Describe A Time When You Overcame A Challenge Essay

This is one of three essays I'm writing for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. I was asked to "Describe a recent academic challenge you have faced. Explain how you overcame it." It needs to be 400-600 words and is about 15 words over. What could I shorten or take out? Is it too personal and informal for a scholarship application? Any type of input is appreciated. Thank you!

For two years, I had been a student at Campbell High School. I was one of the illustrious IB breed. We were a strange bunch, making jokes about parabolas and speaking foreign languages to each other in the hallways. I had fallen in love with the program-the passionate teachers, the supportive network of students-but during my sophomore year, I realized the toll the program was taking on my parents. The school was forty-five minutes away, making extracurriculars difficult to impossible. The students were so spread out that getting together for a project was as hard as the project itself. The greatest problem though, was that I needed to help my parents pay for my college education. I transferred to my home school, Sprayberry, and found a job at a daycare.

A few weeks before school started, I went in for a meeting with my new counselor. As I walked through the door she said, "Congratulations, you're a senior!" Perplexed, I managed to utter a confused "What?" I was going into my junior year. Freshman, sophomore, junior, senior. That was the order, right? The counselor began to speak and I listened intently. She told me she had looked at my transcript and that I needed only four more credits to graduate. At first, my thoughts were those of celebration but soon I became apprehensive. Was I ready for this? After weighing the pros and cons I eventually decided to follow through. I would graduate in the spring of 2013. The decision led me to take a load of challenging AP courses and study intensely for the SAT.

I had taken AP classes before but they seemed all-new at Sprayberry. My US History class in particular gave me trouble. After each quiz, the teacher would post a list announcing who had earned the top three grades. When I checked it after the first quiz and didn't see my name, I was crushed. Anxious to claim my spot at the top, I started creating outlines and defining important terms for each chapter. I put in my best work and it showed on the next quiz; I made it to second place. I'd met my original goal but now I had caught a fever. I made flashcards to study on my phone and in any spare moment I could find-on the bus, in the car-I would pull them up and go over them. We took the next quiz and a few days later the list was posted-first place. Since then, I've come in first every time.

With college deadlines bumped up a full year, I hurried to study for the SAT. I spent at least an hour a day on practice tests and as the test date got nearer and nearer, I began to dedicate three, even four or five hours a day to studying. I kept myself motivated by organizing study groups with friends. We took practice tests together, compared our scores, and rewarded ourselves with frozen yogurt for especially good results. The support, competition, and set scheduling of our weekly study sessions helped me tremendously. When I got my test scores back, they had risen 300 points from my first diagnostic test.

A new school presented a new set of difficulties. My sudden transition from junior to senior status came with serious challenges, demanding coursework and a looming standardized test, but I refused to accept anything less than first place. After an initial struggle, I pushed myself to overcome the obstacles I faced, putting my best foot forward and facing my problems head on.

Thank you so much for being truthful with me. I was having the same feelings towards it but people kept telling me it was a good essay.

The truth is I've never had a truly challenging academic experience. This essay is tough for me because so far I haven't had any major problems to overcome. Classes have always been relatively easy and the transition was mostly stressful because I had to balance so many things: schoolwork, college applications, and a job. I don't think I could write an essay about not having enough time though, and I'm not sure it qualifies as an academic challenge either way. Should I scrap the History class and SAT stories? If so, could I present the time management struggle caused by the transition?

I just lack passion about the topic. The blog claimed the "world" prompt as one of his favorite but none of the 3 essays I am writing for this scholarship interest me. I know what they want to hear but I can't figure out how to approach it in a more creative way. I feel like I'm just patting my own back, talking about how hard I worked. The tips on how to write for this scholarship indicate that they look most at length and punctuation. I think they want a resume in prose form but I'm not sure.

Thanks again for your help.

I had exactly the same problem. Classwork was easy for me too, even during the most stressful time I can have more than 10 hours of sleep. But the problem is that if I present the classwork as too easy I may come across as a snob. So I decided to write the essays in another way, about my shortcomings. I wrote about how, because I only wanted to win first place, I loose sight of the most important thing, passion. This is my essay, check it out (its not perfect so if you can please give me some feedback too) -43615/

So, I believe, that if time management is really the problem you should definitely write about it, even if you were the cause of the bad management of time. If I were you I would present it in the following ways. (Just an idea).

1. Start by recounting the most stressful time of your life. Emphasizing the amount of things you have to do.
2. Then show the admission officers how you manage to overcome this stress or even manage the time better.
3. Then have a really powerful conclusion that tells a lesson

Good Luck hope you make a brilliant essay. BTW if you want I can look at the newly made essay just sent it to my e-mail address (

Many of us faced challenges in our formative years and we struggled with them. Some of those struggles might have changed who we are or how we later approached life. Marilyn Campbell is an overcomer. She wrestled with shyness in her young years. Before you read her essay, learn a little more about Marilyn’s background from an update she sent to me:

“I never did quite get the opportunity to thank you [for helping me develop my essay]. Regarding my college process:

I applied to three schools early action: Harvard University, Brown University, and Georgetown University; I applied to Tulane University as a backup school regular decision (it can be considered a backup for those people who reside in-state).

I am happy to say that I was accepted at Brown, at Georgetown (thank you very much!), and at Tulane; I was deferred from Harvard; I am not applying to any more schools.

If there’s something I learned about applying to colleges and watching my friends apply to them, I would recommend applying to as many early action schools as possible by the deadlines. This takes away the stress and work of doing several applications at a very busy time of the year (one is taking exams or they are hanging over our heads).

At the very least, if one applies to one school early action or early decision, s/he should not wait until they receive that school’s response to begin filling out all the other applications waiting in the wings. I know that it is very tempting to wait, but after seeing what this has done to several of my friends, I highly recommend getting an early start.

Finally, I suggest that students don’t blow off their freshman year. If that happens, one will spend the next three years trying to bring up those grades.

Thanks again!


* * * *

Marilyn’s essay:

When I was a young, awkward adolescent, I considered myself to be a shy person, especially around boys. Because of this, my experiences at a coed middle school intimidated me somewhat. So, for the past five years, I have attended an all-girls school, which has helped me to become a stronger person. I have overcome my shyness and insecurities and developed much more confidence.

Ironically, I believe that my shyness, something that I consider a communication barrier, has ultimately led me to focus on a field for my life’s work: communications. Despite my aversion to it early on in life, I now love speaking to and interacting with people, be it as a friend, teacher, or public speaker. I now have a passion for stimulating conversation, and that enthusiasm manifests itself in three different and important aspects of my life outside of the classroom: peer support, volunteer work, and music.

Peer support is a high school-sponsored program through which juniors and seniors are selected to work with eighth graders who attend Sacred Heart. It involves an intensive three-day workshop where student leaders learn how to listen effectively to and become mentors for the younger students. I love this work. Once a week, I get to speak to these impressionable boys and girls about anything that I feel is important. I enjoy learning about their lives and their issues and exploring possible solutions to their problems. We study today’s society and its impact on them. I see much of my old self in these young people and that memory has helped me to help them become more confident about their everyday lives.

My volunteer work centers on teaching, through a program called Summerbridge. After school, I go to a nearby public school and tutor learning-disadvantaged preteens. Instead of dealing with the students’ personal issues, as I do in peer support, the Summerbridge focus is more on communication through education. By working with these younger students, I have come to understand the importance of helping them comprehend and apply what they learn in the classroom. Their motivation, given their circumstances, is remarkable. We discuss in detail what they are learning so that I can keep them interested and motivated. Summerbridge is another example of how communication issues are very important to me.

Not surprisingly, music has emerged as another, perhaps indirect, avenue for me to communicate with others. Singing allows me to convey my deep and personal emotions with others. When I sing, I am transported to another realm. The mundane everyday world around me disappears, and I am enveloped in my own, new space, especially when I am performing onstage. When I act, I am transformed, feeling the happiness, sadness, impishness, or even confusion that my character feels. My performance taps into that part of me where those qualities dwell, and I love sharing it with my audience. Music is a very special form of communication for me.

Perhaps the person I am today is a compensation for who I was years ago. That awkward twelve-year old, however, is no more. Now I want to show the world what I can do. Communication has become my passion. It will be my future.

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