Should I write the disadvantaged student essay?

coldhands

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Jun 4, 2020
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  1. Pre-Medical
    I've finished my AMCAS application and am ready to send it in...almost. I'm conflicted over whether or not I should write the disadvantaged student essay.

    To make a long story relatively short, my parents divorced when I was five, and my dad subsequently became absent from my life until 11th grade-ish. My mom developed alcoholism after the divorce and became very volatile (and incredibly abusive, but I'm not sure if I should mention that); she did not receive a formal education, and she was constantly getting fired from her random jobs as a bartender or waitress (working very late nights or not coming home at all). Frequently unemployed, basically; I had to move around several times because we were continuously unable to afford our home. I have a little sister (only 2.5 years younger than me) who I essentially raised because of our parents' absence. All of this was the case throughout my childhood, and in high school, I worked two part-time jobs in addition to school/extracurriculars to help pay for bills. My mom kicked me out several times for periods ranging from days to months as an indirect result of her alcoholism (we constantly fought because as I said, she was abusive, and I stood up for myself more as I got older). I would stay with friends/in my car/at my grandparents'/at my dad's (towards senior year when we reconnected).

    TLDR: parents divorced when I was 5, abusive/alcoholic mom, absentee dad, worked two jobs in high school to help with bills, moved around a lot because of mom's job instability, and was kicked out several times (all prior to age 18).

    On one hand, I have not highlighted any of this anywhere else in my application, and I really think it's worth bringing attention to. There were so many times where: I didn't sleep the night before an exam because of my mom's drunken stupor, my class time was interrupted because I had to be interviewed by DCF during school, I couldn't focus on homework or a test because I was preoccupied with where I was going to sleep that night, and I couldn't attend school functions/participate in many events in high school because my work schedule limited my time.

    On the other hand, I do NOT want to play any sort of pity card. I have two parents and a supportive family network. I always had food to eat and I always had somewhere to sleep (even if it was my car; I had a car). I am incredibly grateful to have been able to attend university despite these circumstances, but it is worth noting that the only reason I was able to do so was because I received the Pell Grant and a full academic scholarship (I was also limited to in-state schools due to finance, I'll say that). I also hesitate to write the essay because my situation didn't really continue to affect me in college. While there are of course bad times, especially when visiting home, I have my own apartment and simply don't subject myself to it anymore.

    I was just under the impression that ADCOMs didn't really want to hear anything about high school, so I'm conflicted. And again, while I certainly felt disadvantaged in high school, college has been an extremely different situation.

    I've seen amazing advice from @LizzyM and @Goro and would so very much appreciate some guidance! Thank you for reading this very long post. :)
     
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    Goro

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      Caveat: the disadvantaged section is not about who had the most horrible life.

      From the wise LizzyM: It might be completely legit to self-identify as "disadvantaged" even if you are cis, white and male. "Disadvantaged" is meant to help identify people who may not look disadvantaged on the surface but who grew up with "less" than the vast majority of applicants. (As you could see when you got to college and realized that your "normal" was much less than usual state of affairs for most college students.)

      Did you live in Section 8 housing? Qualify for free lunch? Work for spending money and/or to help with household bills before age 18? Those are all questions (or related to questions) on the AMCAS that help explain "disadvantage". Basically, it’s the question, "did you grow up in poverty such that poverty limited your choices/opportunities and your preparedness for college?" Some people growing up in poverty don't attend very good K-12 schools and are less prepared for college than students who attended better schools.
       
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      Crayola227

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        I would point out that I would not want to be seen as "making an excuse for" attending a state school. While finances may be the reason you stayed in state, that is the case for a HUGE number of people and I don't think every one of them can say they are a disadvantaged applicant for the purposes of what you're discussing.

        I think the rest of what you said is fine and meets the disadvantaged bar.

        Just, if it were me and someone told me staying in state because their parents didn't have money and that was part of what made them disadvantaged or implied it... or telling me that's why they went to the same humble state school as I did (ah, you didn't know I went there too!) instead of Hahvahd.... eyeroll face.

        Also, in general I don't want to hear someone make any excuses for where they studied unless on its face it's clearly Worst College Ever, in which case someone is probably going to ask you about it, and you don't have to unattractively lead with apologizing for something the other person might not have even noted.

        Anyone who is absorbing more data from you after AMCAS via essay or interview, is doing so because your initial app was greenlit including institutions named. In a way, you're sorta beyond that sticker shock.

        I think it's better to lead with a sense of pride and conviction about the education you have received... because you didn't receive it, you earned it. *YOUR* bachelor's degree including credits from Fat Chance Community College and Cheap as Shyte In-State School is worth more than f* boi's from Harvard, because, well, it's *yours.* Get my drift? You went where you had to go and you succeeded. That's what you do. You don't need to apologize. Don't spin it into a disadvantage. Don't come off like you have a chip on your shoulder about it, it doesn't do you any favors.

        *written by the doc who was the disadvantaged student who spent a million years at the community college and the state school. Was asked once by a resident completing a checklist of interview questions why I was at community college and I answered "money" and they said "figured from the rest of your app, just checking, moving right along, I see you did really well". It was obvious their goal was never to beat me up about where I went.
         
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        esob

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          Yes, you were disadvantaged and you should write about it. It actually plays significantly into your approach to the most vulnerable in the health care population and, as long as the rest of your application is in order, it lends a point of diversity to an incoming class.
           
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          coldhands

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            Thank you all for your advice!

            I ended up writing the essay. Hopefully my tone wasn't too distant and overly professional (I was very cautious to avoid a "woe is me" vibe).

            First paragraph - factually stated given information (parents' divorce, dad's absence, raised by single mother who was often unemployed due to alcoholism, lived in poverty and moved several times, worked two jobs in high school to help with bills). no adjectives or emotional words were used.

            Second paragraph - talked about how I was fortunately able to attend college with financial assistance (no mention of specific school limitations or anything of the sort)

            Third paragraph - talked about how I was grateful for the chance I did have to overcome my circumstances and further my education, the qualities I gained/learned from doing so, and how my experience influenced my specific goals within medicine.

            I hope this was okay. It's submitted, so what's done is done - now just playing the waiting game for my transcripts to be received, lol.
             
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