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Telling a Sob Story?

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Question:: Essay question for MLA application is "tell about an experience/person/event that has been important to me in my development".

To be completely honest, the most important experience I have had was developing two chronic illnesses during my time in the military. During this year of being mostly bed ridden, I had the oppertunity to read more than I ever had in my life. I ended up finding a passion that I want to devote my life to researching --heuristics and cognitive biases. Additionally, being sick helped me to really focus my priorities--What did I really want to get out of life? I realized that I had previously chosen jobs and majors based on "what sounds cool" (physics, political science, officer in military) instead of "what can I spend hours and hours reading and never get bored.

Is this an ok thing to write about? Will admitting that I have two chronic illnesses hinder my chances at getting accepted? Or, if I frame it correctly, be interpreted as something that I have overcome that helped me to really focus in on what I want to accomplish and do in life?

Note: I won't actually write it like a sob story, I just am worried that is how it might come across, like I am looking for sympathy, when in fact I am just trying to honestly tell one of the most significant events in my life so far.

Background: I am applying to UPENN's Masters in Liberal Arts program. The reason I am applying there is because (1) its the only interdisciplinary program I could find that lets me combine philosophy, cognitive science/physch, and artificial intelligence (2) great school and close to home and (3) My grades and differing undergrad major (poli sci and physics) wouldn't allow me enterance to a PhD progam at the current time. My end goal is to get my Masters, and then apply to either Cambridge or Oxford, both of which have research institutes that focus on the combination of these areas.

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I'd strongly encourage you to read this about the "kisses of death in graduate school applications." It is geared towards Philosophy, but I think much of it can apply to many disciplines. I'd be very careful to avoid the faux pas' outlined in the paper. But you also seem to have a clear handle on where you want this to go that may skirt these issues and ultimately make for a more compelling statement of purpose. I don't have much more to add that wasn't well covered in the thread, but hopefully others can speak more to your specific circumstances.

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I think as long as you focus on the event as one that was ultimately positive for you--avoiding language that is overly negative and (perhaps too personal) descriptions of the illness itself--and focus on how it affected you academically and intellectually, rather than just personally, this could be a great experience to write about. As long as the rhetorical perspective doesn't beg for sympathy, it won't come off as a sob story, and it does sound like a unique experience, especially combined with time in the military. As the previous poster mentioned, though, I'd be careful to avoid the "kiss of death" of TMI/personal boundaries mentioned in that article. :)

Good luck!

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