Common App Week: Prompt 5 Breakdown and Brainstorming Tips

Prompt 5 promises to be an oldie but goodie. It’s seen some changes but nothing that has radically transformed the way in which we need to think about it. Welcome to Edbrand’s Common App Week! Every blog post looks at a new prompt and helps you think about how to ideate about the essays that, for the most of you are going to be due real soon! Lets dive in to prompt which opens as: “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.”

This is the most heavily revised of last year’s prompts, which used to ask students to describe a transition from childhood to adulthood. The purview of the inquiry has been expanded to ask about personal growth in general, leaving the lessons and timing of an applicant’s transformation more open-ended. You are also now free to reflect on a “realization” in addition to an “event” or “occurrence.” While a realization that changes your understanding of the world will likely be sparked by a concrete marker (i.e., an event or accomplishment). 

There are a few things to note when unpacking this prompt. Keep in mind that the words “accomplishment” and “event” leave themselves open to interpretation; thus, an essay inspired by this question can tackle anything from a formal event to a very small occurrence. A formal event or accomplishment might include anything from obvious landmarks like birthdays or weddings, to achievements like earning an award or receiving a promotion. More informal examples might include something as simple as meeting a special person in your life, taking a car ride, or eating a particularly meaningful meal. We have often found that smaller, less formal events make for more surprising and memorable essays, but as with any of the other prompts, as long as you can answer with originality and put a unique twist on your subject matter, all ideas, formal or informal, big or small, are fair game.

Its important to note here that this prompt seems like you need to have a life-changing experience to qualify. You don’t. You just have to share something formative and memorable (to you, not necessarily to anybody else). Think of this as a before-and-after story. Explain who you were before, describe the accomplishment or event, and the reveal who you became after

Collegewise had some interesting anecdotes about students who wrote an essay with this prompt: 

‘We worked with a student who gave up his starting spot on the football team so he could become a youth group leader at his church. For him at that time, it was a big deal to acknowledge that faith was a lot more important to him than football. That’s a before-and-after story. Another student wrote that after her parents’ divorce, she started doing all the cooking for her and her father. (As she described it, “My dad can only make grilled cheese.”) She titled that essay, “Table for Two.”’

Some other things to consider:

  • How do you react to periods of transition? What inspires a change in your perspective?
  • When have you had a “eureka” moment, and how has it impacted the way you lived your life thereafter?
  • What were the moments in life that fundamentally changed you as a person?
  • When did you learn something that made you feel more adult, more capable, more grown up

For example:

  • Did your expansion of a handmade stationery hobby into a full-fledged business give you the motivation and wherewithal to combat the effects of a debilitating illness?
  •  Have you learned to love the football team playback sessions that force you to routinely examine your mistakes but also to welcome constructive criticism and point yourself toward self-improvement?
  • Did the role as the Indian delegate in a recent Model UN bring out leadership skills you never knew you had?

The most important thing to keep in mind when searching for these moments is the element of growth, understanding, and transformation. The event, accomplishment, or realization you discuss should be something that helped you understand the world around you through a different, more mature lens. And, as with prompt 4, be sure to answer all parts of the question.

We hope these have been helpful. As always like, share, and comment. We are also hosting an event this week