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Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Looking Forward in Your Obstacle Essay
Introspection is hard. So is selling yourself. At least for most of us. That's why job interviews and first dates are so stressful. How can you sound confident without being boastful? How can you really evaluate your strengths and weaknesses in a way that will make a person like you?

This is why writing an admission essay is so tough. It may also be why so many high school students like to write about the experience of navigating challenges. The problem is that many of them don't do it well.

Remember that your reader has read thousands of these essays. They tend to share a familiar formula. The cycle of life means that many teenagers may have lost a grandparent. They may have seen a parent survive cancer. They may have overcome a learning disability. For better or worse, though, these stories don't necessarily make a student unique.

The key to the obstacle essay is not getting mired in the challenge or tragedy. At their worst, obstacle essays read like excuses for your mistakes. Get too maudlin, they come across as insincere. At best, it might sound like you couldn't come up with a better story.

A successful obstacle essay effectively ties the challenge to your personal growth. It isn't enough to simply be sad at the passing of a grandparent. The experience needs to have somehow reshaped you. It's not enough to say that your mom's cancer made you want to work harder in school. That experience needs to have somehow helped you reevaluate mortality.

Most importantly, your narrative must successfully progress through the challenge. College is a new beginning. You want to share a sense of formidable optimism-the ability to clear a hurdle and keep moving forward.

That's the person your college wants on their team.


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