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Blog > Essay Advice , Supplementals > How to Write a Personal Challenge Essay (with Examples)

How to Write a Personal Challenge Essay (with Examples)

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Kylie Kistner, MA Former Willamette University Admissions

Key Takeaway

This post is one in a series of posts about the supplemental essays. You can read our core “how-to” supplemental post here .

What is a Personal Challenge supplemental essay?

Personal Challenge supplemental essays ask you to pick a personal challenge you’ve faced, detail how the problem affected you, and describe the action steps you took to overcome it.

These essays can be challenging for students for two main reasons. First, many students feel like they haven’t faced a problem significant enough to talk about. And second, other students have faced a significant problem but may not feel comfortable discussing it in a college essay.

So why do colleges want to know about a challenge you’ve faced anyway?

Well, admissions offices know that life in college and beyond doesn’t always go as expected. Colleges want to see that you’re resourceful, resilient, and capable of thinking critically to solve problems.

At their core, Personal Challenge essay prompts let you to strategically pick a problem you’ve faced and write about how you worked to solve it.

Before we continue, it’s worth saying explicitly: you do not have to talk about trauma you’ve experienced to get into college. No admissions officer will ever want to read anything you’re not ready to share. In fact, sharing negative experiences before you’re ready can actually work against you. Writing about a situation that you haven’t yet come to terms with can result in an essay that is overall too negative and not forward-looking enough to meet the requirements of Personal Challenge essay prompts.

That caveat out of the way, let’s look at three Personal Challenge supplemental essay prompt examples.

1: Brown University

Brown’s culture fosters a community in which students challenge the ideas of others and have their ideas challenged in return, promoting a deeper and clearer understanding of the complex issues confronting society. This active engagement in dialogue is as present outside the classroom as it is in academic spaces. Tell us about a time you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond? (200-250 words)

2: Colorado School of Mines

Florence Caldwell was the first woman to graduate from Mines. She enrolled in 1895 and found that her fellow classmates discouraged her attendance. She persevered through that discouragement and graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering in 1898. She was described as a problem-solver, who was loyal, kind, and sympathetic to others and displayed unwavering courage. Describe a time when you overcame an obstacle, persevered through a situation, or displayed characteristics similar to Florence Caldwell. (500 words)

3: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tell us about a significant challenge you’ve faced (that you feel comfortable sharing) or something that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation?

Personal Challenge Essay Strategy

When an admissions officer reads your essay among thousands of others , your supplemental essays are one of the main tools you have to stand out. The key to writing a strong Personal Challenge essay is picking the right challenge to talk about.

Personal Challenge essays are all about finding a delicate balance. While your challenge should be a genuine one that you’ve had to wrestle with, it shouldn’t be so challenging that you can’t write about it in a way that is ultimately positive.

While you don’t have to reveal anything you don’t want to, you should choose a genuine challenge.

“Genuine” problems are those that present real challenges to you, your way of thinking, or your overall lived experience.

They are significant. That means that a genuine problem is more than sleeping in late and missing a test. It’s more than losing your big baseball game or forgetting to put gas in the car before a road trip.

Genuine problems don’t necessarily have to be life-changing, but they do have to be deeply meaningful.

Significant challenges might include:

  • conflict or disagreements with friends or loved ones
  • information or an event that challenged your worldview
  • a significant change or loss
  • reconciling with differences
  • Dealing with a disadvantage that sets you apart from others

Pick a challenge that lets you refer to one of your strengths.

Personal Challenge essay questions are actually questions about your strengths in the face of adversity. Since all college essays should be rooted in strengths, your supplemental essays should be no different.

The challenge you pick shouldn’t be a covert way to brag about yourself, but it should represent one of your personal characteristics that is ultimately positive.

Whether your goal is to show your resilience, problem-solving abilities, compassion, understanding, fortitude, or something else, your Personal Challenge essay should work to showcase one of your strengths.

Take the “more phoenix, less ashes” approach.

This is one of the most difficult parts of writing Personal Challenge essays. By nature, Personal Challenge essays are about a challenge. That means that you’re inevitably going to be writing about something difficult.

But essays that only focus on the negative aren’t ultimately serving your college admissions goals. The ultimate goal of a personal challenge essay is to demonstrate how you’ve grown, developed, and changed through dealing with a problem.

The essay isn’t about the problem itself. It’s about your growth.

“More phoenix, less ashes” is a helpful way to remember to focus on the positivity. The phrase refers to the mythology of the phoenix, which rises from the ashes of a predecessor. By focusing more on the phoenix and less on the ashes, you’re focusing on the life, hope, and resilience that comes in the aftermath of a challenge.

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How to Write a Personal Challenge Supplemental Essay

Step 1: Read the prompt.

As you’ve seen from the example Personal Challenge prompts, there are a few ways schools ask these kinds of questions.

Some ask you to focus on a time your perspective was challenged, others ask you to discuss a time you overcame a challenge, and others yet give you the freedom to discuss any personal challenge you want.

You’ll need to know which kind of prompt you’re responding to before you begin brainstorming, so analyzing the prompt closely should always be your first step.

Step 2: Brainstorm some challenges.

Since picking the right kind of challenge is important to writing a good Personal Challenge supplemental essay, it’s probably a good idea to brainstorm a few different options.

This structured brainstorming chart might help you sort through different areas of your life to identify particular challenges.

Step 3: List your action steps, think about what’s at stake, and find a positive focus.

To maintain sight of “more phoenix, less ashes,” it may be helpful to list out a few specific details for each challenge you’re considering writing about.

Specifically, think about three criteria:

  • Action Steps: What specific actions did you take to confront the challenge?
  • What’s at stake?: Why is this challenge one of genuine concern? What implications did it (or its solution) have to your life?
  • Resolution & Lessons: How was the challenge resolved? What were the positive lessons or outcomes that you learned as a result?

Step 4: Pay special attention to your essay structure.

“More phoenix, less ashes” also means structuring your essay in a way that keeps the focus on the positive outcome rather than the challenge.

If the story about your challenge or difficulty takes up 80% of your essay, then there’s a good chance that you haven’t written enough to address the phoenix instead of the ashes. The best way to structure a Personal Challenge essay is to quickly pivot from discussing the challenge to discussing your actions, solutions, and reflections.

Depending on the prompt you’re responding to, your outline may look something like this:

I. Introduce the challenge

II. Describe inciting incident (what caused things to change for the better?)

III. Detail the action steps you took

IV. Expand on your solution

IV. Reflect on the lessons you learned and relate them to the prompt

Personal Challenge Essay Mistakes

Writing about a fake problem.

Since Personal Challenge essays should be about genuine challenges, few things are worse than writing about a fake problem.

“Fake” problems are those that didn’t actually affect you very much. The stakes were relatively low, and your worldview wasn’t significantly altered.

An example of a fake problem would be

Writing about a “convenient” problem.

A “convenient” problem is like a “fake” problem, but it’s one that conveniently allows you to talk about an accomplishment.

Here’s an example:

The biggest obstacle I’ve faced was when my team was down 88-90 in the state basketball finals. There was only one second left on the clock. My team was really starting to get discouraged, so I called everyone together to rally them back up. When the clock started back up, I sunk a three-pointer.

While that obstacle was obviously important in the writer’s life, the story itself comes across as a convenient way to talk about their team leadership and athletic abilities.

Writing an essay that only discusses problems, not solutions.

To return to the phrase we’ve been using, it’s a mistake to write a Personal Challenge essay that is all ashes and no phoenix. If you weigh your reader down with all the heavy details related to your story, it’ll be hard for them to climb out of those details to see your overall message.

To make it easier for them, only include the details that are necessary to understanding your story. Then quickly move on to addressing your action steps, solutions, and reflection.

Personal Challenge Supplemental Essay Example

Example essay: lead pipes.

MIT: Tell us about a significant challenge you’ve faced (that you feel comfortable sharing) or something that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation? (~200 words)

Two times a day, I fill up my Hydroflask at the drinking fountain near Room 124. With over 1,000 Hydroflasks of water total, this daily ritual has sustained me through countless lectures, math tests, and in-class essays. What I didn’t realize until last May was that this ritual was also slowly poisoning me.(( This introduction draws the reader in and states a compelling and significant problem.))

Built in the 1920s, my school contains a network of lead-covered pipes. Recent tests of the drinking fountain by Room 124 found over 5,000 parts per billion (ppb) of lead–4,985 more ppb than is considered safe to drink. I started organizing my schoolmates immediately after learning this news, and I put together a petition to the school board. With my Hydroflask in tow, I stood before the board and made our case.(( The writer focuses on the latter part of the prompt to answer the question: “How did you manage the situation?” By focusing on the efforts rather than the problem, the student maintains a “more phoenix, fewer ashes” approach that highlights their strengths rather than the problem.)) Unsafe water in our schools was unacceptable, and the board needed to prioritize the health of its students and staff members. We needed renovations.

After weeks of deliberation, the school board announced its decision to delay renovations. They were concerned about budget constraints. My entire community felt betrayed and disheartened. Not one to settle, I decided if the current board members wouldn’t prioritize our health, then we would elect board members who would. Since then, I have been volunteering with two board campaigns, canvasing our neighborhood, and continuing to organize my classmates to advocate for our health.(( Even though the problem became worse, the writer continues to focus on their actions instead.))

There’s not much I can do about the lead I’ve already consumed, but I’ll continue fighting to keep future CHS students safe.

Interested in seeing even more supplemental essay examples? We've got some of our favorites in our list of college essay examples .

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20 College Essay Examples (Graded by Former Admissions Officers)

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How to challenge yourself to start living your best life every day

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What does challenging yourself mean?

Why should i challenge myself, how to challenge yourself, final thoughts.

Think back to the last time you challenged yourself. 

Most likely, it involved leaving your comfort zone . There's a lot that falls under the umbrella of trying something new. For instance, maybe you ran an extra mile, woke up earlier than usual, or tried a new approach to solving a problem. 

It doesn't matter if it's a small challenge or a big one that takes a year to accomplis h. It's still a challenge.

If you're on the road to self-improvement or personal growth, you need to know why and how to challenge yourself.

What does a challenge mean? It means you've stepped outside your comfort zone and taken on a new task. You've set new goals for yourself, and you're ready to work hard to achieve them.

A challenge is something that teaches you how to grow as a person. They encourage personal development and are a way to work on self-improvement .

The challenges you take on test your resiliency, grit, and determination because — well, they're challenging. They aren't supposed to be easy and accomplished without any effort. Challenging things to do might look different for you than it does for your coworkers, siblings, or friends, but th at's OK.

Your challenges could seem like little things, like trying to wake up earlier or shake bad habits like smoking, but they're still challenges. Everyone’s experience is different. 

In fact, that's the beauty of a challenge. It opens you up to new experiences and puts in the effort to improve yourself every day. It lets you really focus on yourself. Whether you're challenging yourself to declutter and stay organized or run a marathon, the challenges you set for yourself to overcome are entirely your own.

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New challenges can be scary. They push you outside your comfort zone, and you don't know if letting go of old mindsets and habits will improve your personal development. But while it's daunting to take on new goals , they’ll lead you to new opportunities.

Why do people enjoy a challenge? Challenges help you discover new skills, jump into new experiences, and boost your well-being. If you're feeling stuck in life, embracing new challenges gives you the chance to grow. New challenges can give you the confidence boost you need and encourage you to push further with your personal growth. 

Challenges make you think harder and demand focus, too. Research has found that mentally challenging yourself stimulates brain function and helps to curb anxiety and depression . Doing something different that requires focus and effort invites you to learn something new , gain a different perspective, and shake up your routine.

Imagine your life if you didn't challenge yourself at all. You would wake up every day and ignore any new opportunities that would come your way. You wouldn't seize any chance to improve your skills, find a job that makes you happier, or try new hobbies. 

You aren't alone if you look at new challenges and feel a sense of doubt . If you're feeling uneasy, learn more about what a BetterUp coach can do for you. Together, we'll help you face challenges with a more positive, excited mindset.


Once you've decided that you're going to challenge yourself, consider where to start. Challenges come in all different sizes, styles, and categories in your life. They can impact your personal life, profession al career, or both simultaneously. 

Your physical well-being and financial well-being, emotional well-being, and social well-being are rich with challenges. Bonus, when you're taking on challenges, these areas will benefit.

If you're having trouble thinking of ways to challenge yourself, an e xcellent strategy is to break goals down into different parts of your life. Take a look at these 13 challenges divided into personal, professional, and fitness categories:

1. Prioritize your mental health more

When you have a lot going on, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself. Choosing to value your well-being and letting go of things that hurt you can be a big challenge. 

Personal growth takes time, but you'll see the benefits in your everyday life once you practice more self-care . This can look like managing stress better , getting a good night's sleep , or knowing when to say no . 

2. Limit the time you spend online

Is the main culprit of your procrastinating your social media apps? We're all guilty of spending too much time online, but if your new goal is to be more focused on work, you might want to try limiting your time on social media. You may even try a digital detox . 

If your morning routine is to hop on Instagram before anything else, swap in another activity instead of scrolling. Try stretching or mindful meditation . Anything that prepares you for a productive day is worthwhile.

3. Start writing in a journal


Journaling can help us track our progress and stress and hold us accountable for our new goals. It's a great way of reflecting on memories with loved ones, old friends, and more. Think of journaling as a personal, intimate way of connecting with yourself. 

Setting time aside in your day to write these entries may be tricky, but the key is to establish a routine and stick with it. Even five minutes each evening before bed will make a difference. 

4. Downsize your closet

When was the last time you looked over your clothes? If you have many items in your closet that you haven't worn in years, take the time to free up some space. Get rid of clothes that don't fit or no longer match your taste. 

Once you have a pile that you're ready to part with, consider donating them to your local shelter or asking your friends if they want them. Decluttering your space will declutter your mind — and help you identify your personal style. 

5. Improve your memory

It might be a challenge to remember what you went to the grocery store for, or maybe you know you'd excel at your job if you had a better memory. Improving your memory takes time, and you won't see results overnight. But it's still possible to improve.

Things like drawing have been found to benefit your working memory and improve it over time. You could also try downloading certain apps on your phone to help y ou with this challenge.

This challenge is more long-term, so you'll have to remain dedicated. Think about when you're most available to dedicate time each day for your memory improvement. It could be during your morning routine or over your lunch break. 


6. take a class to learn something new.

Perhaps you had the chance to learn something new before, but you didn't go for it. Now's the time to go back and try again. 

New classes could help your professional career by teaching you new skills and getting you qualified in more areas of your industry. You could learn a new language that helps you with your job or that you've always wanted to learn. Make sure you choose classes that work well with your schedule.

7. Take a leadership role at work


If you've always been the employee who follows, try to lead . You'll develop your leadership skills and establish yourself as someone who isn't afraid to be in charge. Plus, your efforts in this area will show your coworkers and boss that you can handle new opportunities. 

If you make a mistake as a leader, be prepared to own it. Mistakes happen, and everyone faces leadership challenges . Remember that you're helping yourself grow in your career, and mistakes are part of the process.

8. Find a mentor

Everyone gets a little lost and confused from time to time. If you're feeling this way in your industry, a mentor could be the person who shares their wisdom with you. They could answer your questions, inspire you to learn new skills, or even give you a sense of comfort within your work.

Your mentor could also teach you about self-motivation and how to sustain it for your future career endeavors.

It can be challenging to initiate your mentorship and find someone who fits your needs. But there's no question: the pros of the mentor-mentee relationship outweigh this difficulty.

9. Start networking more

Networking isn't every professional's favorite thing to do. It's daunting, and putting yourself out there is nerve-wracking. But think about how spending time networking could help your career growth, not to mention your confidence.

 Attend workshops or seminars about your work, and look for new opportunities from there. Don't forget other skills, like conversing with people and articulating your thoughts.

10. Set a step goal

A step goal is a challenge requiring you to get up and move daily. It's a small habit that can make a big difference. 

Your step goals don't have to be huge, but they should push you to exercise more than you did before. You can use apps like MyFitnessPal to track your steps or trackers like an Apple Watch or FitBit to help you out.

11. Take up a new sport

Is there a sport or physical activity you've heard great things about? Why not try it? Do your research and see if your local gyms or community centers offer beginner classes or intramural teams. 

Make sure you have access to any necessary equipment and give it your best shot. If you're nervous about trying it alone, ask a friend if they'd like to do this challenge with you. 

12. Become more flexible


Flexibility is a fitness challenge that anyone can do, and we often forget about it. Stretching each day is a good habit as it helps your body alleviate tension. If you're doing other physical challenges, it can be a good cool down, too. 

Set yourself goals, even if you start small, and work to touch your toes while standing up. Work to fit it into your morning routine when you first wake up or stretch after a long day full of work to decompress. 

13. Go for a long walk every single day

Do you have any parks nearby that you'd like to explore? Challenging yourself to go for a long walk e ach day is a commitment, but it's pretty rewarding. Studies have found that walking improves your mood, boosts brainpower, and helps your physical health .

Plus, this new habit could help you meet new friends as you venture to try new places or provide some inspiration for some of your creative pursuits.

Since your walk might take up an hour or more of your time, do your best to plan ahead. Stick to a set routine to help your t ime management . 

These new challenges aren't something that everyone will look at and feel like jumping in to right away. But that's part of the challenge itself. As you learn that personal growth starts outside of your comfort zone, you'll be more inclined to learn how to challenge yourself.

The positive thing is that you don't have to do all of these self-improvement challenges simultaneously. Pace yourself, and be proud of your accomplishments.

Here are five final tips when it comes to challenging yourself:

  • Accept your failures , but don't let them dictate your next moves
  • Look for inspiration to help you keep your momentum
  • Don't be impatient with your goals
  • Learn to love learning
  • Be present and appreciate your journey

A BetterUp coach can help you face your scariest of challenges. Our coaches will act as your biggest supporters, helping you to reach your goals confidently.

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Maggie Wooll

Thought Leader

How to improve your emotional intelligence to improve your life

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The Importance Of Challenging Yourself

When caught under pressure, do you find yourself giving up more often than pushing through the difficulties? In the heat of the moment, it seems like the easiest solution is to throw in the towel and move on to something different. We so often sell ourselves short of our true potential because we simply don’t have the energy or capacity to push through challenges, without the ability to see the value of its defeat.

Challenging ourselves to always achieve a level greater than what we expect is beneficial to not only our mental health, but also to our personal well being. As we conquer challenges that stand in our way like roadblocks, refusing to allow our passing, we find confidence in our abilities. Confidence is such an important characteristic to finding the path to success. If you do not believe in yourself, how can you expect others to believe in you? With confidence in your own work, comes the reward of the confidence of others in you. Boosting that confidence is the growing self-esteem, which results from tackling challenges.

When we find ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place, the worst choice to make is to quit. Giving up on any given task because of the difficulties that fall before you means giving up on yourself. When you give up on yourself, you lose faith in your skills and knowledge, which consequently leads to a lower self-esteem. If you continue to battle through life’s hardships, determine solutions to problems and focus on putting those solutions into effect, you will find satisfaction in your efforts. It is so important to maintain a high level of self-esteem, believe in yourself and continue to challenge yourself in order to build upon your knowledge in all that you do. Next time you are faced with a challenge, face it. Challenge yourself, and prove that you are capable of achieving anything.

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Why You Must Challenge Yourself

You will never fulfill even a fraction of your potential by sticking to the safe and comfortable.

Curt Rosengren

If you want to make the most out of your career, weave these two words into the fabric of your approach to life: “Challenge yourself.”

You will never fulfill even a fraction of your potential by sticking to the safe and comfortable. Why? Because the safe and comfortable never forces you to rise to the occasion. It never offers the resistance that strengthens muscles you didn't know you had.

[See the best careers for 2010 .]

You don’t need to make your entire path a challenge (though sometimes that’s a necessary part of progressing to the next level). But at the very least, try to always have something going that stretches you. Something that makes you wonder if you’re actually going to be able to do it. Maybe that’s a project you initiate at work. Maybe it’s learning a new skill and applying it in your job. Or it could be something outside of work, like organizing a fundraising event or climbing a mountain. Whatever it is, it should give you a chance to engage in a way that the safe and comfortable doesn’t.

[See how to be your own career expert .]

Obviously there’s a difference between taking on a challenge that lets you flex your muscles and grow and one that is a recipe for disaster. If you’ve been on auto-pilot for a while, you might want to train yourself so you can thrive in a challenge. Think of it as getting into the gym after years of sitting on the couch. Start small and work your way up. Take something on that makes you feel a twinge of uncertainty, but still feels doable. When you successfully accomplish that, turn your attention to something else. If it felt too easy, ratchet up the intensity.

The more you challenge yourself and succeed, the greater your confidence in your ability to do it again next time. Challenge doesn’t just help you grow your skills and knowledge, it helps you grow your belief that you can.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As a speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About Work, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker , explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.

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10 reasons to challenge yourself as a student

Why should we challenge ourselves? Here are 10 great reasons:

1. Grow as an individual  

It all starts with you. By competing, in any context, you will discover more about yourself and what you are good at, improve your knowledge and skills in familiar topics and learn more about things that you are not as good at. You will also be able to grow as a person as you engage in introspective thinking, becoming more spontaneous, humble and honest.

2. Gain awareness, knowledge and skills

It is a pity if we miss out on chances to expand our horizons and enrich our experiences. Make it your personal mission to “seek awareness” and broadening your perspectives. The more we know, the more we realise how little we actually understand about the world and the things around us. Be curious! Like Steve Jobs said: “ Stay hungry. Stay foolish. ” Only then will we learn and grow. So, challenge yourself!

3. Become healthier both physically and mentally

“Health is Wealth.” Indeed, a healthy body yields a healthy spirit. We can physically challenge ourselves to exercise and eat better.  We are also able to challenge ourselves mentally by reading more, learning new things, taking part in competitions that will test our skills – more of challenging ourselves and less of competing with others . A healthy and active mind will keep us physically well, too!

4. Save money

Fact: It is a challenge for students to save money. Many of us spend it on the latest gadgets, clothes, accessories, books, going out with friends to the movies… The list is endless! Money will not buy happiness, but it can help us rest easier and enjoy life more. Set goals and challenge yourself to save by asking: “Do I really need this?” You can also set a weekly or monthly budget and track your expenses in a logbook. Good luck with this!

5. Achieve one goal every month

Sit in a quiet room and think of a list of things that you have always wanted to do. Write these down and try to achieve one every month or two. Not only will this remind us of our aspirations, it will also allow us to have goals to achieve, getting creative in fulfilling them!

6. Advance in your career

Are you satisfied with your grades at school, your position and performance in your school organisation, or your career position? If you answered yes, good for you. However, many of us are not completely happy with status quo, and we want to find ways to improve it. Create a list of goals that you wish to achieve and set out possible steps to achieve them. Be it trying out new methods of studying or improving hands-on skills by taking part in competitions, a conscious, well-thought-out set of goals can challenge us and help us improve our current situation.

7. Become a better friend or partner

Friends, family and good health are important things in life. Having good,  real  friends is more often than not needed in our lives to provide mutual support, allowing us to grow and be happy. But are we being the best friend we can be? Do we listen enough? Do we reach out enough to show them we care? Being a good friend is hard work and requires conscious, consistent effort. Challenge yourself to become a better friend will make you and your friend’s lives happier and better in more ways than one.

8. Seek inspiration and be more creative 

All great artists and innovators learn one golden rule: inspiration must be sought. We need to be creative and seek inspiration – it does not simply knock on our door. So, go outside. Experience new things. Challenging yourself to find ways to become inspired is a must.

9. Gain new experiences and have more fun

The alarm clock goes off, we get up and go through our daily routines, then return home to finish off our day with chores. Sounds familiar? Many of us go through a routined lifestyle, but it can often get mundane and boring. The truth is, it’s easy to do the same old thing. It can even make us feel safe. But, why not challenge ourselves to try new things and gain new experiences? It can be learning how to ride a unicycle, to cook or take part in competitions. We can meet new people, learn more, have more fun, improve our skills and grow as a person. We may even be rewarded with new opportunities such as scholarships, internships, experiences, and ultimately a better life!

10. Achieve peace and happiness

Peace and happiness are usually the end results of successful challenges, but they can be challenges all on their own. Why not challenge yourself to be happier and find more peace? Think of what makes you happy and at ease – note them down. Make it an effort to slow down to smell the roses and give yourself room to relax once in awhile – you deserve it! Having time for yourself to unwind and do the things you love is important for emotional, mental, spiritual and physical well-being.

Keep these 10 reasons in mind and be on your way to challenge yourself today!

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challenge yourself essay

Why Challenge Yourself in Today’s World?

challenge yourself essay

Greetings dear reader, my name is Emilia and I shall be your life coach for the next thousand words! Here, I shall advise, nay, convince you to challenge yourself for your own personal growth.

So why should you listen to me?

Well, I’m lazy. Like incredibly lazy. If I ever gave a TED talk, it would be entitled “How to achieve the most while doing the least”.

But I’d probably never start writing it. And yet, here I am writing about doing the exact opposite. Why?

To challenge me.

Reason 1: Immediate pride in yourself

If you achieve something difficult, you feel good. Like the world had written you off, but you won anyway. And everyone loves being a world-beater!

You can start small, picking something you struggle with that can be achieved relatively quickly. It can be a single piece of social etiquette that you keep forgetting; remembering the ‘+ c’ in integration; or mastering the passé composé.

Once you’ve reached your smallish goal a few times, you can rightly acknowledge and congratulate yourself. If you include friends and loved ones, they can support and encourage you to go again, for the slightly bigger challenges.

It’s wonderful for confidence if you struggle with that as I did, and it’s a nice thing to motivate you to keep going!

Reason 2: Confidence to aim higher

Confidence to aim higher

Meet a few of the smaller targets, and you can set your sights a bit higher. After all, once you’ve proven you can do some stuff, it stands to reason that the next level up is attainable, right?

You could’ve set yourself a target of improving your French GCSE grade. I would specify a grade, but I’m from the age of letter grades and your newfangled number grades confuse me…

But yeah. If you’d set a French GCSE target and met or exceeded it, doing well in that French A-level suddenly seems like a real possibility.

It’s like climbing stairs. The first floor looks unreachable until you’ve got yourself onto one of the steps. And the next one. And the next. Keep going and you can gradually achieve what you thought was impossible. Maybe you’ll smash that French A-level and go on to study French literature at university.

Reason 3: Doors open to the competitive

By challenging yourself, you can push yourself to achieve stuff. Yeah, you can look at the next step and continue, but you need to realise something else:

You achieve stuff.

This path of continually reaching for the next branch is littered with successes, growing ever larger and shinier. And success opens doors. People will want to hire you, teach you, involve you in their projects.

So you could keep pushing yourself. Your good grades lead to more education and more good grades. Suddenly, you have three degrees and a job lined up in the civil service. And you keep going, with that glittering CV, creating more opportunities for yourself. Networking, learning, working.

Reason 4: Ambassador to France

What? There’s no reason why you can’t be…

But if you’ve got a lofty ambition or unlikely dream, challenging yourself to make those baby steps at the start can lead you to that dream before you’ve even realised it.

Remember I said I was lazy at the start? I wanted to be a doctor, but couldn’t be asked with the work…

… I’m now in my fourth year at uni reading medicine .

And I swear, when looking back at who I was before I started pushing myself, it feels like it’s been a week. It could have a mere week since I ate a Scotch Bonnet in Year 13 for a bet. Not my finest hour.

If you challenge yourself, enter essay competitions like Immerse Education’s and consistently stray from your comfort zone, you can achieve some truly great things.

Reason 5: Failing with resilience

This mindset of challenging yourself can make it easier to handle failure. If you stumble at a hurdle, you can still be proud that you were brave enough to take the jump. Indeed, you can look back at how far you came to get to this point and be satisfied with that, so long as you allow yourself to savour your success.

This kind of resilience sort of renders a failure into a pause in your trajectory, rather than a descent – in your mind at least. I remember when I took the UKCAT, a medical school entry exam. I’d got my preparation strategy all wrong.

Just spectacularly, hilariously wrong.

Anyway, my UKCAT score was too low for one of the universities I had applied to. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting at the time, but I remembered how daunting the exam seemed when I realised how much it resembled parts of the 11+ exam.

I remembered how close I’d been to chickening out and not even sitting it. I even remembered how I’d bothered to deliver on my potential in my GCSEs and AS exams.

And suddenly I wasn’t an idiot anymore. I was a human with a decent track record and potential.

So, on you sail. Maybe you won’t get that coveted diplomatic spot at the UN, but if you dust yourself down and remember what you’ve achieved in your career thus far, you can move past the failure in time to try again when another opening presents itself.

Logical Conclusion: Special Envoy to French Lunar Territory in 2048

See? The sky’s not even the limit anymore!

By challenging yourself, you push the boundaries of what you can achieve as an individual. You’ll gain confidence, resilience and motivation. You’ll find opportunities and new goals to chase, maybe do something extraordinary.

And you’ll have the satisfaction of having made it all for yourself.

But you can take it further, take people with you. Eventually, you could move a country’s borders. You can broaden the frontiers of human endeavour. Step by little step, you can find yourself somewhere you once thought impossible. Like speaking French on the moon.

Not bad for lazy sod with no motivation.

Take the next step

We hope the above reasons motivate you to challenge yourself for personal growth. If you’re a motivated student interested in challenging yourself and taking yourself out of your comfort zone: why not sign up for our annual Essay Competition or Blog Competition ?

The winners are taught by expert tutors from world-leading universities.

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Essays About Challenges: Top 11 Examples and Prompts

We come across many challenges we must endure throughout life. If you want to write essays about challenges, start by reading some of our top essay examples.

Everyone has had to deal with obstacles or challenges at some point. Some people can overcome hurdles with confidence and bravery, while many others have difficulty trying to face them. However, the challenges we have faced are, without a doubt, a central part of who we are today. Overcoming challenges can make you a better person. The lessons you learn from them are essential for future success, and as with all other experiences, these challenges help form you into the person you are today. They can also be exciting to some, as they test your skills and capabilities. 

If you are writing essays about challenges, look at our featured essay examples below. 

1. Personal Challenges by Delores Goodwin

2. life’s struggles make us stronger – and happier – if we let them by helen g. rousseau, 3. how to overcome your challenges with openness and courage by tony fahkry.

  • 4.  ​​Life: full of challenges by Vaibhav Jain

5. Challenges Facing Public Schools by Lewis Rios

Writing prompts on essays about challenges.

“A challenge will tell an individual more about themselves than anything else in life. Am I a quitter? How much adversity can I take? How badly do I want this? What is my breaking point? Where does my loyalty end? Challenge can ask us hundreds of questions and forces us to answer honestly. Challenges end the talk and make one walk the walk. Create challenges for yourself, it will cause you to see who you really are.”

Challenges are a necessity of life despite the hardship and stress they come with, and Goodwin discusses this in her essay. A great accomplishment cannot be made without a challenge. Without challenges, one becomes complacent, so we must keep facing challenges to keep us mentally and physically strong. Goodwin encourages readers to challenge themselves more to help them delve deeper into who they are. For more, check out these essays about life challenges .

“Every human being has been in this place at one time or another. Sometimes depression can make it more difficult to get away from the edge but any spark of light or encouragement should be used to seek help physically, emotionally or spiritually. When we face a crisis, it effects the all of who we are and thus must be met with our total beings.”

Rousseau reflects on overcoming adversity, recalling when she met with two former coworkers. They talked about their lives, families, and struggles during lunch. They could bond over their shared positive, confident mindset, allowing them to overcome challenges. Rousseau clarifies that if you put your mind to it, you can overcome anything and closes her essay with two of her poems about resilience. 

“Instead of running away from your emotions, lean into them and experience them fully. This transforms your fears and anxiety into empowering emotions. Let go of what you believe life owes you. It owes you nothing since you are the expression of life. Rise to your challenges armed with courage and an open mind. Remain confident that your experiences are serving your personal growth.”

Fahkry explains how to face challenges without stress and suffering. He reminds us that, first of all, we have free will, so we do not have to feel the way we do if we put our minds to it. We cannot change our reality once it is already there, so feeling sad or angry for prolonged periods is useless. If we change our mindsets for the better, we can overcome all adversity. Our fear and anxiety can be turned into confidence, empowerment, and courage. Check out these essays about competition .

4.  ​​ Life: full of challenges by Vaibhav Jain

“A person who has not encountered difficulties in life can never achieve success. Difficulties test the courage, patience, perseverance, and true character of a human being. Adversity and hardships make a person strong and ready to face the challenges of life with equanimity. There is no doubt that there can be no gain without pain. It is only when one toils and sweats it out that success is nourished and sustained.”

In his short essay, Jain writes about the wonders of life as well as its challenges. He likens life to a bed of roses, complete with painful thorns. In general, life is good, but adversity and challenges are prevalent. These two concepts seem different, but one cannot exist without the other. As with the previous essays, Jain explains that challenges make us stronger and help us feel successful and relieved: “there can be no gain without pain.” Without challenges, we take the better parts of life for granted; if we accept and overcome our struggles, we can live life to the fullest.

“In conclusion, public educational institutions experience many challenges ranging from budgetary constraints, student violence and low parental involvement. Much research needs to be done to establish why these problems exist in the first place and lasting solutions for these institutions.”

Rios’ essay explores challenges in an education system; he proposes research on the constraints of the U.S. public school system. Public schools face several economic and social challenges, such as insufficient funding and lack of parental involvement due to many students’ working-class backgrounds. Rios wishes for more research on these problems and possible solutions. 

1. Challenges I Have Faced

In this essay, write about a challenge you previously encountered and how you dealt with it. Provide context by describing the events leading up to it, how it happened, and, most importantly, how you overcame it. Then, describe how you felt after- were you relieved, stressed, or tired? You can also discuss how this experience has affected you today. 

2. Lessons Learned From Challenges

Challenges can teach us a lot about life and the world. Reflect on a challenge you faced previously and what you learned from it, whether positive or negative. As with the previous prompt, feel free to include ways in which the lesson you learned affects you today. 

3. How To Change Your Attitude Towards Challenge

How can you best handle the challenges you may face? Describe the ideal attitude one would need to overcome complex challenges. For example, what qualities would you need to have- courage, prudence, or sensibility? Regardless of what type of attitude you choose to write about, your essay will be substantive if you can adequately support your argument. 

4. Helping Others Overcome Challenges and Adversity

Essays about Challenges: Helping others overcome challenges and adversity

In your essay, you can write about a time you were able to help someone facing a challenge. Who did you help- a friend, family member, or someone else? Then, write about how you helped them, how it made you feel, and how it has impacted your life. 

5. Challenges Faced In Your Home Country

Research one particular challenge your country is facing today, whether that be an economic, social, or political issue. Discuss how this challenge occurred and what began the difficulties. If applicable, include multiple viewpoints on the issue and include information from credible sources. You can also propose possible solutions to this issue. 

6. Challenges The World Currently Faces

Humanity faces challenges on a massive scale, from a climate change crisis to possible third world war to a global pandemic. Choose one challenge the world faces today and write your essay about it. As with the previous prompt, write about the causes and responses to this challenge, and feel free to propose a solution. 

Check out our guide packed full of transition words for essays .

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challenge yourself essay

Martin is an avid writer specializing in editing and proofreading. He also enjoys literary analysis and writing about food and travel.

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  • Philosophy,
  • Epistemology
  • Behavior Modification,
  • Confidence,
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Challenging Yourself

Challenging Yourself

I was told over and over again by my friends and family after graduating high school, “these are going to be the best years of your life.” I figured they were completely right because college is a place where you find your true identity and realize what your able to do. First key of success is giving yourself a challenge.

I was headed to college with my mind already set and no doubts about it being changed. My first semester of college I was placed in general classes taking basic classes except for one class, my science class. That science class I choose myself to be placed into. I figured since I was already mentally decided that I wanted to go to college for nursing, I might as well start some science classes the first semester of my college year. The science class I was taking was a higher science class than what I normally was use to in high school. The first day I walked into that class, I knew this wasn’t for me. When class was over, I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t do this, I am not that smart.” I knew it was going to be a challenge for me and it was. I challenged myself to get an A, when I only thought my best was a C. I was very honest with myself with my limits and in the end, I passed with an A. After accomplishing that class, I came to realize that anything you truly set your mind to accomplish, CAN be accomplished with no doubts.

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Coming to college with your mind already set could be changed easily. Being already decided in college can have a downfall because sometimes not all the classes you have to take for your field are easy, but giving up makes you weak. You still might have your mind set to something already and aren’t doubting yourself about it. Taking classes you wouldn’t take and exploring your surroundings and new things is a way to college success. It’s all about the challenge you face. First key of success is giving yourself a challenge. Interviewing my cousin that has already been in college for 6 years, Almedina Ficer, she said, “Students usually fail out of college or fail the class because they don’t challenge themselves enough to pass. They give up to easily. If they fail once on something, they think they aren’t going to pass again if trying again.” Interviewing my cousin, I’ve come to realize that giving yourself a challenge is just a test for your knowledge. For example, you have to know what your weak at to give that weakness a challenge in order to get better.

Giving yourself a challenge and succeeding proves to you that you can do it and builds your confidence on doing it again next time. You’ve come to college to be educated and complete your goals. Going above and beyond and taking extra classes to find where you truly are meant to be in life and what’s not for you is smart way to find your weakness. For example, if you constantly keep failing a science class because science just isn’t for you, don’t give up. Make that science class your challenge and accomplish it. You will feel better accomplishing something more than failing it and making yourself feel like a failure.

Many people establish their identity in college. Finding your identity in college means a adjusting everything new. It’s a new beginning; new faces, new environment, and new surroundings. As you adjust, give yourself a challenge in things throughout college because college changes your whole entire identity about your beliefs. You will see a whole new world when entering college. New friends, professors, roommates, etc, is all a part of finding your identification. I personally see my identification in college as figuring out who I am and what I want to build my life on for my bright future.

My parents bickering to me about college, exploring and how important it is to find what field you belong in, is all part of your life when you enter college whether you love it or not. Just taking that extra class in college and giving yourself that challenge it will make it that much easier about your decisions. I, myself, came to college with my mind set about nursing school. Lately, I’ve been second guessing it because of all the science classes that I need to take. It’s all about give it all a chance, exploring, and challenging yourself. That’s what college is about. The keys of success are challenging yourself and exploring.

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  • College Essay Examples | What Works and What Doesn’t

College Essay Examples | What Works and What Doesn't

Published on November 8, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on August 14, 2023.

One effective method for improving your college essay is to read example essays . Here are three sample essays, each with a bad and good version to help you improve your own essay.

Table of contents

Essay 1: sharing an identity or background through a montage, essay 2: overcoming a challenge, a sports injury narrative, essay 3: showing the influence of an important person or thing, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

This essay uses a montage structure to show snapshots of a student’s identity and background. The writer builds her essay around the theme of the five senses, sharing memories she associates with sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.

In the weak rough draft, there is little connection between the individual anecdotes, and they do not robustly demonstrate the student’s qualities.

In the final version, the student uses an extended metaphor of a museum to create a strong connection among her stories, each showcasing a different part of her identity. She draws a specific personal insight from each memory and uses the stories to demonstrate her qualities and values.

How My Five Senses Record My Life

Throughout my life, I have kept a record of my life’s journey with my five senses. This collection of memories matters a great deal because I experience life every day through the lens of my identity.

“Chinese! Japanese!”

My classmate pulls one eye up and the other down.

“Look what my parents did to me!”

No matter how many times he repeats it, the other kids keep laughing. I focus my almond-shaped eyes on the ground, careful not to attract attention to my discomfort, anger, and shame. How could he say such a mean thing about me? What did I do to him? Joseph’s words would engrave themselves into my memory, making me question my appearance every time I saw my eyes in the mirror.

Soaking in overflowing bubble baths with Andrew Lloyd Webber belting from the boombox.

Listening to “Cell Block Tango” with my grandparents while eating filet mignon at a dine-in show in Ashland.

Singing “The Worst Pies in London” at a Korean karaoke club while laughing hysterically with my brother, who can do an eerily spot-on rendition of Sweeney Todd.

Taking car rides with Mom in the Toyota Sequoia as we compete to hit the high note in “Think of Me” from The Phantom of the Opera . Neither of us stands a chance!

The sweet scent of vegetables, Chinese noodles, and sushi wafts through the room as we sit around the table. My grandma presents a good-smelling mixture of international cuisine for our Thanksgiving feast. My favorite is the Chinese food that she cooks. Only the family prayer stands between me and the chance to indulge in these delicious morsels, comforting me with their familiar savory scents.

I rinse a faded plastic plate decorated by my younger sister at the Waterworks Art Center. I wear yellow rubber gloves to protect my hands at Mom’s insistence, but I can still feel the warm water that offers a bit of comfort as I finish the task at hand. The crusted casserole dish with stubborn remnants from my dad’s five-layer lasagna requires extra effort, so I fill it with Dawn and scalding water, setting it aside to soak. I actually don’t mind this daily chore.

I taste sweat on my upper lip as I fight to continue pedaling on a stationary bike. Ava’s next to me and tells me to go up a level. We’re biking buddies, dieting buddies, and Saturday morning carbo-load buddies. After the bike display hits 30 minutes, we do a five-minute cool down, drink Gatorade, and put our legs up to rest.

My five senses are always gathering new memories of my identity. I’m excited to expand my collection.

Word count: 455

College essay checklist

Topic and structure

  • I’ve selected a topic that’s meaningful to me.
  • My essay reveals something different from the rest of my application.
  • I have a clear and well-structured narrative.
  • I’ve concluded with an insight or a creative ending.

Writing style and tone

  • I’ve crafted an introduction containing vivid imagery or an intriguing hook that grabs the reader’s attention.
  • I’ve written my essay in a way that shows instead of tells.
  • I’ve used appropriate style and tone for a college essay.
  • I’ve used specific, vivid personal stories that would be hard to replicate.
  • I’ve demonstrated my positive traits and values in my essay.
  • My essay is focused on me, not another person or thing.
  • I’ve included self-reflection and insight in my essay.
  • I’ve respected the word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.

Making Sense of My Identity

Welcome to The Rose Arimoto Museum. You are about to enter the “Making Sense of My Identity” collection. Allow me to guide you through select exhibits, carefully curated memories from Rose’s sensory experiences.

First, the Sight Exhibit.

“Chinese! Japanese!”

“Look what my parents did to me!”

No matter how many times he repeats it, the other kids keep laughing. I focus my almond-shaped eyes on the ground, careful not to attract attention as my lip trembles and palms sweat. Joseph couldn’t have known how his words would engrave themselves into my memory, making me question my appearance every time I saw my eyes in the mirror.

Ten years later, these same eyes now fixate on an InDesign layout sheet, searching for grammar errors while my friend Selena proofreads our feature piece on racial discrimination in our hometown. As we’re the school newspaper editors, our journalism teacher Ms. Riley allows us to stay until midnight to meet tomorrow’s deadline. She commends our work ethic, which for me is fueled by writing一my new weapon of choice.

Next, you’ll encounter the Sound Exhibit.

Still, the world is my Broadway as I find my voice on stage.

Just below, enter the Smell Exhibit.

While I help my Pau Pau prepare dinner, she divulges her recipe for cha siu bau, with its soft, pillowy white exterior hiding the fragrant filling of braised barbecue pork inside. The sweet scent of candied yams, fun see , and Spam musubi wafts through the room as we gather around our Thankgsiving feast. After our family prayer, we indulge in these delicious morsels until our bellies say stop. These savory scents of my family’s cultural heritage linger long after I’ve finished the last bite.

Next up, the Touch Exhibit.

I rinse a handmade mug that I had painstakingly molded and painted in ceramics class. I wear yellow rubber gloves to protect my hands at Mom’s insistence, but I can still feel the warm water that offers a bit of comfort as I finish the task at hand. The crusted casserole dish with stubborn remnants from my dad’s five-layer lasagna requires extra effort, so I fill it with Dawn and scalding water, setting it aside to soak. For a few fleeting moments, as I continue my nightly chore, the pressure of my weekend job, tomorrow’s calculus exam, and next week’s track meet are washed away.

Finally, we end with the Taste Exhibit.

My legs fight to keep pace with the stationary bike as the salty taste of sweat seeps into corners of my mouth. Ava challenges me to take it up a level. We always train together一even keeping each other accountable on our strict protein diet of chicken breasts, broccoli, and Muscle Milk. We occasionally splurge on Saturday mornings after interval training, relishing the decadence of everything bagels smeared with raspberry walnut cream cheese. But this is Wednesday, so I push myself. I know that once the digital display hits 30:00, we’ll allow our legs to relax into a five-minute cool down, followed by the fiery tang of Fruit Punch Gatorade to rehydrate.

Thank you for your attention. This completes our tour. I invite you to rejoin us for next fall’s College Experience collection, which will exhibit Rose’s continual search for identity and learning.

Word count: 649

  • I’ve crafted an essay introduction containing vivid imagery or an intriguing hook that grabs the reader’s attention.

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This essay uses a narrative structure to recount how a student overcame a challenge, specifically a sports injury. Since this topic is often overused, the essay requires vivid description, a memorable introduction and conclusion , and interesting insight.

The weak rough draft contains an interesting narrative, insight, and vivid imagery, but it has an overly formal tone that distracts the reader from the story. The student’s use of elaborate vocabulary in every sentence makes the essay sound inauthentic and stilted.

The final essay uses a more natural, conversational tone and chooses words that are vivid and specific without being pretentious. This allows the reader to focus on the narrative and appreciate the student’s unique insight.

One fateful evening some months ago, a defensive linebacker mauled me, his 212 pounds indisputably alighting upon my ankle. Ergo, an abhorrent cracking of calcified tissue. At first light the next day, I awoke cognizant of a new paradigm—one sans football—promulgated by a stabbing sensation that would continue to haunt me every morning of this semester.

It’s been an exceedingly taxing semester not being able to engage in football, but I am nonetheless excelling in school. That twist of fate never would have come to pass if I hadn’t broken my ankle. I still limp down the halls at school, but I’m feeling less maudlin these days. My friends don’t steer clear anymore, and I have a lot more of them. My teachers, emboldened by my newfound interest in learning, continually invite me to learn more and do my best. Football is still on hold, but I feel like I’m finally playing a game that matters.

Five months ago, right after my ill-fated injury, my friends’ demeanor became icy and remote, although I couldn’t fathom why. My teachers, in contrast, beckoned me close and invited me on a new learning journey. But despite their indubitably kind advances, even they recoiled when I drew near.

A few weeks later, I started to change my attitude vis-à-vis my newfound situation and determined to put my energy toward productive ends (i.e., homework). I wasn’t enamored with school. I never had been. Nevertheless, I didn’t abhor it either. I just preferred football.

My true turn of fate came when I started studying more and participating in class. I started to enjoy history class, and I grew interested in reading more. I discovered a volume of poems written by a fellow adventurer on the road of life, and I loved it. I ravenously devoured everything in the writer’s oeuvre .

As the weeks flitted past, I found myself spending my time with a group of people who were quite different from me. They participated in theater and played instruments in marching band. They raised their hands in class when the teacher posed a question. Because of their auspicious influence, I started raising my hand too. I am no longer vapid, and I now have something to say.

I am certain that your school would benefit from my miraculous academic transformation, and I entreat you to consider my application to your fine institution. Accepting me to your university would be an unequivocally righteous decision.

Word count: 408

  • I’ve chosen a college essay topic that’s meaningful to me.
  • I’ve respected the essay word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.

As I step out of bed, the pain shoots through my foot and up my leg like it has every morning since “the game.” That night, a defensive linebacker tackled me, his 212 pounds landing decidedly on my ankle. I heard the sound before I felt it. The next morning, I awoke to a new reality—one without football—announced by a stabbing sensation that would continue to haunt me every morning of this semester.

My broken ankle broke my spirit.

My friends steered clear of me as I hobbled down the halls at school. My teachers tried to find the delicate balance between giving me space and offering me help. I was as unsure how to deal with myself as they were.

In time, I figured out how to redirect some of my frustration, anger, and pent-up energy toward my studies. I had never not liked school, but I had never really liked it either. In my mind, football practice was my real-life classroom, where I could learn all I ever needed to know.

Then there was that day in Mrs. Brady’s history class. We sang a ridiculous-sounding mnemonic song to memorize all the Chinese dynasties from Shang to Qing. I mumbled the words at first, but I got caught up in the middle of the laughter and began singing along. Starting that day, I began browsing YouTube videos about history, curious to learn more. I had started learning something new, and, to my surprise, I liked it.

With my afternoons free from burpees and scrimmages, I dared to crack open a few more of my books to see what was in them. That’s when my English poetry book, Paint Me Like I Am , caught my attention. It was full of poems written by students my age from WritersCorps. I couldn’t get enough.

I wasn’t the only one who was taken with the poems. Previously, I’d only been vaguely aware of Christina as one of the weird kids I avoided. Crammed in the margins of her high-top Chuck Taylors were scribbled lines of her own poetry and infinite doodles. Beyond her punk rock persona was a sensitive artist, puppy-lover, and environmental activist that a wide receiver like me would have never noticed before.

With Christina, I started making friends with people who once would have been invisible to me: drama geeks, teachers’ pets, band nerds. Most were college bound but not to play a sport. They were smart and talented, and they cared about people and politics and all sorts of issues that I hadn’t considered before. Strangely, they also seemed to care about me.

I still limp down the halls at school, but I don’t seem to mind as much these days. My friends don’t steer clear anymore, and I have a lot more of them. My teachers, excited by my newfound interest in learning, continually invite me to learn more and do my best. Football is still on hold, but I feel like I’m finally playing a game that matters.

My broken ankle broke my spirit. Then, it broke my ignorance.

Word count: 512

This essay uses a narrative structure to show how a pet positively influenced the student’s values and character.

In the weak draft, the student doesn’t focus on himself, instead delving into too much detail about his dog’s positive traits and his grandma’s illness. The essay’s structure is meandering, with tangents and details that don’t communicate any specific insight.

In the improved version, the student keeps the focus on himself, not his pet. He chooses the most relevant stories to demonstrate specific qualities, and the structure more clearly builds up to an insightful conclusion.

Man’s Best Friend

I desperately wanted a cat. I begged my parents for one, but once again, my sisters overruled me, so we drove up the Thompson Valley Canyon from Loveland to Estes Park to meet our newest family member. My sisters had already hatched their master plan, complete with a Finding Nemo blanket to entice the pups. The blanket was a hit with all of them, except for one—the one who walked over and sat in my lap. That was the day that Francisco became a Villanova.

Maybe I should say he was mine because I got stuck with all the chores. As expected, my dog-loving sisters were nowhere to be found! My mom was “extra” with all the doggy gear. Cisco even had to wear these silly little puppy shoes outside so that when he came back in, he wouldn’t get the carpets dirty. If it was raining, my mother insisted I dress Cisco in a ridiculous yellow raincoat, but, in my opinion, it was an unnecessary source of humiliation for poor Cisco. It didn’t take long for Cisco to decide that his outerwear could be used as toys in a game of Keep Away. As soon as I took off one of his shoes, he would run away with it, hiding under the bed where I couldn’t reach him. But, he seemed to appreciate his ensemble more when we had to walk through snowdrifts to get his job done.

When my abuela was dying from cancer, we went in the middle of the night to see her before she passed. I was sad and scared. But, my dad let me take Cisco in the car, so Cisco cuddled with me and made me feel much better. It’s like he could read my mind. Once we arrived at the hospital, the fluorescent lighting made the entire scene seem unreal, as if I was watching the scene unfold through someone else’s eyes. My grandma lay calmly on her bed, smiling at us even through her last moments of pain. I disliked seeing the tubes and machines hooked up to her. It was unnatural to see her like this一it was so unlike the way I usually saw her beautiful in her flowery dress, whistling a Billie Holiday tune and baking snickerdoodle cookies in the kitchen. The hospital didn’t usually allow dogs, but they made a special exception to respect my grandma’s last wishes that the whole family be together. Cisco remained at the foot of the bed, intently watching abuela with a silence that seemed more effective at communicating comfort and compassion than the rest of us who attempted to offer up words of comfort that just seemed hollow and insincere. It was then that I truly appreciated Cisco’s empathy for others.

As I accompanied my dad to pick up our dry cleaner’s from Ms. Chapman, a family friend asked, “How’s Cisco?” before even asking about my sisters or me. Cisco is the Villanova family mascot, a Goldendoodle better recognized by strangers throughout Loveland than the individual members of my family.

On our summer trip to Boyd Lake State Park, we stayed at the Cottonwood campground for a breathtaking view of the lake. Cisco was allowed to come, but we had to keep him on a leash at all times. After a satisfying meal of fish, our entire family walked along the beach. Cisco and I led the way while my mom and sisters shuffled behind. Cisco always stopped and refused to move, looking back to make sure the others were still following. Once satisfied that everyone was together, he would turn back around and continue prancing with his golden boy curly locks waving in the chilly wind.

On the beach, Cisco “accidentally” got let off his leash and went running maniacally around the sand, unfettered and free. His pure joy as he raced through the sand made me forget about my AP Chem exam or my student council responsibilities. He brings a smile not only to my family members but everyone around him.

Cisco won’t live forever, but without words, he has impressed upon me life lessons of responsibility, compassion, loyalty, and joy. I can’t imagine life without him.

Word count: 701

I quickly figured out that as “the chosen one,” I had been enlisted by Cisco to oversee all aspects of his “business.” I learned to put on Cisco’s doggie shoes to keep the carpet clean before taking him out一no matter the weather. Soon after, Cisco decided that his shoes could be used as toys in a game of Keep Away. As soon as I removed one of his shoes, he would run away with it, hiding under the bed where I couldn’t reach him. But, he seemed to appreciate his footwear more after I’d gear him up and we’d tread through the snow for his daily walks.

One morning, it was 7:15 a.m., and Alejandro was late again to pick me up. “Cisco, you don’t think he overslept again, do you?” Cisco barked, as if saying, “Of course he did!” A text message would never do, so I called his dad, even if it was going to get him in trouble. There was no use in both of us getting another tardy during our first-period class, especially since I was ready on time after taking Cisco for his morning outing. Alejandro was mad at me but not too much. He knew I had helped him out, even if he had to endure his dad’s lecture on punctuality.

Another early morning, I heard my sister yell, “Mom! Where are my good ballet flats? I can’t find them anywhere!” I hesitated and then confessed, “I moved them.” She shrieked at me in disbelief, but I continued, “I put them in your closet, so Cisco wouldn’t chew them up.” More disbelief. However, this time, there was silence instead of shrieking.

Last spring, Cisco and I were fast asleep when the phone rang at midnight. Abuela would not make it through the night after a long year of chemo, but she was in Pueblo, almost three hours away. Sitting next to me for that long car ride on I-25 in pitch-black darkness, Cisco knew exactly what I needed and snuggled right next to me as I petted his coat in a rhythm while tears streamed down my face. The hospital didn’t usually allow dogs, but they made a special exception to respect my grandma’s last wishes that the whole family be together. Cisco remained sitting at the foot of the hospital bed, intently watching abuela with a silence that communicated more comfort than our hollow words. Since then, whenever I sense someone is upset, I sit in silence with them or listen to their words, just like Cisco did.

The other day, one of my friends told me, “You’re a strange one, Josue. You’re not like everybody else but in a good way.” I didn’t know what he meant at first. “You know, you’re super responsible and grown-up. You look out for us instead of yourself. Nobody else does that.” I was a bit surprised because I wasn’t trying to do anything different. I was just being me. But then I realized who had taught me: a fluffy little puppy who I had wished was a cat! I didn’t choose Cisco, but he certainly chose me and, unexpectedly, became my teacher, mentor, and friend.

Word count: 617

If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing


  • How to end an email
  • Ms, mrs, miss
  • How to start an email
  • I hope this email finds you well
  • Hope you are doing well

 Parts of speech

  • Personal pronouns
  • Conjunctions

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

  • A unique, personally meaningful topic
  • A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
  • Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
  • Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
  • Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
  • A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending

There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay , but these are two common structures that work:

  • A montage structure, a series of vignettes with a common theme.
  • A narrative structure, a single story that shows your personal growth or how you overcame a challenge.

Avoid the five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in high school.

Though admissions officers are interested in hearing your story, they’re also interested in how you tell it. An exceptionally written essay will differentiate you from other applicants, meaning that admissions officers will spend more time reading it.

You can use literary devices to catch your reader’s attention and enrich your storytelling; however, focus on using just a few devices well, rather than trying to use as many as possible.

Most importantly, your essay should be about you , not another person or thing. An insightful college admissions essay requires deep self-reflection, authenticity, and a balance between confidence and vulnerability.

Your essay shouldn’t be a résumé of your experiences but instead should tell a story that demonstrates your most important values and qualities.

When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding message, flow, tone, style , and clarity. Then, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

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How To Challenge Yourself At Work (With Examples)

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Challenging yourself at home can be reflected in your professional life. You will learn how to handle difficult tasks with ease. Since you are choosing to do something outside of your comfort zone, you are increasing your problem-solving skills .

When you are entering the job market , you will notice that many prospective employers are looking for talented individuals who thrive in the face of adversity and are willing to go the extra mile to get the job done.

There will be moments throughout the hiring process where you will be asked to pinpoint a specific time in your career where you had to face a challenge. This question is known as a behavioral question . The interviewer will want to know more about what makes you tick and how you handle certain situations.

So if you learn different ways to challenge yourself, then you will grow as a person. As an added benefit you can be ready to answer common interview questions about challenges you faced.

Key Takeaways:

Frame challenges with a positive mindset. See challenges as opportunities for growth.

Ways to challenge yourself include waking up early, getting regular exercise, and conquering your fears.

Setting SMART goals as challenges is a great way to monitor your growth.

Use the STAR method when answering interview questions about challenges you have faced in the workplace.


How to Challenge Yourself

10 ways to challenge yourself, why you should challenge yourself, how to answer interview questions about challenges, final thoughts.

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Something you need to keep in mind is that the goal is to help improve your life by challenging yourself, not adding unwanted stress . Remember that it does not have to be complicated if you choose to do something challenging.

Simple things such as waking up earlier or committing a certain amount of time to hone in a craft can not only help you in the long run – it will give you a real sense of accomplishment.

There is nothing more gratifying than hitting your new goals. Completing the task will help elevate your mood and increase productivity .

For those looking to impact your life positively, here are ten ways you can challenge yourself.

Wake up early. Believe it or not, waking up earlier has a positive impact on your everyday life. Waking up early gives your body the chance to wake up completely before you need to start your day.

Set a reasonable bedtime. You know the old saying, “early to bed, early to rise.” This goes hand and hand with waking up early. This might be easier said than done. Most people have a hard time going to bed early.

Unplug from social media for a day. Let’s face it – everyone has become a victim of social media one way or another. Try challenging yourself by unplugging from the digital platforms and enjoy the world around you. Many people find it very liberating.

Try a new hobby. Many people are afraid to try something new because of their fear of failure. Being able to push yourself to rise above the fear of the unknown will help broaden your mind. Try taking a painting class, dancing, or something that can help get those creative juices flowing.

Write everything down. Believe it or not, writing everything down will help you hold yourself accountable. Often, people have a hard time dealing with their emotions. Many experts recommend writing as a safe space to help you deal with any emotional turmoil you might have.

Create a budget and cut back on the splurging. Keeping a budget can be challenging for some people. However, you must try to make an effort and organize your finances. Creating a budget helps prevent lousy spending habits and helps keep you from using the money you do not have.

Commit to exercising during the week. One thing to keep in mind is that exercising is not only about losing weight. Similar to the bedtime routine suggested earlier, exercising can help with brain and memory functions. Studies have shown that exercising helps reduce stress and increase endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling in your body and mind.

Conquer your fears. Now, this is a big one that might be easier said than done. Conquering a fear will be incredibly challenging and might take you a significant amount of time. However, nothing can bring you more personal satisfaction than looking at the thing you once fear head-on.

Instead of becoming frustrated about a situation, learn to adapt . Sometimes people find it hard to let go of inevitable situations that are beyond their control. This can be increasingly frustrating. Though you might find it hard to do, the best thing for you and your state of mind is to let things go and learn to adapt to the situation.

Learn to be honest with yourself. A lot of times, it is hard to accept certain situations. Some people would rather live in a fantasy world instead of facing the hard truth. Being honest with yourself will grant you the opportunity to deal with whatever problem head-on.

Sometimes people might feel like they are in a rut and find that their lives are less exciting than they once were. By challenging yourself, you will be expanding your horizon and embracing new opportunities in life.

While you might be comfortable staying within the confines of your routine, branching out and trying new things can bring forth new and exciting opportunities, such as personal growth and motivation.

Understandably, many do not like change. The reason for this is because they fear failure or the vast unknown consequences of their actions. Remember, to enact change, you will need to be open to facing different challenges head-on and accept that sometimes things do not happen the way one expects them to happen.

It is not about putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation – it is about identifying what is not working in your life right now and figuring out how to make it better.

Many people create SMART goals for themselves to identify and target specific goals in life. A SMART goal is a technique used by many small business owners and individuals to save time and energy. This is a tool that helps enhance productivity and increase the chances of positive results.

This does not mean that every single challenge you make has to be related to your job. Making even the smallest changes in your personal life can help improve how you see things and make life easier.

Job interviewers like to ask behavioral questions that require you to describe how you acted in past situations. Your answer gives the interviewer a glimpse into your character. It is very common to be asked how you responded to challenges.

As you become comfortable with challenges in your life, you can become equally comfortable answering questions about challenges you faced.

Normally a job interview question about challenges will focus on ones faced in the workplace. When asked what challenges you have faced at work remember the following:

Connect your answer to the job description. Tie your answer back to the job description. You want to highlight relevant skills with your answer. For example, if the job description asks for public speaking skills, talk about a time you had to speak if front of a very large audience.

Be specific. Interview answers need to be specific. Give your interviewer context and results. Use specific information to focus your answer on your ability to handle challenges.

Show how you succeeded. Your answer should conclude definitively that you know how to handle challenges. Your answer will show that you have succeeded in the past and you will do so again.

It is helpful if you can arrange your answer under the STAR method, which is Situation, Task, Action, and Result. In this method you will describe the situation, what you were tasked to do, what actions you took, and the result of your actions. The STAR method provides you with a logical framework in which to tie your skills to the question.

When you are looking to challenge yourself, it is essential that you also acknowledge that there are good qualities about the person you are.

When challenging yourself, you have to keep an open mind. It is not about trying to change every little detail and flaw about yourself. It is about accepting who you are, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and allowing yourself the opportunity to grow.

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Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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How to Write the “Most Significant Challenge” UC Essay

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by CollegeVine co-founder Vinay Bhaskara in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.

What’s Covered:

Understanding the prompt, avoiding common pitfalls, navigating more difficult topics.

The University of California system requires you to answer four out of eight prompts for its essays. Prompt five asks applicants:

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? (350 words)

As with any college essay, this prompt is an opportunity to convey a strong personal voice while communicating personal values and strengths that may not readily apparent in other parts of their application. In this article, we will discuss what the prompt is asking, how to approach writing your essay, and advice for navigating difficult topics. 

The first step in answering this prompt is identifying a challenge to reflect on. You’ll want to focus on a challenge that’s personal, genuine and authentic. A common issue that students struggle with is selecting a challenge that is appropriate in scale for the purposes of this essay. Choosing a challenge that may come across as minor in the eyes of admission officers, such as losing out on extracurricular opportunities because of COVID, for example, likely wouldn’t impress your reader in the same way that a more specific, personal challenge would. Navigating COVID as a challenge is going to be a completely overused response to this prompt, and if you want to stand out you should reflect more deeply on a challenge that is unique to you. 

You don’t want your challenge to come off as tone-deaf. For example, writing about a time that your parents refused to purchase something for you would not reflect very well on you and make you sound spoiled. On the flip side, you also don’t want to choose an outsized challenge that doesn’t resonate you. Your topic should be genuine and authentic.

Additionally, because this prompt specifically calls out an impact to your academic achievement, it’s a little bit more restrictive than the similar prompt in the Common Application . To be clear, you don’t have to write about something that directly affected your academics; however, you should be able to relate the process of overcoming this challenge back to your academic performance.

Focusing Only on the Challenge

We’ve already talked about writing a tone-deaf essay, but another trope you want to avoid is what we call a sob story. Writing an essay solely about the challenge and all the pain that it’s caused you is a good place to start an essay, but pain and struggle shouldn’t be where you end. A key element of the prompt is the act of overcoming the challenge and reflecting on that process and where you ended up. If you can’t end this essay in a better place than where you started, you’re not going to have a strong response to this prompt. 

Blaming Others

Additionally, avoid blaming others for your challenges. For example, if you struggled with a particular academic subject, focus on the specific aspects of that subject that challenged you and how you worked to overcome them. It’s easy to blame a bad teacher for a poor academic performance, and it is possible that the teacher might have objectively not been good. 

But think back to the purpose of the supplemental prompts. Colleges want to understand the person behind the application and how they think and relate to the people around them. Shifting blame to your teacher, even if it is  wholly deserved, could signal a lack of personal responsibility or immaturity to the admissions team. Remember that colleges are looking for students who will add to the vibrant campus community, which of course also includes their faculty and the other students.

Regardless of what you choose as your challenge, it’s important to think critically about how you will frame it within the context of your essay. Difficult topics like mental and physical health can be quite effective essay topics as they’re deeply personal and often quite substantial. However, as you begin to think through your essay, remember that two huge elements of the prompt are overcoming the challenge and reflecting on how it has impacted you academically. 

Remember to start with the end in mind. When we say start with the end in mind, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the challenge is now over. Colleges understand that challenges like mental health and chronic pain often don’t go away. It is important that, in the case of a challenge that you are constantly navigating, you clearly and effectively convey how you’ve overcome it or, in some cases, the ongoing steps you take to mitigate it. 

Ultimately, college is rigorous and challenging in itself, and no college or university wants to set you up for failure if they’re not confident that you can succeed. If you cannot effectively demonstrate that the challenge is no longer a risk to your success and wellbeing, consider choosing a different topic.

Looking for more information on how to attack the UC supplemental essays? Check out this post for a comprehensive guide on how to answer each of the eight prompts!

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Bold Challenge Yourself No-Essay Scholarship

challenge yourself essay

“Keep challenging yourself to think better, do better, and be better.” – Robin Sharma

Humans aren’t meant to stay stagnant. 

For thousands of years, humans have tested the limits of what we previously thought possible, which has brought about extreme change. 

Evolution has worked in our favor for so long because of our ability to adapt to our surroundings and constantly improve. Today, we aren’t anywhere near our potential, which is why we must continue to challenge ourselves. 

Every successful person will tell you they went through daunting tasks to achieve their goals in life. Very rarely do you find people who are doing well for themselves, remaining comfortable, not taking risks, or being courageous in their decision-making. 

Challenging yourself is an essential part of life, so this scholarship is designed to support the brave students across the country who remain uncomfortable and challenge themselves every day to be the best person they can be. 

All students who believe in pushing themselves past their limits to succeed are eligible for this scholarship.

Winners and Finalists

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Explore All Kinds of Scholarships for All Kinds of Students

The application deadline is Apr 27, 2022. Winners will be announced on May 27, 2022.

Your privacy is a top priority on the platform, and you can find our privacy policy in full here . You may opt out of communications from at any time, and unless we’ve first notified you and gotten your consent, you’ll never receive communication from any third parties related to personal information you give us.

Award amounts per winner are designated by the donor. Check the award amount for a detailed breakdown.

The winner will be publicly announced on May 27, 2022. Prior to the announcement date, we may contact finalists with additional questions about their application. We will work with donors to review all applications according to the scholarship criteria. Winners will be chosen based on the merit of their application.

Award checks will be sent to the financial aid office of the winner's academic institution or future academic institution in their name to be applied to their tuition, and in the name of their institution (depending on the school's requirements). If the award is for a qualified educational non-tuition expense, we will work with the winner directly to distribute the award and make sure it goes towards qualified expenses.

Before we award the scholarship, the winner will be required to confirm their academic enrollment status. Depending on the circumstances, verification of Student ID and/or their most recent transcript will be required.

If you have any questions about this scholarship or the platform, just email [email protected] and we’ll get back to you as quickly as we can.

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Why Should I Pay Anyone to Write My Essay?

If you’re suddenly wondering, “Can someone do my paper for me?”, there’s likely a very good reason for that. After all, college is an eye-opening experience for most students. Not only is it your first attempt at independent life free from parents’ oversight, but it’s also a completely new level of academic requirements and independent study many aren’t ready for. 

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So don’t feel bad if your thoughts go from “Can someone write my paper?” to “Write me a paper asap!” within the first few weeks of the college term. You’re not alone, and it’s perfectly normal to struggle in a new environment and buckle under the weight of elevated expectations. 

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A quick Google search will unearth dozens of do-my-paper services, adding to your stress, instead of alleviating it. But unfortunately, you cannot trust the first company you find, tell the writers “Write a paper for me”, and hope for the best. Although you may be lucky enough to stumble upon a reliable company by accident, choosing a trustworthy service requires some research.

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You’ve probably found our site when you were looking to pay someone to write your essay. And we will happily take over argumentative, persuasive, narrative, and creative pieces for you. However, the do-my-paper service is not your only option. We have plenty of offers for students who are unwilling to let others take over their work completely. Here are a few viable suggestions that can make your college writing much easier:

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We Employ Expert Academics to Make Your “Write My Paper” Order Perfect

Whether you’re an English or a STEM major, you’re probably wondering, “Who can write essay for me?” or “Why should I pay someone to write my paper for me when I know nothing about them?” And you’re absolutely right about asking these questions. After all, thousands of freelancers offer to write essay online, but you can’t know who to trust with your grades and record. To make your life easier, we take over the screening tasks to ensure only the best are hired and have the privilege to write an essay for you.

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Timing is critical in the college papers market. An hour’s delay can make your submission late and cause you to fail the class. And a drawn-out revision may fry your last nerve and end in a breakdown.

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How can I pay someone to write a paper for me? What are your payment methods??

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More From Forbes

Be smart: challenge the stories you tell yourself.

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Bob is a big car guy. He loves horsepower. The rumble of a classic glasspack muffler is like a symphony to his ears. He has a buddy who owns a mint condition 1968 Corvette Roadster, cherry red.

Bob has salivated over that car for years. Suddenly the car is for sale and Bob had better move fast because his friend is already getting feelers from other car enthusiasts. Bob quickly goes to his broker and pulls thousands of dollars from his already eroded retirement fund. He buys the car of his dreams and is sure this is the happiest day of his life.

He takes the Corvette out for its first road test. It’s a beautiful day. Wind blows in his face as he races down a country highway.

Bob isn’t sure what he’s enjoying most, the noise and vibration of all that horsepower he’s riding or the surge of testosterone through his body.

Then, out of nowhere, a young boy appears and throws a rock smack into the side of Bob’s dream car. Wham!

Bob’s immediate thought goes something like “Hmm, let’s see. In this jurisdiction would what I’m about to do constitute cold-blooded murder or would it simply be justifiable homicide?” Well, something like that. Let’s just say that Bob instantly shifts gears from being a gratified automobile enthusiast to being a raving maniac in the grasp of a serious case of road rage. He slams on the brakes, throws the Corvette into reverse, and burns rubber all fifty yards back to where the rock-thrower is standing. But instead of finding a boy with a look of terror on his face, he discovers a boy with a look of pleading, even supplication. “Mister, I’m so sorry about hitting your car with a rock. But I’ve tried to flag down other people and nobody will stop. My little brother is over there in the tall grass. He’s had a seizure and we’ve lost his medicine. Can you please help us?”

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How does Bob feel now? How do you feel now?

In an instant, Bob is transformed from a raging hothead ready to do damage to a child a fraction of his age ... to a compassionate and empathic grownup willing to provide grownup help to someone in need.

Why the quick turnaround? With a fresh set of data (a boy taking a risk to help his little brother versus a punk kid doing vandalism), Bob changed his “story.” With a fresh story came a new set of feelings. And with a new set of feelings came a very different kind of action: help rather than harm.

That’s the power of the stories we tell ourselves.

On a drive along California’s central coast, I noticed an interesting bumper sticker on the vehicle in front of me: “Don’t believe everything you think.”

Unlike most bumper stickers, this one caused me to ponder the layers of meaning and even to challenge—well, to challenge my own thinking.

Everything we do is a product of our thinking. Every single act is rooted in a thought. Our thoughts may be subtle or even unconscious, but they nevertheless are at the root of our behavior.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you’re with a group of people and they laugh at you. Based on that observation, you instantly tell yourself a story. It goes something like “They’re mocking me. They’re ridiculing me. They’re belittling my ideas.” That story then spawns a feeling, which could range from hurt to anger. You then act on that feeling. Maybe you defend yourself, or go silent, or even get up and leave.

Here’s another scenario. You’re with a group of people and they laugh at you. Based on that observation, you instantly tell yourself a story. It goes something like “It’s really fun to be with my friends. That’s why we decided to hold this Super Bowl party. They’re not laughing at me out of ridicule, but out of friendship and camaraderie.” That story then spawns feelings that could range from amusement to outright joy. You then act on that feeling. Maybe you join in the laughter, maybe you poke fun at the other guy. You enjoy the moment.

Do you see the difference? In both instances, people laughed at you. But your path to action produced vastly different behaviors, and the critical variable was the story you told yourself. The difference was your thinking.

At one time or another, most of us have claimed that our emotions—our feelings—are imposed on us, that we have no control. Have you ever said something like “He makes me so mad!”? The reality, tough though it may be to swallow, is that nobody can make us be mad, or glad, or sad, or anything else. We choose our feelings based on the stories we tell ourselves. Then our feelings lead to actions that produce results. If we don’t like our results we can challenge our own thinking, be- cause what we think is what launches us on our path to action that produces our results.

At first blush, this idea may come across as a touchy-feely mind game. It’s not. The ability to improve our results by challenging our own thinking is one of the most powerful skills we can develop. It can unlock our true potential by freeing us from the constraints of the stories we often tell ourselves.

Rodger Dean Duncan

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Audiobook of the Week: ‘How to Write About Africa’

A new recording revisits the late Binyavanga Wainaina’s rhetorical strength and disarming humor in a collection of essays, stories and satire.

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A color photo of a man from the shoulders up, staring straight at the camera, wearing a blue-and-white striped polo shirt and yellow-framed sunglasses on his head. He is carrying a backpack.

By Dipo Faloyin

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Deciding what audiobook to listen to requires its own special calculus, related to but distinct from the factors we consider when picking a book off a shelf. From the Book Review’s own endless listening, we will select and review a different title each week, from a range of genres, to help you decide. See you next Friday.

HOW TO WRITE ABOUT AFRICA: Collected Works , by Binyavanga Wainaina. Read by Dominic Hoffman and Yinka Ladeinde.

Reading Binyavanga Wainaina makes you sit up straight. Dismantling the Western world’s constructed myths and clichés about Africa, his art firmly orients you toward the reality of life across the most genetically diverse place on earth. On the page, the excellent “How to Write About Africa,” a posthumous collection of his essays and short stories about the continent, might fool you into thinking Wainaina wrote from a place of anger at and disdain for the stereotypes that have reduced Africans to little more than the “dollar-a-day people.”

But listening to Dominic Hoffman speak the late Kenyan author’s words into your ear offers a different pleasure. You fall back, relax and imagine yourself alongside Wainaina himself, absurdly funny and inviting, in the corner of a bar in Nairobi drinking Tusker and eating the Swahili braised chicken you hear about in his essay “Food Slut.”

The dynamic narration channels the disarming humor in which Wainaina wrapped his activism, a playfulness that gave voice to his desire for others to appreciate and respect a continent he adored — as it actually is, and not merely the illusion devised by those he describes as “third world chroniclers.” (Or by the celebrity-fronted charity campaigns he writes of in “The Continental Dispatch” that tear through Africa “looking for a project to love.”) As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes in her warm and personal introduction, crisply read by Yinka Ladeinde, the author’s “impatience with any sort of constraints” was an attempt to “hasten Africa to its awaited glory.”

Dipo Faloyin is the author of “Africa Is Not a Country.”

HOW TO WRITE ABOUT AFRICA: Collected Works | By Binyavanga Wainaina | Read by Dominic Hoffman and Yinka Ladeinde | Random House Audio | 14 hours, 10 minutes

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