This post is another in my series on how to address the college application essay prompts from the Common App. This year, you have seven prompts from which to choose as an anchor for your essay. Each prompts presents its unique possibilities and challenges. Today we will look at the “obstacle/failure” prompt. This a fairly straightforward prompt that allows you both to tell a good story and to reflect on how your experiences have shaped your beliefs, your expectations, and your understanding of what it is to be human.
The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
Obstacle / Challenge / Setback / Failure
The key word here is obstacle, along with its various synonyms that appear in the prompt: challenge, setback, failure. Very few things we achieve in life come easily on the first try. Often, something impedes our smooth movement toward our goals. Sometimes we are able to overcome the obstacle. Sometimes we are not: we fail. Thus, the first order of business in addressing this prompt is to clearly identify the goal you were trying to achieve. What was it you wanted? What was the objective? What hopes did you have? Then the second order of business is to clearly identify the obstacle (or challenge or setback or failure) that rendered the achievement of your goal more difficult—or even impossible.
Incident or Time
As with any essay, you need to tell a story. Whereas the previous prompt uses the word “story”, this prompt invites you to “recount” this process of setting a goal and having trouble meeting it. This is the story of how things did not go according to plan. Your story should have a beginning, middle, and end. But it must be brief.
Learning From The Experience
Whenever we fail—and we all do—we have to figure out how to respond to that failure. Often we gain something from the experience. Perhaps we learned a valuable lesson. Perhaps we redirected our energies in a new way. Perhaps we have developed a greater understanding of our own strengths and weaknesses. The key element to successfully answering this prompt is to reflect on how this failure affected you and what you did as a result of it. So, after you have told your (brief) story, you should do quite a bit of reflecting on how this experience led to personal growth or greater understanding of the world around you.
Fundamentally, a good college essay will do two things. First, it will recount an interesting story in which you are the main character. Then the essay will give meaning to that story through the reflections you share with your reader. Together, the story and reflection will provide a window onto your strengths and weaknesses as a person, and allow the reader to have a fuller picture of who you are.
Have fun writing!
Educational consultant and admissions expert
Filed Under: Application Tips, College EssaysTagged With: 2017-2018 applications, best college essay, college essay advice, Common App, great college essay, Ivy league admissions essay
Show MoreOvercoming Obstacles
Throughout a persons life, they are faced with different obstacles, and different challenges of all different types. My life in particular has been full of up and downs related especially towards my soccer career. In the novel The Pact, three boys, George, Rameck, and Sam are faced with many obstacles throughout their lives, where they must learn to overcome and achieve great success on their own will power. Essentially, I have done the same thing. My soccer career has been one of my most difficult life challenges creating the person I am today. I was always taught that soccer was to be about the love of the game and that it should be fun. Unfortunately, I faced many obstacles that I needed to overcome before I…show more content…
Sam’s home life was very similar. His parents also got a divorce. They, as well as the other families, had very little money. Just as the boys decided not to let their home lives, and the lack of financial funds interfere with their plans, I wasn’t about to let my asthma control me. I knew I could overcome my asthma if I worked harder than I ever had before. I began to run everyday to prepare for the soccer seasons and began to play year round so there would be no possibility of becoming out of shape. I worked hard until I controlled the asthma rather than the asthma controlling me.
I entered high school excited for the soccer season to begin. I was now playing on a select team and also on a premier club team. I was feeling great. During my eighth grade school soccer season, I was the top scorer for my team and I had high hopes of making Varsity soccer as an entering freshman. Two weeks prior to the start of soccer season, I broke my ankle playing indoor soccer. I was overcome with more disappointment than imaginable. I felt like the one thing I had worked so hard to accomplish was once again taken away. Similar with The Pact when Sam also had the same struggles. He failed his first state board exam, and was left behind, because Rameck passed. It was something that delayed his medical career temporarily, but if he wouldn‘t have stuck with it, could have delayed it permanently. Sam had to put his other priorities aside, and