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?

Admitting your vulnerability might be difficult to some people, especially to someone you’re trying to impress (a.k.a college admission officers). However, they have already known about your stellar GPA and SAT scores, not to mention several awards, titles and achievements that are shown in your application (transcripts, recommendation letters and certificates)! So, why do you have to expose a challenge, setback, or failure in your life to the people you don’t even know?


The answer lies on the perception of being human. Yes, no one is perfect. No one is born with a silver spoon, and life is a velvet carpet. By acknowledging life’s hardships and that one can learn from them, the admission officers will know the student is confident and mature enough to be successful in college.


I must say, prompt #2 is more challenging than other prompts, but interesting if it’s done right.


“The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success.”

This is the main theme of the essay. We fall. We are hurt. We stand up, and we learn. The obstacle may be small and insignificant to you at that time, but somehow it must be reflective and effective. It should fit into the bigger picture of self-growth in your life.


“Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure.”

First, answer this question: “What is your definition of a challenge, a setback, or failure?”. Think about it, have we ever failed someone, or failed to do something? Does it mean not meeting up a standard, or making an attempt without getting a desirable outcome? Have you ever felt incapable of doing something, no matter how simple it sounds?

Sometimes, the situation is beyond your grip, but on certain occassions you can take matters into your own hand.

“Recount a time”: keeping the story simple, approachable and relatable. This is, again, a narrative essay. You just need to be you and tell the story. There’s no need for complex philosophical questions and concepts, such as “What’s the meaning of life?” to impress your readers.


How did it affect you?

            When you fell down, did it hurt? Where did it hurt, and how did it make you feel? Sad, angry, surprise, or extremely anxious, agitated, embarassed? Physical and emotional responses, though cliché, are important in story-telling. You can simply tell them, or subtly show them through dialogues, actions, and introspections (in the previous post, they’re mainly the “Thoughts and Feelings” and “Observable Actions” parts).


What did you learn from the experience?

            This is what you need to focus on. Ensure to include them near the end of your essay. You shouldn’t just move on like nothing happened. People learn from their mistakes, but it takes some high-leveled thinking skills, personal reflection and self-awareness to actually realize the mistakes and pull them out from their own messes.

Admission officers are looking for those complex and intellectual individuals.



This is an example of a college essay that uses prompt #2 (source:


The grass wads up between my fingers. My knuckles are crimson with clotting blood, and I know there’s only more pain ahead of me. I hear the snap of the ball, and then it’s the cacophony of bodies hitting one another. A lineman barrels into me, and I fall to the earth, my bones rattling with the impact.


Behind me, I can hear the quarterback being taken down, hammered to the ground again. I struggle to rise, but I do. I glance at the scoreboard, and remind myself that this isn’t just a loss. It’s an historic loss, and I feel every yard in my aching body.


We never had a chance against them. While our team isn’t bad, these are the reigning state champs, and most people who speculate on those things believe they will be playing at state again. We were nothing more than a bump in the road for them. A very painful bump in the road, as my punished body can attest.


We didn’t go in thinking we were going to lose. We never prepared to get trounced. Coach had a game plan: we were to protect the quarterback and use a passing offense. Their defensive line, known for its speed, would not be able to keep up. All they needed was the offensive line, including me, to dig in and delay them. It was a good idea in theory, but theory is not the gridiron.


The defensive line plowed through us like we were made of tissue paper. My role in the plan was an utter failure. No matter what I did, what reserves of strength I tried to draw upon, they weren’t enough. I was not big enough. I was not fast enough. I was not good enough. In short, I failed, and our team suffered for it. For an entire game, I was flattened over and over again by players that were larger, stronger, faster, and better than I was.


After the game, I had never felt worse. It wasn’t just the physical aspects, though my aches, pains, and cuts exacerbated my feelings. It was the sense of failure, of personal failure. Had I held the line as I was supposed to, we would have won. There was no way around it.


Coach said something afterwards that completely changed my feelings. He told me he was proud of the way we had played. We were knocked down, he said, but we never stayed down. There’s no shame in failure. There’s only shame in never trying.


Had we won that day, I never would have learned anything. Had I somehow been able to hold that line as I was intended to, I would still be the same person. By failing, I was able to grow.


I could not stop them from coming through the lines on every play, but I didn’t stop trying. This was the most important aspect of what happened. To a person who has never experienced failure, a single setback can be crippling. Failure, though, teaches you how to persevere in the face of adversity. My experience was painfully literal, but because of it, I can apply it to less physical areas of my life. Because of what I did, and how Coach made me understand its importance, I know that getting knocked down isn’t important. Getting back up is what counts.

Let’s Talk!

Hãy nhớ rằng, cơn bão là một cơ hội tốt cho cây thông và cây bách để thể hiện sức mạnh của họ và sự ổn định của họ.

Remember, the storm is a good opportunity for the pine and the cypress to show their strength and their stability.

– Hồ Chí Minh –


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