Overcoming Loss: My Most Significant Challenge

In summary, I think this is a very good response. I don't think there are any small grammatical errors that I have noticed.f
  • #1
Hi all.

I'm starting my college apps and started with MIT. Here's the prompt: "Tell us about the most significant challenge you've faced or something important that didn't go according to plan. How did you manage the situation?(*) (200-250 words)."

Below is my response. What I want to know from you all is 1) do you think this is a good response? and 2) why you think it is or isn't. Also, any small grammatical errors I may have missed.

I'm not looking for you to tell me what to write, I'm just looking for advice so I can have a fighting chance to get into my dream-school.

Here's my response:

"Before high school I was not the best student. I was a typical middle school boy and even a typical high school boy until October 26th, 2010. That was the day that my best friend died in a small plane crash in Wyoming. At first, I did not believe it at all. I thought it was some joke from my friend. But no matter how much I did not want to believe it, it was true.
I struggled with accepting it for weeks. I blamed different people for it, including myself, even though no one was responsible. During that time I thought it was so unfair that my friend should lose out on all the experiences of a lifetime, so I decided to do something about it. Instead of feeling sad, I took that opportunity to have all the experiences that I could and be the best that I could because your life can be taken at any time. I started taking harder courses and being more serious. I did things I never would have done before.
It was very difficult. Not only because I was still grieving, but also because I had to push myself to be the best that I could be, which was something new for me. While my friend's death was horrible, I took advantage of the situation and feel I have become a much better person because of it."
  • #2
First off, I'm sorry for your loss. It is always terrible to lose a friend, especially when they are so young. I think elaborating on how this event changed you is a great response to the prompt, and I think overall, you have expressed it pretty well. But there are some changes I can suggest:

(1) Be more descriptive -- act like you're telling a story. For instance: "I did things I never would have done before"...what things? "...because I had to push myself to be the best that I could be..." ...what is the best that you can be? What is it that you want to achieve, and how does MIT fit into that?

(2) I'd take out just a little bit of the backstory of how you initially reacted. Reformat it so you express the same thing in less space, something like "I was in shock; I didn't want to believe it. I was devastated, angry, and guilt-ridden, though there was nothing I could have done." And then, you can go into more elaborate detail on what you DID do about it. "But after suddenly realizing how quickly life can pass, I knew there was something I COULD do. I could take full advantage of all of the opportunities and experiences before me, to work hard at ___________" <-- there's a good space to put what it is you are wanting to get out of life. Then you can say all the things you started doing, e.g. "I started taking harder courses, got involved with X and Y extracurriculars, began to look forward towards my future in ____________."

(3) Eliminate some of the vague language and cliches. This sort of goes with (1); in being more descriptive, you'll probably replace some of the areas where it's most prevalent. For instance, "I was a typical middle school boy and even a typical high school boy..." and "I took that opportunity to have all the experiences that I could and be the best that I could...". These are sentences that admissions committees will read over and over again. You may mean them most sincerely, but after reading them a hundred times, they will start to sound insincere and cliche to the person who is deciding if you merit acceptance. So pull out something new. Be very pointed and specific in your word choice, make sure that they can see what you've done as clearly as you can remember it in your mind.

(4) This last point is stylistic, so it is purely based on my personal preferences. It is merely a suggestion. Your sentence structure feels a bit awkward, it doesn't flow as well as it could. Try varying your sentence length and choosing different words for things that you find yourself repeating often.

Okay, I confess, I tutored writing for many years before going to grad school in physics, so that side of me is coming out a little strong in this post. But seriously, I think it's a good statement, and you happen to have gone through more difficult struggles than most applying. So you've got a great response to the prompt.

Let us see the final version when you've got it finished, and good luck with your applications!
  • #3
I wouldn't worry too much about this essay. MIT is one of the most selective schools ever, so they know that people are going to do just about anything to get in there, including for example paying people to write an essay. So they aren't going to care about the essay. It's probably more a test of honesty than anything. If it looks dishonest, they might frown on that. My guess is it has no greater value than that.
  • #4
MIT Admissions says that they take the essay more seriously than you suggest. I see no reason to doubt them. Additionally, they are structured so that it would be of only marginal help to buy an essay. What would a ghostwriter do with this?

"Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at MIT appeals to you and why?"
  • #5
So they aren't going to care about the essay.
It's pretty much the exact opposite of what you said verbatim.
  • #6
I applied to MIT last year. My essay for this section was also about the death of a friend. However, the circumstances were different and perhaps affected me differently because it was suicide. This made me go back and read that essay for the first time in months.

Honestly, I don't know what advice to give you. Yeah, I got rejected, but despite that, trying to look into how you can best strengthen this particular essay is difficult. It's a tragic story sure, but plenty of people have tragic stories, and an interesting story alone (probably) doesn't make you more of a contender. I approached this essay trying to emphasize not the story but the growth that came as a result (how has a particular life experiences shaped you as a person?). Maybe I did that well, or maybe I didn't. I think you do a fair job of it. Improving your language or style is pretty trivial because your voice still comes out.

MIT is an intense and at times harsh place, according to the bloggers. Will you be psychologically resilient enough to make it through? Just a conjecture, but I think that's a major reason they have this essay. Something to think about, perhaps.

Still, all this is one reject's opinion, just speculation. If you want, I can PM you my essay for you to maybe ruminate on.
  • #7
Write about the most meaningful experience in your life that you feel that you have learned from even if it is not the most jarring event in your life. If you can channel this importance emotionally and to your development transfer it to paper you would have done the best you can.

Or work on it a bit more on your voice as a writer because given how often people die for various reasons many people will use a death in this essay just because it seems like the obvious answer so you are going to have to use your voice as a writer and channel the emotion to actually come across as you are just trying to give the reader what you think he wants to hear. This is why if there is something more important to you personally you should consider writing about that instead.

If you arent doing CS or an Engineering major. You should consider an ivy league school or another school with less science majors and more personal attention (UChicago, Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Harvey Mudd). There will be less science majors but your school will still be loaded with money which means you will get more resources in the form of professor attention and relationship building experiences available to you.
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