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Prompt: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

What is the prompt asking?

This prompt is clear-cut. It is asking you to describe a challenge or an obstacle or a failure you faced in your life, how you dealt with it, and what lessons you learnt from it.

The part many students forget is the second half: what lessons did you learn from your challenge or failure? If you decide to answer this prompt, you need to show your journey from a difficult situation to a resolved situation. You need to describe how you grew and learned from the journey. 

What do the colleges want to know through this prompt?

This question has been presented to know two things about you: how you handle adverse situations and whether you are capable of learning from them or not.

Colleges want to know if you are prepared for a challenging journey of life. There are obviously going to be a lot of academic and social challenges and obstacles for you in the college. The colleges want the candidates who have capacity to face such challenges. So the colleges want to know how strong you stand during problems. This prompt is the best platform to show the admissions committees of the colleges of your choice that you do not give up when situations try to break you.

Experiential learning is important. Colleges want to learn about your learning capacity through this prompt. There is always a positive lesson in a negative experience. Colleges want to know if you have identified the positive lesson in times. 

What kind of topics can be included?

Specificity is the key here. Challenges you have faced in life are unique in the circumstances of your life. Tough situations which have had impact on your beliefs and perspectives can be good topics for this prompt. You need to address both parts of the question: the experience of facing the challenge and what you learned from it.

Actually this prompt is broad enough to accept any kind of obstacle, challenge, or failure, whether they are large or small. Not being able to do well at a job interview and how that taught you to deal with nerves, or failing to make strong points in a debate and realization of flaws in your thinking mechanism can be examples.

What should you avoid?

Choose an actual failure of your life as the topic. It is easier to explain what has really happened than to create a fascinating story. Be cautious enough not to write something that makes a completely negative picture of you. You need to avoid challenges that did not yield you anything. Your response needs to show that you got something out of your challenge or failure and that you’ve learned skills to apply to other situations. You may have felt bad for breaking a tea cup and may have considered it a failure, but is not good to include such topics although you might have felt very bad because of them. In short, do not count every failure here. Count only those which taught you something.


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