University and internship applications often require an essay, which reflects the challenges and obstacles you have overcome in life. An essay based around the challenges in your life can be a fantastic way to illustrate how you have continued to move forward in life despite of, or because of, the challenges which have come across your path. With some preparation and editing, an essay based on a challenge in your life can be a cathartic writing experience.

List challenges which have come into your life on a blank sheet of paper. For each challenge, also list out how that challenge has shaped or inspired you to move forward. Look for a challenge which will create a powerful narrative for your prospective audience. Make sure you choose a challenge that remains authentic to you.

Outline the essay. This step will help keep you focused and clear during the writing process. An outline should consist of headers, which will represent a paragraph or topic. Underneath this heading write out a topic sentence for each paragraph. Continue creating an outline which reflects the structure you would like the essay to take. This structure will often be chronological and will take you from the beginning of the challenge to the present time -- and to the goals you have for the future.

Pull the audience in quickly, with a compelling first sentence. For example, “The teacher stared at me, frustrated, and uncertain of her next move, I still could not read the sentence out loud to the class.” Readers will want to find out what happens next in the story.

Write the challenge essay following the outline you constructed in Step 2. Utilize the topic sentences from the outline as starting points for each new paragraph. Illustrate what the challenge is, how it has changed you throughout life and, most importantly, how you plan to continue striving for more in life.

Use concise sentences to keep the narrative flowing. Stay on topic in each paragraph. You will ideally address one topic in one paragraph. Avoid cliches in the narrative. For example rather than simply saying, “I want to help children,” discuss how you will accomplish this goal and use specifics.


Avoid using contractions. Edit the essay a few times to catch any typos or grammar mistakes. Have a friend or classmate read the essay and give you feedback.

Related Articles