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How to Write 2016 Common Application Essay #2: The Lessons We Take From Failure

2016 Common Application essay prompt 2 2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success Recount anHave you ever failed at something? I mean really tanked.

And when you look back on that experience, did you learn from it? Or know what you’d do differently the next time around?

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

In this post, I’ll teach you what you need to know to write Common Application Essay prompt #2 (The lessons we take from failure).

Are you ready for Common Application Prompt #2? Here we go…

Common Application Essay Prompt #2:

The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced 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

“Lessons”…”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, or made a decision that turned out to be faulty.
  • AND you learned from your experience.
  • AND you can examine (analyze) your failure objectively.

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid: 

  • Don’t wallow in your failure. This answer isn’t really about failure; it’s about how the failure affected you and what you learned from it. Mention the failure and move on.
  • This question has three parts—make sure you answer ALL of them: Your experience, how it affected you, and what positive lessons you learned.
  • Academic failures don’t often make the best essays. Many students end up with a bad grade or marking period, but is the Common App essay the place to write about it? The pitfall here is that if you’re not careful, your essay can sound like a lot of other students’ essays. (“I worked hard and learned that I could persevere.”) Remember: always look for an original approach to your essay—fully explore why this topic is meaningful to you and show how you pushed through this challenge. If your gut says it’s a common topic, sounds boring, or doesn’t differentiate you from other applicants, then choose another topic. If you need to explain a bad grade or marking period and decide not to do it in your Common App essay, you can use the additional information section of your application instead.

Essay Topic Example:

A student started a snowplow business using his ATV. But the ATV couldn’t plow deep snow, and one night, when eight inches of snow fell, the plow got stuck in his driveway. The student knew his customers were counting on him, so he worked all night to shovel out the ATV.  After that, he realized he needed to better serve his customers by upgrading his equipment. Eventually, the student traded his ATV for a truck with a plow, which in turn made his business more successful. He also decided that he wanted to pursue a business career.

Is this Topic Successful? Yes.

•    All the keywords are addressed. The student told his story, examined how his failure affected him, and then wrote about the positive lessons he learned.
•    It also showed that he had good character (see the next paragraph).


how to write 2013 Common Application essay

Are You Uncomfortable Discussing Failure?

DON’T BE. Colleges look for character-building stories and problem solving skills.

In fact, Christine Hamilton, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Sacred Heart University, says she sees a lot of failure essays, and that’s okay with her. She learns a lot about the character of incoming students when they write about failure. As the prompt says, the lessons we learn from failure can be “fundamental to later success.

how to write Common Application how to write essay personal statementSeeing How You’ve Weathered Adversity Can Give Schools a Good Reason to Want to Accept You.

Think about it—when you get to college you’ll probably face some bumps in the road. You might have a tough class, want to change your major, or even have a roommate that’s not exactly what you expected. And since schools don’t have a crystal ball to see how you’ll handle challenges, they’ll look to see how you’ve dealt with them in the past.

So consider this—if your college essay compares your personality to the types of shoes in your closet (please don’t), schools won’t have a clue about how you’ll manage when the going gets tough. But! If you write about the lessons you learned from failure, you’ll be demonstrating your ability to handle unexpected obstacles. And bingo—the schools will be able to envision how you could successfully handle college and beyond


CAUTION: Never write about failures that include very risky behavior or anything illegal (such as drugs and underage drinking). 

Next time: How to write Common Application essay prompt #3.

For the entire list of 2016 Common Application essay prompts click here.
If you’re not familiar with the Common Application, click here for more info.


Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee. First Impressions College Consulting teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. Our tutors are award-winning writers and published authors who work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, video and email. Visit our website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.