College Essays

Common Application

Prompt: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

After 12 years with a group of girls who have progressed from Daisy to Seniors, we collectively set our sights on the ultimate achievement for a Girl Scout: the Gold Award.  I was excited to tackle this project, looking to make an impact on society in some way. Little did I know, it would be far from a smooth path; the obstacles that I encountered and continue to encounter almost derailed me from my objective.
A Gold Award is completed by a Girl Scout to help her community through developing a unique project or program that involves 100 hours of service work. The struggle starts with finding a cause and solution that will be sustainable past the completion of the project. I decided that I wanted to create something in my high school that exposed special education students to art. My first challenge was finding community partners to support my project while narrowing the focus of my ideas.
I approached two special education teachers in my school and told them that I wanted to create a class for the special education students where they would spend time creating art, expressing themselves, and developing their fine motor skills. The teachers smiled at me and nodded. They told me that they like my idea and wanted to talk more about it soon. I naively thought that brainstorming an idea and convincing people to join me was the hardest part. My first setback, as I discovered, was being avoided after being told yes. Days went by, and then weeks, and I got no emails from them. I felt confused and decided to go talk to the teachers again, and again I was received warmly and with enthusiasm, but there was no follow up.
I become a discouraged and stuck with a lack of response from those I had hoped to help. Motivated to move past this slight bump in the road, I sought out the advice of an uninvolved, trusted teacher who encouraged me to persevere and reach out beyond the walls of my high school. I shifted my project towards one of the elementary schools, hoping the teachers would be more receptive. I found the administration of Cedar Hill Elementary school were not only receptive, but almost as excited as I was. When I met with Principal Ciempola, I told him what my goal was, and he worked with me to sculpt my abstract idea into something easily placeable within Cedar Hill’s curriculum. He suggested taking this developing idea and interjecting it into an existing program at Cedar Hill; Mini Units, or after school courses that provide fun, challenge, and excitement for learning. From that point, the project took off. While Mr. Ciempola worked to find teachers who would advise the mini unit, I brainstormed a curriculum. I hit some roadblocks too- I needed to put activities together that were developmentally appropriate projects for each individual child, while keeping the collective cost of materials low.  I decided that if we did projects using basic materials found in any school or home, the projects would be cheap, good for children of all learning levels, can be repeated easily at home, and simultaneously teach the students about recycling. Additionally, another challenge was accounting for each child’s disability and limitations. I needed advice from an expert on special needs children.
While “chugging along” and pondering my new problems, I was also informed that Mini Units are not classes and cannot be catered to any specific group of children. Although I understand, it did change what my project is about. If the mini unit isn’t catered towards special needs, is it really my Gold Award project? Or am I just creating another arts and crafts club?
Ultimately, I understand that my ideas aren’t always going to work out due to technical or logistical reasons, but it doesn’t mean my project is bad or not going to work out. I need to work with what I have and find the benefits that come with it. The silver lining in this project is that any child who joins has the opportunity to spend time with high school role models and their own peers, whether they are special needs or not.
The project that I have developed may not be accepted by Girl Scouts, but that is not what it is about anymore for me. I have decided that if they don’t like the idea, or the technicalities with paperwork or timing leading to my “Gold Award” fails, I am still completing the project because it is important to me, and I am still making a difference in my society. Working through obstacles can be frustrating, but I learned that by persevering, I can achieve something significant.

Tips for Writing:
When writing this essay I started with the prompt. I chose this prompt because I am personally good at overcoming challenges. I knew I would be able to highlight myself well in an essay like this. Once I picked the prompt, I closed in on all of the challenges in my life worthy of devoting my college essay to. Of course, we all encounter dozens of problems in a lifetime, but in reality there may only be one or two problems dramatic enough for the eyes of an admissions officer. This left me with my Gold Award topic. I also knew this would be a good topic for me, because I was able to put my emotions into my writing. I had feelings, and a relationship towards the thing I chose to write about, which resulted in the essay expressing these feelings, making the piece as a whole more interesting. As you begin to write your essays, I recommend talking about things you find endearing in your life. Whether it be a project, a relationship with another, or even your pet, subjectivity creates the bond between your words and the person reviewing your life. Write about something you feel passionate towards, and your essay will succeed in expressing exactly who you are.

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