Here’s another key tip to keep in mind for your college applications, from College Essay Guy Ethan Sawyer!
The short answer is this: it’s okay to discuss religion in your essay as long as the take-away (or values) promoted in the essay are universal. Here’s what I mean:
In the past, I’ve had students write essay drafts that end with something like, “Since accepting Christ (or) learning to meditate (or) converting to Judaism, I’ve made it my goal to tell others about the difference that Christ/meditation/Judaism can make in their lives.” I call this the “missionary” essay. And it can be off-putting to readers, particularly to those who don’t share your religious beliefs (which, statistically speaking, is likely).
Instead, discuss the values you gained through your religion. How?
Step 1: Take a look at this Values List and ask yourself: what values have I gained through my religion?
Examples: “Getting used to wearing a turban in ninth grade helped increase my self-confidence and, interestingly, my grades went up that year!” (or) “Feeling judged by my youth group leader helped me better understand how my friend must have been feeling about me; I realized I was essentially doing the same thing to her.”
Check out the values displayed in those sentences: self-confidence and empathy. Nice! And anyone, no matter the religion or belief system, can get on board with those.
Step 2: Make sure the values you’re discussing are non-obvious and specific.
Obvious connections lead to boring essays.
Examples: “Playing in the band at church helped me learn the value of working with others” (seen it!) (or) “Volunteering at our mosque helped me develop myself personally” (super vague–say how!).
Step 3: Get feedback from someone who does not share your religious belief.
Once s/he has read the essay, ask the person: do you feel closer to me after having read that? If the answer isn’t “Yes,” or even if the person hesitates before responding, ask, “What would help you feel closer to me?”
Step 4: Listen with your entire being. Stay curious about his/her feedback to you.
Step 5: Thank the person and go back to the drawing board.
Because you are creative and original and you have something important to communicate.
For more personal statement help, check out www.collegeessayguy.com.
Ethan Sawyer, the College Essay Guy, has been helping students tell their stories for more than ten years. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, received an MFA from UC Irvine, and received two counseling certifications, one from UC Irvine and another from the Interchange Counseling Institute. He’s also a certified Myers-Briggs® specialist and his type (ENFJ) will tell you that he will show up on time, he’ll be excited to meet you, and, more than anything, he’s committed to–and an expert in–helping you realize your potential.
About Guest Author
This post was written by a friend of Magoosh.
Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!
Starting Sentence Option 1: Many people who [are religious/believe in a deity/attend church] have specific beliefs that [lead them/control them]. Take, for example, [name a religion], which is known for [characteristic]. What conclusion can one draw but [second claim]?
Starting Sentence Option 2: Religions have existed as long as people have and [name a religion] is a good example of [positive or negative characteristic]. As we’ve seen throughout history, such as at [specific event], [religion name] has [caused/resulted in] [consequences]. This leads to the conclusion that [second claim].
- Religion provides motivation for people to do more good in the world.
- The belief in a higher power has led many people to beat their addictions.
- Throughout history, religion has marked moral advances in the world.
- Religion or the church, provide a solid base for drawing people together and binding them as a family.
- Religious people tend to be helpful and feel the urge to aid those in need.
- Religious people are more likely to be judgemental and immoral.
- People hide behind the church and use God as an excuse to do unspeakable things.
- Religion uses scare tactics to force people to act a certain way.
- Many who claim to be doing God’s will are really using religion to line their own pockets and steal from the naive.
- Many of the wars throughout history were started in the name of religion.
PEW Research Center
History of Religions
Religion at Psychology Today