College Essays Overcoming Obstacles in Life

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

Last updated on June 20, 2024 by College Financial Aid Advice.

How You Can Overcome Certain Obstacles

University of Massachusetts

Sample College Admission Essay – Personal Story by Brittany from Massachusetts

Life can be an ongoing war with many fierce battles; I have not won every battle however I am determined not to lose this war. My first major battle started when I was two years old and was diagnosed with epilepsy. The dictionary website defines epilepsy as “any of various disorders marked by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain and typically manifested by sudden brief episodes of altered or diminished consciousness, involuntary movements, or convulsions.” Epilepsy has affected several aspects of my life such as my education, my sports ability and fear has caused to take over during my day to day activities.

My education has been affected by epilepsy; however I have always been determined to overcome my struggles through persistence and hard work. Due to the seizures caused by my epilepsy my ability to retain the information that is being taught in classes has been tough. Each time I have a seizure scar tissue builds therefore making it more difficult for me to retain and remember information. My short term memory has also been extremely affected due to these seizures. Working with my doctors, teachers, and family I have developed skills and exercises that help me to overcome these problems. Being diagnosed with epilepsy has led me to develop a deep interest in Biology and Forensics; and I would like to go on and study Biology and Forensics in college. I have the passion of learning more about epilepsy in college, that way I could help other Epileptics through tough times. Facing these difficulties in my education head on has made me a stronger and more determined student and an, athlete.

Throughout my childhood I have been a part of a very competitive family. Most of my family has been involved in a sport. Ever since I was young I was pushed to become a stronger athlete but I was held back because of the effects of Epilepsy. Epilepsy only gave me so much energy compared to someone who was normal and did not have this abnormal problem with their brain. Epilepsy has challenged me by limiting the amount of time that I can participate in a game and the amount of effort I can put into the game without damaging myself. This had made me more determined to remove the epilepsy from my brain so I can become a stronger more long-lasting athlete. My family’s love of intensive sports, made me believe that someday I could be as competitive as them in the athletic category. The only thing that could keep me from becoming a star athlete would be the capability of not having a seizure on the court.

I found that there was one solution and one solution only to beat the battle of having epilepsy. I had the choice of having the cause of my seizures removed by a surgical procedure. For the benefit of my future I chose to proceed with the surgery to remove the scar tissue causing me to have seizures. I had the pleasure of seeing the scalpel in the OR before I was put under Anesthesia and after seeing the scalpel my passion for the medical field grew immensely. Going through the recovering phase was critical but teaches me how important a non- stressful recovery is. This recovery has led me to have a deep passion for people that have to go through more critical surgeries than a cranial opening. The battle of epilepsy has now been won. I have had the exciting experience of being a year seizure free. Now being seizure free has changed me and the way I think about disabilities greatly.

Throughout life you can lose a battle but not a war. Being diagnosed with epilepsy was a crucial experience but I made it through the battle. I am trying my hardest to not let me memory be taken over by the epilepsy. I am also trying to succeed in sports without being attacked with a seizure on the court. Going through the process of having my epilepsy removed has given me an advantage for my future. I will not live a day without being prepared to fall down to the floor and have a seizure. Having epilepsy has made me a stronger person on attempting to successfully excel in the Forensics and Biology world. I will not let that battle hold me back from succeeding through life.

Then I Will Build Them

Overcoming Obstacles College Essay by Patrick from Illinois

If I Can’t Fly the Aircraft…Then I Will Build Them - If I could choose one person in the United States history to be my idol, it would be Jim Lovell, the commander of the Apollo 13 mission. You see all my life I wanted to serve my country as a member of the NASA astronaut team as he did. In my opinion, he embellishes all that it means to be an American as evident of his actions during the “successful failure” that was the catastrophic mission which he commanded. I believe that he and I share several common traits, such as passion for aerospace and the ability to keep a level head under extreme pressure. We both have the ability to persevere and move forward despite numerous setbacks and seemingly insurmountable odds.

When Jim Lovell was hurling through space towards the moon at over eleven miles per second, he had to acknowledge the fact that his dreams of landing on the moon were impossible to achieve after disaster struck his spacecraft. I had to come to the same realization that my dreams of ever flying in space were unattainable when disaster struck for me in the form of a diagnosis. I had been collapsing at various times without any formal cause. All of the diagnostic tests were negative until my sixteenth birthday when I suffered a grand mal seizure while talking to my friend. All of the previous attacks were now linked to epilepsy.

The neurology team told me that I could live a normal life with the exception of two things: serving in the military and piloting an aircraft. I felt as if my dreams had been shattered. I had worked so hard in school and had planned so intently for my future career as a naval aviator only to be told that my dream was unattainable. I spent hours researching my options. The setback forced me to reevaluate my dreams and opportunities. I accepted the situation and continued to move forward. I applied for a chance to participate in a week long summer engineering camp at Purdue University which introduced me to the field of aerospace engineering. I knew from day one that this was my new career path. I decided that... If I can no longer fly the aircraft then I will design them. I plan to obtain both my baccalaureate and masters degree in the area of aerospace engineering.

I am using Jim Lovell’s set back due to circumstances beyond his control as motivation for my own challenges. I hope that my studies in aerospace engineering at Iowa State University will allow me to impact the world in a positive manner in this new role as well as Mr. Lovell did in his role as the commander of the Apollo 13 mission. I have been able to remain in honors classes with a perfect attendance record in high school. I have played football and volleyball during school and worked full time as a lifeguard during the summers. These experiences have made me stronger and more determined to achieve my career goals.

Please consider me for the EAA scholarship. I will use the funds to off set the costs of learning how to build the machines that I had once hoped to fly. I will meet the educational challenges with the same determination that I used to overcome the epilepsy. Thank you for your consideration.

A Change in Path

Personal Story College Essay written by Ayme from Massachusetts

Everything changes when you lose what you know. You think you have your path planned out to the exact date and time it will all happen for you, and then in an instant it's gone. I trained 20 hours a week; 6 hours on Sundays. No social life, nothing other than gymnastics. All for the satisfaction I got when I did a routine. When I let my feet carry me across the carpet, pointing and leaping, twirling and landing. It was perfection. The burn on the ball of my foot after a turn, the glide of my ribbon across my hand before I let it sail through the air, the smack of my clubs against my palms after a toss double roll catch; gymnastics was me. It was everything. I was an elite rhythmic gymnast and everyone thought I was headed toward the National Team. And just as I was beginning to believe them, I injured my back, and my reality became nothing more than a fantasy.

I remember the day I went to see the doctor. I was sure he was going to merely suggest a couple of days rest. This I could live with. See it’s a love, hate relationship with gymnastics. There were days when I would come home from school lying about how much homework I had so that I would miss at least an hour of practice. And there were times I would lie and say I had no homework at all so I could go to practice early. At the appointment the doctor told me things I already knew; I could have stayed home for him to tell me that I had scoliosis and a twisted tailbone. He scheduled me for an MRI and I went through it in a careless state; all I could think was how overboard the doctor was getting to analyze a case of scoliosis I’ve always had. I just wasn’t that worried. I knew I would be back in the gym soon enough, well rested from a mini-vacation. I remember returning when the results were in. On the car ride over I joked about what a relief it would be to know if my baby was a boy or a girl. I even made up names for the possible genders. I walked into the office, not bothering to take a seat because I was certain it was nothing serious. Instead I was told that there was a new imperfection in my back; now I was up to scoliosis, twisted tailbone and a stress fracture. The doctor spoon-fed me this sugar coated lecture, saying “it would be very risky to continue gymnastics, you don’t have to quit, you just can’t compete or train at your level anymore but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of your gym” but I knew it meant I wouldn’t do gymnastics ever again. I felt as if the floor collapsed from underneath me.

Yes, after you lose something you were, things get hard. For the longest time I felt weak. Utterly fragile. My family looked at me with that pitiful, belittling look. The one my brothers would give me after realizing why I was home after asking why I wasn’t at gymnastics. The one that reminded me that gymnastics was really gone. I tried to find a replacement, dipping my feet in other sports, clubs, arts, but nothing quite compared. I was searching for the feeling I had when I did gymnastics. That complete satisfaction. There was a sort of security I felt when I lost myself in a routine; it was my savior. Through all my attempts, I wrote. Stories, songs, poems, diaries, they all kept me sane. I could write up a whole life for my characters, down to the exact date and time, and the only outside force was me. I chose their lives. Not injuries or doctors…me. It took me a while to realize that the two feelings came hand in hand. That when I write, and my fingers dance across the keyboard it’s to the rhythm of my story; my fingertips burn as I smack them against the keys and my hands glide over the board with intention.

Writing is my routine now; my only apparatus are my hands and fingers rather than my ball, clubs, ribbon or hoop. As overheard it may be, my loss helped me. I wouldn’t have started writing unless I stopped gymnastics. Or rather I wouldn’t have taken writing seriously. I do still feel lost sometimes. I still cry whenever I watch anything to do with gymnastics. And I still don’t have my map planned out, I have no idea how far my aspiration of writing will take me, but I know I want to walk down this path. And I know I’m no longer weak. I’m now an open book, and I like the vulnerability of that.

Failing Successfully

College Essays Overcoming Obstacles in Life

College essay written by Fatou of Michigan

My day in the sun had arrived – my magnum opus would be revealed. I had just delivered a memorized speech that I had labored over for weeks, and I was about to learn how the panel judged my performance. The polite but sparse audience leaned forward in their folding chairs. A hush fell across the room. The drum rolled (in my mind, anyway).

The contest organizer announced the third-place winner. Alas, the name was not mine. Then he read the second-place winner, and once again it was moment of truth came. Either I was about to bask in the warmth of victory or rue the last several months spent preparing. While neither of these came to pass, my heart felt closer to the latter.

Losing is a part of life, and I have dealt with the emotional baggage that travels shotgun with it on more than one occasion. However, it was an indescribably underwhelming feeling to drive 200 miles round trip, get up obscenely early on a freezing Saturday morning, and yet still finish fourth out of four contestants. After Lincoln lost the 1858 Illinois Senate race, he reportedly said, “I felt like the 12-year-old boy who stubbed his toe. I was too big to cry and it hurt too bad to laugh.” Oh yeah, I could relate.

I had spent many hours in front of a computer and in libraries doing research for the Lincoln Bicentennial Speech Contest. As I pored over several biographies, one notion stood out: Lincoln was handed many sound defeats, but he never allowed them to (permanently) hinder his spirit or ambition. While I believe many history lessons can be applied to modern life, I hadn’t considered “the agony of defeat” as a historically valuable learning experience. I never dreamed I could relate to Lincoln! A president no less, and the greatest at that. I thought “failing successfully” was a very appropriate topic, given the many letdowns Lincoln experienced, and so this became the title of my speech.

After not placing in the first year of the speech contest, I really wanted to compete again. Lincoln had been the epitome of persistence, so I was not going to give up on a contest about a historic individual who did not give up! I reworked my speech for the following year, and while I did not come in last, again I did not place. Some days you’re the dog, and some days you’re the hydrant, and this was definitely a hydrant day that brought me down for a while.

I couldn’t accept the fact that I had failed twice in something that I had worked so hard on, until I contemplated the individual whom I’d spent so much time learning about. Never mind the lost prize money(ouch, major) and praise (ouch, minor) – I had learned, really learned, about a great man who had experienced failure and disappointment, and had many chances to give up. We remember Lincoln because he didn’t take this route; he didn’t throw lavish pity-parties, and he persevered to become, according to many, the greatest American president.

While I did not earn monetary awards as a result of this contest, I did gain a new perspective. Through learning about Lincoln, I discovered that I can fail successfully, and that it is possible to glean applicable wisdom from the lives of those who have come before us. Now, whenever I’m faced with a setback, I remember what Lincoln said after his unsuccessful 1854 Senate race: “The path was worn and slippery. My foot slipped from under me, knocking the other out of the way, but I recovered and said to myself, ‘It’s a slip and not a fall.’”

More College Essays 

We hope these college essays about overcoming obstacles in life can help inspire you write your best college admission or scholarship essay. Read more from our collection of college essays.

College Admission Essay

Scholarship Essay Samples

Scholarship Essay Examples

Help with College Essays

College Application Essay Topics

Personal Statement Essay

ChatGPT College Essay

ChatGPT Essay Writer

HomeCollege Application EssayCollege Essays Overcoming Obstacles in Life


Welcome to College Financial Aid Advice, a website full of information on scholarships and grants, student loans, and other ways to save money at college.

Important Things to Do

Scholarships for 2025 - 2026 - It is never too early or too late to work on your scholarship searches. If you are part of the high school class of 2025, you should work on your scholarship and college search now. See our list of Scholarships for High School Seniors

FAFSA - The official 2024 - 2025 FAFSA is available now. FAFSA.

College Financial Aid Tips

Scholarship Lists An overview of the different types of Scholarship Money for College.

Grants Learn more about grants, the other free money for college.

Need Tuition Help? Reduce the cost of tuition with these college Tuition Assistance Programs.

Tax Credit Claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

College Savings Plans Save money for college with these College Savings Plans.

Need a Student Loan? Yes, you qualify for these college Student Loans.

Popular Scholarship Searches

Scholarships for High School Students

Scholarships for College Students

Easy Scholarships

Scholarship Contests

Weird Unknown Scholarships

Merit Based Scholarships

Scholarships for Minorities

College Scholarships for Women