I could have any superpower, I would have the ability to be in two places at once.
I eat ice cream with a fork.
I’m obsessed with the game Bananagrams™.
I drink orange juice right after I brush my teeth—just for the sour taste.
Scary movies are the worst.
For a majority of my life, I have shared the same room with my two younger brothers, so I am confident you will become family in
no time. Based on my expertise, I have developed following guidelines to get us off to a smooth and sound freshmen year:
All non-Dodgers posters will be removed at your expense, and Giants posters will be burned on your bed.
The use of anyone else’s toothbrush is frowned upon.
If you need to borrow my laptop, ask- don’t just take it.
If you need to borrow my underwear, don’t ask- just take it.
My fifth and most important recommendation is play whatever music you want.
Rock, religious, renaissance romantic, rap- whatever, I’ll listen to it. In fact my friend from back home and I arrange rock and rap
into mashups, so I can handle both. Even if the song you decide to play is just good, I know it can be great. Maybe we’ll drop a
beat, add some power chords, or back it up with a Disney soundtrack. Don’t worry if our songs are completely different genresthe more diverse the tracks, the better the mashup. If you have an idea for something new, we can compose and perform it
I guarantee I will think that whatever you do with your time is awesome. If you’re part of a book club and I’m part of an a cappella
group, we’ll sing stories. If I’m broadcasting on KZSU 90.1 and you’re a member of the Chinese Dance club, I’ll do play-by-play of
I would love to visit you wherever you live, and you’re welcome to visit me. I have lived in New York, Connecticut, Poland,
Connecticut again, and Los Angeles, and I have visited over thirty countries. That is, unless you fail to follow rule number one.
How Important Are Essays?
2.Rigor of Coursework, School
5.Recommendations-Teacher and/or Counselor
6.Activities-Sustained consistency, development,
leadership, and initiative
7.Special skills, talents, awards, community service
What Do Colleges Look for in Essays?
• A better understanding of your background, which could help put the
rest of the application in context.
An understanding of why certain experiences or people have been so
important to you, and thus something about what you value.
A sense of an intellectual bent, a playful mind, or a sense of humor.
A sense of your commitment to the things that most interest you and of
how those interests developed.
A sense of the way you interact with others and/or are perceived by
An understanding of a special talent you would bring to the college or a
special quality you might add to a residential community.
A good, and realistic, sense of the flesh-and-blood person behind the
Steps to Success
Help students :
1)Develop an overall strategic essay writing plan
2)Understand the different types of applications
3)Create a master chart to highlight patterns
4)Read successful sample essays
5)Write a resume
6)Brainstorm core qualities, unique stories, and short essay
7)Use the “Into, Through, and Beyond” method
8)Believe they can create amazing essays and control this
Develop A Strategic Plan
• Ask questions to help you:
Discover how college essays should work together
to help communicate key qualities and stories not
available anywhere else in the application.
Understand the importance of starting early.
Value a writing process that involves many drafts.
Understand the Different
Types of Applications
Help students understand the landscape:
1)The Common Application
2)Large Public Universities
3)Private College Specific Applications
4)Other Systems (Universal Application, etc.)
Four Major Application Types:
1. The Common Application
Many private and some public American use the
centralized Common Application with their own
USC joined the Common Application last year.
Most top colleges have supplements with additional
Don’t start writing any essays until you see all the essays
required for your top schools.
Major changes next year…new prompts, 500 word limit.
Release date of new prompts in March 2013. No topic of
1. Common Application Essays
250-650 words –
Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity
that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this
sounds like you, then please share your story.
Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect
you, and what lessons did you learn?
Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you
to act? Would you make the same decision again?
Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do
you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your
transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or
Other Common Application Writing Pieces
The Common Application leaves room for 10 activities and 5 honors with limited
spaced for descriptions.
The Common Application allows you to add additional information. Only use this
for truly exceptional needs to share more information.
This is for students who switched schools or got into some kind of trouble.
They range from one line to 650 words. Some schools have one, while other have
three. They can overlap. If it says optional, view it as mandatory.
One Activity Short
This is different lengths for different colleges that opt to use it.
Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work
Sample Common App Essay –
An 11-year-old girl wearing a pink sweat outfit looked up at me with her nut-brown eyes and tugged on
my t-shirt. She pulled at her black tight ringlets. There wasn't a single piece of hair on her head that
didn't seem to loop up and curl around another one. Tears began streaming down her face, as she said,
“Hola, mi nombre es Daniela y soy de México. Puedes estar aquí conmigo? Tengo piojos en mi pelo.”
Standing on the patio in front of the infirmary supervising all of the new campers getting their
temperatures taken and waiting to be examined for lice, I replied with “Claro que si.”
For the next three hours, I had to control my desire to throw up, as I watched the nurse work his way
through Daniela’s curls with a metal nit comb, sweeping the dead nits out of her hair, piece by piece.
Every single time the nurse washed and conditioned her hair and brushed out the knots, her curls
disagreed and resumed their original form. I listened to Daniela cry and screech when he would comb
too hard or hit a knot. The dead lice filled a metal jar in front of me.
Daniela was a Mexican camper, who spoke very little English. So I collected all the knowledge that I
acquired in Spanish classes and began to apply it to a real situation: to distract and calm down
Daniela. As I asked Daniela about her flight, where she lived in Mexico, and about what is was like to
be Jewish in her country, we discovered common interests that created a spark and initiated a
common bond between us. Watching her tears disappear and transform into sporadic, majestic smiles
revitalized me to keep up the positive encouragement. After the last louse was removed, the nurse
finally dismissed her, and we ran up to the bunk as I helped her unpack. I had her change clothes, put
her infected pink sweat outfit into the laundry bag, and took her to meet the rest of Bunk 7.
Little did I know, in addition to being a counselor, I would be become the camp translator to the three campers from
Mexico who were placed in my bunk. All three of these girls arrived knowing very little English, and my three cocounselors did not speak any Spanish. Spanish was no longer just another class in high school, but instead a tool for
communication and the source of creating relationships with each one of my campers. These three eleven-year-old girls
left their families and decided to fly to Los Angeles, take a risk, and enjoy a camp experience. It was my job to
communicate with them and help them feel more comfortable by discovering a medium in which we could
From this came trust. I was their counselor, translator, and mentor. My normal counselor duties instantly doubled with
the translation responsibilities I took on that summer. I helped translate our daily bunk schedules into Spanish,
explained, in Spanish, the Hebrew prayers we said every morning, and managed bunk conflicts between other campers
while incorporating both languages. I helped build bonds between campers by requiring English be spoken at dinner,
and when one of my campers from Mexico was homesick, I pushed myself to speak only Spanish to allow her to hear the
comfort of her native language. And when Daniela fell, hit the corner of a bench, and sliced her right shin down to the
bone, I took her to the hospital, where I again I had to contain my discomfort at the wound while calming down not only
the hysterical girl but also her frantic parents in Mexico.
Throughout those four weeks at camp, I learned the value of language and the connection I have developed for it.
Languages are a source of communication and being able to connect to those all over the world is an ability I seek to
achieve. My father’s native language of Hebrew drove me to study abroad in 10th grade in Israel, where I was able to
embrace my heritage and roots as well as fully submerge myself into a less familiar culture. My four weeks at camp last
summer showed me even more that language is far more profound than understanding, as it allows people to form
relationships and further defines my citizenship in the world. Moreover, I clearly learned that while the field in
medicine is not in my future, my passion for communication will enable me to go to many unexpected and yet amazing
places and to use language as a source of comfort and connection.
Hi, my name is Daniela and I am from Mexico. Can you stay here with me? I have lice in my hair.
Four Major Application Types:
2. Large Public Universities
Many large and most prominent public universities
have their own applications.
Universities of Arizona, California, Indiana, Maryland, New
York, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin—to name
They each have different essay requirements.
They each have your report activities in a different way.
But there are ways to use your other essays here as well.
They have their own essays. You should gather their topics
and look for ways to use your common application essay as one
of your essays for the public colleges, and visa-versa.
Respond to both prompts, using a maximum of 1,000 words total.
You may allocate the word count as you wish. If you choose to respond to one
prompt at greater length, we suggest your shorter answer be no less than 250
Prompt #1 (freshman applicants)-[Outside-In]
Describe the world you come from – for example, your family, community or
school – and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.
Prompt #2 (all applicants) [Inside-Out]
Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or
experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment
makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are
Lucy-UC San Diego and Johns Hopkins
One day, I’m playing paper bag puppets with a five-year-old girl. The next, I’m in the middle of a tug-o’-war match with
an eighty-year-old grandmother.
With the child, I pretend my recently designed paper bag puppet is a monster, and I teasingly try to “bite” at her own
puppet. With the grandmother, my face is stern as I tug urgently at our “rope”, a paperback book.
“Roar! Ahh!” I squeal in defeat as the little girl triumphantly bites back at my puppet monster. She laughs as my
monster flops down “dead” on the table, and we begin again with designing a new set of paper bag puppets.
“If you could please give that back to me,” I say soothingly to the elderly lady. “I can continue reading aloud for
everyone here.” The Alzheimer’s patient had taken an interest into tearing apart the bindings of the very book I was
reading. Finally, I regain control of the book, as a caretaker steps up to assist the lady back to her seat.
The two places where I volunteer most of my time are polar opposites. At Sunrise Assisted Living, I work through
awkward moments while attempting to make life more enjoyable for the elderly residents in our care. Two summers
ago, I also began helping out with the children’s Summer Reading Program at my public library, awarding prizes for
filled reading logs and supervising the arts and crafts table. I’m surrounded by two extremes that place me right in the
middle of this one-shot known as life.
On one side, I see mounting confusion and acceptance of death—a struggle for dignity and a mourning for the past.
Then I see the children who spend each day fully, living only in the moment and never looking forward or back. Above
all, I see life as a delicate substance, both fleeting and precious. It deserves more protection and security, and I aspire to
become an influence on life itself. I’m looking into the field of biomedical engineering to improve the lives of all people
—I will be the problem solver, building an impact through modern technology to help the innocent youth and the aged
generations. In all worlds, there is suffering, and in all worlds, there is hope to make things better again. So I hope to
make an impact on our ephemeral and explicit lives.
Four Major Application TypesOther privates and other systems
• Georgetown, Tulane, MIT are still holdouts. They
have their own applications. You can use many
essays more than once.
• Other systems-like Oregon State use short responses.
Make sure to address new qualities in each response.
Develop A Master Chart
Keep a chart of all essays required by each college,
including short responses and optional essays. View
each essay or short response as a chance to tell a new
story and to share your core qualities.
I recommend three sheets.
1. Major deadlines and needs. Break it down by the four
2. Core essays-Color code all the similar or overlapping essays.
3. Supplemental essays. Each college has extra requirements
on the common application. Again color code similar types:
Why are you a good match for us? How will you add to the
diversity of our campus?
Write the Fewest
Yet Most Effective Essays…
Look for patterns between colleges essay
requirements so that you can find ways to use essays
more than once. This holds true for scholarship
Common Application=UC 1 or UC2
UC1=University of Washington and University of Colorado
essays with slightly different endings.
Danielle—Long Common=Colorado=Washington=UC 2
Lucy=Long Common=UC 1
Where to Begin: Brainstorm
Plan to share positive messages and powerful outcomes. You can start with life
or family challenges. You can describe obstacles you have overcome. You can
reflect on your growth and development, including accomplishments and
service. College admissions officers do not read minds, so tell them your
powerful life stories. Some states can use only socio-economic status, but not
race, in admissions, but in your essays, your voice and background can emerge.
1. Think of your activities you wrote about in the opening activity
2. What story can you tell to hook us into one or two of your activities?
Stuck…here some tips to get you pick possible topics
Read through Dr. Joseph’s tips for
brainstorming. They include
Starting by writing three short activity statements
Reading model essays from actual college websites
Looking at other college’s essay prompts-U Chicago, Tufts
Writing a “Where I’m From” piece
Creating a letter to future roommate or an amazing list of
what makes you you.
Reading models from other students.
Three Shorts- What Qualities Does Each Reveal?
I spent the year tutoring 45 students whose test scores did not meet the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) standards set by the state. Throughout
the year, I spent the time playing word games and math games with the kids, while secretly trying to find the secret to winning those games.
My time spent at Hoffman-Boston was such an amazing experience, but it was anything but easy. There were days when the students were
frustrated, and even days when I was discouraged. But I never gave up on them. I always came back the next Tuesday, ready to show them
addition and subtraction tricks I had up my sleeve. When they took their tests in May, 43 of the 45 students met the standards that they did
not meet the year before. Upon being recognized by the county for my volunteer work, I realized how much we were helping these kids. On a
larger scale, I realized how much I cared about the well-being of the students in the public school system. My work with these kids paralleled
my desire to excel at the hidden pictures. Those pictures, hidden within the contour of the portrait, mirrored the potential of these kids, many
of whom lived in single parent families, to push themselves and succeed.
A long line of little ducklings dawdles behind me. I begin singing Five Little Ducklings and they all follow with their own individual adorable
dances. The two year old children then toss pieces of bread into the pond, and I watch in awe as real baby ducks come trailing along towards
the kids. One duck is a little too friendly to one child, so being the mother goose I shoo away the duck and comfort my anxious duckling. The
kids I work with at the Westside Children’s Center for children coming from low income backgrounds are my heart and soul. Their well-being is
linked into mine and I can’t help but grow attached to each group of children I work with each summer. Their ability to grow emotionally and
mentally amazes me, and I love to watch their daily and weekly and even yearly individual and community transitions. As much as I wish I
could help out year round, I know my little ducklings go off on their own separate paths, but they will always leave an imprint in my heart.
Red coat, riding boots, and whip in hand, I face 700 pairs of eyes as the spotlights twirl around our Homecoming Pep Rally and finally shine
directly on my face. More than just the ringmaster of our circus themed rally, I am the ringmaster of my school. I am not just the head of the
student body; I am Head Prefect: spirit leader, policy changer, organizer, event planner, liaison between faculty and students, and Honor Board
member. I balance acts, ranging from the anticipated running of assemblies to the unexpected role of deciding the fate of several classmates
sent before the Honor Board. As their ringmaster, my constituents see the final product, the flash, but they don’t understand what happens
behind the scenes. I collaborate with faculty, staff, and the administration in order to change the way that the school works from new schedules
to new creative, community building events. I’m not just here to serve the school. I’m here to transform it. I am the ringmaster, after all.
1st person only.
Always write in the first person. Remember, these
are autobiographical essays, even when you talk
about other people. Remember the colleges are
looking to accept you, not your relatives. So use the
one third and two thirds rule. If you choose to write
about someone or something else, you must show
how it affected you for the majority of the essay. Your
essays show colleges why you belong on college
campuses and share how you will enrich diverse
Into, Through, and Beyond Essay Approach
Follow Dr. Joseph’s Into, Through, and Beyond approach. Lead
the reader INTO your story with a powerful beginning—a story,
an experience. Take them THROUGH your story with the
context and keys parts of your story. Make sure the reader
understands your initiative, leadership, development, and
continuity. End with the BEYOND message about how this
story has affected who you are now and who you want to be in
college and potentially after college. The beyond can be implied
in many pieces that are so strong that moralizing at the end if
It is not just the story that counts.
It’s the choice of qualities a student wants the college to know
It’s the way the reader can lead the reader into the piece—images, examples, context.
The 1,200-degree scorching coals surprisingly left no imprint upon my soles. There were just the
hundreds of tiny embers glowing on the ground and the fire department on alert at the opposite end. I
had just walked on fire.
I was weak and exhausted. During the day we would protest across from the Armenian Embassy in
Glendale. We would hold up signs, posters, and banners. We passed out fliers to oncoming traffic.
Twenty seven fellow protesters and I chained ourselves together and put tape over our mouths to
symbolize our hunger, our deep hunger for change, and yes, for food. We slept outside on wet grass
having sprinklers turn on us every night at 2:30 a.m. Every morning, we cleaned up in a restaurant,
and the smell and sight of the food tested me. But when I felt doubts arise, I would remember my
great-grandfather who barely survived the Armenian genocide. For months, he had little food or water
and had to go on a death march which few survived. If he could make it through those conditions, I
knew I could make it through this week. And I did.
“We have great crack.” Four short words that forever changed the way I viewed public speaking.
What happened…quickly…yet clearly with weaving of story and personal analysis
Make sure we see your leadership, initiative, development, and initiative
Specific focus on the student
Great summarizing, details, and images at same time
Last year, I volunteered as a Confirmation leader at St. Raphael’s Church in South Los Angeles . St. Raphael’s is like a
home to me and I basically grew up in those old, moldy pews. Brian proved to be the biggest challenge I faced that year.
We had a long history together. We were in the same class at grade school until sixth grade when he was held back. I
hadn’t seen him since I graduated 8th grade and went to an all girls’ school, and now here we are sitting in class every
Sunday morning, me as a teacher and him as my favorite student. Throughout the year, dare after dare, he tried
everything he could to push my buttons. He sought out fights, cursed, and even called me a n****r but I didn’t give up. I
quietly disregarded his statements and moved on. I would not let Brian and his derogatory comments break me. His
dreadful behavior lasted until after our retreat.
As a child, I viewed my lack of understanding of the English language as temporary obstacle; as an adult, my mom’s
grasp of the English language was a limitation—impaired communication was knowing what you wanted to say but
being unable to articulate it. As my grasp of the English language grew to surpass my mom’s, I would often receive
phone calls from her at work in which she would ask me the meaning of an English word or ask me to translate a word
from Spanish to English so she could use it. My mom taught me not only to appreciate and take advantage of every
opportunity presented, but also to use my skills to help others. At the time a seemingly insignificant moment, when a
non-English-speaking man at Barnes and Noble wanted to put a book on hold but did not know how to tell the cashier, I
translated for him; it is because of my mom that I discovered the joy of helping others.
Ending that evokes key characteristics
If the friendships found in mixed cultures can be so strong, so influencing as to,
say, bring success in a most challenging class, or make memorable nights with a
best friend, why not overlook the differences in details and embrace them?
There is great power in bringing people together; I’d like to make it happen
and, from there, see it blossom into something powerful.
All five of us completed the 2011 Los Angeles Marathon on the rainiest and coldest
day we ever experienced. My greatest accomplishment was to help students
achieve the goals they thought impossible to complete. I learned that I have the
strength and character to accomplish and succeed, and that though the road
may not be easy, it is possible.
Take the Time With These Essays
Use active writing: avoid passive sentences and
incorporate power verbs. Show when possible; tell
Have trusted inside and impartial outside readers
read your essays. Make sure you have no spelling or
You are about to meet your new college roommate . What
are five cool things about you that you want your roommate to
Tip 10. Most importantly, make yourself come alive
throughout this process. Write about yourself as
passionately and powerfully as possible. Be proud of your
life and accomplishments. Sell yourself!!!
Students often need weeks not days to write effective essays. You need to push
You must ultimately submit what pleases you.
Essays cannot be manufactured. They convey truth, unique stories, and writing
Admissions officers can smell “enhanced” essays.
Students have two to five minutes to grab the attention of a essay reader.
You can find many great websites and examples but each student is different.
Admissions officers often say essays make or break an ultimate decision for
students applying to “match colleges.”
Facebook friend me: getmetocollege freeadvice
As you work on drafts and revise…
Does your essay start with a story that hooks us in from the first paragraph?
If you start in the past, do you get to the present very quickly? Colleges want to know about the recent you.
Do you write only in the first person and not spend too much time describing anyone or anything else?
If you are writing about your community or family, do you get to the present and your life and life works quickly? Can
this description only connect to you and your story of who are you and how you are making a difference?
Do you only tell one story and not try to tell your entire life story?
If you are writing about an obstacle or challenge overcome, do you get to how you have responded and made a difference
in the life of your community within the first half of the essay?
If you are responding to UC 1, do you end with how your story has affected your dreams and aspirations—in terms of
majors, life goals, and your community?
If you are responding to UC 2, do you make sure to connect whatever you writing about to a major activity or project
you have done?
If you responding to the Common Application long essay, do you end with a bang. You don’t have to have a formal
ending like the UC applications.
Do you have a metaphor that goes through the entire piece…does this metaphor reveal who you are and what you offer
to potential colleges? You can embed this metaphor throughout out a piece.
Can I close my eyes and picture your story? Does it make you sound unique and not like anyone else applying? Can I see
your leadership and initiative and the power of what you will offer my college campus?
Do you tell new stories and qualities in each separate essay your write? Do you make sure to reveal powerful information
and core messages that colleges will need to know to admit you and give your money to attend?
Two of my favorites…Tyler-USC
I knelt on the ground, aching from the asphalt grinding into my dusty and blackened knees. A piece of thick blue chalk in hand,
with one fluid sweep of the arm, and then another, I connected two paths, creating a loop, where one path swung back and
reconnected with itself. I stood up. Colorful lines intertwined with each other, knotting, weaving, splitting off, and joining back
together. Taking careful steps, I walked over my creation, around the corner of a building, and watched as it continued to stretch out
towards one end of school. I spied the start, looked back around the corner, and imagined the end.
A few middle-schoolers stood at the edge of my maze, eying one particular path from their feet, all the way until they lost it, then
returning to their school day and continuing on to class. A pair of freshman walked the paths, twisting and turning, often looping back
around; careful to stay within the lines I had drawn. I walked back to where I was working, picked out a new piece of yellow chalk, and
quickly broke an open end of a path into two open ends, then two into four, sweeping, crossing over, then under one another,
morphing into green when the yellow chalk ran out.
“I did it!”
I looked up. One of the freshmen stood at the end of one of the numerous openings of my half finished maze, arms raised above
his head, spinning slowly in circles. Staring blankly at him was his counterpart, still lost deep within the curls of the maze.
It was not for myself that I had drawn the maze. It was for the kids mindlessly walking from class to class, staring at the asphalt
under their feet as they thought about equations and essays. I created it so that these kids would have another world to enter as they
crisscrossed the school, letting their minds wander to a land of color and art.
But just as easily as I can draw a chalk line on the ground, I can drowsily greet hundreds of students on a misty morning, moisten
the ground, and wash away my chalk line. My work with film is different though. When I create films, I expect them to last forever. I
expect to be able to dig them out of an old dusty attic box, plug in a dusty and outdated DVD player and watch what I made. When I
come up with an idea, a thought, I expect that idea to be buried deep within the folds of my memory for eternity, waiting to be
But not chalk. When using chalk, I expect whatever I make to be gone almost as soon as I draw it, which makes whatever I create
all the more precious. When I only have a few seconds, a few hours, a few days to cherish something, those fleeting moments become
all the more powerful. All I can do is work to make the most beautiful creations possible and cherish them while they last.
Matt- U Penn
Last summer, in my Abnormal Psychology class at UCLA, I learned that people are abnormal when they act,
think, or behave in ways that fail to meet society’s norms. I wondered whether I fit this category because I suffer from
ADHD, which I control with daily medication. Does this make me abnormal? According to my Abnormal Psychology book,
the answer is yes, because I fit the symptoms for ADHD, a disorder it identifies as abnormal. Yet while I may be abnormal to
a textbook, I act like a regular 17 year old kid when I am on my medication. Heading into the last week of class, I still did not
know clearly whether or not I would truly be considered “abnormal.”
The weekend before our final, one of my classmates was brutally murdered by a career criminal, and I felt my
world stop. As soon as I found out, I called my mother, and together we tried to make sense of what happened. We couldn’t.
My friends couldn’t. My abnormal psychology professor couldn’t.
So I decided I needed to make sense of it myself, and in doing so, I came to the realization that I am far more
normal than what my textbook says. I may take medication for my condition every day, but on or off my medicine, I am still
the same person. I feel and care about others. I have deep emotions and know that the chaos within me after Lily’s murder
was completely natural. This realization motivated me to redefine my views on abnormality. People are abnormal when they
don’t have empathy. People are abnormal when their actions deny humanity.
I left my Abnormal Psychology class knowing that I live in a world where I am lucky to have medication to
help me focus, a mind that constantly seeks new knowledge, and feelings that still cannot comprehend the brutal loss of a
friend. Although I came to an understanding of what abnormal behavior might be for an individual, I still do not know what
to think about abnormal behavior and its impact on others. While Abnormal Psychology helped me analyze my relationship
to abnormality, textbooks cannot teach how to fix a society’s inability to deal with people like the man who murdered my
classmate. Despite these enormous unanswered questions, I have taken the label of abnormal off my back.
You Can Make Your College Dreams Come True
Rebecca Joseph, PhD
IPhone App: All College
Get a Free Code Today