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Last updated June 15, 2023

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3 Ways to Approach College Essays About Adoption

Key Takeaway

Writing a college essay about adoption is a valid and powerful choice. Approaching the topic through themes of identity, biology, or culture can create a compelling narrative. However, it's important to avoid dwelling on negative emotions and ensure that the essay ultimately focuses on revealing insights about yourself.

If you’re adopted, you might be wondering whether you can write your college essay about your experiences as an adoptee.

The answer is simple: absolutely! College essays about adoption aren’t overly common. And because the topic tends to be such a personal one, you don’t have to worry too much about being cliche or general. Reflecting meaningfully on your own experiences is enough.

In this post, we’ll go over three strategies for writing your college essay about adoption, and we’ll talk about two mistakes to avoid.


The first way to approach your college essay about adoption is to focus on the theme of identity. In general, topics related to identity tend to lead to outstanding college essays because they’re inherently personal and vulnerable—two foundational traits of a personal statement. Adoption essays are no different.

When writing about adoption and identity, applicants tend to focus on their identity prior to and after being adopted. For some, a personal statement might detail the journey of reconciling their identity at birth with their identity in their adopted family. For others, it might center on an identity they’ve held all along.

Whatever your story is, you can be authentic in how you present your journey with your identity.

Biology or Psychology

You could also take a more academic approach to your personal statement by exploring your adoption through a biological or psychological framework. This approach may work especially well if you want to go into either field.

Exploring your adoption through a biological or psychological lens might look like an investigation into your own experience of nature versus nurture. Where do you see similarities between you and your adoptive family? Do you have any traits you think are genetic?

With this approach, you can show a keen academic interest in a subject while also exploring your own background and identity.


If you were adopted into a family whose culture differs from that of your birth family, then you might choose to write about your identity through the lens of culture.

The majority of applicants who take this approach write about their journey reconnecting with their birth culture. Others write about what it was like to adapt to a new culture when they were adopted. And others yet discuss the feeling of being in between cultures.

No matter what your own experience has been, you can write a strong essay by reflecting on how your cultures have shaped who you are today.

Two Mistakes to Avoid

While you don’t have to think too much about avoiding cliches, there are two common mistakes to be on the lookout for as you’re writing and revising your personal statement.

Focusing too much on negative or difficult emotions

Adoption can be a challenging subject to write about under any circumstances. In a college essay, it can be especially difficult because the stakes are high and you’re writing for an audience of faceless admissions officers.

While you may have heard that you need a “sob story” to get into college, the truth is that college essays are most successful when they don’t dwell on the negative. That’s not to say that you can’t write about anything difficult that you’ve faced. But you want your admissions officers to have positive emotions when they think back on your file, so your essay should ultimately resolve with some kind of light, hope, or positivity.

Telling a story that is about your adoption, not you

As we’ve already covered, adoption is a solid topic for a college essay. But you don’t want your college essay to be only about your adoption. It should, in the end, be about you.

Whatever you reveal to your admissions officers through your adoption story should serve two purposes: 1) to give insight into who you are, and 2) to reveal something about your core strengths. (If you want to know more about either of those purposes, hop on over to our guide to college essays.)

So don’t simply detail your adoption or focus only on the aspects that have been positive or negative for you. Write about them only for the purpose of telling admissions officers something about yourself.

The bottom line

If you feel so inclined, go ahead and write your college essay about being adopted. You might approach the topic through the lens of identity, biology, culture, or something uniquely your own. Whatever approach you take, make sure to keep the focus on you, not your adoption, and to conclude your essay on a positive note.

Looking for inspiration? Check out our college essay examples. We have a bunch—and they’re all graded and annotated by former admissions officers.

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