Tackling the Common App – Prompt #2

Common App 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?

Before 2013, one of the Common App essay prompts asked students to write about an accomplishment or achievement they were proud of, indulging most applicants’ inclinations to brag. However, since then, Common App Option 2 has asked students to write about a…deep breath… failure!

Why would the Common App even pose such a question? Would anyone really have the guts to answer it? Actually, this question can inspire some of the strongest responses, so don’t immediately discard it for fear of exposing the part of you that you’ve tried best to hide all along: imperfection. Admissions officers know that all humans are flawed despite how perfect you may try to come off in the rest of your application package.

Anyway, it is far easier to bask in success than to tell strangers about a failure. It takes confidence to acknowledge and examine your shortcomings. Throughout your life, it is unavoidable that you will experience challenges, setbacks, and failures. As the educator Dewey used to say, “failure is just a learning opportunity.” Admissions officers want to see that while you do occasionally mess up, you are able to assess and grow from your mistakes. The ability to objectively consider the consequences of one’s actions and in turn learn from them is a sign of a mature individual: the type of student any college would desire in its student body.

When responding to this essay prompt, the description of the (challenge/setback/) failure should be clear and concise. Spend the majority of the essay discussing how you responded to the failure and what you learned from that experience. Be honest in describing your reaction to the failure. Were you angry at yourself? Surprised? Did the failure motivate you to act? The lessons learned from the failure are the most important part of this essay. Include a thorough self-analysis and introspection that demonstrate your self-awareness.

Keep in mind that the point of this essay is to show that you can evaluate, learn from, and move on from your failures. Focus the essay on how you responded to the failure, and include a decently-sized reflection paragraph in the conclusion.

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