Tips For Approaching Unusual Essay Prompts In Scholarship Applications

Tips For Approaching Unusual Essay Prompts In Scholarship Applications

Crafting a college essay can be daunting, with the unusual essay prompt causing heightened anxiety for many students. Those fortunate enough not to have encountered trauma may feel they lack significant experiences to share, while those who have conquered substantial obstacles might be reluctant to delve into their hardships.

Crafting an essay for college admission provides you with the opportunity to express your genuine voice and showcase your personality. It allows you to personalize your application beyond just academic achievements, and a skillfully written essay can significantly impact the decision-making process positively. Interested in learning how to compose an effective college application essay?

A standard college application essay, often referred to as a personal statement, typically ranges between 400 and 600 words. Despite its apparent brevity, crafting a self-focused narrative can be a demanding task. It’s crucial not to approach it hastily or delay until the eleventh hour. Consider it a vital component of the application procedure

Regardless of your unique situation, there are strategies you can employ to streamline the essay writing process. Below, we share key insights for effectively addressing the overcoming challenges essay

What does an “Unusual Essay” entail?

The prompt about unusual essay is a common theme in both primary application essays, such as the Common App, and supplementary essays. Supplementary essays offer students the opportunity to provide additional information to schools, emphasizing the importance of selecting a subject distinct from the main essay.

There is a common misconception among students that the overcoming challenges essay necessitates the detailing of past traumas. Although it is acceptable to write about a transformative experience, it is crucial to understand that colleges do not assess students based on the severity of the obstacles they have faced.

Contrary to this belief, the primary purpose of this essay is to demonstrate to admissions officers that you possess the intelligence and resilience needed to navigate any challenges that may arise. Since college serves as a transition to adult life, schools seek assurance that admitted students are well-equipped for the responsibilities ahead.

How To Select An Essay Topic:

When choosing the most suitable topic for your essays, there is no definitive answer. The term “unusual” is open to interpretation and can encompass a variety of scenarios, such as overcoming a bully, conquering lifelong stage fright to participate in a school musical, and more. Consider the following recommendations when deciding on an essay subject.

Steer Clear Of Commonplace Or Unoriginal Subjects:

While there are no strict guidelines for selecting an essay theme, it is advisable for students to refrain from opting for well-worn topics.

Examples of such clichéd topics include:

  • Diligence in a demanding course
  • Bouncing back from a sports injury
  • Relocating schools or immigrating to the United States
  • Personal tragedies like divorce, death, or abuse

Admissions officers have encountered numerous essays on this topic, making it challenging for applicants to distinguish themselves (refer to our comprehensive list of overused college essay topics to avoid).

If significant events like these have genuinely shaped your experiences, you can still choose to explore them, but it’s crucial to infuse a high level of personal insight.

Additionally, opting for a less conventional narrative within a cliché theme is advantageous. For instance, if a sports injury led to the discovery of a new passion, that unique storyline would be more compelling than recounting the typical recovery and return to the game.

Similarly, students should avoid addressing obstacles that might be perceived as low-stakes by admissions committees, such as receiving a B on a test or having a minor disagreement with a friend.

The primary objective of this essay is to showcase how you navigate adversity, so the chosen topic should have had a meaningful impact on your personal growth.

Choose A Topic That Showcases The Attributes You Wish To Emphasize:

Students often erroneously believe that they must have encountered extraordinary situations such as poverty, parental abuse, or illness to craft a compelling essay. However, the reality is that the most effective topics enable you to showcase specific personal qualities and provide insight into your character.

Rather than focusing solely on the challenge itself, the essay should emphasize how you responded to it.

Consider which personality traits you wish to underscore and assess any gaps in your application. If, for instance, you aim to highlight your adaptability, but it is not clearly evident in your application, you could explore writing about a challenge that tested your adaptability or transformed you into a more flexible individual.

Certainly! Here are some instances of compelling topics that we’ve come across throughout the years:

  • Taking on the role of a coach for a sports team in the absence of a designated one.
  • Assisting a parent through a significant health challenge.
  • Advocating for the dedication of the school track to a coach.
  • Navigating a last-minute switch in your position for Model UN.

Tips For Approaching Unusual Essay Prompts In Scholarship Applications

Commence Your Writing Process Ahead Of Time:

Writing under pressure is challenging for most individuals. Aim to finish your initial draft several weeks prior to the submission deadline. Some advisors suggest initiating the process as early as the summer before your senior year in high school. This approach allows you sufficient time to contemplate the prompt and create the most compelling personal statement.

While it’s not necessary to dedicate time to your essay every day, allocate enough time for revisions and editing. This time investment gives you the flexibility to reconsider your topic or find a more effective framing. Regardless of the adjustments you make, starting early enhances the overall quality of your work.

Comprehend The Prompt and Follow Instructions:

Prior to embarking on the writing journey, ensure a thorough understanding of the college’s expectations. It is crucial to avoid hastily going through the instructions, as submitting a piece that falls short of the minimum requirements or fails to address the essay topic is counterproductive. Carefully examine the prompt, take note of the specified word count, and pay attention to any distinctive details outlined by each school.

Craft A Compelling Introduction:

Many students encounter difficulty initiating their application essays. The process of writing can be quite demanding, especially when it comes to finding the perfect opening words.

Devoting extra time to developing your introduction is highly recommended. The initial sentence establishes the tone for the entire essay. The opening paragraph plays a crucial role in capturing the reader’s attention, instantly distinguishing your essay from others.

Stick To The Subject:

It’s crucial to consistently adhere to the essay prompt. When applying to numerous colleges, there’s a tendency to deviate from the main theme due to the multitude of application essays.

A frequent error made by many students is attempting to adapt pre-existing essays to meet the specific requirements of different colleges. While this might seem like a convenient shortcut to avoid creating entirely new pieces, it typically leads to an end product that is generic, lacks focus, or is perplexing. It’s advisable to invest the time and effort to craft a fresh essay for each application, regardless of the duration it may require.

Consider Your Response Carefully:

Instead of attempting to second-guess what the admissions officials might prefer, crafting an essay becomes more effortless and captivating when you genuinely feel enthusiasm for your chosen subject. For instance, if everyone around you is delving into application essays about covid-19, it might be wise to explore a different topic unless you had a truly compelling, life-altering experience during the pandemic that you’re eager to share. Regardless of the chosen subject, steer clear of generic responses and embrace creativity.

Emphasize Your Individuality:

While essay prompts often offer considerable flexibility, the panel anticipates you to delve into a personal (yet not excessively intimate) and unique aspect of your life. According to admissions counselors, the most compelling essays reveal something about the candidate that cannot be gleaned from the rest of the application.

Stick To Your Authentic Voice:

Speak like you normally do. Picture yourself sharing this essay with a room full of strangers. Stay confident and avoid using fancy language that doesn’t feel natural.

Be Real And Stick To The Facts:

When it comes to details, be real and stick to the facts. Share genuine experiences from your life. You might have the opportunity to explain why a certain accomplishment is significant to you, but don’t go overboard with exaggeration. Remember, admissions counselors go through numerous essays, and they can easily tell when something is not genuine.

Revise And Proofread Your Work:

Once you’ve completed the last version, utilize the spell checker on your computer. Refrain from reviewing your essay for a few days to enhance your ability to identify typos and awkward grammar upon revisiting. Following this, seek feedback from a teacher, parent, or college student, preferably someone with expertise in English or communications. Additionally, take a moment to verify your word count.


Creating essays for college admission may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. A skillfully composed essay could make all the difference, working to your advantage. Remember these guidelines, and you’ll easily produce memorable pieces for each application.

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