What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

FAQs About “Challenge Essay” Topics

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Robert Crystal and Kaila Barber in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


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In this article, we provide insights into how to write about different types of challenges in a challenge-based personal statement in order to help you highlight your skills, values, interests, and qualities. For more information about challenge-based personal statements and examples of successful essays, check out our post on how to write the “Overcoming Challenges” essay


Writing About a Challenge That You’re Currently Facing


Students often want to know whether they can write about an ongoing challenge that they are still dealing with. If you are going through a challenge, make sure you phrase it in a way that focuses on what you’re doing and what you’re learning, not just the challenge itself. 


If you find that you don’t have much to say when it comes to what you are doing and what you are learning, that may mean your challenge is so recent, you haven’t started working through it and overcoming it yet. In a case like this, it would be best to choose a different challenge, one where you have information that you can include regarding what you did and learned. You can also go for a different personal statement prompt that is not challenge based.


Writing About Challenges from Childhood


Sometimes, students wonder how far back they can go in recounting challenges. While many students have faced difficulties early in life, these can be tricky to write about in a challenge-based essay because there may have been limitations to the possible steps that they could have taken to overcome the challenge. 


For example, if you experienced a major challenge when you were four, the steps that you could have taken to overcome it would have been limited by your age. In contrast, if the challenge occurred in middle or high school, you likely could have taken—or did take—significant steps to move forward and to reflect on what happened and grow from the experience.


That said, the challenge that most significantly shaped who you are is usually the best one to write about, even if it occurred early in life. If you do choose to write about a challenge from your childhood, be sure to demonstrate clearly what you did about it, what you learned from it, and how it connects to who you are today.


Writing About Multiple Challenges


Many students ask whether it is better to focus on just one challenge or to include multiple ones. There is no one way to do this, as successful essays can be written with one challenge or with multiple.


In general, it is usually easier for students to write this essay when they focus on just one challenge. You can be direct with what it was, and it also leaves you more space to talk about the different ways that you overcame said challenge, as well as what you learned from it.


That said, it is possible to discuss multiple challenges, especially if they are related to each other and you can better demonstrate what you did and learned.