If you mention a hardship, be sure it’s really a hardship.

If your parents were killed when you were a baby and you were raised in an orphanage, that’s a unique hardship. If you were raised in suburbia and had to share your 2,600 square-foot house with three raucous brothers, that’s not. If you had to get a job at age 8 to help your family pay rent, that’s a hardship. If you had to get a job at 16 to pay for your first car, that’s not.

Making sense yet? Once again, remember that scholarship committees receive thousands of essays from thousands of different backgrounds. Some have had very hard lives and many obstacles to overcome; others have not. If you haven’t had to overcome insurmountable odds, that’s fine — that’s the case for most of us in the United States, at least — just don’t go to great lengths to make it seem like you have.

Now, a point of clarification: This doesn’t mean that just because you weren’t orphaned by Sudanese warlords at age 9 that you can’t talk about any challenges you’ve met. You can, and perhaps you should. Judges love to hear about challenges overcome. Just keep your perspective and resist the urge to call these challenges “hardships” or something similarly melodramatic, because trust me — we’ve read about every imaginable type of hardship, and we know and appreciate the definition of the word.

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