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How to Successfully Answer Common App Prompt #5

In this post we’ll take a closer look at the fifth prompt from the Common App to which students can respond. It reads as follows:

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Have you had an “aha moment” that helped set your future trajectory? Have you dedicated significant time or energy into a goal or project that finally came to fruition? Perhaps you’ve begun to see yourself in a different light than you once thought.

If this is true for you, Common App essay prompt five is a great vehicle for you to share your story. Let’s explore a few strategies to make this answer pop for you.

Think Beyond the Common

Perhaps you haven’t really spent time thinking about it, but there are quite a few class presidents, Model UN Delegate award winners, varsity team captains, and leads in the spring musical throughout the world’s many high schools. Accomplishing these goals takes hard work and should make you proud; but they are not inherently unique.

For this to be the focus of your personal statement, your accomplishment in sports, school-based extracurriculars, music, or drama need to be extraordinary. If, for example, you’ve competed in your sport at a national or Olympic level, that experience could well be worth chronicling.

Likewise, if you’ve participated in a community service or mission trip that opened your eyes to inequities in the world, it probably left a mark on you and your thinking. And while this is personally valuable and to be celebrated, it often makes for the basis of an essay your admissions officer has read many times before. Further, it’s hard to convince a reader of the heft of the “new understanding of yourself or others” you will have gained from a week or even month-long service trip.  If, on the other hand, you have a multi-year record of commitment to championing a cause where you can show significant growth and personal investment of time and energy, this could make for a powerful Common App essay.

Before and After

The key to showing growth is establishing a starting point. Where did you begin? How were you thinking or behaving prior to your accomplishment or realization?

Embrace vulnerability and be open to admitting past prejudices or assumptions. Give your reader a chance to get to know how you’ve grown. Perhaps you were under confident in your own ability until your big accomplishment. Or perhaps you didn’t know what to expect when you started a project with a person you’d never met before.

None of us are born finished products. Illuminating the steps of your progress can make you appear more relatable—the kind of student who would make a great roommate or lab partner.

Avoid focusing on the negative, however. Be economical with your words. Leave ample room to reflect on the changes you’ve made and the new perspective with which you carry yourself. This is the gold in your story.

Don’t Get Lost in the Details

In telling a story about an accomplishment or meaningful life experience, it can be easy to get caught up in the details. Don’t lose sight of the main purpose of your essay – to create an advocate in the admissions office.

It’s less important that you recount every beat of your story than that you reflect openly about what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown. Your accomplishment is the entry point – the appetizer, if you will. The main course is the evidence your elevated thinking and self-awareness.

As you craft your response to this Comic App prompt, ask yourself “why” you made the choices you did at every turn. This will help push you past the specific details of those turns into the deeper self-examination required of a standout essay.

Leave Room for Growth

While you want to demonstrate your personal growth or new understanding to your reader, leave room for further developments. You may feel strongly about the new conclusions you’ve drawn but remember how they’ve already evolved; they will continue to do so as you learn more and have new experiences.

Your admissions officer wants to advocate for students who are open-minded to what their college has to offer them. They want students who will engage will new, often uncomfortable perspectives that stretch their thinking and open up new avenues of exploration. If you appear to be an already cooked egg, metaphorically-speaking, it will be harder to envision you’ll hatch among this dynamic growth.

Sharing your point of view and the events that are shaping it can make for a powerful personal statement. If you feel like you have a unique story that fits this prompt, approach it with specificity and openness. You’ll be well on your way to success!

The expert admissions consultants at Wise World Prep have helped hundreds of students maximize their potential of being admitted to their top choice colleges and universities. Over 20 years, we have successfully guided students through each stage of the application process – from choosing competitive high school courses to building an appropriate college list to drafting winning essays to writing persuasive update and appeals letters. We would be happy to answer your questions and partner with you to create a successful admissions roadmap.

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