Question: I'm a good student, active in many extracurriculars, and have maintained a 3.9. However, this past summer I made a poor decision and was charged with a misdemeanor. The consequences of my actions however, changed my entire outlook on life. I was wondering if it would be a good or bad idea to write my essay about this experience?
If you're comfortable telling me what your "poor decision" was, I can better advise you. Also, since it was in the summer, can I assume that this didn't affect your school record ... no disciplinary action at school, suspension, etc.?
Sometimes these "true confessions" essays can be worthwhile, but in other cases they can be what my 12-year-old son calls "TMI" ... i.e., "Too Much Information." While, for most colleges, you will have to reveal your misdeed anyway (more on that in a minute), the typical high school misdemeanor (e.g., sharing a beer beneath the baseball bleachers or even a joint in the local park) is rarely application essay fodder. Even if you learned some important lessons about honesty or peer pressure or trust, this will probably not be what you want as the "centerfold" of your application. There are surely other strengths, talents, interests, etc. of yours that should take a more starring role. But, again, it's hard for me to say for sure without knowing the details. (And, of course, if you're a terrific writer, you can write about pretty much anything.)
The Common Application (and many others ... though not all) will ask you, "Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor, felony, or other crime?" So you do have to respond honestly, and--whenever the answer is "YES"-- it's important to include a statement that explains what you did and what you learned from this experience. In such cases, if you succumbed to peer pressure, it's fine to say so, but be sure that you also assume responsibility for your own actions and not foist all of the blame onto others.
But, by conveying this information in a supplementary letter or essay and by writing your primary college essay about something else, you will send a message to colleges that proclaims, "Yes, I did screw up, but this doesn't define who I am. There are other aspects of my life that are far more important."
After all, college applications give you very little space to reveal the real you, and you may want to use your required essay to show what is truly special--and wonderful--about you and to let your lapse in judgment take a back seat, even if you feel that you matured or changed because of it.