This lesson covers... how to approach an essay about a challenge or a set of challenges.
By the end you should... understand a basic three-part structure for writing a challenges-based essay.
Time 2 minutes

If you’ve read my book or my Free Guide to the Personal Statement, you’ll be familiar with this five-part structure: Status Quo, Inciting Incident, Raising the Stakes, Moment of Truth, New Status Quo.

This is not that.

Why? Simple: the UCs offer just 350 words, which I don’t think allows enough room for all five of those (so save that structure for the Common App).

For the UC personal insight questions, I recommend a much simpler structure:

  1. What challenge(s) did you face?

  2. What did you do about it?

  3. What did you learn?

I recommend devoting about ⅓ of the essay to each. This is not a strict rule, of course, but here’s a quick word of caution: many students spend too much time discussing the Challenge (especially if writing about it for the first time) and not enough time describing What [They] Did About It and What [They] Learned.

Remember: You don’t show you’re a great college candidate because you went through some hard times… you show you’re a great candidate based on how you metabolized the experience. So explain the challenge as succinctly as possible.

Check out the next lesson for an example.