How to Respond to Prompt Five of the Common App

Common Application Prompt 5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Prompt five of the Common Application is rather straight forward and allows you to show how you evolved as a result of a particular experience. As the prompt suggests, the key words to tune into here are “personal growth,” meaning whatever you decide to write about should have a significant lasting impact on who you are now.

As with all prompts it is vast and open to interpretation. The pivot into growth or new understanding will be what ultimately elevates this particular prompt and shows not only the accomplishment, event, or realization, but the change that occurred as a result.

You can choose to focus on any accomplishment, event, or realization that feels like it has significant weight in your life. It is likely something that you hold onto or recollect, but it might also take some time to brainstorm those moments ahead of writing to remember what has had an effect on you that you might take for granted as a personal landmark, especially if it is a quieter moment that speaks more loudly with time.

To take time to assess what you might write about within the prompt, let’s take a moment to break it down by options suggested.

An accomplishment would be something that you have achieved, something that you are proud of. There may have been some hardships or difficulties along the way or planning and diligence. The actual accomplishment itself is up to your story. You might choose to write about a charity event that you developed and planned or preserving through multiple iterations of an art project to be able to actualize your vision. The narrative of this accomplishment can certainly be told anecdotally so the reader can follow your experience through your voice.

To brainstorm for this section, consider:

What is an accomplishment that I’ve achieved?

Why am I proud of it or why does it stand out?

How did I achieve it? Did I face any hardships or obstacles? Did I make any plans or decisions?

What did I realize en route and afterward?

What lasting impact has it had on me?

Did it shift how I view myself or others?

It’s important to note that the three suggestions can certainly overlap.

An event would be a particular moment in time to write into. It could be a particular planned event, like attending something or going somewhere at a particular date and time. It could also be an unexpected event, like a run-in with a stranger or a spontaneous moment during the school day. It may tie in closely with an accomplishment or realization, or may seem to stand on its own. Either way, the event itself will likely signify the pivoting moment where the growth is sparked. It might be something you realized instantaneously, or it might be something that requires time and reflection to fully understand its impact.

To brainstorm this section, consider:

What event has had a lasting impact on me?

Is the event an obvious moment in time, or something smaller?

Why was it significant?

How did I change as a result of this event?

Did I realize it right away or did it take time?

The last is a particular realization that sparked the moment of personal growth. It might be tied into this above, as a result of an accomplishment or event you had a realization, or it might be something more internal that lives separately, formed from your own thoughts and observations through time about something in particular. Perhaps you slowly started to realize the way that humans treat the planet, the way small scale we waste and take things for granted, the way large scale we lack long-term planning. As a result, you became more enlightened toward the global climate crisis and environmentalism. You made lifestyle changes and encouraged others to do the same.

It could also result in something more subtle, like a mindset shift. Perhaps you suddenly realized that you are in control of your life direction and your attitude toward events. You realized you could either approach things positively and openly, or negatively and closed. It was not the event itself, but how you addressed it, that had a lasting impact on who you are. Again, this could be linked into a particular event, or it might be something gradual over time.

To brainstorm for a realization, consider:

Is there a moment I remember that deeply affected me?

Are there particular values or outlooks that are important to me?

Has my mindset toward something shifted overtime?

Was this an immediate or gradual realization?

How has this impacted me?

Why was this an important moment in self growth?

How did it change how I think about myself or others?

In this post, I’ve broken down each of the three factors separately, but there is certainly room for them to intersect and mingle, as the prompt is cleverly woven for them to interact. An event might spark a particular realization, or an accomplishment might be a part of a larger event. The broken down brainstorming above is meant to help you break down each of the three, in case your particular narrative leans more closely into one over the other, but overall, you can let their boundaries blur as your respond to the prompt and reveal your story.

A “coming of age” narrative, where you discuss how you came into more responsibility or awareness as you journey out of childhood and into adulthood, would also fit into this category well. Generally, these show maturation in action and thought, and a new awareness that you have of yourself in relation to yourself and others. It might mean more personal accountability, more altruistic actions, or other elements that showcase the raised awareness of your impact. If you resonate with this suggestion, this particular prompt might be an excellent choice to write into.

The key to writing this post will be to hone in on a particular theme or topic that you wish to discuss. Keep it focused enough so that you can secure depth over breath. Tell your story of the accomplishment, event, or realization, and be sure to balance it with the personal growth or new understanding that came about as a result. Part one will allow you to tell your narrative, and part two will get to the deeper substance of how it has formed who you are today. All this is useful for allowing admissions officers insight into your character and development as well as what values or insights you have from your personal experience.

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