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Analyze the Prompt

When a prompt asks you to describe a setback, it's not asking you to show an instance in which you failed. Rather, it's asking you to demonstrate how you overcame adversity and how you learned from the experience.

Show, Don't Tell

This old writing adage always holds true. Don't just tell the admissions committee that you're persistent in the face of adversity: show them this trait by illustrating it in your personal statement.

Be Personal!

They don't call it your "Personal Statement" for nothing. Show us the real you; be personal and revealing. Show us how you feel, how you think, and what you believe. You are unique, and your personal statement should reflect that.


Describe a setback that you have faced. How did you resolve it? How did the outcome affect you? If something similar happened in the future, how would you react?

Original Essay

It was two years ago when I hurt my arm and couldn't pitch in any more baseball games for a long time. It was very hard for me to be hurt, physically and psychologically. I had tendonitis, which is very frustrating, and not easy to know what it is like just a broken bone. It got worse all the time when I was throwing, and sometimes I couldn't feel my right hand anymore. It was hard mentally too, because of how frustrated I became as it got worse and worse. Finally I knew it was too bad, and I couldn't use my right arm for a few months.

I just sat around and got angry about my bad luck for awhile, which of course did nothing but make me more frustrated. But then I was inspired by a new thought. I thought about how many famous soccer players play with both feet. This made me think I maybe could throw with my left hand.

It would definitely be hard, but I had decided to try. I remember when I started off my neighbor across the street saw me throwing and said I threw "like a girl." However, I wasn't going to give up so quickly.

I began by throwing into my bed, with the covers bundled up on one side to absorb shock. Next I threw at an old rug I had suspended from the rafters with a bungee cord in my garage. Next I went to my backyard and threw into a net tied on one side to a tree and on the other side to a fence. But even then when I had a large net as a target, I had to keep repairing the fence behind the net. But I kept throwing and throwing and throwing, and after a few months I was playing long toss. Much to my surprise, I now was feeling nearly as comfortable throwing left-handed as right-handed.

I finally felt ambidextrous, but I had also learned a lot. I had gained confidence learning to learn something very new to me. I hadn't known how to throw left handed at all before, so I had to learn how to do it step by step. I taught my muscles to throw this way with a lot of repetitions. But I also learned that motion and action are different things. I noticed that repetition needs intention along with it to be useful. But then there were some times when I just had to do my best to back off and not think too much and be forcing the situation.

I learned some things from all this that helped me with my schoolwork as well. Two of my favorite subjects are physics and mathematics. Now when I do physics or math problems, I always attempt something a little harder than what I think I can do at that time, just like I tried to make pitches that I wasn't quite able to do at that time with my left hand. But each time I tried something difficult for me, I got better and eventually could do it.

My coaches and teammates were very surprised when I threw left-handed in practice for the first time and this made all the hard work worth it. Finally in the end my right arm got better and I could throw with it again, but by then I was no longer sorry I had injured it in the first place. Actually I was happy that it happened because I would have never challenged myself and learned to throw left-handed. Now I am not so worried about injuries or bad luck because I know it's true as my dad says "each door that closes two more open".

Edited Essay

Two years ago I injured my right arm, and as a pitcher was facing a few long months without baseball. I was angry, frustrated, and anxious. The injury itself was tendonitis, an elusive malady, not easy to pin down like a simple broken bone. Tendonitis acts like a rash; it spreads only when "itched." The more I threw, the more it spread, until some days I would lose the feeling entirely in my right hand. But the psychological aspect was the most painful - the injury was a knife in my mind, sinking deeper the more I struggled. So I unenthusiastically resigned myself to not using my right arm for a few months.

At first I simply sat and grew angry at my misfortune, which of course did nothing but drive the knife of despair deeper. But then a funny idea popped into my head. I thought about how many famous soccer players are equally skilled with both feet, and wondered: could I learn to throw left-handed?

I took the first and most difficult step: I decided to try. It was an unsteady enterprise at first; my neighbor took one look at one of my earlier attempts at throwing left-handed, and scoffed that I threw "like a girl." However, I was persistent.

I began by throwing into my bed, with the covers bundled up on one side to absorb the shock. Eventually I moved into the garage, where I threw into an old rug I had suspended from the rafters with a bungee cord. Next came the great leap into the backyard, where I threw into a net tied on one side to a tree and on the other to a fence. Even at that point, with a large net as a target, I had to make continual repairs to the fence. But I kept throwing and throwing and throwing, and after a few months I was playing long toss. Much to my surprise, I now felt nearly as comfortable left-handed as right-handed.

However, the most important part of this strange experiment was not the ambidexterity I gained. On the contrary, it was what I learned about learning itself. Because I began at rock bottom, I was forced to acquire an intimate understanding of how one learns something entirely foreign. I learned to coax my muscles into memorizing tasks through pure repetition. At the same time, I had to uncover the subtle difference between motion and action. I realized repetition alone was worthless - it must be accompanied by clear intention. However, I also found there were times when I needed to simply back off and not "overthink" or force the situation.

One especially useful technique I discovered during my trials I have since applied to quite different fields: physics and mathematics. The trick was always to attempt something (be it a pitch or a problem) just beyond what I was presently capable of doing. By reaching just beyond my grasp, I grew tremendously.

The surprise on the faces of my coaches and teammates when I first threw left-handed in practice justified all the long hours of sweat. Eventually my right arm healed, but by then I was no longer sorry it had been hurt; in fact, I was thankful. I now understood what Napoleon meant when he observed "Opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat." I no longer fear injury, bad luck, or misstep; I know firsthand that for each door that closes two more open. In the future, I will fear no failure, for I now see opportunity lurking in the guise of adversity.