Common Application Prompts: Question 2
Question 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? Wait…did they just ask you to write about your failures? Let me let you in on a little secret: colleges actually want to hear about your flaws. That’s right, applying to college requires you to share more than just your successes and accomplishments. Think about it: admission officers are trying to piece together a full picture of each student to decide if they would be a fit for their institution. This means that they need information about both your successes and difficulties. In fact, one of the main points that colleges are looking for in students is their adaptability and ability to learn and grow. So, while it may be uncomfortable at first to describe your failures to colleges, this prompt will allow you to demonstrate resilience and a strong character.
Here are 3 Tips for approaching Prompt #2 of the Common App Essay:
Pay attention to the question “What did you learn from the experience”
Colleges are looking for students who are teachable and adaptable. This is the perfect opportunity to represent those traits. After describing a challenge and how you overcame it, take it a step further to detail how you are different today. What impact did resolving that challenge have on you?
Be Careful: Don’t Suggest You are Now Perfect
After describing your ability to overcome a hardship, you may slip into a perspective that suggests you have become totally enlightened from your experience. Be cautious that you don’t imply that you now know everything. For example, if you write about failing to listen to a friend, after showing how you learned to listen to those around you, don’t make it sound like you now always listen to everyone all the time. Be honest: you are still growing and learning. Colleges want you to be honest, and they might be turned off by an applicant who makes it sound like they’ve got it all figured out. Admitting your growth is a very mature mind-set that can impress schools.
Make sure You are Still Representing Yourself in a Positive Light
While you don’t want to make it sound like you’re perfect, you also don’t want it to sound like your failure makes YOU a complete failure. If you have a past experience that you deeply regret, this essay might not be the place to confess that failure. Describe a challenge that you know has changed you for the better. Be confident about your failures, and write about one that has positively impacted you in the long-run.
Want more ideas? Here is a sample essay from a student about failure.