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Teen Calls Out Privileged Friend For Writing College Essay About His ‘Struggles’ Growing Up

Upset teen at desk
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Everyone has gone through some tough things in their lives, from the loss of a loved one to financial troubles. Some of us learn to grow from these trying times… and others use them for their college essays.

We have to remember, though, that just because we might go through more hardships than someone else doesn’t mean they haven’t been through anything at all, pointed out the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit.

While working their way through college applications, Redditor Material-Situation78 was talking with their childhood best friend about how the process was going.

When they heard what their friend, who had grown up rich, had written about his “struggles” in his college application essay, the Original Poster (OP) was furious with him for his lack of “self-awareness.”

They asked the sub: 

“AITA for how I reacted when my friend told me what he wrote about in his college essay that got him into the Ivy League?”

The OP and their friend, Sam, grew up in very different homes.

“Sam and I have been friends ever since we sat next to each other in fifth grade.”

“We bonded because we both lost a parent when we were really young, but otherwise, our backgrounds couldn’t be any more different.”

“My dad worked 60 to 70 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment in a good school district. I wanted to find a part-time job since I saw how exhausted he was every day, but he told me to focus on school instead.”

“Meanwhile, Sam lived with his heart surgeon dad in a 5000-square-foot mansion with a pool and a private movie theater.”

“I won’t lie. It did hurt sometimes to see Sam living life on easy mode while my dad and I struggled. This was especially true in Spring 2020 when my dad was panicking about no longer being able to work while Sam was posting pool selfies.”

They also were differently prepared for going off to college.

“Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to do the extracurriculars that look good on college applications due to the cost. I’m planning to work part-time, complete my requirements at community college, and finish my degree at a four-year school.”

“Meanwhile, Sam took private piano lessons and had a family friend who arranged for him to work in her university research lab over the summers. He even helped publish a scientific paper.”

“Sam knew since the seventh or eighth grade that he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps and attend an Ivy League school. Sure, Sam had legacy and connections, but he’s also genuinely the hardest-working and smartest person I know.”

The friends were recently discussing how college applications were coming along.

“Fast-forward to last Sunday. Sam invited me and two other friends (Amy and Elaine) to his house.”

“He showed us some of the cool stuff that his college sent him before we all went to hang out by the pool.”

“Unsurprisingly, the conversation soon turned toward college and future plans.”

“Amy asked Sam what he wrote about in his college essay. Sam paused for half a second before saying that he mainly wrote about the struggles he had growing up as a child of a single parent.”

The OP had heard enough.

“It was just too much. We were hanging out in a multimillion-dollar house with a pool in the backyard, a private movie theater upstairs, a grand piano in the living room, and two BMWs, plus a Porsche, in the garage.”

“I said, ‘Sam, really? Do you have any f**king self-awareness at all? How can you even f**king say that you struggled when you know how f**king hard my dad and I have it?'”

“I then left because I was getting increasingly angry and didn’t want to say something that I’d regret.”

“I’ve been avoiding Sam at school all week because I’m honestly still upset at him, even though Amy and Elaine have said that Sam really wants to talk to me.”


Fellow Redditors weighed in:

  • NTA: Not the A**hole
  • YTA: You’re the A**hole
  • ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
  • NAH: No A**holes Here

Some understood the reasons why the OP was so upset.

“Educator here. I’ve spent the last 15+ working with high school upperclassmen, specifically in the context of standardized testing and college prep.”

“As a rule, rich kids do not get into college due to amazing essays. They get in because their parents know people. I’ve been in the room a few times when parents make the call that gets little X or Y into an Ivy, and it’s absolutely shocking. You would be amazed at how corrupt and cynical the college admissions process is behind the scenes.”

“Your friend’s dad is probably going to let him think that essay got him in because that’s what these sorts of parents almost always do. My guess is they are worried their kids would be ashamed if they knew the truth. No one wants to know their ‘achievements’ are really just nepotism in action.”

“You are definitely NTA for being infuriated by nepotism now that you’re aware of it, but if you throw away your friends every time the world treats you differently, you will quickly run out of friends.” – No_Rec1979

“NTA. And god… does this sound familiar. Long ago, I worked as a college admissions consultant, basically assisting kids in preparing their applications. Rich families paid me while I worked with less advantaged kids for free.”

“Maybe 90% of the time, the first essay from the rich kids was always about their ‘struggles’ because something in their life wasn’t perfect. I read the ‘single parent,’ ‘child of divorce,’ and ‘dad worked hard’ essays tons of times. Then I would dig into it with questions because I told them, you will probably be asked details of this.”

“First round, the majority of them lied. Then I told them, exaggerating what happened to you will be caught, and your application will be thrown out. Then I got the full truth, and the concept of ‘struggling’ simply meant their lives weren’t perfect. ‘Struggling’ was far from the right word.”

“Every time, we started over. Sometimes, if there were prompts, we chose another one. If it was an open-ended essay, I told the kid to write something, anything, that reflected who they really were. I then got fantastic essays, one about Legos, one about a failed attempt to start a goofy business to impress their dad, and one about whittling.”

“I knew folks in admissions offices, and I called once the Legos kid was admitted and asked what admissions thought of the essay. I was told it was one of the best essays they had ever received.”

“So, when I read OP’s story, I know exactly what is going on, although I wouldn’t have been furious because I have seen it so many times. But I completely understand why OP got mad because of their lack of self-awareness of Sam, particularly in speaking to one of his friends from a less privileged background.”

“However, OP, colleges DO take into account personal circumstances. An essay about your life, not one that is self-pitying but that reflects who you are (perhaps including a fear that your inability to have extracurriculars left you frightened that you would not get into college, a fear that you have overcome), is all you need.”

“If you have decent grades and decent SAT scores, all of that will be taken into account. You could gain a scholarship. If you prefer the community college to the four-year route, that is fine also. But don’t be afraid of the finances yet.” – thanosrain


“Considering Sam is happy, healthy, and well adjusted, even claims that it was a ‘struggle’ that his surgeon dad wasn’t there all that much is more of a want not need. His dad obviously offered alternative mentors, caregivers, and support to fill the gap. It just makes him sound whiny that he couldn’t have even more.”

“While Sam works hard, he did not earn that spot fairly. Had he been in your position, he’d also have worked hard… at his part-time job at McDonald’s to help his dad out or through keeping the household going. The same amount of work poured in different soil, only you get rocks, and he gets an orchard.”

“So no, you do not need to make Sam feel good about this or like he’s equal in suffering. That is not your job. If you still want to be friends, I’d take a ‘we’re never going to talk about this, and you’re never, ever going to complain to me about stuff’ tact.” – millac7

“NTA. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be not to have some feelings come up in this situation. It just isn’t fair or right that some people work hard all of their life but will always struggle financially. However, rich people still struggle in other ways and their pain is valid, too.”

“Please, reach out to Sam and talk to him. Share your feelings in the most honest non-confrontational way possible. Let him explain what he wrote in his essay and what he meant. It seems like you jumped to conclusions. Again, its ok to feel angry when things are unfair, but do not let it consume you or ruin a friendship.” – RiverShannon76

“NTA. I also know of rich kids who lied in their essays to make it seem like they’ve struggled. They do it because they think if they’ve had some sort of ‘hardship,’ like those with lower socioeconomic status then they’re more likely to get into university. They believe that those kids have an advantage and can use a ‘sob story’ to boost their chances of getting in.”

“I bet when OP reads the essay and makes an edit, it probably would say that his friend made up the so-called problems. The people saying he’s TA is gonna eat their hat.” – OneDai

“NTA. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t hear him out and maybe apologize for having such a strong reaction but you would have had the same non-financial issues as him considering the similar circumstances. But having to worry about getting your next meal or if you have any clothes to wear or any way of getting to and from school or seeing your friend adds a massive strain on being able to deal with other things.”

“Your friend has had the privilege of being able to focus on all of the other horrible parts of being a child of a single parent while you just tried to survive. I get that you felt he should have considered the exploitative nature of his using his ‘tough background’ and compared himself to many other applicants who let’s face it are quite likely to also have divorced or single parents. That isn’t really unique enough an experience to grant the excuse if I nEedEd iT oN My aPplIcaTIon.”

“I think that you two should bind over your mutual sufferings; however, he should be aware that not struggling for everything he’s got affects every aspect of your life and how you deal with it. I think you handle it really well growing up struggling and having lost a parent at a young age I struggle to listen to rich people complain especially when they have a small thing like the ability to afford counseling and the time to go to it.” – sweatysusan

But others found the OP to be wrong to project their insecurities onto their friend.

“The only way you could be NTA is if your friend had two parents his whole life and stole your story about growing up with a single parent. But he didn’t steal your story. He wrote his story.”

“And like it or not, he struggled in his own ways. YTA and you also just added to his story of struggles with gatekeeping. Go ahead and write your own story. It might make you feel better.” – cheddarpoppers

“NTA. But consider the possibility that your father gave you what money can’t buy: Love and good character, and a sense of being secure in your world, despite the financial struggles. Sometimes all rich kids get from their parents is stuff.”

“If Sam has otherwise been a good friend, hear him out and read his essay. It’s probable that you had the better life when all things are considered.” – Professional-Bear114

“YTA. You didn’t read his essay. You don’t know what he said or his struggles. Either way, it has nothing to do with you. Life isn’t a sum zero game. Just because you struggled more doesn’t mean he didn’t struggle at all. His essay wasn’t about you, it had nothing to do with you.” – OrangeCubit

“YTA. Sounds like Sam talked about the struggles of growing up with a single parent, and not all of those troubles are necessarily related to his economic status. Although he’s in a really good financial situation, it’s really presumptuous to assume that you know everything that’s going on in his life behind closed doors.”

“A good friend would be happy for Sam and not belittle him just because he doesn’t face the same struggles as you. Have some humility and realize that money doesn’t always equal happiness in life.” – DingosM8

“YTA… Just because he is lucky to have material items from his father doesn’t mean his struggles are any less important. Not having a mom can cause a lot of heartache and grief, which you, of all people, should understand.”

“Your struggles because of your dad is not his fault, and you need to get off your high horse. You even said Sam is genuinely one of the most hard-working people you know. Doesn’t seem like he slacked just because his dad has money and connections.”

“Also, you don’t know how Sam was feeling because heart surgeons work a lot! Maybe he also has a hard time because his dad is possibly away a lot. Material items and swimming pools and fancy cars aren’t everything… a lot of times kids just want their parents.”

“You were rude and you should apologize. Stop being jealous. It’s not a competition on who has the worst ‘struggles.'” – DisneyAddict2021

“I’m very torn on this one.”

“One side of me says YTA. You mentioned how his dad is a heart surgeon, so he probably didn’t spend much time with him since he would have always been at work. He may have struggled in that sense. I’ve grown up with a single mother for about seven years now.”

“I’m home alone every morning since my mother is at work. It does suck sometimes not being able to spend time with the person you look up to and who is your sole provider growing up. You must have not thought about that side, only the financial struggling side.”

“However, I also think your NTA. You clearly grew up in poverty, and he didn’t — completely opposite people. So I understand that it may be hard for someone to say that they struggled whilst casually being surrounded by tons of money. Everyone instantly jumping to you are definitely middle/upper class.”

“Overall, I’d say ESH. You for not being completely aware of his childhood/ not paying enough attention to his essay. However, he’s the a**hole for bringing it up with you there.” – idekkanymoree_

Everyone could understand that the OP’s life was “harder” than their friends, due to their financial differences, but they were torn over the OP’s reaction to their friend’s college application. Not struggling financially does not mean Sam did not struggle at all, though he could have been more empathetic with his best friend present.

Written by McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan has been a part of the George Takei family since 2019 when she wrote some of her favorite early pieces: Sesame Street introducing its first character who lived in foster care and Bruce Willis delivering a not-so-Die-Hard opening pitch at a Phillies game. She's gone on to write nearly 3,000 viral and trending stories for George Takei, Comic Sands, Percolately, and ÜberFacts. With an unstoppable love for the written word, she's also an avid reader, poet, and indie novelist.