Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills

How to Write 2015 Common App Essay #3: Reflect on a Time When You Challenged a Belief or Idea

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how to write 2015 Common Application #3 Time You Challenged a Belief or IdeaHooray! You’re applying to college!

How do you choose which Common Application essay to write?

In this 5 part series I’ll help you figure out which question on the 2015 Common Application essay is the right one for you.

Ready for number 3? Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #3:

Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay

“Challenged a belief or idea” “Prompted you to act”…”Would you make the same decision again?”

When Should You Choose This Essay?

Answer this question ONLY IF:

  • You were confronted with a belief or idea which you felt compelled to challenge or change.

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid:

  • Understand the keywords. “Challenged a belief or idea” means that you took some kind of action either on your own behalf or on the behalf of someone or something else.
  • This question has THREE parts — don’t leave one out. Discuss what prompted you to act, then reflect on your decision and say whether you’d do it again.
  • Don’t forget to include a learning experience. What did you learn? How did you grow?

Is this Question Only About Religion? No.

It certainly encompasses religion. I’ve had students who chose to write about different aspects of their spiritual journey, whether it was trying to conform to their parents’ religion, or searching for their own truth. But don’t run from this question! Give it some thought.

Not Sure This Question Relates to You?
Here are 3 ways you might answer this question:

  • Were you told by an adult that you wouldn’t be successful in an activity, but you chose to pursue it anyway?
  • Did you challenge what a group of friends told you to do because you thought they were wrong?
  • Did you see someone being treated unfairly (perhaps even yourself) and attempt to rectify it?

Example of a Successful Essay Topic

  • A student’s elementary school teacher wasn’t a kind woman and picked on many of the children in her class. As a result, the student’s self esteem suffered and her grades dropped. It took a long time for the student to learn to stand up for herself. When she did, she began not only to excel; she also became a leader and a mentor. The student spoke to groups of teens about prejudice and discrimination. She taught them about the harmful power of words, and how to use words in a positive way.  In her essay she explained why she would make the same decision again: “My passion for making a difference stems from my own experiences where negative criticism created a lasting effect on me…Becoming emotionally and physically independent and having the confidence to challenge social norms have become the most powerful tools in my possession.”

Is This Topic Successful? Yes.

•    All the keywords are addressed. The student told her story, described what prompted her to act, and explained why she would make the same decision again.
•    She included a learning experience. Once she learned to stand up for herself, the student took on the role of a mentor and leader, and worked to combat bullying and discrimination.
•   She conveyed positive qualities. This student turned out have personal strength and moral character. She was able to pull herself out of a difficult situation to personally excel and to help others.
•  She gave colleges excellent reasons to admit her: She was a leader, a compassionate human being, and someone with high standards who wanted to make a difference.

Why This Essay Prompt Could be a Good Question for You

  • You can communicate your level of maturity.
  • You can show that you have critical thinking skills.
  • You can demonstrate that you are open-minded and have respect for the beliefs and ideas of others.
  • You can show that your choices or ideas had an impact.

Make sure to find as much honesty and depth to your answer as you can and look for an original approach. That will make your essay stand out.

Tip: It’s okay to say you wouldn’t make the same decision again. Colleges want to see that you have the maturity and perspective to understand your actions.  Just remember — by the end of the essay you should be saying positive things about yourself!

For more information on the Common Application visit their website. They also have a very helpful Facebook page.

Next time: How to Write Common App prompt #4.

Also in this series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: A Time you Experienced Failure
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood

For the entire list of 2015 Common App essay prompts click here.


Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Author: Sharon Epstein

College consultant, teaching students how to write memorable college application essays, grad school and prep school essays, and succeed at job and college interviews.

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