Tackling the Common App Essay Prompts: Part 2

Welcome again to our 7-part blog series. Make sure to check out our first blog on this link (**insert link**) where we have unpacked the first prompt. We will be unpacking the second prompt in this blog.

Prompt :- 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?

This prompt can be divided into two parts. The first part asks you to recount your challenge, setback, or failure and the second part asks you to reflect upon the learnings from those challenges. The aim of your common essay should be to focus more on the latter part than the former.

The prompt begins with the words “lessons we take from obstacles”, so again it is quite explicit that the focus should be on outcomes or learnings from those challenges and not only on the challenges, setbacks, or failures themselves.

The aim of the common app essay is to showcase your skills and values as an individual. While addressing this prompt, it’s important to include the challenge to set up the structure of the story, but the primary focus should be on how you demonstrated values such as gratitude, determination, grit, and resilience in overcoming it.

The prompt does provide the flexibility to choose your own adventure. However, you should refrain from choosing a banal challenge or challenges that are common among school students. For example, challenges such as struggling with academics or losing a sports match are fairly cliche and are therefore best avoided as topics for the essay. Ideally, the challenge you faced and your learnings should be something that is more specific to you and allows you to display the uniqueness of your personality and your values.

Some brainstorming questions that you might consider to get started on this prompt are:

What were some of the greatest obstacles that you faced in your life?

How did you bounce back from a major setback in your life which transformed into a more empathetic individual?

How did you deal with a big failure in your life and learned the most important lesson that has helped you in other endeavors of life?

These are broad questions that you can use as a starting point as you begin your process of brainstorming. These open-ended questions will help you identify your specific and unique challenges, setbacks, or failures.

One such specific example for how you might approach this topic could be how the death of a family member from a curable disease made you more aware of the lack of an efficient health-care system, and how that inspired you to volunteer at a local hospital and eventually undertake health-care initiatives in your community. In this example, you are not just focusing on the challenge, but also exploring the way it shaped you, your values, and your actions.

Tackling the Common App Essay Prompts: Part 2

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