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How to Write Common Application Essay 2 lessons we take from obstacles


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How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 2: Lessons We Take From Obstacles

How to Write Common Application Essay 2 lessons we take from obstaclesHave you ever faced an obstacle and had to figure out how to get through it? Did you succeed—or maybe not?

Have you ever failed at something? I mean really tanked.

Did you learn from your experience?

Then Common Application Essay prompt #2 may be for you.

This is the second in my series on how to write the 2018 Common Application essay prompts.  In this post, you’ll discover how to approach Common Application Essay prompt 2 and decide if it’s right for you.

Are you ready? Here we go…

Common Application 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?

Is This Prompt for You?  Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2013 common app essay
“Obstacles”…”Lessons”…”Challenge”…”Setback”…
“Failure”…”Affect you”…”Learn”

Do the Keywords Apply to You?

Answer yes IF

  • You tried something and failed, took a risk that didn’t pay off, made a decision that turned out to be faulty, achieved something you weren’t sure you could do, figured out a way to succeed without enough resources, persevered in the face of difficult circumstances.
  • AND you learned from your experience.
  • AND you can reflect on how it affected you.

how to write 2013 common app essayPitfalls to Avoid:

  • This question has three parts—make sure you answer ALL of them: Your experience, how it affected you, and what positive lessons you learned.
  • Don’t wallow in the obstacle. It’s not the obstacle that’s important. Colleges are looking for how you responded and what you learned. Don’t spend too much space on what happened. Mention it and move on.
  • Avoid writing about a bad grade or marking period. Lots of students have a bad grade or marking period. If you write about it, the risk is that your essay will sound like a lot of others. (“I worked hard and learned that I could persevere.”) Remember: If your gut says it’s a common topic, sounds boring, or doesn’t differentiate you from other applicants, then choose something else to write about.

Tip: Failure isn’t the only option. Some students think this question is only about failure. It’s not. That’s why the prompt includes the keywords “obstacle,” “challenge,” and “setback.” Your experience doesn’t have to rise to the level of failure for you to write about it. And you certainly don’t have to try and manipulate a setback or challenge to make it sound like one.

Successful Essay Topic Example:

“Snowbound Night”

When he was 15, Andrew started a snowplow business using an ATV he had purchased. But the ATV wasn’t good at plowing deep snow. Andrew knew that, and would plow out his customers two or three times during a big snowfall. But one night his alarm didn’t wake him up, and by morning there were eight inches of snow on the ground. When Andrew started to move the ATV, it got stuck in his driveway. He knew his customers were counting on him, so he worked all night to shovel out the ATV, and plowed out his customers just in time for them to get to work.

After that experience, Andrew realized he needed to upgrade his equipment so he could serve his customers better. Eventually, Andrew traded his ATV for a truck with a plow, which in turn made his business more successful. Now he would like to pursue a business career.

Why this Topic Succeeds:

•    All the keywords are addressed. Andrew told his story, examined how his failure affected him, and then wrote about the positive lessons he learned.
•    It also shows he has good character. He didn’t leave his customers hanging.

But should you really write about a failure?

Absolutely. It’s a character-building experience.

Colleges wonder whether or not you can succeed in college by handling a bad grade, a difficult roommate or another frustration. When they see you’ve already been able to handle a significant challenge, you’ve given them that answer. They start to envision the kind of person you’ll be after college, too.

how to write 2013 Common Application essay

Are You Uncomfortable Discussing Failure?

how to write Common Application how to write essay personal statementDON’T BE.  Remember, colleges look for character-building stories and problem solving skills.

In fact, Christine Hamilton, Associate Director of Undergraduate Admission at Babson College, tells me she sees a lot of failure essays and that’s okay with her. She learns a lot about the character of incoming students by hearing how they’ve coped with failure.

CAUTION: Never write about failures that include very risky behavior or anything illegal (like hanging off a cliff or being caught drinking and driving).

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll like my Facebook page

Next: How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 3 A Time You Questioned or Challenged a Belief or Idea

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into creative and memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Other posts in Sharon’s “How to Write” series:
How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 1 – Background, Identity or Interest
How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 2Lessons We Take From Obstacles
How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 3 A Time You Questioned or Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 4Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 5Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 6: What Makes You Lose All Track of Time
How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 7: Topic of Your Choice

 

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How to Write Common Application Essay 1 Background Identity Interest Talent


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How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 1: Background, Identity, Interest, or Talent

How to Write Common Application Essay 1 Background Identity Interest TalentWriting a Common App essay? You may have heard there are some do’s and don’ts. You may feel ready to write, or a little bit panicky. Or you may just be looking for some extra help.

Welcome! This is your guide to the Common Application essay prompts. It’s the first of a seven-part series that will cover all the prompts. In it, you’ll discover advice and information to help you write your best Common Application essay.

You’ll learn what schools look for in a Common Application essay, how to choose an essay prompt, Common App do’s and don’ts, and how to avoid college essay pitfalls. I’ll give you essay examples, too.

Let’s Start with Common Application Essay Basics:

  • The 2018 Common Application has seven prompts. You answer one of them.
  • The Common App essay must be between 250-650 words.
  • You can’t upload more than 650 words.
  • Not every school accepts the Common Application, so check every college on your list for its essay requirements.
  • Click here for the entire list of 2018 Common App essay prompts.

What Do Schools Look for in a Common Application Essay?

  • Your writing skills.
  • Your ability to communicate your ideas.
  • Your personality on the page. (What do you care about? What makes you laugh, wonder, hope, dream, reflect, set goals, challenge yourself, want to change something? And why.)
  • A learning or growth experience.

Now, for something very important: The Instructions.

The instructions are important not just to know what to do, but to understand why you’re doing this. What’s the purpose of this thing called The Common Application essay?

Common Application Essay Instructions

The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response.

Common Application essay instructionsYou’re essay’s got a purpose! Your essay tells the schools something positive you want them to know about you. It lets the schools get to know you in a way they can’t from the rest of your application. By making a personal connection, you help your application stand out. This is why you’re writing.

Okay, ready for the first prompt? Here we go…

Common Application Essay Prompt #1:

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Is this Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords:how to write 2015 common app essay

Background — Identity — Interest — Talent — Meaningful — Incomplete without it.

Do these Keywords Apply to You? 

  • “Background, identity, interest, talent.” These words are meant to spark your imagination. Take a minute and think about what’s shaped your life. Is it who you are…where you’re from…what you love…how you think…a cause you advocate…a hobby you just learned? You can write about almost anything as long as it’s important to the person you’ve grown to be.
  • “Meaningful” means that this experience has shaped you in a fundamental way—it has influenced your choices, outlook, perspective and/or goals.
  • Your application would be “incomplete without it.” You need to tell this story in order for people to fully understand you. You also haven’t told it anywhere else in your application.

Choose this Prompt IF:

1. This experience helped shape you in a positive way.
2. If you didn’t tell this story, the admissions committee wouldn’t fully understand you.

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid:

  • It has to mean something.  Sure, you may like to swim or travel, but unless it’s a meaningful experience that helped define you in some way, it doesn’t qualify. You have to satisfy the keywords.
  • Don’t omit what you learned. Even though the prompt doesn’t specify it, make sure the reader sees what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown from your experience. This is essential for a complete answer.
  • Don’t sound like anyone else. Avoid writing about sports or mission trips—they’ve been written about so much most of them sound stale to admissions officers. It’s better to think about what else makes you stand out. If you’ve got the best recipe for chocolate cake or like to hunt for fossils, and you can link that to who you are, that’s going to be a more original topic.

Examples of Successful Essay Topics:

#1 – “Road Trip”

My student, Jeff, was the youngest of three brothers, both of whom were a lot older. (One was a teacher and one was in the Marine Corps.) Jeff was proud that the example his brothers set had helped him become responsible and mature, and he wanted to write about it. So he chose the summer they invited him on their cross-country trip, and the night they found themselves heading into a dangerous storm.

The two older brothers began arguing: One wanted to be safe and stop for the night and the other wanted to make it to their destination on time. Jeff recognized his brothers were at an impasse, so he checked the forecast and radar maps and figured out they could avoid the storm by taking a less direct route to their destination. When they stopped for gas, Jeff got out of the car and presented his solution. When they voiced their concerns, he calmly answered all of their questions. Eventually, his brothers agreed to continue using the longer route. When they got back in the car they asked Jeff to navigate.

By keeping a level head and finding the right way to communicate with his brothers, Jeff was able to facilitate a solution that satisfied everyone. He was proud that he helped lead them safely to their destination, and even prouder that he lived up to the examples of responsibility and maturity that his brothers had taught him.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Succeed?

  •  All the keywords are addressed. Jeff couldn’t talk about his identity without writing about his family. The example his brothers set for him made him expect a lot of himself and become a responsible leader in many of his daily activities. It was central to who he was.
  • He learned from his experience. By being mature and thoughtful he found that he could make a positive difference in a difficult situation.

#2 – “Sharks”

Nina loved animals – the sweet, non-threatening kind. She volunteered with animals at the local zoo, but had always avoided the bigger, “dangerous” ones. But then she watched the movie “Jaws.” And, oddly, Nina fell in love with sharks. As an animal lover, she became interested in their preservation, and concerned about what she felt were inaccurate, overly negative portrayals.

Then Nina’s teacher assigned student presentations on a subject of their choice. Nina knew what she would do. Even though she was shy, she created a PowerPoint presentation designed to offer facts and to sway opinions. The class favorite was that humans have a greater chance of death by vending machines than by sharks.

Nina writes that while she might not have changed how all her friends think, the person who’s changed the most is Nina. Now when she volunteers with animals, Nina educates visitors about the more “dangerous” animals as well. And she will always argue for shark conservation.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Succeed?

  •  All the keywords are addressed. Nina couldn’t tell her story without writing about her love of animals. It was central to her identity and her application would be incomplete without it.
  • She learned from her experience. As she acquired more information, her perspective about animals grew, as did her perspective on what she wanted her role to be. She learned to be an advocate and discovered a passion she didn’t know she had.

Example of a Poor Essay Topic:

“Friends”

David enjoyed hanging out with his friends. He was a good friend and liked to spend time talking with his friends while they all hung out together. David felt he was a loyal friend and that friends would always be important in his life.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Fail?

  • The keywords are not addressed. It’s not clear why this topic is meaningful to David or why his application would be incomplete without it.
  • There’s no learning or growth experience.
  • Boring. Nothing about this idea stands out or feels original.

If David had thought more about this idea, then it might have become an interesting topic. Perhaps he had made a difficult decision regarding a friendship, or had a made a choice that failed and had to figure out how to make it right. Then this could very well have become a more successful essay.

How Do I Find Topic Ideas for My Common Application Essay?

1. Start by brainstorming. The trick is to make this fun! Scroll through your photos and take a look at your videos. Poll your parents and friends and ask them how they’d describe you. (But don’t let them make the decision for you — their memories and ideas aren’t necessarily yours.) Here’s a fun idea: listen to yourself think. It may sound silly, but how often do we think about something interesting, and then – poof – it’s forgotten. Pay attention to your thoughts. You may find you come up with an interesting insight or two.

2. Don’t stop at the obvious answers. After you think of an idea or two, think of one or two more. It gets harder, but it also forces you to really investigate what lies below the surface. Most important – don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. We all have fears and failures. None of us makes decisions that are right all the time. It’s how you deal with them that’s important. That’s what the colleges like to see.

Tip: For more help, read my post on how to start writing your college essay.

Next: How to Write Prompt #2: The Lessons We Take From Obstacles

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll like my Facebook page

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Read the entire “How to Write” series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: The Lessons We Take From Obstacles
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: An Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
How to Write Common App Prompt #6: Topic, Idea or Concept that Makes You Lose Track of Time
How to Write Common App Prompt #7: Topic of Your Choice


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How to Write 2017 Common Application Essay 1: Background, Identity, Interest or Talent

How To Write 2017 Common App Essay 1Do you know how to write your best Common Application essay?

Do you know which Common App essay prompt is right for you? Or even how to choose?

Some schools read tens of thousands of essays a year. So it’s important for your college essay to stand out.

In this series of posts, I’ll give you tips on how your Common Application essay can stand out.

You’ll learn:

  • What schools look for in Common Application essay answers
  • How to choose an essay prompt
  • How to avoid college essay pitfalls

I’ll give you essay examples, too.

First — let’s start with Common Application Essay basics:

  • The 2017 Common Application has seven prompts (up from five last year). You answer one of them.
  • The Common App essay must be between 250-650 words.
  • You can’t upload more than 650 words (or fewer than 250).
  • Not every school accepts the Common Application, so check every college on your list for its essay requirements.
  • Click here for the entire list of 2017 Common App essay prompts.

There are two new prompts this year. The Common Application wants to make sure every student finds a question that’s inspiring.

What do schools look for in a Common Application essay?

  • Your writing skills
  • Your ability to communicate your ideas
  • Your personality on the page. (What you care about, what makes you laugh, think, hope, dream, care, stay up at night. In other words, what’s meaningful to you and why.)
  • Often, a learning or growth experience

Common Application Essay Instructions

What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response.

What should you know about these instructions? They’re open-ended on purpose. You can write about anything that’s important to you, that inspires you, that you care about—in other words, what helps makes you, you. Just make sure you know what your good qualities are, and what you want the schools to know about you.

Tip: If you’re not sure what your best qualities are, download my positive qualities worksheet, which will help you figure them out. Then you’re on your way.

Okay, ready? Here we go…

Common Application Essay Prompt #1:

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Is this Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords:

how to write 2015 common app essay

Background — Identity — Interest — Talent — Meaningful — Incomplete without it.

Do these Keywords Apply to You? 

  • “Background, identity, interest, talent.” These words are meant to spark your imagination. Think about what’s shaped your life: Is it who you are…where you’re from…what you love…how you think…a hobby you just learned? You can write about almost anything as long as it’s important to the person you’ve grown to be.
  • “Meaningful” means that this experience has shaped you in a fundamental way—It has influenced your choices, outlook, perspective and/or goals.
  • Your application would be “incomplete without it.” You need to tell this story in order for people to fully understand you. You also haven’t told it anywhere else in your application.

Choose this Prompt IF:

1. This experience helped shape you in a positive way.
2. If you didn’t tell this story, the admissions committee wouldn’t fully understand you.
3. Your topic doesn’t fit any of the other prompts.

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid:

  • It has to mean something.  Sure, you may like to swim or travel, but unless it’s a meaningful experience that helped define you in some way, it doesn’t qualify. You have to satisfy the keywords.
  • Don’t omit what you learned. Even though the prompt doesn’t specify it, make sure to include what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown from your experience. This is essential for a complete answer.
  • Don’t sound like anyone else. Choose an original topic. Definitely avoid writing about sports or mission trips—they’ve been written about so much most of them sound stale. It’s better to think about what else makes you stand out. If you’ve got the best recipe for sticky buns or like to hunt for fossils, and you can link that to who you are, that’s going to be a more original topic.

Examples of 2 Successful Essay Topics:

“Road Trip”

My student, Jeff, was the youngest of three brothers, all of whom were a lot older (one was in the Marine Corps and one was a teacher). Jeff was proud that the example his brothers set had helped him become responsible and mature, and he wanted to write about it. So he chose the summer they invited him on their cross-country trip, and the night they found themselves heading into a dangerous storm.

The two older brothers began arguing: One wanted to be safe and stop for the night and the other wanted to make it to their destination on time. Jeff recognized his brothers were at an impasse, so he checked the forecast and radar maps and figured out they could avoid the storm by taking a less direct route to their destination. When they stopped for gas, Jeff got out of the car and presented his solution. When they voiced their concerns, he calmly answered all of their questions. Eventually, his brothers agreed to continue to Denver using the longer route. When they got back in the car they asked Jeff to navigate.

By keeping a level head and finding the right way to communicate with his brothers, Jeff was able to facilitate a solution that satisfied everyone. He was proud that he helped lead them safely to their destination, and even more so that he lived up to the examples of responsibility and maturity that his brothers had taught him.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Succeed?

  •  All the keywords are addressed. Jeff couldn’t talk about his identity without writing about his family. The example his brothers set for him made him expect a lot of himself and become a responsible leader in many of his daily activities. It was central to who he was.
  • He learned from his experience. By being mature and thoughtful he found that he could make a positive difference in a difficult situation.

“Ballet Dancer”

Marina was such an accomplished ballet dancer that she studied with the prestigious Bolshoi ballet in New York. Everyone, including her family, assumed that she’d turn professional. Instead, she decided to become a nutritionist. Marina wrote about her love of ballet and how it exposed her to a hidden world of young dancers with eating disorders. Ballet led her to a new goal: helping dancers stay healthy.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Succeed?

  •  All the keywords are addressed. Marina couldn’t tell her story without writing about dance. It was central to her identity and her application would be incomplete without it.
  • She learned from her experience. Her perspective as a dancer showed her what she wanted to do with her future.

Example of a Poor Essay Topic:

Alex enjoyed driving his car. He liked to ride for hours listening to his favorite music and taking twists and turns he didn’t know, just see where he would end up. Sometimes he drove so far that he had to use his GPS to get home.

Why Does this College Essay Topic Fail?

  • The keywords are not addressed. This is a nice story, and probably would be interesting to read. But the student doesn’t indicate anywhere how or why it’s central to who he is or what his talents are.  If he didn’t write about this activity, no one would miss it.
  • There’s no learning or growing experience.

Is Common App essay prompt 1 a good choice for an original, memorable topic? Absolutely.

Everyone has a background, identity, talent or interest. Brainstorm. See if you can come up with one, two, or three answers to this question. Have fun! Be silly, serious, original, provocative. Make connections and see where they take you. You might just arrive at a wonderful, meaningful, and memorable Common Application essay personal statement.

Next time: How to write Common Application essay prompt #2.

Read the entire series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: The Lessons We Take From Obstacles
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: An Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
Coming Soon:
How to Write Common App Prompt #6: Topic, Idea or Concept that Makes You Lose Track of Time
How to Write Common App Prompt #7: Topic of Your Choice

Related links:
Huffington Post: The Common App Prompts Are Changing
The Common Application Announces 2017-2018 Essay Prompts

For the entire list of 2017 Common App essay prompts click here.
If you’re not familiar with the Common Application, go to their website. They also have a very helpful Facebook page.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills

Sharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.


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