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How to Write the Perfect College Essay for the Common Application - Writing About Failure

In this article, we will examine the prompt that focuses on the subject we all wish we could avoid but cannot: FAILURE.


Every year, the Common Application asks students to address one of several prompts around which to build their college essay. Writing about failure can be challenging, but it can also make for an excellent college essay. Read on to learn how you can turn a failure into a successful college essay.



The Common Application prompt reads as follows:


"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?"


Recount a Time

You are being asked for a specific event in time in which you encountered an obstacle. Tell a concise story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. The story serves as an entry point to the heart of the essay, your reflection on the failure.


Avoid Academic Failures

While you're applying to college, where academic credentials are central, it's rare that an essay about failing a math test or doing poorly on a paper will make a great topic. Consider other types of failures before choosing an academic one, as essays on academic failures often come across as trite and unremarkable. Think about personal or non-academic challenges instead.


How Did This Experience Affect You?

Reflect on the impact of this failure. How did it change the way others perceived you? How did you see yourself afterward? Be introspective and delve into your emotions. Did it make you feel angry, embarrassed, disappointed, secretly thrilled, or just plain sad? Consider the immediate consequences of your failure. This is the most challenging part of addressing this prompt - you must dive into those feelings you've tried to put behind you. But remember, the admissions office is asking you to share, so share you must.


What Did You Learn?

It might seem obvious, but articulating the lessons learned can be tricky. Begin with a list: how many things can you pinpoint that you learned from this mistake? Remember that lessons can be immediate or take time to sink in. Be analytical and aim to identify at least three solid lessons for your essay.


To Sum Up:

Writing about failure can be challenging. There's a fear that the essay will come off as too negative or self-critical. The ultimate direction of this essay should be positive and optimistic. Don't worry too much about the nature of the mistake; admissions officers have seen a wide range of experiences. The goal is to demonstrate your maturity, humility, and your ability to turn a negative experience into a positive one.


Need Help Writing About Failure?

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