Students invest in expressing their diverse perspectives through writing.

Unlock the Secrets to Acing the 'Differing Opinions' College Essay

June 3, 2024

In college, you'll meet lots of people with different ideas. Sometimes, these ideas might be very different from yours. All these different ideas help us think better and grow as people. Recognizing the transformative power of these interactions, many colleges have introduced the "differing opinions" essay in their application process. Through this essay, applicants are encouraged to share moments when they grappled with perspectives different from their own, highlighting their journey towards understanding and valuing the myriad beliefs that define a learning community. It's an avenue for you to demonstrate how you've expanded your horizons and matured by embracing varied narratives.

Understanding the significance of the "differing opinions" essay

It's crucial to grasp the significance of the "differing opinions" essay in the broader context of college applications. Universities are not merely looking for academic excellence; they seek students who can contribute to a diverse and vibrant campus community. Through the "differing opinions" essay, institutions aim to assess:

  • Your open-mindedness: how well do you listen to ideas that are different from yours? Can you have a calm conversation about them without getting upset or arguing?
  • Your reflective abilities: after you talk with someone who thinks differently, do you spend time thinking about what they said? Can you learn something new about yourself or the world from these talks?
  • Your growth mindset: have these conversations changed the way you see things? Maybe they made you think in a new way or feel differently about a topic. Did they help you grow as a person and understand more about people and the world around you?

Understanding these objectives will help you approach the essay with clarity and purpose, ensuring that your narrative resonates with the admissions committee.

Examples of prompts from renowned universities

Princeton University

Princeton values meaningful dialogues on challenging subjects. Their prompt encourages you to share a personal experience where you navigated a complex conversation, focusing on the insights you gained and how you plan to apply this learning in the future:

"At Princeton, we appreciate the richness that diverse perspectives bring to our community. Can you recount a time when you engaged in a dialogue on a challenging topic? What did you learn from this, and how do you plan to apply this learning in the future? (50-250 words)"

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt believes in the strength that arises from diverse dialogues. Their prompt asks you to reflect on interactions that influenced your perspective:

"Vanderbilt University believes in the strength derived from diverse views and respectful dialogue. Can you reflect on a discussion where you encountered viewpoints different from your own? How have these dialogues or experiences shaped you? (250 words)"

Brown University

Brown promotes a culture of active dialogue and idea exchange. Their prompt invites you to share a moment where your beliefs were challenged and detail your response:

"Brown’s community encourages a vibrant exchange of ideas, both inside and outside the classroom. Could you share an instance where your ideas were challenged by others? How did you respond to it? (200-250 words)"

While each university presents its prompt with subtle differences — some focusing on intricate conversations, others on broader experiences — the core essence remains consistent. They all emphasize the importance of engaging with diverse perspectives and the resultant personal growth. These prompts invite you to reflect on instances where your viewpoints were put to the test by others and to articulate the learnings derived from such encounters. As you embark on writing your "differing opinions" essay, keep these central themes in mind, and let the following guidelines and recommendations steer your narrative.

Guidelines for writing the "differing opinions" essay

Student, on a foundation of knowledge, crafts an essay under a guiding light. A mind map on the wall sparks ideas for a well-structured argument
Make sure you consider the following guidelines.

Avoid common missteps

Limiting your narrative

Opting for scenarios where you were clearly right might seem appealing. However, true growth emerges from experiences that challenge your convictions. Seek moments that prompted you to rethink your beliefs, as these provide fertile ground for personal evolution.

🚀 Example

"I was convinced that community issues should remain internal. Yet, a conversation with a neighbor highlighted the necessity of external intervention in certain situations, reshaping my viewpoint."

Over-simplifying outcomes

Life's disagreements often lead to multifaceted outcomes. Instead of portraying a straightforward resolution, highlight the richness and depth of understanding achieved from diverse viewpoints.

🚀 Example

"Our intense debate on climate policies didn't conclude with an agreement, but it fostered mutual respect and understanding."

Being overly assertive

Use the essay to depict your growth journey, not to enforce your beliefs. Highlight the transformation in your understanding rather than focusing solely on the topic of disagreement.

🚀 Example

"My strong stance on online education evolved after a group discussion revealed its varied benefits."

Embrace constructive approaches

Exploring varied topics

While serious subjects offer depth, lighter topics can also lead to profound insights. Ensure your essay reflects thoughtful contemplation, regardless of the topic's weight.

🚀 Example

”A casual debate about pineapple on pizza led to a discussion on respecting individual choices.”

Highlighting your growth

Center your essay around the personal evolution resulting from the experience. Describe how the interaction refined your perspective or understanding.

🚀 Example

"Participating in a community project enhanced my appreciation for teamwork and the significance of diverse input."

Prioritizing respect and empathy

Even in disagreements, uphold a tone of respect and empathy. Opt for topics that allow a balanced reflection without evoking extreme emotions.

🚀 Example

"Our political differences were vast, yet our conversation remained civil, focusing on understanding rather than confrontation."

Writing about "different opinions" is more than just telling two sides of a story. It's about showing how you learn and grow from talking to others. Remember to avoid making common mistakes like thinking you're always right. Instead, focus on how talking to others can change the way you think or feel. When you write about these moments, your essay will really stand out. It will show schools that you're ready to learn and get along with others, even if you don't always agree.

Strategies for a genuine and balanced essay narrative

A true and balanced essay weaves sincerity and fairness into a harmonious narrative.

Crafting an impactful essay requires a delicate balance between acknowledging potential pitfalls and embracing positive strategies. Here are some suggestions to ensure your narrative resonates with authenticity and depth:

  • Introspection is key: before diving into writing, spend time reflecting on genuine experiences. Authenticity shines through, and readers can discern between genuine introspection and fabricated narratives.
  • Maintain objectivity: while it's essential to showcase personal growth, ensure that your narrative doesn't lean too heavily on emotional appeals. Strive for a balance between emotion and objectivity.
  • Seek feedback: once you've drafted your essay, seek feedback from mentors, peers, or teachers. Fresh eyes can offer invaluable insights and highlight areas for improvement.
  • Revise and refine: writing is a process. Don't hesitate to revise your essay multiple times to ensure clarity, coherence, and impact. Each revision brings you closer to a polished narrative.

1. Stay genuine

Using true stories

Write about things that really happened to you. People can tell if you're making stuff up. Talk about real moments, even if they seem small. It's how you felt and what you learned that's important.

🚀 Example

"At a family meal, my cousin and I talked about regular school vs. online school. It was just a chat, but it made me see good things about both."

Tell how you really felt

It's okay to say if something made you feel weird, sad, or even a bit stubborn. The key is to share how you thought about those feelings and what you learned.

🚀 Example

"At first, I wasn't sure about everyone getting free money. But after talking to people and reading, I started to see why it might be a good idea."

2. Value the journey

Recognizing the process

Remember that understanding a new perspective is often a journey, not a single event. It's okay if you didn't change your mind right away. What's important is that you were open to listening and considering another viewpoint.

🚀 Example

"I used to think city living was the only way to go. But after many chats with my countryside-loving friend, I've come to appreciate the peace and beauty of rural life."

Appreciating differences

Every person you meet has a unique background and set of experiences. By valuing these differences, you can gain a richer understanding of the world around you.

🚀 Example

"My roommate from another country introduced me to customs and traditions I'd never heard of. It was a reminder of how diverse and fascinating our world is."

3. Blend both sides

Look for shared ideas

When you and a friend think differently, it's not always about who's right or wrong. It's about understanding both sides. When writing about two different opinions, find a point where both ideas have something in common. This shows schools that you're good at listening and finding middle ground.

🚀 Example

"I once debated with my buddy about homework. I felt it was helpful, while he thought it was stressful. But we both agreed that projects were a fun way to learn. So, in my essay, I wrote about how both views made sense, but projects were something we both liked."

4. Maintain objectivity

Stay balanced

When you write about different opinions, it's essential to show both sides without taking sides too strongly. Remember, you're explaining what you've learned, not picking a winner or loser.

🚀 Example

"When discussing whether pets should be allowed in school, I talked about both the fun parts and the challenges. I wanted to show that I understood both views, even though I have my own opinion."

5. Revise and refine

Making it better

After you've written your essay, take a break and then read it again. Think about if it's clear and if there are parts you can improve. Ask someone you trust, like a teacher or a friend, to read it and give feedback. Their ideas can help you make your essay even better.
Writing an essay about different opinions can seem tricky at first. But with the right strategies, like using real stories and valuing others' views, it becomes easier. It's all about showing how we can learn and grow from listening to others. When we do this, our essay will not just be a story; it will be a journey of understanding and learning. So, as you write, remember to be genuine, value the learning journey, and find common ground. This will make your essay stand out and show schools you're ready to learn from everyone around you.


1. How do you write a challenged perspective essay?

Writing a challenged perspective essay involves recounting a personal experience where your viewpoint was significantly challenged, and discussing the insights and learnings derived from that experience. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you craft a compelling essay:

  • Identify a specific incident: start by identifying a specific incident where your perspective was challenged. It could be a conversation, a class discussion, or an event that prompted you to think differently.
  • Describe the context: provide a detailed description of the context in which the incident occurred. Mention the people involved, the setting, and the topic of discussion.
  • Present your initial perspective: clearly state your initial perspective on the issue at hand before it was challenged.
  • Detail the challenge: describe how your perspective was challenged. It could be through a counter-argument presented by someone else, a piece of information you were not aware of, or a personal realization.
  • Discuss your response: share how you responded to the challenge at that moment. Did you defend your viewpoint, or did you start to see the merit in the opposing perspective?
  • Reflect on the learning: reflect on what you learned from the experience. Discuss how the challenge affected your perspective and what insights you gained.
  • Conclusion: Conclude by highlighting how the experience has contributed to your personal growth and how you plan to apply the learnings in the future.

2. How do you write a different perspective in a college essay?

Writing about a different perspective in a college essay involves showcasing your understanding and appreciation of diverse viewpoints. Follow these steps to write an effective essay:

  • Choose a relevant topic: select a topic that is relevant and has scope for presenting diverse perspectives.
  • Research different perspectives: conduct thorough research to understand different perspectives on the topic.
  • Present various viewpoints: in the body of your essay, present various viewpoints logically and coherently, showcasing a deep understanding of each perspective.
  • Personal experience: if possible, relate the different perspectives to your personal experiences, illustrating how you have engaged with these perspectives in real life.
  • Critical analysis: offer a critical analysis of each perspective, discussing the strengths and weaknesses.
  • Your stand: towards the end, clearly state your stand on the issue, backed with reasoned arguments.
  • Conclusion: conclude by emphasizing the value of understanding and respecting diverse perspectives, and how it fosters a richer understanding of the topic.

3. What does Vanderbilt look for in essays?

Vanderbilt University is keen on understanding your ability to engage with diverse perspectives and learn from them. When writing essays for Vanderbilt, keep the following points in mind:

  • Personal reflection: the essay should focus on personal reflection, showcasing how you have grown through engaging with diverse perspectives.
  • Specific examples: provide specific examples of the dialogues or experiences where you encountered different viewpoints.
  • Learning and growth: highlight the learnings derived from these experiences and how they have contributed to your personal growth.
  • Respectful dialogue: showcase your ability to engage in respectful dialogue, valuing diverse views and voices.
  • Conclusion: conclude by discussing how these experiences have shaped you and how you plan to bring this understanding to the Vanderbilt community.

Remember to maintain a respectful and compassionate tone throughout the essay, emphasizing personal growth and understanding derived from engaging with differing opinions.


As you conclude your "differing opinions" essay, remember to highlight your personal growth through respectful discourse and understanding. Showcase how you have matured by engaging with diverse perspectives, fostering a deeper understanding and respect for various viewpoints.

Moreover, ponder the strategy of crafting a dual-purpose essay that caters to both community and differing opinions prompts, leveraging conflicts that spurred personal growth or broadened your perspective.

To further enhance your essay writing skills and gain deeper insights into crafting compelling narratives, ensure to subscribe to Aha. It is your pathway to a wealth of resources that will guide you in perfecting your narrative skills. Let your essay be a reflection of growth, understanding, and the respectful individual you are becoming through diverse interactions.

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