SAMPLE - SETBACK ESSAY

PROFILE OF THE APPLICANT

  • Bachelor in Electrical Engineering from a reputed university in India, 2005
  • Associate Consultant at a Financial Services Company, India, 2006 - 2007
  • Consultant at a Financial Services Company, India, 2008 - 2009
  • Senior Consultant at a Financial Services Company, India, 2010 - 2011

ESSAY QUESTION

Tell us about three setbacks you have faced. (600 words) Harvard 2011-2012.

BAD EXAMPLE OF APPROACHING THIS PROMPT

I have received three major setbacks in my life so far - one of them occurred in my professional life and the remaining two in my personal life. However, all three of them helped me grow as a person.

The first setback that I faced in my life was when I broke my knee cartilage at the age of fourteen.

The writer starts off with a statement of three setbacks in his life stating that two of them were personal and one was professional. It is like telling the climax of the story in the first two sentences without providing the details of the story. Thus, he ends up killing the readers' interest who may not even feel inclined to read the rest of the essay.



GOOD EXAMPLE OF APPROACHING THIS PROMPT

Right after taking off from the ground, I crashed into the sand-pit and heard the sound "CRACK" in my left knee. Writhing in pain and looking at my swollen knee, I understood that, for one week, I had to hobble. I was 14 then.

The applicant attracts the reader's attention by providing vivid description of his boyhood story of a nasty fall. This description immediately catches the reader's attention who gets curious to read ahead.

I was taken to a hospital, where an MRI revealed that I was suffering from Discoid meniscus- a rare congenital abnormality of the knee-cartilage. I was already a promising state-level long-jumper, getting ready to represent my school at the national level school-meet. The most shattering news was I would not be able to play any outdoor game. And that put an end to all my athletic pursuit.

The writer goes on to narrate the following medical investigations that revealed an abnormality of knee knee-cartilage incapacitating him from participating in any sports activities that he was preparing himself for.

Twelve years later, I reluctantly joined the project volleyball team, as a replacement of an injured player. Though we crashed out in the first round, the experience reignited the passion for sports in me. Filled with a desire to resume sports, I joined a gym and resumed physiotherapies for my knees. Next year, I coached the team and pulled our first-round-exit team to the quarter-final. Thus, turning a first-round-exit team to a strong contender for the trophy, and making a comeback to the sports makes me feel great about my personal courage.

Just when the reader feels that this is an end of the applicant's athletic pursuits, the writer bounces back with his determination to fight back his physical handicap twelve years after the diagnosis of his ailment. Not allowing his handicap to destroy his spirit, he grabbed the opportunity of replacing an injured player and decided to venture into sports again. He strengthened his knee by physical therapy, played for his team, and succeeded in taking it to the first round. Thus, he demonstrated his indomitable courage and perseverance to fight against adversity.

A couple of years after the first accident, I met with another accident that put a question mark on my career altogether. While climbing a tree to fetch a ball trapped between two branches, I slipped and landed on my right shoulder; I ended up snapping my radius bone into two pieces and dislocating my collarbone. At that time, I was preparing for JEE, the competitive university entrance examination. After going through intensely painful physiotherapies, hot wax treatments and acupuncture for three months, I recuperated completely, but could not save my JEE results. With a distant 3330 rank, I had to opt for Architecture Engineering at an Engineering College not exactly known for its academic merit.

Without announcing that his second setback story is going to be from his professional life, he smoothly transitions into narrating another accident that put a dent in his professional career.

Though I began attending Architecture classes, I had to make a choice . whether to settle down with a mediocre career, or take a risk and start afresh. After much deliberation, I decided to take a chance and write JEE once more. I dropped out of college and prepared rigorously for nine months. Fortunately, the risk I took by losing one academic year paid me off and in xxx, I cleared JEE with a rank of 174 among more than 50K aspirants, securing a long desired place in Electrical Engineering course at the prestigious IIT.

Then he goes on to explain that he decided to drop out of college, took JEE test again, passed with flying colors, and succeeded in getting accepted by his dream school. This explains how he grew from this setback to become a stronger person.

In my professional career my most frustrating experience was in 2008, after I volunteered for a leadership role in my company. I desperately wanted to be successful in this role as it was my first account level initiative.

However, within two weeks of taking this responsibility, I realized the challenges ahead. Most of the teams were reluctant to work separately on productivity improvement, in addition to their regular client-deliverables. At times, they were not even ready to share data on their productivity. My predecessor warned me of this and advised me to escalate to the management. Assuming that an escalation would be injustice to the already over-occupied teams, I ignored her advice. Instead, I conducted multiple meeting and seminars to inspire them. Unfortunately, nothing produced the intended result. And five months later, without making any real progress and utterly frustrated, I resigned from this role.

In the end, this candidate discusses a story of his professional failure when he was not able to meet the deliverables and was forced to resign from his leadership role.

This experience, a huge blow to my self-confidence, taught me two great lessons: being assertive when required and allocating responsibilities to all. Therefore, in 2010, as Quality Improvement Coordinator, when I faced a similar situation, I did not hesitate to escalate it, and this time overall result was much positive. Thus, the single setback that I faced in my professional life taught me valuable team-working skills that I am now practicing successfully.

The last paragraph aptly summarizes the impact of this setback on him, the lessons he learned, and his resulting growth as a professional.


SUMMARY

To sum up, make sure that your opening sentence is compelling enough to draw the readers in to make them continue reading. There are several ways of making an effective beginning - a quote, an interesting description, an anecdote, a question, a startling statement, or statistics. You may use any method that works for you. In the example above, the applicant begins with a vivid description of his accident.

Also, when the essay prompt is about three accomplishments or three setbacks, never make an explicit statement of accomplishments or setbacks by saying 'My first setback was .. or 'My second setback was....' Instead, unfold your story gradually and let it be your voice that tells the Ad com how this setback impacted you, how you dealt with it, and how finally you emerged a better and stronger person.

Moreover, when choosing your experiences, make sure you choose to discuss experiences from all aspects of your life - work-life and non-work life both. Lastly, do not forget to focus on the lessons you learned from that experience.