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Tips for writing an application essay that explores failure

The second essay option on the revised Common Application asks you to explore a time when you experienced failure.

The essay prompt is given below.

Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

How to attempt this essay?

This is not exactly a popular option with students and that is hardly surprising. Your college application is supposed to showcase your strengths and accomplishments. Why should anyone want to draw attention to their failures?

But before dismissing this option, you have to consider a few points.

A person matures when they learn from their failures. Every one of us has failed at times and your college cannot refuse to admit you just because you have experienced failures in life. In fact, no college has ever admitted a student who has never failed.

Every one of us can boast about our accomplishments, but only the confident and mature person can acknowledgement their failures. What’s more, a student who has already demonstrated his/her ability to learn from failure will be successful in college.

The admissions officers receive thousands of applications and nearly all of them will highlight the students’ successes, grades, achievements and honors. Very few will show the confidence required to explore their failures.

If you can do that, your application will easily stand out from the rest. In fact, an account of the lessons you learned from failure is far more interesting than a catalog of successes.

That said, don’t attempt to write this essay before performing a fair amount of introspection. You should know yourself well. Prompt 2 is undoubtedly one of the most challenging options. If you aren’t good at self-analysis, this is not the right option for you.


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