Should You Talk about Divorce in Your College Admissions Essay

As a high school student, you should plan out your college application essays carefully. You want to write a strong piece centered around a topic that is personal, compelling, and unique. But figuring out what that personal, compelling, unique topic is can be difficult. 

Some students feel that there are so many important moments they want to write about in their essay that they can’t choose among them. Other students may have the opposite experience: feeling as if there’s nothing that makes them special and so no topic around which to build an essay.  But, because this is your only chance to personally connect with admissions officers, it’s still important to pick a topic that will provide readers a sense of your character and your story. To accomplish this, some students decide to talk about their passions or times in their lives that made them re-evaluate themselves, and some students discuss heavier topics, such as personal loss. 

In particular, many students want to write about their experience of their parents’ divorce in their college application essay. This is a tricky topic to navigate in a personal statement, but it can be done. We’ll talk below about whether you should write about divorce and, if you do decide to focus on the topic, how best to frame your essay.

Can You Write about Divorce in Your College Essay?

Because it can be hard to properly articulate how someone’s parents’ divorce or a loved one’s death helped them grow as individuals, many college advisors try to steer students away from writing about these more serious situations. It’s very easy, if the essay isn’t well structured, for the tragedy of divorce or death to overshadow the writer’s personal qualities that they are trying to highlight for admissions officers

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Still, this doesn’t mean that you can’t write about your parent’s divorce and how it shaped you. Depending on how you frame the divorce, you can make the topic work in your favor, but you need to make sure that you’re writing about your role in the divorce in a way that is flattering and that shows—through concrete examples—how you grew as a result of your experiences. 

When Should You Write about Divorce in Your College Application Essay?

Students can write about almost any topic, as long as they answer the essay prompt and show colleges that they have the right qualities to attend their school. However, if you plan on writing about divorce in your essay, we recommend thinking about a few key factors. 

First, consider how much time has passed since the divorce. If your parents have just divorced this year, it might not be appropriate to write about this as your essay topic. A divorce is a traumatic event for students of any age, so you want some distance between yourself and the divorce, enough that you can properly process its effects on your life. If your parents are recently divorced, it may be harder to gain the necessary perspective and clarity to write a strong essay. 

Next, ask yourself if you have a good reason for writing about your parent’s divorce. Some students simply pick this topic because they feel like they need to write about a challenging time in their life. However, it’s best if you have other strong reasons for writing about your parent’s divorce—generally some personal growth or resilience that the divorce highlights. If you can’t show clearly how the trauma of divorce led you to grow or develop, it may be best to seek a different topic. 

Any essay about divorce is bound to highlight emotional hardships, but you want to be careful that those challenges don’t become the central focus of the essay. It’s okay to show vulnerability in your application, and opening up about challenging experiences can help your essay stand out and seem more unique. But you’re having suffered doesn’t inherently make you a more attractive candidate to colleges. Rather, you want to be able to show how that suffering it connects to your college ambitions, how it led you to become more resilient or more focused or how it directed you toward a career assisting people who have similar traumatic experiences. 

Really, anyone writing about this topic needs to show admissions officers that they’ve emerged from this experience stronger, a better potential asset to colleges they’re applying to.   

How to Write a Strong College Application Essay about Divorce

If you’ve considered your options and writing about your parents’ divorce still seems like your best option, there are many ways to approach the topic. We have a few pointers to help you set up your essay and grab admissions readers’ attentions below:

Create a Solid Outline

As with any essay, planning is everything. You want to create a solid outline that will really help admissions officers understand you and your experience of your parents’ divorce. Start by writing a strong hook that isn’t overly cliché. You might begin by describing a particularly difficult moment in the divorce, though this runs the risk of highlighting too strongly the negative aspects of your experience. To overcome that problem, you might instead paint a picture of your current life, of the ways in which you’ve improved following the divorce . 

You can analyze the situation a little, but make sure that, throughout the middle part of your essay, you talk about how the divorce positively shaped your outlook on life. What lessons did you learn? How did you grow? How are you stronger for having undergone these difficult experiences? Answer these questions well, then talk about how these life lessons prepared you for your chosen college. 

Try Not to be a Cliche

While divorce is difficult for everyone involved, especially children, you need to remember that a lot of people go through a divorce. That means that plenty of students have written on this topic—and your reader will likely be familiar with common tropes of the genre: slammed doors and angry voices, financial challenges and difficult relocations. So, you need to help yourself stand out by making your writing more unique.

 The best way to do this is by presenting your experiences with enough specificity that the experience you’re describing is yours and no one else’s. Slammed doors may be a cliché of arguments, but if you describe the how, after they slammed the door, you watched your parent walk away through the door’s cut glass window, their image fractured into a thousand fragments by the prismed glass, no one will mistake your story for that of another student. Through specificity and concrete imagery, you can make your essay stand out.. 

It’s true that similarities will exist in anyone’s account of a divorce, but you can make your essay distinctive by adding personal details. The most important thing is to tell admissions how you specifically overcame the divorce and learned from this experience. 

Have Other People Read Your Essay

Finally, have people you trust look over your essay. It might be uncomfortable letting other people read such a personal essay, but you want to make sure that you’re submitting the best possible writing for your college application. Friends and family members can give you constructive feedback and even tell you how to improve your writing. They can also check for grammar and other spelling mistakes so your essay is fully polished and ready for submission!

At HelloCollege, we know how difficult it can be to prepare for college and aim to make the process as simple and easy as possible. We want to help you get accepted into the university of your dreams! Schedule a free consultation today. 

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The Hello College Team

HelloCollege CEO Andrea Emmons has spent the last 15 years guiding students and families across the country on their path to college. Andrea knows the profound impact proactive college planning has on the lives of students and is passionate about mentoring families through the process.
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Kevin Krebs

Inspired by his parents, Kevin’s journey from a first-gen, diverse, low-income background to Northwestern University shaped him. After experiencing challenges, including student loan debt, he founded HelloCollege and has spent the last 25 years helping students successfully navigate college admissions.

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