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Should I Mention My Religion in My College Essay?

Here’s another key tip to keep in mind for your college applications, from College Essay Guy Ethan Sawyer!

The short answer is this: it’s okay to discuss religion in your essay as long as the take-away (or values) promoted in the essay are universal. Here’s what I mean:

In the past, I’ve had students write essay drafts that end with something like, “Since accepting Christ (or) learning to meditate (or) converting to Judaism, I’ve made it my goal to tell others about the difference that Christ/meditation/Judaism can make in their lives.” I call this the “missionary” essay. And it can be off-putting to readers, particularly to those who don’t share your religious beliefs (which, statistically speaking, is likely).

Instead, discuss the values you gained through your religion. How?

Step 1: Take a look at this Values List and ask yourself: what values have I gained through my religion?

Examples: “Getting used to wearing a turban in ninth grade helped increase my self-confidence and, interestingly, my grades went up that year!” (or) “Feeling judged by my youth group leader helped me better understand how my friend must have been feeling about me; I realized I was essentially doing the same thing to her.”

Check out the values displayed in those sentences: self-confidence and empathy. Nice! And anyone, no matter the religion or belief system, can get on board with those.

Step 2: Make sure the values you’re discussing are non-obvious and specific.
Obvious connections lead to boring essays.

Examples: “Playing in the band at church helped me learn the value of working with others” (seen it!) (or) “Volunteering at our mosque helped me develop myself personally” (super vague–say how!).

Step 3: Get feedback from someone who does not share your religious belief.
Once s/he has read the essay, ask the person: do you feel closer to me after having read that? If the answer isn’t “Yes,” or even if the person hesitates before responding, ask, “What would help you feel closer to me?”

Step 4: Listen with your entire being. Stay curious about his/her feedback to you.

Step 5: Thank the person and go back to the drawing board.

Because you are creative and original and you have something important to communicate.

For more personal statement help, check out www.collegeessayguy.com.


Ethan Sawyer, the College Essay Guy, has been helping students tell their stories for more than ten years. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, received an MFA from UC Irvine, and received two counseling certifications, one from UC Irvine and another from the Interchange Counseling Institute. He’s also a certified Myers-Briggs® specialist and his type (ENFJ) will tell you that he will show up on time, he’ll be excited to meet you, and, more than anything, he’s committed to–and an expert in–helping you realize your potential.


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This post was written by a friend of Magoosh.

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