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Allen Grove is an Alfred University English professor and a college admissions expert with 20 years of experience helping students transition to college. The prompt allows students to write about just about anything they find extremely important in their lives. Charlie chose this option because his atypical family situation was a defining part of his identity. They met in the early 80s, became partners soon after, and adopted me in 2000. I think I’ve always know that we were a little different from most families, but that’s never really bothered me.
My story, that which defines me, is not that I have two dads. I’m not automatically a better person, or smarter, or more talented, or better looking because I am the child of a same-sex couple. I’m very fortunate to have grown up in a loving and safe environment—with caring friends, family, and neighbors. I know for my dads, that was not always the case. Living on a farm in Kansas, my dad Jeff struggled internally with his identity for years. New York City, he was always supported by his parents and the community there. I know how to be afraid.
My dads know how to be afraid—for me, for themselves, for the life they’ve created. When I was six, a man threw a brick through our front window. I don’t remember much about that night save for a few images: the police arriving, my aunt Joyce helping to clean up the glass, my dads hugging, how they let me sleep in their bed that night. I also know how to respect people.
I know where they’re coming from. My dads know what it is like to be spat on, looked down on, yelled at, and belittled. I wish having same-sex parents wasn’t the novelty it is. I’m not a charity case, or a miracle, or a role model because I have two dads. But I am who I am because of them. Because of all they’ve lived through, dealt with, suffered, and tolerated.
And from that, they’ve taught me how to help others, how to care about the world, how to make a difference—in a thousand small ways. Overall, Charlie has written a strong essay. This critique looks at the features of the essay that make it shine as well as a few areas that could use a little improvement. Charlie’s title is short and simple, but it is also effective. Most college applicants have a single dad, so the mention of plural “dads” is likely to pique the interest of the reader. Good titles don’t need to be funny, punny, or clever, and Charlie has clearly gone for a straight-forward but effective approach. For the 2018-19 academic year, the Common Application essay has a word limit of 650 and a minimum length of 250 words.
At 630 words, Charlie’s essay is on the long side of the range. You’ll see advice from many college counselors stating that you are better off keeping your essay short, but that advice is controversial. The fact that the college is asking for an essay means that it has holistic admissions, and the admissions folks want to learn about you as an individual. Use the space you’ve been given to do so. Charlie steers clear of some of the obvious bad essay topics, and he has certainly focused on a topic that the admissions folks won’t see very frequently.