Essays About Challenges, Mistakes, and Failures

By Ryan Hickey + updated on December 16th, 2010

Most applicants are conditioned to believe that everything in their application should present them in a positive light. You want admissions committees to know how smart, accomplished, hardworking, diverse, and passionate you are. That makes perfect sense given that you’re trying to get into highly selective schools and programs.

With that mentality, however, many applicants find themselves conflicted when they see an essay prompt that asks you to share a challenge, mistake, or failure from your past. And because of the strong urge to make themselves look good, they set about answering such prompts with things that aren’t really challenges, mistakes, or failures. Stories like, “I work too hard” or “I am too detail-oriented” aren’t appropriate for essays of this type, nor are stories about superficial troubles that serve only as an opportunity for you to sneakily share successes.

When you come across an essay of this type, it’s important to be honest and talk about something that was actually a negative in your life. Even in sharing an experience that might not reflect very well on you, you can still strengthen your candidacy and give the reader valuable insights about your skills, personality, and resilience.

Join us for a webinar that will provide even more in-depth guidance about tackling these types of essays on Tuesday, December 21 at 4PM ET. You can register for the webinar at the link below – we hope to see you there!

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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