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University of Michigan-Ann Arbor : Setback Essay : Failed Calculus Course

mstickel 5 / 21  
Dec 8, 2009   #1
[A] 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?

It was the last day of school, and I was excited to go home and enjoy the summer. Before leaving, I went to go see how I did on my Calculus final exam, and staring back at Mrs. Bilinski, it was obvious that something wasn't quite right. She had that look in her eye that cannot be explained, but you know it when you see it, and she asks me, "What am I going to do with you?"

As the only sophomore in the class, it was no surprise to anyone that I was less mature than the rest of the juniors and seniors in my class. In addition, two-months before the AP Exam, I decided I was going to take the Calculus BC exam, and that became the primary focus of my life. This was however at the expense of the grades in my other classes. This combination inevitably did me in, and I failed both quarters of the final semester.

So I was wondering, "What is she going to do to me?" I was worried by then, I knew I hadn't done well in the class, but I was really hoping my final exam would be high enough to pull my grade out of the failing range. The truth was I had totally aced the exam, but disappointingly, it wasn't good enough to bring my grade up. Chills ran up my spine and I lost focus of my surroundings as the reality set in that I had lost credit in a class. Almost as if my life had passed before my eyes, I felt like a miserable failure, and made up my mind that I had ruined the rest of my academic life, and possibly so.

And so what was she to do with me? I got my AP scores back in July only to discover I received a 5 on the AB subsection of the BC exam, and a 4 overall. This only reinforced the stupidity of what I had done. I passed the national exam with higher scores than the students who had an A in the class, and yet I was the one retaking the class my junior year.

The experience shed light on how truly important my grades in high school are and how much that they can affect my future. Especially after struggling with my grades again during my junior year, my senior year has become that much more important to me and my future.

And so now the question is what was I to do with myself? And the answer is that I had to change my entire way of doing things. I must work harder than ever to prove to everyone that I will not allow myself to be a failure, and I will live up to the expectations that have been placed upon me. I will not allow my past failures to bring me down and indeed I will succeed.

Is this good?
Notoman 20 / 419  
Dec 8, 2009   #2
Try to put this more into the active voice where you can. I know that it isn't always possible to avoid the "to be" verbs, but the more you can omit, the better. Take a look at your verbs to see what I am talking about ... was,was, leaving, went, to go, did, staring, was, wasn't, had, cannot ...

The tenses switch back and forth from past to present tense to the future. Try to find a construction that allows for better consistency.

There doesn't seem to be enough of a lesson learned at the end of the essay. You say that you struggled with grades your junior year and there isn't much of an indication how things have been progressing your senior year. The prompt is asking for a setback, but it is also asking what you have learned from that experience. Don't give the admission personnel the impression that you are brilliant, but would still be at risk of failing out.

Here are a couple of little corrections:

She had that look in her eye

I don't know if this is necessarily wrong, but it sounds weird to me. Does your teacher have only one eye? Do her eye work independently from one another? I'd avoid all that by making "eye" plural.

As the only sophomore in the class, it was no surprise to anyone that I was less mature than the rest of the juniors and seniors in my class.

You can omit "in my class" at the end of this sentence. It is redundant and builds up your word count without building up the beef of the essay.
OP mstickel 5 / 21  
Dec 8, 2009   #3
Thank you VERY much. I needed this. I'm touching up my essay right now.

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