It is the season for high school seniors to begin thinking seriously about applying for college or university admissions. Grades from years’ past, all the activities of students engaged in — from student government and plays, to sports and civic service credits — are being counted. Credit for these activities are neatly placed into application forms. SAT and ACT tests are taken at least once, if not twice. And, letters of reference are being gathered, proof of a student’s ability to relate well with adults.

And, then there is the letter for application to the college or university’s office of admission. Having worked in institutions of higher education as a faculty member, I know that this is often the “make or break” for many high school seniors: if the essay is interesting and novel, standing out from among the pack of other applicants, even students with lower GPAs have a shot in some schools for high achievers…or, at least, that’s the hope.

This hope was recently discovered when I found out that my son’s college-university essay is about growing up with a gay dad. Like his sister before him, his essay is about the joys and challenges of growing up with a gay dad. My daughter’s essay detailed the interaction she had with a family member who attends an evangelical church and is opposed to the ordination of gays and lesbians in ministerial positions. In gentle prose, my daughter carefully outlined the conversation, sticking up for dear ol’ dad. She ended her letter with the acknowledgement that she is a stronger person, a person whose very character embodies both charity and honesty.

My son’s essay is different: he and I play the dance of male egos in a culture that demands that we, who are men, are naturally competitive and tout our masculinity in ways that keeps us apart. Individuation is a must in order to survive and more importantly, thrive. His essay speaks of the challenge of living with a dad whom he loves, who happens to be gay, in a culture of high school machismo, in which being gay is not a virtue among his peers. An athlete, with charisma oozing from every pore of his skin, a natural-born leader, active in student government, a willing volunteer for those in need, high school culture has been challenging for him with his gay dad. As he has said to me numerous times, “You don’t know what it’s like to have a gay dad in high school!” He is correct. The burden that he carries is not one that I shouldered. I am quiet. I am learning from him about the joys and challenges of having a dad who is gay. He is my teacher. I am his student. And, that has made all the difference.

I think he’ll be fine in college. Much of what he has learned that will bode him well he learned not in high school per se, but from the great classroom of life well and deeply lived…especially with a dad who is gay. : :

2 replies on “College application letter”

  1. What a breath of fresh air. As if gay students didnt have enough of a tough time growing up in a heterosexual world where their sexual identity is often unintentionally thrown in their faces on a daily basis. It does get better!

    I have been a college admission counselor for 24 years. To reinforce Professor Brett Webb-Mitchell’s comments on the essay, it is extremely important not to tell what happened growing up as in …”this happened then this happened..” And, to talk about the struggle, how hard it was, how you had a hard time dealing with the prejudice, speak in postive terms. Describe how you actually handled a specific situation which shows the reader how you have grown from the experience as opposed to just talking about what happened. It is more interesting to read and increases your chances to get in. They are trying to predict your college survivability and your level of maturity when you get to college. Seeing this at the high school level raises this predictability factor. Making the essays tone come across that you are dealing with the prejudice you may feel in constructive ways. The student who starts a Gay and Lesbian club on their campus, the one who calls their peers on their homophobia which they might not even be aware of, the one who spoke metaphorically about when it finally clicked on them that being gay is being normal; one does not have to cow tow to the heterosexual norm.
    The essay on your application should be fun and only describe one instance, one time in your life. You should NOT try to pack in as much as you can. Boring. The app is read quickly. Make it an easy read.
    And when you finish all that writing and filling out your name, address etc for the 100th time, you will say to yourself, “it will get better!”

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