As part of their supplemental essay prompts, many schools ask you to elaborate on a difficult conversation or a time you were challenged. How should you approach these questions? How much of a risk should you take? What is a “safe” topic to address?
While tricky at first sight, successfully tackling this type of essay can showcase that you’re someone with a growth mindset who isn’t afraid to learn from others.
Take a look at example prompts about difficult conversations below:
- At Boston College, we draw upon the Jesuit tradition of finding worthwhile conversation partners. Some support our viewpoints while others challenge them. Who fulfills this role in your life? Please cite a specific conversation you had where this conversation partner challenged your perspective or you challenged theirs. (400 words) – Boston College
- Vanderbilt University values learning through contrasting points of view. We understand that our differences, and our respect for alternative views and voices, are our greatest source of strength. Please reflect on conversations you’ve had with people who have expressed viewpoints different from your own. How did these conversations/experiences influence you? (250 words) – Vanderbilt University
- We believe there is benefit in sharing and sometimes questioning our beliefs or values; who do you agree with on the big important things, or who do you have your most interesting disagreements with? What are you agreeing or disagreeing about? (250 words) – Duke University
Start by reading the prompt carefully. For multi-part questions, make sure you address each part of the question. While Duke and Vanderbilt have asked for essays of similar length, Boston College’s gives you more room to respond to the prompt. Regardless of the word count, use your words wisely in these essays: focus on your growth, as well as how you have moved forward since the conversation. Let admissions officers understand who you are and how you engage in conflict or uncomfortable situations.
When responding to these essay prompts, pay attention to the nuances of the way the question is asked. Boston College and Duke have both asked specifically about people you’ve had hard conversations with. Even though Vanderbilt’s question is focused on the conversation itself, you should include who it is that you’ve had a differing viewpoint from. Vanderbilt and BC also specifically ask you to describe conversations that challenged your views, while Duke gives the option to write about a time you either agreed or disagreed with a person. Read these prompts carefully and respond accordingly.
Tone is important for prompts about difficult conversations. Choose a topic that reflects your honest perspective, and make sure that your tone is respectful toward others. Even if you were defending your perspective during a conflict, ensure that your tone–and your whole essay–focuses on progress and learning. If you write about a time that ended up changing your opinion on a subject, show the admissions committee that you’re open to growth. What did you learn from the difficult conversation?
Once you’ve finished a draft of a “difficult conversation” essay, read it over to consider how you come across. Does the essay demonstrate that you’re someone who isn’t afraid to be challenged or speak up for what they believe in? Does it demonstrate that you can defend your point of view while still being respectful of others?
It can be helpful to look up the college’s mission statement so you know what they value in their student body. If characteristics that reflect their values are implicitly included in your response, that is a good sign. Colleges bring together people from different backgrounds whose upbringing and values will inevitably vary. Upon reading your essay, admissions officers hope to understand how you would fit in their community–giving them a picture, for example, of how you’d handle a classroom debate or awkward dorm room conversation once on campus. Use supplemental questions about difficult conversations to let the reader to imagine how you would fit in on campus, grow as a member of a community, and flourish within their school.