Common App Personal Essay Prompt 2 Back to all templates
Section 1

In this essay, you are reflecting on a time when you learned something from failing. The admissions committee wants to read about how you reacted to a mistake and what lesson it held for you. Remember that learning from failure is one sign that you will be successful in college. 

 

In the introduction, you may choose to share your personal perspective or philosophy on failure, or to simply begin telling a story about a time when you failed. 

 

Do: Focus your essay on themes of failure, learning, and eventual success. 

Do: Choose one specific example from your own experience.

 

Don’t: Don’t choose something obvious or cliche like failing a calculus test and then studying hard to overcome the failure. Choose an experience unique to your own life. 

To see an example, click on the Sample icon on the left

Introduction

Starting Sentence Option 1: The (writer/author) [name of writer/author] once wrote [“insert quote about failure or perseverance.”]

 

Starting Sentence Option 2: It was failure itself that taught me how to [summarize what you learned from the failure you will be writing about.]

 

Section 2

Continue to tell your story about a failure that transformed into a life lesson. Connect with your reader by sharing key details about your story. You may add dialogue, sensory details or facts to relate your experience.

 

Do: Tell your story in a chronological order

Do: Recount your experience with engaging details.

 

Don’t: Become overly philosophical or abstract. 

Challenge

Starting Sentence Option 1: When I first began [describe activity or endeavor,] I wanted to [succeed/be competitive/be the best.] However, I ran into my first challenge when [describe the first challenge you faced that caused you to initially fail.]

 

Starting Sentence Option 2: My first encounter with failure in [topic of essay] occurred when I faced the challenge of [summarize a challenge you faced that you could not overcome initially.]

 

Section 3

As you continue to tell your story about a failure that became a life lesson, begin to explore how the failure affected you. Consider adding details about your emotions and reactions to the failure, followed by which actions you took as an immediate result. 

 

Do: Be clear about the actions you took to remedy the situation. This shows your problem solving skills.

Don’t: Blame anyone or anything for the problem you are explaining. This is a self-empowerment essay. 

To see an example, click on the Sample icon on the left 

Action

Starting Sentence Option 1: My first course of action after this initial challenge was to [describe action you took in attempt to persevere/overcome the challenge.]

 

Starting Sentence Option 2: After this initial challenge, I knew I had to [summarize the action you took to address the initial challenge or failure.]

 

Section 4

Be sure at this point that you’re finishing your story about failure and are ready to shift to talking about success; after all, that’s the purpose of the prompt. Build on your experiences throughout the paragraph, showing evidence of critical thinking and initiative. Consider asking a question, adding dialogue, or using an interjection to break up text. 

To see an example, click on the Sample icon on the left 

Additional Body Paragraph

My perseverance began to pay off when [describe a breakthrough moment in facing your challenge.]

 

Section 5

 

This is your final chance before the conclusion to provide insight into your character based on turning failure into success. Keep language upbeat whenever possible. Build on your experiences throughout the paragraph, showing evidence of critical thinking and initiative. Consider asking a question, adding dialogue, or using an interjection to break up text. 

To see an example, click on the Sample icon on the left

Learning

I also addressed the obstacle I faced by [describe another course of action you took. Hint: it could be changing your focus to something you were more skillful at, or it could be making progress in the same vein as your original challenge.]

 

Section 6

Your final paragraph is a chance to restate your thesis. Your conclusion should link back to your introduction or anecdote, following logically from the claims you have made in the previous paragraphs about how your background, identity, or interest fueled who you are today. When the admissions officer finishes reading your conclusion, he or she should have absolutely no doubt about how you are unique and what you could bring to the campus community. End on a high note. 

To see an example, click on the Sample icon on the left

Conclusion

Overall, my initial failure led to [summarize main outcome of your failure.] This experience caused me to become more [describe how you changed personally as a result of the story you told.]

 

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