College Essays about Overcoming Challenges in Life

Check out these college essays about overcoming challenges in life. Frequently, the challenges that we face and overcome will make us a stronger, better person. This is one of the college application essay topics essay questions.

Last updated on April 14, 2024 by College Financial Aid Advice.

From Nowhere To Somewhere

Columbia University

College essay about overcoming challenges in life by Miltiade from New York

Splat. I felt the spitball hit the back of my neck and I quickly used my hand to detach the slime. One would think that I would be used to the spitballs that greeted me when I walked to my English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom by now. These wet weapons paled in comparison to the insensitive comments of my new American peers, who terrorized me and warned me to go back to Haiti where I was born. Why they had such negative feelings towards me, I would never know. All I knew was that in their eyes, I would never amount to anything.

A few nights later, I pounded my hands on the table with tightly closed fists and let out sighs of frustration, as I attempted to complete my homework. This frustration was all too familiar since the English language was often a barrier to my understanding the work. The words detached themselves from the composition paper and scrambled into each other. It was up to me to unscramble those words. Occasionally, I would feel an urge to give up after hours of completing only six out of the twenty grammar problems, but as I got up to assemble my books, I visualized my classmates sneering their remarks, "Haitian, go back to your country" echoed in my mind as I once again stared at my now unscrambled puzzle. It was now nine o'clock (six hours later since I returned home from school) and my body grew sore from sitting on the wooden kitchen chair. Sitting next to me, was my twin sister struggling with her homework questions, while my exhausted mother sat in the middle of us attempting to help us but couldn’t because of the lack of sleep she had due to a day job, with only a few hours before she started a night shift as a janitor.

As I combatted to complete homework assignments, “Go hang out with your friends!” thundered in my head everyday. Despite the clamor, I always decided to stay home and continue with my studies. I gave up doing the typical teenager activities like going out with friends, going to the movies/skating rink, or getting the latest Air Jordan sneakers due to the limited amount of money my mother earned. While my friends were snacking on popcorn watching the latest movies, I was at home studying the myriad subjects that filled my school schedule. Looking back at my childhood days, one may say that I was deprived of my childhood. In retrospect, I do not regret these sacrifices, for the result of such sacrifices each day helped me matriculate into the Gateway Honors Program at Clara Barton High School. It was during high school I discovered that I wanted to pursue a career in medicine, and sought out opportunities to learn more about the medical field.

One amazing opportunity that made a tremendous impact on me was the Health Professions Recruitment & Exposure Program (HPREP) at Weill Cornell Medical College, where I gained more knowledge on the medical field and hands-on anatomy laboratory experiences. As a minority with very few opportunities due to financial needs, I was truly grateful that I had the chance to excel in such a program that gave me the inspiration needed to overcome the adversities I faced towards the path to success. One year following the HPREP program, I received my acceptance letter into the distinguished Educational Opportunities Program (EOP) at the Binghamton. This achievement was very satisfying, as I knew that I wanted to excel and return to Haiti in the future to implement what I’ve learned in the U.S. to my deprived nation, therefore I continued to work hard to stay on task.

Attempting to stay on task, one early 6:00am morning while reviewing before an 8:45am Organic Chemistry course, I had a moment to myself. Full of stress due to financial problems (student account holds/home issues), I realized that my life is literally hanging on a piece of thread, which can break loose at any moment. Being unfortunate when compared to those that are financially stable, I can not afford to make any mistakes during my undergraduate years, even though I am single, and I do not have any children to care for and being dependent under my idol, my mother. Being fatherless my entire life, and having a mother that was never able to financially support me even if it meant not being able to pay for a senior trip or to attend a high school prom, I’ve learned to find beauty in simplicity. I’ve slowly managed to take care of “me”, even if it meant living on a bi-weekly Work-Study paycheck to pay a pre-paid phone service or to buy necessities while living on campus. These financial/early academic struggles I’ve been through over the years has taught me that my life is not a punishment but simply a challenge to see how much I can push myself to allow self-growth.

One significant experience that allowed myself to grow as a student and as a person was a recent 5-week study-abroad trip at Filseccam Universite in Port-au-Prince, Haiti as a volunteer teacher. Being able to travel back to my homeland with four other SUNY Binghamton students, allowed me to give others a second chance at learning the English language, something I struggled with but conquered over the years. During these 5 weeks, I made sure that my students were my first priority. I taught a classroom of 13 students. Although it was a small class, many of my students were “above the average”. In fact, there were several times I had trouble finding work to give them. It turned out these students child were considered “dirt poor” and lived on farms. It was hard to believe because they dressed so well (business causal) and came in every morning with smiles on their faces. During a small certificate ceremony that was held, I was told that the 5 weeks I taught their class, was the most enjoyable 5 weeks of their lives. I was completely ecstatic when I learned this. Although my students came from underprivileged families (like myself) and did not attend top schools, they needed a teacher to believe in them since they did not have the financial means, and I was beyond honored to be that teacher that gave them a second chance.

Waking up the last day in Haiti feeling very nostalgic and fighting back tears, I was sad to be leaving a group of amazing students that I've spent a considerable amount of time with. This 5-week study abroad program has become a part of my lifelong learning process and each experience has incorporated the skills I will need for my educational and career-related goals. Reminiscing on my academic/financial struggles, it is clear to me that these experiences have taught me to become a dedicated student and to persevere throughout my studies. My Haitian students taught me to stop lowering myself against the racial slurs of misunderstanding students and to forget about my financial instability. Instead of allowing my painful beginnings in America as an ESL student or being unable to “rock” the latest $300 pair of shoes to thwart my opportunities, I used them to overcome obstacles. As a result, I learned that where there is pain and poverty there is also beauty and happiness, we just have to look a little harder. I am grateful for financial aid and would not be in school without it.

My Struggles

College admission essay about overcoming challenges in life by Linda from New York.

I heard sounds from the conversations between Ms. Chu and the students while sitting in the Chinese classroom as a teacher aide. It may be pains to learn a language, but no gain without pains. This proverb drew fragments of memory to flash in my mind. For an instant, the time had frozen in that moment when I had just come to the United States. It resembled a dream; it felt like a fiction. I closed my eyes, and then opened them. Suddenly, I stood in the land of the United States.

The excitement of being in a new country had not faded away, but the problems had arrived. A person who has never been a foreigner in a strange country can not understand the difficulties I had. "Sorry, I do not understand," was the sentence I said most often in school. When teachers began classes, my brain filled itself with question marks and the only emotion I felt was confusion. "What are they talking about?" "What do they laugh about?" "Are they laughing at me?" This kind of thoughts began to appear in my mind. I even could not express what I thought. I lost my confidence and was upset about it. Sometimes, I thought that I became a deaf and dumb person in the United States. So the only thing I could do was copy down notes so I could translate them into Chinese at home, only to translate them back into English on my homework assignments and papers. And I guess you could say the dictionary and I were hand-in-hand.

"Please take out your homework so I can check it." The history teacher said at the beginning of the class. Did I have homework from last class? I didn’t know there was homework! I hadn’t done it! When the teacher stood next to me, I was so embarrassed and my face turned red. I could feel the temperature of my face getting higher and higher. My heart beat so quickly that it seemed to jump out of my body. I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself. The teacher looked at my desk. She did not say anything to me and but turned around to keep checking homework. After class, I asked the teacher to write down the homework for me. Oh, I just knew that homework was written on the sideboard. "It is so terrible without English." These words appeared in my mind. From then on, I did all my homework on time, and continued to study harder.

That hard work was rewarded when my ESL teacher congratulated me on my excellent grade when I received my first report card. She told me this good news with a big smile. At that moment, I felt that the sun seemed brighter. The trees seemed in high spirits. The air seemed fresher. A smile climbed up my face. And I felt a great sense of achievement from my heart. I proved to myself that I could acclimatize myself to where I lived now.

"Lindan, can you help me?" I was in a daze for a short time before recovering. "Oh, no problem." I was back in Ms. Chu's classroom, role-playing with the kids, looking at the students who were learning Chinese. In them, I seemed to see myself two years ago. I smiled proudly at just how far I've come.

See other essays about College Essays About Overcoming Challenges in Life. We hope these college essays about overcoming challenges in life can help inspire you write your best college admission essay or scholarship essay. Read more from our collection of College Admission Essays and Scholarship Essays.

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