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?

Three A.M. — sleepless and exhausted, unable to focus, indecisiveness swirled around in my thoughts.  Although many other sixteen year olds encounter insomnia, mine had a clear cause, and it was not schoolwork.  I had an important and challenging decision to make. As my brain scrolled through the options, weighing the pros and cons, the benefits of each choice would appear, but also the fear of heading in the wrong direction resulted in lost sleep; too early, the blare of the six o’clock alarm startled me — it was time to get up for school.
In ninth grade, I had joined my school’s forensics team, with mandatory practices three days a week, plus full-day tournaments on Saturdays.  I looked forward to every weekend’s tournaments and thoroughly enjoyed the competitive nature of debating current events with like-minded peers; the mental and academic stimulation was invigorating.  At the same time, I had an extensive commitment to Taekwondo, a sport in which I had been training since I was eight years old; its strenuous physical activity strengthened and energized me. As a second-degree black belt, I wanted to deepen my involvement in disciplines of Taekwondo philosophy and training.  I was two years into training for the next belt level, and the test date was approaching; spending double the time practicing was crucial. However, juggling both activities simultaneously, along with junior year’s intensive amount of schoolwork, was an overwhelming challenge. A choice had to be made; I could not do both activities well.
I would have to leave one of the communities, both of which I had earned a place.  The benefits of staying with forensics — honing my speaking skills and continuing my state-level successes, weighed heavily against pursuing my goal of achieving higher level belts in Taekwondo and opportunities to excel in the sport.  I temporarily detached myself from the buzz of daily life to meditate and introspect, believing the scales would tip in the right direction. 
Journeying down an uncertain path, the proverbial “road less traveled”, proved to be the right choice.  I chose Taekwondo for its lifelong possibilities. After pouring my efforts into reaching the third degree of black belt after months of intensive training, I was invited to participate in a training seminar, with full certification as a referee. This provided the opportunity to work on Saturdays, as well as a summer position as an assistant instructor.
I remember the day I met Jack, a challenging seven-year-old with the energy of ten kids.  Never sitting still, never following directions, never trying to participate as I demonstrated for the class, Jack pushed my teaching experience to the limit.  Helping him choose to become an active member of the class took time, but ultimately his distraction gave way to cooperation. The dojang had given him a place to fit in, and he and I formed a tight bond.  I recognized his struggle to make the right choice to focus his energy in a productive way.
As time passed, I found myself once again beleaguered with insomnia.  This time, however, I was not exhausted — I was excited.  My students were about to take their first belt test — Was my decision that they were ready the right one?  Yes!  I was confident I had made the right choice for my students.  The choice of Taekwondo over forensics was a difficult challenge, but I feel confident I chose the right path.

Tips for Writing:
I wrote about my own experiences, and although the anecdote I included did include other people the main focus was NOT on them, but myself.  It’s important to make sure that the essay should be centered around you and the development of YOUR character – not of other people.

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