Merrimack Graduate Student Wins American Counseling Association Essay Contest

Sanjana Sheth M’25, an aspiring clinical mental health counselor, wrote an essay on the struggles modern college students face and how counselors can meet their needs head-on.
Headshot of Sanjana Sheth M'25 nest to the Merrimack College logo.
Sanjana Sheth M'25 also holds a master's degree in pharmacology from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

As a career advising fellow, Sanjana Sheth M’25 knows about the pressures and issues college students currently face. So, she decided to write about it.

In March, the American Counseling Association announced Sheth’s entry in its Future School Counselor Essay Competition won the grand prize. Sheth, currently enrolled in Merrimack’s clinical mental health counseling master’s program, was awarded $2,000 and her essay will be published in the ACA’s online publication, “Counseling Today.” 

The essay prompt asked participants what they think are the most pressing personal and social issues impacting students today and what counselors can do to best address them. 

“I wanted to urge the school counselors getting their degrees to focus on all the aspects of it,” Sheth said in her essay. “Connect with the students who are not ready to be open. That’s what we are taught in counseling – if you want to help anyone, you need to work or establish a therapeutic relationship.”

In her essay, Sheth said the most common issues she sees in students include “anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation, academic struggles, identity development, transition and adjustment issues, bullying in context with diversity and inclusivity and issues with interpersonal relationships,” 

As such, she argued that counselors must “create strategic and individual-focused interventions to effectively address challenges for their well-being and success.”

Prior to Merrimack, Sheth worked for two years as a researcher studying cancer and vaccines. She holds a master’s degree in pharmacology from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

“When we’d have offsite meetings, I’d meet with a lot of people who had cancer,” said Sheth. “They explained how traumatic their experience was. They had no clue how to deal with them.” 

Talking to patients and getting first-hand insight into the struggles faced by individuals grappling with chronic illness was very insightful. It became evident to her that her passion lay in directly aiding individuals in comprehending their trauma and facilitating their healing process. 

Sheth said Merrimack’s fellowship program piqued her interest most when applying for graduate school for the second time.

“I couldn’t find any other (college) that had so much support for students,” Sheth continued. “After that, I was really interested in the curriculum that they had set up.” She highlighted Merrimack’s comprehensive curriculum, which allows students to explore diverse paths within counseling, “plus you get to learn, experience and choose from different modalities.”

Now, Sheth hopes to help people understand and work through their trauma. Luckily, she said she has a supportive network of Merrimack staff and professors to help her reach her dreams.

“Submitting the essay was nerve-wracking for me. I owe a great deal of gratitude to my professors, whose encouragement and guidance pushed me to submit (the essay),” she said. “I had one of my professors, Melissa Spencer, look through it and tell me if it was OK. At Merrimack, I’ve found an environment that fosters growth, support, and learning — it’s truly been an enriching experience.”

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