Skip to content

How Much To Share About Cancer In An Admissions Essay

college library

Michele Rosenthal has worked at colleges and universities throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in administrative leadership, student affairs and currently as an academic dean. In addition to acting as an educational consultant, she has also supported AYAs affected by cancer, as a Cancer to College Transition Coach.  Lacuna Loft is super excited to offer her expertise to you today!

Michele has helped AYAs seek the accommodations (e.g. academic services, residential living, disability services) they need to make their college experience a success!

Here she offers AYAs, preparing to take the next step in their academic careers, insights from university insiders regarding how much to share in an admissions essay:

When I help young adults navigate the College and Cancer process, I am always inspired by their motivation and strong will. Diagnosis, treatment and survivorship can be all consuming and it is often hard to separate cancer identity from the rest of one’s identity. I thought it best to pose the question of how much to share, to experienced admissions administrators. Once I asked the question the responses were immediate.

In preparation for writing an admissions application:

“When meeting a prospective student, through either personal essay or interview, I am most convinced by those students who can talk about personal issues—health, poverty, abuse—in ways that recognize the difficulties in dealing with hardship without defining themselves as victims. They tend to acknowledge the past and perhaps the present as part of their history and, within that, describe their plans for the future. For me, that acceptance often seems to spawn a resilience that returns or carries the student forward on a successful path to college life and beyond.” Former Director of Admissions, 4-year Liberal Arts college

“They should not feel that telling their story would be viewed negatively in the college process. How they frame the statement is important. It’s a significant part of their life’s journey to this point. I’m sure none of them would want to define themselves or all future opportunities by their cancer, but we’d all be foolish to think that having cancer won’t be with them forever. Telling their story through their lessons learned, obstacles overcome, or even continued challenges on an on-going basis will help us to better know them as individuals, which I have always argued is the entire point of a college essay.” Vice President Admissions and Enrollment, 4-year Business college

“By and large, this is not about asking anyone to feel sorry for an applicant, but about demonstrating that the student has shown perseverance. No university is going to admit a student because he or she has or had cancer. The grades and scores still need to be there, but nearly all institutions weigh the challenges a student faces in order to reach those achievements. If a student has a period where grades suffer, it is often important to explain these in the context of life events. This is most effective where the applicant is able to demonstrate improvement.” Senior Vice President of Students and Enrollment, 4-year Research university

For me and hopefully for you, the responses help to put the young adult cancer journey in a helpful context. It is important to frame challenges in a way that will help an admissions officer learn about who you are and to understand and appreciate your aspirations and future goals and dreams.

With that said, if you have been wondering if you should apply, please stop wondering!

Commit your pen to paper or your fingers to a keyboard and begin to draft your story. Your story is uniquely yours and your identity is composed of a myriad of experiences that have made you who you are. Your cancer journey is real, but it is not your whole story.

We thank Michele for the incredible support she provides AYAs! If you feel you could benefit from Michele’s coaching services, she can be reached at!

Originally published by TUFTS AYA Program Blog.