Which question should you choose?
In this 7-part series you’ll discover which Common Application essay prompt is right for you.
You’ll learn how to think about each question and what pitfalls to avoid. I’ll give you essay examples, too.
For the complete list of 2018 Common App essay prompts click here.
Ready for prompt #5? Let’s do it!
Common Application Essay Prompt #5
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
Is this Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords
“Accomplishment, Event, or Realization”…”Personal Growth”…”New Understanding of Yourself or Others”
Do The Keywords Apply To You?
- “Accomplishment, event or realization” is a broad phrase. That’s good! It means you can choose almost anything, large or small, that you experienced, accomplished or realized.
- “A Period of Personal Growth” is when this occurred. It’s also the process of what was changing inside of you.
- “A new understanding of yourself or others” is your learning experience. It’s what you learned and how your perspective changed. When you’re writing this section think about how your experience shaped your attitude, outlook or actions, and how it helped you become the person you are today.
Why Should You Consider This Question?
Colleges Can Learn About:
- Your maturity
- Your ability to develop relationships within your family or community.
- Your insight—you can take a step back and reflect on how an experience shaped you.
Pitfalls to Avoid
- Answer the Entire Question. This question has three parts: 1. Describe your accomplishment, event or realization 2. Explain your period of personal growth 3. Reflect on your new understanding of yourself and others. You must answer all three parts.
- Avoid Being Superficial. Dig deep for your learning experience. It’s a key way you can differentiate yourself and your essay.
Example of How to Dig Deeper: My student, Alex, wrote about being a tutor. He said his new understanding about himself was that he liked to help people. While this was true, it was also superficial. Lots of students like to help people. And what did the reader truly learn about him? Not enough.
So I asked him to write out a list of words that showed the positive results of helping people, and then choose one to focus on (he could have chosen more). He chose “potential.” In his revised draft, instead of saying he “liked to help people,” he wrote about how he came to understand how much he enjoyed helping people achieve their potential, and how tutoring helped him realize his own potential as well. Alex dug deeper for his learning experience, and found a way to differentiate his essay.
Still Not Sure This is Your Topic?
Here are Questions You Can Ask Yourself:
- Did you have an experience that helped you become more compassionate or understanding?
- Did you have the opportunity to teach younger students and found that you grew or matured in the process?
- Did you have a life event that forced you to take on more responsibility?
- Did you start your own business or volunteer program, and in the process became more understanding of your community, or your own responsibilities or actions?
- Did you undertake a task, trip, or adventure that helped you mature and understand yourself better?
Example of a Successful Essay Topic
On the Flip Side
Paige was a successful competitive gymnast until she got injured and couldn’t compete. She felt lost; so much of her identity was being a gymnast. A few months later she started volunteering as a coach of the Special Olympics gymnastics team in her town. Paige made practices fun. She taught her team exercises and developed routines. But most of all, Paige taught her athletes that it didn’t matter if they won or lost, as long as they competed as a team. The team lost at state competition, but they supported each other. To Paige, that was a win.
During her experience, Paige found herself growing as a coach and mentor. She discovered that as a teacher she was capable of making sports a positive experience for others. In her essay she wrote that working with her athletes changed her; as she instilled confidence in them, they did the same thing for her. Paige also realized something fundamental about herself—it was important to her that everyone, no matter his or her differences, gets the chance to win, lose and compete. While Paige isn’t sure of her career plans, she knows she wants to continue to work with people, and support them so they can achieve their best.
Why is This Topic Successful?
All the Keywords are Addressed.
- Paige became a Special Olympics coach and trained her team for state competition—an event or accomplishment.
- It sparked a period of personal growth—she developed as a coach, teacher and role model for her team.
- She ended with a new, more mature understanding of herself—she realized that she didn’t have to be a gymnast to feel accomplished, and that it was even more fulfilling to use her skills to help others, which is what she plans to do.
- She ended with a new understanding of others—working with her Special Olympians helped her realize how important it is that everybody be given the opportunity to win, lose and compete, no matter their differences. This understanding helped shape her future.
Tip: While Paige ended up with a new understanding of herself AND others, the prompt asks for a new understanding of yourself OR others. So, if you don’t have an experience that applies to both, you’re still good.
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Sharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into creative and memorable college application essays. I work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect with me on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.
Read the entire “How to Write” series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: The Lessons We Take From Obstacles
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Questioned or Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: An Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
How to Write Common App Prompt #6: Topic, Idea or Concept that Makes You Lose Track of Time
How to Write Common App Prompt #7: Topic of Your Choice