How to Respond to Prompt Four of the Common Application

Common Application Prompt 4: Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

The most exciting aspect of Prompt Four is that it is brand new to the Common Application in 2021! This means that any topic written about will not have any fatigue or clichés of years past. That said, it’s still important to clue into what the prompt is asking for to give your essay topic substance.

But first off, why the change? Amid the tumultuous year due to the pandemic, those at the Common Application wanted to give students the chance to reflect on something positive that came out of a social exchange. In a year that may have felt isolating or frustrating, it invites the writer to spend time thinking about an impactful moment when they have felt happy or thankful. The prompt asks that students think about the lingering impact that positive actions and moments might have.

This prompt is bound to bring some warm hearted responses. The exploration into the ripple effects of positivity allow you to think about the ways in which we are all interconnected and how what we do for others can remain with them long after the deed is done.

Considering a time someone did something to make you happy or thankful may come rather easily — what will be most important with the prompt is writing into how this happened in a surprising way and making sure that it was a moment that affected you in the long term. Spending time writing into potential topic ideas before getting into writing the full essay exploring those couple elements will ensure that it has depth to get to know you, since that is ultimately what the personal statement is about.

It’s helpful to note that the prompt unfolds in a couple sections. The event with another person is the first part, and the second part where you discuss how it has affected you or motivated you will what emphasizes your character, values, and actions. It will show how due to that kindness, perhaps you shifted your perspective or were inspired to start doing something as a result. It is not only that you show gratitude, but that you show how you returned and manifested your own kindness into the world.

As with all the prompts, its ultimate content is limitless and will be unique to each person. Topics might range from something seemingly mundane, like taking note of how the kindness of a stranger affected you so now every day you do at least one mindful kindness for a stranger, to something more grand, like someone helping you in a difficult time in life that you then were inspired to start a support group for when people need others to listen and help them. No matter how large or small, the effectiveness of the essay will come with how you write into the impact of your event.

Regardless of the topic, you will want to consider how the gratitude has remained with you overtime, changed you, or become a part of you. You might also consider your intentions or actions that come along with this to showcase how your motivation will carry with you into the future. This will help you to respond to its second part of the prompt.

As I mentioned above, substance is key with any and all essays. You want to be careful not to just skim the surface with a story about something nice someone did for you — it should explore more critically the impact the event had on you and how you continue to hold it.

The following questions can help you get to that substance as you brainstorm:

When has someone done something that make you happy or thankful in an unexpected way?

Why is this particular event coming to mind?

What made the person’s gesture unexpected or surprising?

How did this make you feel?

What did it make you think or realize?

Were there any aftereffects of this encounter?

How has this gratitude remained with you?

Has it motivated you to act in a certain way? Why?

What is the long-term effect of this encounter or your subsequent thoughts and actions?

The above should be helpful in getting you started responding to Prompt Four. This prompt is excellent to write into an empathic, compassionate topic. If you feel connected to others and inspired by what they have done for you, this could be the one to focus on.

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