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The Dreaded “Obstacles” College Application Essay

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Victoria Berels

Not surprisingly, mistakes anywhere on your college applications can hurt your chances of getting into the college of your dreams. It all culminates at the beginning of senior year: After years of getting good grades, good test scores, and participating great outside activities, now is your chance to shine. Are you ready? Do you know how to stand out on a college application when there are thousands of other kids competing for the same spots?

In college and later in life, you will also experience difficulties; universities are interested in learning about how you cope with tough times. However, we have heard stories of students not getting into certain colleges because they don’t articulate their life story in a way that highlights a transformative experience. Without that, admission staff see these essays as a mere “sob story,” and are less likely to extend an offer to attend their college. We feel that it is our job as college planners to not let this happen to you.

A well presented ‘obstacle’ essay can pay off, as our class of 2017 student Autumn Stevens can attest. “For Notre Dame specifically, I wrote a particularly honest essay,” she reveals. “I chose to answer this prompt: ‘This is your chance to take a risk.’ Knowing the importance of Catholicism at Notre Dame, I wrote about my relationship with religion (or lack thereof), and stressed my excitement to take my first step into faith during college. Sharing my non-involvement in any religion was a big risk to me, knowing that 80% of all students at ND are Catholic.”

The risk paid off: Autumn was awarded with an acceptance letter to Notre Dame, along with many others.

At Parros College Planning, we realize writing essays can be a difficult balance to strike. These are our starting points for this brand of essay.

1.Pick a Story that You Can Tell Concisely

Everyone faces challenges, and colleges want to hear about yours-- and even more importantly, how you overcame them. This is a great place to demonstrate your tenaciousness, and how even in the face of adversity, you persevered. Often you only have a few hundred words to tell a weighty story. Furthermore, you have to explain this experience’s impact on your life, and how you’ve been shaped by it.

2. Pick a Story with a Tangible Outcome

So this life event happened. How did it change your views and future actions? Did it make you a better person? More resilient? Did it jolt you into action? How will it shape your college experience? Colleges want to see that the effects of this life event will make your overall college experience more positive, in spite of the difficulties you have previously faced. Merely stating that an experience made your life more difficult is not enough. The Overcoming Obstacles essay is meant to show growth.

There are many other points to cover, but that’s where Parros College Planning can help you to make the right choices of how to present your essay.

“We help you determine your characteristics, strengths, and challenges in a way that will reel in admissions officers,” promises Tim Parros.

This month, we’re offering a $100 one hour brainstorming session to the public to help hone in on these ideas that will assist you to begin to craft an acceptance-earning essay. This offer is not available on our website, so please be sure to contact us directly for your appointment.

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