Essay questions dealing with failure, risk, mistakes, and difficult interactions or conflict cause applicants to cringe, squirm, and bite their nails. After all, you want to show yourself succeeding and conquering the world in your application essays and personal statements. Not falling down.
Schools ask these questions because they want to see how you get up, how you grow following setback. Do you smile and try again? Do you view the stumble as temporary? Move on? Applaud effort? Accept a helping hand when offered?
A video of my seventeen-month-old granddaughter when she finally decides to walk exemplifies a positive attitude to risk, challenge, and yes even failure. She chose to start walking at the end of a two and a half week visit, minutes before going through security at Los Angeles International Airport. My husband and I were letting her crawl around to tire herself out before the long plane ride and her parents were finishing up with ticketing and luggage, when she just stuck her rump in the air, straightened up, and started to … walk. ( I caught the event on my camera phone so the quality isn’t great. Babies never perform on cue.)
Despite a lot of practice holding onto fingers and furniture before this grand and sudden experiment, success was neither immediate nor guaranteed. But she tried and tried again. She applauded despite falling. And she accepted big brother’s hand when he ran over to help her. I hope she will always display the determination and resilience one sees here.
Similarly you want to display resilience in your essays and applications. I have seen clients and others portray setbacks as growth opportunities and occasions of achievement. They definitely acknowledge a “blew it” moment, but their “failure” essay screams success, accomplishment, resilience, and character.
As always, don’t just talk about “resilience.” Demonstrate it with anecdotes that show you picking yourself up, improving, acknowledging effort, persisting, and ultimately succeeding in one way or another.
You want to portray those qualities in your application. They will convince the committees that you can indeed conquer the world. Or at least straighten up after a stumble.
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