One Expert's Advice to Help You Write a Strong Overcoming Adversity Essay

Leslie Tucker PhD, Jun 07, 2021

Learn how to pick the right adversity story and write an impressive overcoming adversity essay

Whether you’re working on college or scholarship applications, you’re bound to come across the overcoming adversity essay sooner or later. While every type of college application essay is unique, the overcoming adversity essay presents particular challenges for students.


What’s the best way to talk about the adversity in your life? What if you come off as too whiny? What if you don’t have any significant obstacles to write about? Will you be at a disadvantage?


Every year, my students ask me how to tackle this tricky part of their college applications. Luckily for you, I’ve developed a fool-proof approach for writing the overcoming adversity essay, and I’m eager to share it.


Keep reading to learn why the adversity essay is important, how to choose the best topic, and how to write an impactful overcoming adversity essay.


Why the overcoming adversity essay is important

When colleges ask you to write a personal hardship essay, what are they trying to learn? Many students think they’re trying to find and admit the applicants who have faced the most adversity. Not true! Trust me, the adversity essay is NOT a competition to see who has it worse.


The purpose of the overcoming adversity essay is to reveal how you respond to difficult situations. Think about it. College is hard—not everyone has what it takes to succeed. Colleges want to accept students who have the skills and resilience to persevere through the adversity they’re bound to face.


So when an admissions officer reads your adversity essay, they’re trying to answer these questions:


●      How do you manage stress?

●      How do you attempt to resolve adversity?

●      How do you reflect on the challenges you face?

●      How do you apply lessons to your life?


If you can successfully answer these questions, you’ll write a stand-out overcoming adversity essay.


Not sure how to recognize an overcoming adversity essay prompt? Here are a few examples.


The Common App


The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?


The University of Miami


Considering your ability to control your own motivation and behavior, how have past experiences helped build your courage and resilience to persist in the face of academic and life challenges so that, once these storms pass, you can emerge in continued pursuit of your goals?

The University of California


Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?