• Aaron Blumenthal

Give and Take: The 2 Key Traits

Give and take are the two key traits that you need to show in any college application essay, whether it's the Common Application main essay or a supplemental Action Essay that deals with leadership, community, problem solving.

Schools want to see how you interact with others, especially to solve problems. These crucial skills can be broken down into two categories, leadership and collaboration, that I think of broadly as demonstrating “give and take.”

You need to demonstrate both leadership and collaboration to have a well-rounded application.

Focus on 1-2 key strengths from each category. Including too many points will cause your essay to lose focus.


This is the give side: what do you have to offer to a group?

  • creative problem solving

  • delegation of tasks

  • time management

  • perseverance

  • organizational skills

  • ability to mentor others

  • willingness to take responsibility (not just for yourself, but for the team you are in charge of)

  • initiative or proactivity

  • planning skills

  • ability to resolve conflicts or mediate arguments

  • ability to perform under pressure


This is the “take” side: how well can you work with others?

  • willingness to compromise or consider others’ perspectives (especially when they disagree with you)

  • willingness to try new things, learn new skills, or take on new roles (open-mindedness)

  • willingness to assist others in a group setting, even if it doesn’t pertain to what you are directly responsible for

  • tolerance of diversity

  • empathy

  • flexibility (especially when things don’t go your way or are unfamiliar)

  • ability to understand the bigger picture

  • altruism/generosity

This is not an exhaustive list; my goal is to provide enough examples of each that you can determine your own key strengths in each category.

How do I show these traits?

Cause and effect with a specific example is the best way to prove you have these traits.

  • Cause = your strength

  • Effect = the positive impact this strength had on the group related to the main goal or problem (see my post on the Action Essay)

Here's an example, using “planning skills,” “delegation,” and “willingness to compromise” as my key strengths.

Our marketing team had a week to design a pamphlet for the final concert with information about all ten bands and advertisements. I knew that without a clear timeline we would never make the deadline, so I broke down the project into hour-long tasks. I assigned these to members of the team based on their strengths and schedules.

However, our lead editor told me that it would be impossible to do all the writing and editing in the time that I had allotted. She seemed quite frustrated. I told her that I understood how much pressure editors have and consulted her regarding which team members with the lightest workloads might be capable of picking up some of the copyediting.

With her revisions to my original timeline in place, we not only finished ahead of schedule, but produced what the musical director said was the best flyer he had seen from the program in ten years.

What are your key strengths? How did you use them to help your group solve a problem or accomplish a goal? Let us know in the comments!

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