Writing UC Prompt 5: Significant Challenge


[This article is part of a new series where we will be dissecting each of the UC essay prompts in depth, providing examples and tips on how you can make your application stand out.]


Click here to read yesterday’s post about UC Prompt #4.


Prompt #5: 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?

This is one of the most commonly answered prompts, because the range of human challenges is so infinite and important to our personal development. These challenges shape our world view and how we handle these situations speaks volumes about our character and integrity. All of us have experienced difficulty before, and the UCs want to know how you’ve been shaped by these obstacles.


So what counts as a significant challenge? You might think that the only challenges worth sharing about have to be as drastic as being financially unstable or feeling the impact of racial discrimination, but admissions officers know that problems are relative. As long as you show how your obstacle has affected you as a person, it’s fair game.


Here are some examples to show you how wide the range of possible challenges you could write about is:

  1. Dealing with your parents’ divorce

  2. Recovering from an injury

  3. Overcoming any fear

  4. Completing a marathon

  5. Suffering from a mental or physical illness

  6. Mending a broken relationship

  7. Realizing and overcoming a flaw in your character

If you choose to answer this prompt, this is definitely where you want your personality and your voice to show through your writing. Your goal is to make the admissions officers feel the emotions that you felt while dealing with these struggles, whether they be frustration, grief, loss, or fear. If you convey this properly, you’ll be able to help your readers understand the accomplishment of overcoming these challenges.


When the prompt asks to explain how the challenge “affected your academic achievement,” this is an opportunity for you to both justify negative academic achievements as well as show how you were able to overcome it.


Here’s how you might structure this essay:

  1. Start with an anecdote that immediately puts the reader in the challenge you faced

  2. Give any background in order to fully explain the situation

  3. Mention any effects it had on your academic performance

  4. Describe how you began to overcome the issue and any steps you took

  5. Reflect on what you learned from dealing with this obstacle

The bottom line is, there is no “correct” challenge that you have to pick; problems are relative and you just need to show what you’ve learned from it.


If you found this article helpful, stay tuned tomorrow for a discussion of UC Prompt #6!

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