How and When to Talk About a Sports Injury in Your College Essay
You’ve come up with the perfect essay topic: that sports injury that changed your life. Not only is it a compelling story, but it can also serve as a great metaphor for a larger life experience.
Unfortunately, many other students have the same idea. Sports injuries—and sports in general—are hugely popular topics for college essays. Students often feel compelled to discuss a single moment or event that changed or influenced their lives in these essays, and because so many high schoolers participate in athletics, quite a few have had similar experiences that fit this bill. As young people, college applicants generally have less life experience, so they may not have experienced many other events that affected them on a grand scale.
A sports injury can evoke a lot of emotions—pain and disappointment, to name a few. Recovering from your injury, and describing that recovery, can demonstrate determination, hard work, bravery, perseverance in the face of obstacles, and many other admirable qualities. It’s a natural topic to choose.
But because so many applicants have the same idea, you may not stand out to the admissions committee if you choose to write about a sports injury—and standing out in a large pool of applicants is essential.
Why Should You Generally Avoid Sports Injuries in Essays?
It may seem counterintuitive, but your essay isn’t just a space to talk about yourself. It’s also a tool you use to present yourself to admissions committees, so you need to think strategically. You’re competing against a vast pool of candidates for admission, and many of them have stellar grades and test scores. You need to find a way to stand out. While some other parts of your application are dedicated to your stats, your essay is a place to let your personality shine.
Clichés are not going to help your case. If you use one in your essay, it puts a damper on the whole work. It’s not going to be compelling or engaging if admissions officers have read similar stories many times before.
Creativity and originality are essential for admissions committees; they want to attract students who think innovatively and will develop new ideas, not students who just dutifully follow directions. Think about it: colleges want students who will be leaders in society and ultimately make them look good. Check out Ten Skills to Highlight in Your College Applications to learn more about characteristics colleges are looking for in applicants.
Realistically, most high school athletes won’t go on to play professionally. That’s why you need to hone some skills outside of sports. (Extracurricular Activities for Student Athletes has some ideas to help you.) It’s also why you should try to discuss topics that are more relevant to your future career or intended major.
That doesn’t mean you must avoid discussing your injury altogether. It’s fine to mention it in your essay or other parts of your application—in fact, you may need to do so to provide context or explain a change of direction—but generally, you shouldn’t use it as your main essay topic.
What if You Really, Really Want to Use this Topic?
If you feel like it’s imperative to highlight your sports injury in your essay, you MUST be creative! Using a topic that’s a bit of a cliché is a huge risk, so you’d better make sure you have something unique to say about it. You also need to be specific. An essay about a general-sounding situation filled with platitudes about life lessons you’ve learned won’t be compelling.
You’re more likely to stand out if your situation is unusual in some way. For instance, if you play a lesser-known or less popular sport such as fencing, you have a better chance of standing out. You may also have a unique spin if you were truly a world-class competitor—we’re talking national teams or Olympic-level here.
Make sure your personality really comes through, and make your essay as personal as possible. Incorporate other topics that are important to you and show who you truly are. For instance, you might discuss how the sport you played is a significant part of your family or cultural history, or how a person you met while playing that sport is important to you.
Your essay must be thoughtful, and you’ll need to demonstrate a deeper interpretation of what this injury meant to you and your life. Don’t just make it a play-by-play account of what happened.
You should also avoid topics that are too controversial. For example, don’t use your injury to wax poetic on your political position, and leave out excessively graphic or gory descriptions of your injury. In other words, don’t make the admissions committee cringe. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be descriptive, though!) Also avoid playing the blame game. If you think your injury was someone else’s fault, such as a player on the opposing team, your essay is not a place to point fingers. If you do, you’ll risk coming off as immature and unwilling to accept responsibility for yourself.
Your essay should fit in with the overall picture you paint with your application; colleges want to see a cohesive representation of you and your passions, rather than a disparate jumble of facts. As always, you should demonstrate strong skills in written communication. Proofread, check for typos, ask others to read your essay, and otherwise take time to perfect it well before you hit submit.
For More Information
Your essay is an important piece of your college application. It’s a place where you can really convey your personality and passions to admissions committees. Make at as unique as possible, so you can really stand out. Even if you’re not a natural writer, there are still ways to craft a stellar essay. For more help, check out the posts below.
Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.