Tips for Common App Essay Prompt #5

As you begin your college application process, you may decide to apply through the Common Application. The Common Application (also known as the “Common App”) is an advanced college application platform that allows you to apply to multiple colleges at once. The Common App has seven essay prompts for you to choose from. Here are some tips to tackling Essay Prompt #5!

Common App Essay Prompt #5

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

Things to Consider

Structuring your essay is important for any prompt, but Common App Essay Prompt #5 lends itself to a clear form. Describe the event in your first paragraph, and use the following paragraphs to demonstrate your reactions to it, and the new understanding that came out of it. Consider these ideas as you brainstorm!

Focus on personal growth

Remember, the key to prompt #5 is personal growth, so the majority of your essay should be spent on your reactions to and what you learned from the event, not the event itself. Colleges already know all of your accomplishments: the rest of your application is devoted to listing them, whether academic, athletic, or artistic. The essay is a chance for them to see your character, and prompt #5 is a chance to show them how you have grown and developed into the person you are today.

Draw inspiration from everyday life

You’ll still need to come up with some “accomplishment, event, or realization” that led to your personal growth. That can sound like a tall order – but you can find inspiration in everyday situations. Not everyone has saved a life or had a near-death experience, but almost everyone has gone through times of adversity, or overcome significant doubts about themselves or others. The event that you choose can be small, as long as your writing has a big impact.

Work backwards

If you’re struggling to find an “accomplishment, event, or realization,” try working backwards: start with a change or growth that you’ve seen in yourself over the past few years, and try and pinpoint some event (or events) that caused it. If you have a clear event that you want to write about, make sure you know what the “personal growth” or “new understanding” is before you start writing.

Think of a time you failed

Setbacks or failure are often crucial to sparking periods of personal growth. Writing about a failure won’t make you look bad. On the contrary, it can make for an honest and compelling essay. For the admissions officer, it’s all about how you respond and learn from your experiences.

What to Avoid

College admissions is all about standing out from the crowd, and your essay is a great way to do it. An essay that’s well-written and unique will always have greater impact than one that is generic. Taking that into account, some topics which are better to avoid: the death of a pet or grandparent, a sports injury or loss, or failing a test. As difficult as all these experiences can be, they are all fairly common essay topics. That being said, if you think you have a compelling or uncommon perspective on any of these topics, then by all means, go for it!