Common App 2: Failure and Success
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 grass wads up between my fingers. My knuckles are crimson with clotting blood, and I know there's only more pain ahead of me. I hear the snap of the ball, and then it's the cacophony of bodies hitting one another. A lineman barrels into me, and I fall to the earth, my bones rattling with the impact.
Behind me, I can hear the quarterback being taken down, hammered to the ground again. I struggle to rise, but I do. I glance at the scoreboard, and remind myself that this isn't just a loss. It's an historic loss, and I feel every yard in my aching body.
We never had a chance against them. While our team isn't bad, these are the reigning state champs, and most people who speculate on those things believe they will be playing at state again. We were nothing more than a bump in the road for them. A very painful bump in the road, as my punished body can attest.
We didn't go in thinking we were going to lose. We never prepared to get trounced. Coach had a game plan: we were to protect the quarterback and use a passing offense. Their defensive line, known for its speed, would not be able to keep up. All they needed was the offensive line, including me, to dig in and delay them. It was a good idea in theory, but theory is not the gridiron.
The defensive line plowed through us like we were made of tissue paper. My role in the plan was an utter failure. No matter what I did, what reserves of strength I tried to draw upon, they weren't enough. I was not big enough. I was not fast enough. I was not good enough. In short, I failed, and our team suffered for it. For an entire game, I was flattened over and over again by players that were larger, stronger, faster, and better than I was.
After the game, I had never felt worse. It wasn't just the physical aspects, though my aches, pains, and cuts exacerbated my feelings. It was the sense of failure, of personal failure. Had I held the line as I was supposed to, we would have won. There was no way around it.
Coach said something afterwards that completely changed my feelings. He told me he was proud of the way we had played. We were knocked down, he said, but we never stayed down. There's no shame in failure. There's only shame in never trying.
Had we won that day, I never would have learned anything. Had I somehow been able to hold that line as I was intended to, I would still be the same person. By failing, I was able to grow.
I could not stop them from coming through the lines on every play, but I didn't stop trying. This was the most important aspect of what happened. To a person who has never experienced failure, a single setback can be crippling. Failure, though, teaches you how to persevere in the face of adversity. My experience was painfully literal, but because of it, I can apply it to less physical areas of my life. Because of what I did, and how Coach made me understand its importance, I know that getting knocked down isn't important. Getting back up is what counts.
Why This Essay Works
Remember: the people reading college essays have a giant stack of them. They're reading them one after the other, so it's vital to grab them from the beginning with a hook. What's so effective about the introduction of this essay is that it puts you right into the middle of the action, using evocative language to create a sense of time and place.
After the introduction sets the stage, the full story unfolds. The body of the essay plays well against type. For a sports-related prompt, the reader might expect a lot of posturing. This essay is quite clear that the player is not at the top of their game, and there is no shame in that. The writer is introspective about what they regard as a failure, in a thoughtful manner that might surprise a reader expecting a more arrogant voice.
Sure, the moral is a tad cliché, but life is a little cliché sometimes. Also, when talking about success and failure, it's a little hard to not be cliché. That's why this works.
Additionally, the body continues the use of evocative language, but scales back on the intense scene-setting of the introduction. By letting the words breathe, the point comes across. Failure is not the end of the world, and for this writer, it's the beginning of understanding.
Lastly, the conclusion sums everything up. The writer re-states the prompt in their own words, and lays out precisely what they learned. With the final sentence, they end with a short, pithy comment, summing everything up in a way that should stick in the reader's mind.