Common Application Essay Prompt #2 (2018-2020)

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


A Changed Perspective

Bz-z-z-z … It is 6:30 in the morning when the alarm clock sounds. I jump up, shower, brush my teeth, get dressed and leave the house by 7:00. This routine has been fairly easy for me since I was very young. However, this past summer I saw first hand how some children are unable to wake up and leave their house within a half hour. These children, whose lives are affected by disabilities, struggle just to get up in the morning. My challenge as a volunteer in St. Agnes Children’s Rehabilitation Center was to help such children with the daily activities of talking, walking, eating and even playing. And it was from this experience that I gained a more mature perspective on life.

Upon first entering the Center on a hot and humid day in July, I was bombarded with various thoughts and questions, ranging from “What are the children’s disabilities going to look like?” “What are the teachers going to expect of me?” “Will I be able to complete the daily tasks?” to “Will they like me?” Despite such questions and my innate insecurity, I entered the classroom, and my worries ceased immediately; for each one of the fifteen youngsters, three to four years of age, welcomed me with big smiles and open arms.

One boy, in particular, who was born with no arms and dwarfed feet, caught my attention immediately. Upon meeting Steven, an endearing four year old with jet-black hair and big dark eyes, I was a little apprehensive about managing him physically and relating to him, for he was unable to walk or talk. However, as soon as he rolled towards me with a big smile that lit up his entire face, all of my fears disappeared. Although Steven could not talk, he was able to communicate sounds, along with expressions, that helped me understand his needs. He would whine if something was wrong, shake his head yes or no, or just smile as he did most often. Within two weeks, I was able to interpret his sounds within seconds and thereby satisfy almost all of his needs.

In addition to helping Steven, I was responsible for feeding the children on a daily basis.  As one can imagine, with all of them seated in different types of chairs around a large rectangular table, lunchtime was a little chaotic, to say the least, As with most young children, the food needed to be sliced into tiny pieces. However, unlike the average four year old, most of them could not get even the smallest piece into their mouths. They would cough, drool, and more often than not, regurgitate their food, causing quite a mess. Regardless of the disorder, I assisted them every day and created a hand to mouth exercise that helped with their fine motor skills. By the end of my two-month stay, at least four of the fifteen were able put the food in their mouths, a terrific accomplishment.

Other daily tasks at the Center included helping children walk and engaging them in various activities throughout the room. Since most of the children were not ambulatory, I taught them to stand by themselves and take a few steps independent of my help.  First I held onto their waists, and then I guided their legs and feet until they felt comfortable repeating the action alone. Such a struggle took time and persistence,

To make certain that they participated in various activities, I carried them to different areas of the room, such as the library corner, the play corner, or the computer table area. This may seem like an easy task; however, given the fact that some weighed over 50 lbs. and many wanted to participate in the same activity at the same time, on most days it was daunting. All of these activities took time and persistence, but the smile on their faces after they felt comfortable in one of the corners was worth the entire struggle.

This same type of effort is what I have always put into my schoolwork , and therefore I have excelled and have learned many worthwhile lessons from teachers and peers. However, none has been as life changing as my experience with these disabled children.  From them, I gained a more mature viewpoint of the world; for within the context of the Center, I saw disabled children play, color, laugh, cry and sing songs. Like all children, they responded positively to the care, warmth, and kindness that the teachers and I provided. In short, I learned that they are like any other children, and their inner strength is apparent to anyone in their presence.


Marion’s Analysis of A Changed Perspective

Choice of Topic

That this teenager rose at 7:00 A M every day during the summer months to volunteer at a rehabilitation center for disabled children says much about the strength of her character. By including details about Steven, a particularly needy child, feeding children at lunch time, and carrying others to activities of their choice, the writer clarifies her work ethic, her tenacity, her compassion, and willingness to help others, thereby answering the prompt of recounting a challenging experience that changed one’s perspective on life.


The buzz of the alarm clock and the description of the writer’s morning routine arouse the reader’s interest by placing him/her within a specific context. And the juxtaposition of the writer’s ability to accomplish seemingly simple tasks with those who are unable to do so establishes a contrast that heightens the poignancy of the subsequent details.


The voice of the piece is both genuine and natural. The writer’s inclusion of her insecure feelings and her initial questions about the volunteer experience aid in establishing the authenticity of her voice. In addition, the graphic comments about the children and her interaction with them underscore her sincerity. She is so forthright and her tone is so natural that the reader finds her/himself willing to believe all that she says.

Specificity and Coherence

The essay is unified by four separate yet congruent events: rising in the morning to volunteer, questioning her ability to do so, being attracted to Steven, the four year old with dwarfed feet, and helping the other children with lunch and activities of their choice, all of which are significant aspects of her experience. Explicit details like communicating with Steven, who could not “walk or talk,” guiding the children who had trouble getting the smallest “pieces of food” in their mouths, helping children walk by “holding on to their legs” and “guiding their legs and feet,” and carrying over 50 lb. individuals to different activities in the room paint a vivid picture of an individual who is not fearful of using her ingenuity and strength to help those in need.

Style and Mechanics

The word choice is both sophisticated and appropriate for the piece, thereby indicating the intelligence of the writer. Moreover, the style is fluid with one sentence flowing into the next and only a few necessary pauses, punctuated by either a comma or a period. Moreover, the sentence structure is both complex and varied, exemplifying the writer’s skill with the English language.


The concluding paragraph brings all the parts of the essay together. In it the writer summarizes the uplifting actions of the children and their effect on her. In so doing, she states specifically the lesson she learned and therefore returns to the focus of the essay and the prompt.