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These don’t need to sound good, nor do they need to be in full sentences, nor do they even need to be chronological. Let’s pretend you were in a meeting with one of our essay specialists.The point here is to simply get yourself thinking—save the nuances of language and niceties of commas for steps 4 and 5. The first thing we’d do is start you thinking about the various levels of failure and achievement you have experienced and/or achieved in your life.The first major mistake you can make is forgetting the prompt, which is easier to do than it sounds.
In the drafting phase of the personal essay, your job is to simply get words on the page. If you feel yourself drifting off topic, reread the question to remind yourself what you need to be answering. In this phase you will be shaping and re-working what you’ve already done.
Luckily, since you already have words on the page to work with, this need not be so daunting.
If you think of yourself as someone who is particularly reflective or able to derive lessons from various life experiences, this is certainly a prompt you would be good at writing.
Before we go any further, we need to address some common pitfalls you should avoid while brainstorming.
The key here is to make use of your brainstorming notes—the more notes you have, the easier this step will be.
So that they stand out, highlight all of the “failures” you enumerated over the course of the first three prompts, paying special attention to the listed lessons you were able to pull from each one. The first is the story of how you were late to ballet class (and thus allows you to discuss your most substantial extracurricular activity), but it doesn’t provide much of a platform for discussing a major life lesson (you learned how important it is to be punctual, and that’s about it).The point of the personal essay is not to trip you up or trick you. Before we launch into explaining the prompt, let us begin with this: if the personal statement prompts seem vague and slightly similar to each other, you’ve caught on. These prompts are designed to encourage students to talk about themselves, to show adcoms personality and style through writing, and to allow high schoolers to exhibit their wide array of personalities and experiences comfortably and adequately.Instead, it is the Common Application giving you a golden opportunity to share your voice, personality, and a snapshot of your experiences with the colleges to which you’re applying. Thus, they are not designed to elicit specific responses, but rather a broad range of creative pieces.Of course, if there is a particular story about yourself that you wish to share that involves what you consider to be a major, life-defining failure that you think has played an important part in forming you as you are today, this is the perfect opportunity to talk about it.In such a scenario, the prompt becomes similar in nature to the first personal essay prompt on the Common App. Like we said, the lines differentiating all of the personal essay prompts from each other blur a bit.Ultimately, you should try to choose to write about a failure based more on the lessons you learned from it than the failure itself. The second is harder to discuss because you’re ashamed about it: you weren’t there for a friend when they needed you, and consequently, you ruined a friendship.As you are deciding which failure to discuss, look for overlap in your notes.This is understandable, since once you become embroiled in writing a 650-word incisive description of yourself, details can fall to the wayside.That said, it’s extremely important to remember the first sentence of Prompt #2: “The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success.”This lesson is stated in no uncertain terms.If you come to a conclusion by the end of your essay that a supposed failure was actually a success in and of itself, and you want to argue that there is no such thing as a failure at all, that is acceptable.On the other hand, we caution you from feeling pressured to discuss a failure that has led to a “future success” that you have already achieved.