narla_hotep

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I'm kinda stuck about what to talk about for the "biggest challenge" question on my secondaries. I feel like I've led a pretty privileged life so far... Not in the financial sense but in the sense of bad things not really happening to me. I have a few ideas of what to write about but they all sound terrible so far.

1. I could write about having anxiety that led to me being very shy and socially awkward as a child, self harming as a teenager, then being afraid to take risks or apply to leadership positions in college - but I've never been formally diagnosed by a psychologist, and I've only recently started seeing a therapist for that so I wouldn't say I've gotten over the anxiety yet. Also I don't want to sound too negative or "show weakness," which I feel like talking about the self harm would definitely do. Plus they'd probably question why I didn't see anyone about it earlier. But I could spin it like, I had anxiety but I did my best to succeed despite it, like applying for summer internships and getting officer positions in a few school clubs. *shrugs* Is this just a bad idea?

2. If not the anxiety, I could maybe talk about my younger brother getting diagnosed with autism, but I already mentioned this in my personal statement and anyway I feel like it's been more of a "biggest challenge" for my mom than for me, because my brother is so much younger than me and this happened while I was already in college. I only see my brother during the summer and on school breaks... and I don't want to make him seem like a challenge or a burden to anyone.

3. Health problems - I've been diagnosed with an immunodeficiency, but I probably shouldn't write about it because after talking to an specialist they determined I have a milder case that doesn't currently require any treatment unless it gets worse. So aside from the worry of being diagnosed with it there hasn't been much of an impact on my life.

4. I could talk about my first semester of research and how I had a difficult time initially learning lab techniques and adjusting to the lab... I made a ton of mistakes and it made me question my career choices, but eventually I was able to figure out what I was doing and work more independently. I'm probably not writing about this though because I already talk about my research experience way too much in other parts of my application. (I'm applying MD/PhD so it's a big part of what I want to do).

So... I'm really stuck here... Can anyone give me some examples of what most people write about in these types of essays? Or is one of my 4 ideas not as bad as I think it is?
 
Last edited:
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Two things.

1. Don't be overly dramatic about whatever you end up choosing to write about.

2. Select a topic that allows you to reflect on what you learned, and really expound on that.

I think #4 would serve both of those purposes pretty well. I think this question is to see how you handle conflict - coping mechanisms, capacity for self-improvement, personal resolve, etc.
 

summergirl

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1. I think this topic can backfire if not executed properly, because you are talking about mental health issues and being socially awkward, both of which are not really positive things in med school admissions (as sad as that is). Unless you are really good at writing and can spin it in the "I've grown so much" direction.

2. I think this is a better topic if you know how to do it right. Talk about how it impacted you as a big brother, staying strong and give him unconditional love and support etc.

3. It sounds too trivial

4. Most applicants probably have experiences like this, and I don't think it's challenging enough to be called a "biggest challenge"

Overall, I would choose 2
 

Lucca

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Challenges are not just bad stuff that happens to you. They can be good or neutral things that also happen to be very challenging
 

ConfusedChemist

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3 is way, way too trivial, and I got bored just reading 4....it would be a very good way to blend in, for example.

Don't overthink it. You know what comes to mind when you think about the most challenging thing you've done, so write about it. As mentioned, challenges are't the same as bad things that have happened, they're things that have been a challenge to face. You know the answer
 
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I don't think there is anything wrong with 4. People above me seem to be concentrating on the challenge, as if the caliber of the challenge is at question here. What adcoms want to see is how you responded to the challenge, and what you learned from it. You can pick a completely trivial challenge, like commuting to college, and write a great essay about the difficulties of commuting, what you learned about managing your time, how commuting can make it difficult to make friends and how you handled that. You see what I am saying? Writing about 4 is fine, as long as you dont just say that you got used to the lab techniques and then you were good....
 

LizzyM

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I'd go with #4, particularly as it relates to the lab (where you plan to spend the bulk of your professional career) and how you overcame the challenges of learning new things in the lab and adjusting. In other words, you've done it before and you have the coping skills to do it again when you have difficulties, which you will.
 

AirplaneFruit

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, as if the caliber of the challenge is at question here

The problem is that the prompt OP's talking about says "BIGGEST challenge" which is pretty frightening. It can't just be any old challenge it has to be the biggest.

This is worrying for me...are most of these "challenge essays" asking about Biggest challenge or any sort of challenge in your guys' experience?
 

NotYou20

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The problem is that the prompt OP's talking about says "BIGGEST challenge" which is pretty frightening. It can't just be any old challenge it has to be the biggest.

This is worrying for me...are most of these "challenge essays" asking about Biggest challenge or any sort of challenge in your guys' experience?
It's not a competition to see who has had the tougher life, it's asking you to give an example of how you handle difficulties. This is why "biggest" being in the question or not isn't really important.
 

Crayola227

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I'm kinda stuck about what to talk about for the "biggest challenge" question on my secondaries. I feel like I've led a pretty privileged life so far... Not in the financial sense but in the sense of bad things not really happening to me. I have a few ideas of what to write about but they all sound terrible so far.

1. I could write about having anxiety that led to me being very shy and socially awkward as a child, self harming as a teenager, then being afraid to take risks or apply to leadership positions in college - but I've never been formally diagnosed by a psychologist, and I've only recently started seeing a therapist for that so I wouldn't say I've gotten over the anxiety yet. Also I don't want to sound too negative or "show weakness," which I feel like talking about the self harm would definitely do. Plus they'd probably question why I didn't see anyone about it earlier. But I could spin it like, I had anxiety but I did my best to succeed despite it, like applying for summer internships and getting officer positions in a few school clubs. *shrugs* Is this just a bad idea?

2. If not the anxiety, I could maybe talk about my younger brother getting diagnosed with autism, but I already mentioned this in my personal statement and anyway I feel like it's been more of a "biggest challenge" for my mom than for me, because my brother is so much younger than me and this happened while I was already in college. I only see my brother during the summer and on school breaks... and I don't want to make him seem like a challenge or a burden to anyone.

3. Health problems - I've been diagnosed with an immunodeficiency, but I probably shouldn't write about it because after talking to an specialist they determined I have a milder case that doesn't currently require any treatment unless it gets worse. So aside from the worry of being diagnosed with it there hasn't been much of an impact on my life.

4. I could talk about my first semester of research and how I had a difficult time initially learning lab techniques and adjusting to the lab... I made a ton of mistakes and it made me question my career choices, but eventually I was able to figure out what I was doing and work more independently. I'm probably not writing about this though because I already talk about my research experience way too much in other parts of my application. (I'm applying MD/PhD so it's a big part of what I want to do).

So... I'm really stuck here... Can anyone give me some examples of what most people write about in these types of essays? Or is one of my 4 ideas not as bad as I think it is?
DO NOT mention self harm. In fact, this needs to be the ultimate secret of your career. However, you search my post history for "scars" you will come on advice I gave someone where self harm scars could not be easily hidden. Just saying, don't go out of your way to bring this up ever in the professional sphere.

If your brother and other aspect relating to that really were your greatest challenge, you can create a good essay about it that is saying something new and different than what can be gleaned ffrom the PS, that's fine.

#3 seems very weak.

#4 sounds best unless the topic of your brother really makes for a stronger essay. Go with the one that makes the best essay. The best essay will show real challenge, and paint you in the best light and allow you to show real strength and etc good qualities. I hope that makes sense.
 
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narla_hotep

narla_hotep

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Challenges are not just bad stuff that happens to you
Very true. Looking back at my original post it sounds like I'm misinterpreting the prompt... I know challenges can be positive too, I'm just having trouble thinking of ones that are in the correct scope for this essay

DO NOT mention self harm
Oh yeah, even if I was going to write about the anxiety thing I would never mention the self harm. Luckily I don't have very visible scars from it, you'd have to look pretty closely to think I'm anything but a clumsy person.

The problem is that the prompt OP's talking about says "BIGGEST challenge" which is pretty frightening. It can't just be any old challenge it has to be the biggest.
I actually have two different challenge essay prompts from different schools:

Essay Question 2. Tell us about a difficult or challenging situation you have encountered and how you dealt with it. In your response, identify both the coping skills you called upon to resolve the dilemma, and the support person(s) from whom you sought advice. We suggest that you limit your essay to about 400 words.

3. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to address this challenge.

So as you can see, one is a "biggest challenge" prompt and the other is just "a challenge."
 

Summerlax2016

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For me and my secondaries I personally just took the approach of speaking from the heart even with the challenge essay. The more honest and true to yourself I feel like the better, instead of psyching yourself out on what they want to hear.
 

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#4

Make sure you discuss the problems you overcame and HOW. What skills you used to do that, and how you developed them. Remember this is a "how did you grow and adjust to overcome challenges and then excel" essay.
 
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DingoPingo

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I like #2, though that's probably because I work with guys with autism and I know how much of a challenge they can be.