Want to write about a challenge, setback or failure experience? The Common App Essay Prompt #2 is the one for you!
Common App Essay Prompt #2
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 the go-to Common App essay prompt for most people. Based on many published college application essays, most people think the personal statement is synonymous with a story about overcoming a difficult past or a failure.
And, it’s a popular essay prompt for a reason! Choosing to write about a failure or a setback gives you the opportunity to demonstrate many aspects of your personality: perseverance, courage, or patience, to name a few.
So, what constitutes as a good “challenge, setback or failure”? This is where many applicants have difficulty. Many students feel as though they haven’t experienced enough failures to write a strong essay. It doesn’t take a life-threatening setback for you to write a winning application essay. You can write about a mental illness you’re suffering from, or about how you can’t ride a bike. Admissions officers aren’t there to judge how much you’ve been through. Truthfully, it’s not even about the challenge or failure you faced, it’s about how it affected in and what you learned from it.
The most common mistake you see students make when responding to this prompt is focusing too much on the details of the challenge or the failure. While it’s important to share what the issue is, there’s no need to spend paragraphs on what happened. The focus of the essay should be on how it influenced you. How did it make you feel? What did you do about it? Now, looking back, what did you learn from your experience? By using the challenge or setback as a framework for your personal statement, you can share your emotions, thought process and hopes for the future.
To help you better understand what I’m referring to, here are a few successful personal statement essays with the same essay topic. One talked about heavy difficult family issues, while another wrote about her hatred for eating vegetables. Again, regardless of the chosen setback or challenge, they were all able to provide insight into who they are as a person and as a student.
Essay Example 1: I Don’t Want to Ask for HelpBluedevil25, Duke University ‘21
“I only realized my embarrassing mistake when I stood up and my pajamas were soaked. Although both the babysitter and my brother were home, I could not muster up the confidence to ask them for help with my drenched onesie.
Growing up, the same juvenile attitude about not asking for help would often manifest itself. Whether it was having to ask for rides because of my mom’s visual impairment forced her to stop driving or seek out my math teachers when I struggled, it always felt uncomfortable to impose on others for assistance.”
Unlock his full Duke successful college application file to read how he came to learn the virtue of help in his personal statement!
Essay Example 2: Building a HS Hackathon - StuyHacks
Sharon Lin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology ‘21
“A malfunctioning Parrot drone grazed the side of my face as I huddled over a broken Macbook Air, the sounds of overheated CPUs interlacing with the blaring EDM. Just as the volume in the room reached its peak, the elevator door opened to reveal yet another dozen attendees arriving with an armload of hardware and equipment.
The day had hardly even begun, and yet the hackathon was already a bevy of chaos.”
Unlock her full MIT successful college application profile to read how she overcame the challenges to form and lead a student hackathon.
Essay Example 3: Research Internship
Christina C, University of Southern California ‘19
“On the first day of summer, instead of sleeping in or playing at the beach with my friends, I drove for an hour to [internship place]. I sat in Dr.’s office where he explained my internship project. He sputtered terms like “GtgyjbH” which I would come to know as the string of letters representing the name of the bacterial protein under scrutiny; but, at the time it simply sounded like literal “gibberish”.”
Unlock her full USC successful college application profile to read how she dealt with a setback during her research internship.
Essay Example 4: Vegetables are My Enemies
Minierm92, Harvey Mudd College ‘19
“I had many enemies as a child.
Spiders, nail clippers, eye drops - such were the demons that set out to ruin my life. Btu none - not one single thing - did I despise as much as I did vegetables. My hatred toward vegetables wasn’t th eshallow, momentary fear of a child, nor was it a short-lived attempt to be rebellious.”
Unlock her full Harvey Mudd successful college application profile to see how what simple challenges can teach you in life.
Essay Example 5: Family Background
Marrs, Barnard College ‘20
“No matter what I did, it was as if I would never be good enough. Sure the word love was thrown around every now an then, but it was never shown. Emotional and physical abuse were daily aspects in my everyday life. He had no patience and always assumed he was right, so as a young child, it was as if my own voice was taken away from me. I became a shell of my former happy self, but no one took notice because of the smile I forced myself to on every time I life home, the place I dreaded returning to.”
Unlock her full Barnard successful college application profile to stepped out of the dark shadow casted by her family and took control of her own future.
Hope this was helpful for those of you writing your Common Application personal statements. Want to read these common application essays? Unlock all of them in one go with our Challenge, Setbacks or Failures Package!
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About The Author
Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.
And I stand up, my dark blue dress cascading down my legs, the last note still echoing in my ears.
Then, a thunderous applause rattles every bone in my body. I bow. It gets louder.
Carnegie Hall. This was supposed to be a dream, seemingly unattainable. Yet, here I am. Looking back at the piano, I see my reflection and wonder how many people have gazed through this window for expression. My mind is pulled back to times of uncertainty and apprehension.
Four years ago
“Jenny, you can do it. Stop shaking,” I mutter to myself. I am backstage, waiting for the announcer to call my name. My mind is consumed in dread and fear, emotions that have made a habit of inviting themselves every time before a performance. Glancing sideways, I see the formidable stage: a 12-foot Steinway sits in the center and lights shine brightly on the performer.
“Please welcome Jenny Shu, performer number eight.”
Startled, I take a few steps toward the stage and stumble. The bench is only a few feet away, but it seems to take me a while to walk over. With each passing step, my throat gradually tightens, my knuckles start to lock up, and my heart involuntarily begins to race. As I look up, the audience is shrouded in black, like grim reapers ready to jump at every mistake I make. Shuddering, I take a cautious seat on the bench and wait for my fingers to attack the almighty beast. Suddenly, as if I were in a dream, my eyes cloud over and I cannot find my first note.
Having practiced piano since the age of four, I was still unable to enjoy the art of performance. I realized that fear, brutal and relentless, inhibited my mind and buried all rational thought. Never once did I doubt its indomitable power until I discovered the truth: FEAR is nothing but “False Evidence Appearing Real.” Believing that I would perform poorly and appear incompetent, I planted this “False Evidence” inside my mind. It “Appeared” so “Real” that I diagnosed myself with performance-phobia, an obstacle that offered fear a chance to undermine the love and joy I poured into each piece.
But, I have built back the magic and beauty in my music and to even greater heights. For hours a day, the piano would have no peace as I laboriously carved each note and every melodic statement into my heart. Constantly reminding myself of my mastery and authority, I unhinged the parasitic fear leeching on my confidence. And seeking all opportunities to perform, the stage became a home as I slowly took control of my fear. The piano was tamed into a gentle creature, prepared to sing under my fingers. All the nuances emerged in a tender lullaby and each change in mood magnified. Now, I am the ringmaster and the piano is bent to my will.
Entirely aware of my surroundings, I bow one more time at these “grim reapers.” But, I have nothing to fear.
Anonymous Student. "Lessons from Failure Essay – "Piano"" StudyNotes.org. Study Notes, LLC., 11 Nov. 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2018. <https://www.apstudynotes.org/common-app/lessons-from-failure-essay-piano/>.