APR 16, 2020 • 5 min read
The prompt reads: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
In this essay you should consider the most serious challenges you’ve faced during your life. You do not want to write about a time you were almost late to school, but then managed to get the last seat on the bus so you didn’t miss your exam. That doesn’t tell us much about who you are, what you value, and what kind of student you’ll be in college.
Was it something like a big culture shock, such as your family moving to a new city or country? Was it a challenge to fit in with others, or a struggle finding friends? Was it a serious tragedy, perhaps with a member of the family or friends? Was it overcoming a medical emergency or mental health issue? These are just some of our ideas, but your challenges can and should be unique in and of themselves.
Don’t be afraid to admit if, when initially faced with the challenge, that you reacted or responded badly. The ability to admit and learn from your mistakes shows immense maturity and growth. Anyone can claim that they’re resilient and able to overcome anything—few have the maturity to show their resilience by discussing their failures or by admitting that they still struggle with an obstacle to this day.
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Either way, you’ll need to explain how you dealt with the obstacle. What drove your transformation into someone capable of overcoming this challenge? The aim here is not simply to show that you overcame a challenge; you should seek to explain how you learned from it, and what lessons you’ll take into the future. Did you learn more about yourself, about others, or about humanity? When faced with another challenge like it in the future, will you react differently, approach it with a different mindset, or be less afraid to ask for help?
You don’t have to choose a problem that is exclusively yours; it can be one that affected your parents, your friends, your teachers, your community, your country, or beyond. If this was the case, you could talk about how you potentially got through the problem together; how you supported each other and how everybody was stronger for it.
Read Part 4 of the Common App series.
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