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How to Common App 2020-21 - Prompt #5

APR 19, 2020 • 5 min read

Welcome back to Crimson’s 9 part series on this year’s Common Application Essay prompts and how to tackle them. This blog talks about prompt #5, which asks about your achievements, events or realisations that have helped you grow.

If you haven’t already, check out our first, second, third, fourth and fifth blogs in this series.

The prompt reads: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

This prompt explicitly asks you to consider your takeaways from an experience of your choice. In some ways, this prompt simply puts into words what all of the prompts want from you, which is to go beyond the surface and consider what insights and personal growth have stemmed from an experience you’ve had.

As the prompt says, it could be an accomplishment, for example, a time that you had to work really hard for a big musical performance. It could be an event, such as your family moving overseas. It can be a realisation, such as realising that flying on planes isn’t as scary as it seems. These are just some of our suggestions, and we emphasise that this is a very flexible prompt where you can talk about just about everything. However, it may again be worth noting that while some of your achievements may intersect with your extracurriculars, try and avoid doubling up on too much discussion of activities explored in other parts of your application.

Crimson’s holistic approach provides support across all areas of the US university application process. We assist you to find your best-fit university, create a personalised roadmap, ace your standardised tests, craft the perfect essay, build candidacy through extracurriculars, and more.

For this prompt, the story absolutely matters, but what you have learned from the story and how you’re applying that learning now and into the future matter more. You want to give yourself enough space to reflect on why specific moments have been impactful, and explain any realizations you’ve had. You definitely shouldn’t pretend to have the answers to all of your questions, or to have solved a fundamental problem in the world, or that you’ve had an epiphany that will change you forever. Those just aren’t realistic approaches to life—life is lived in the grey areas, not in black and white.

Your story should have nuance, and your conclusion shouldn’t tie a neat bow on the story. Rather, you should make clear that you still have more to learn and explore. Admissions officers want to see that you plan to use university as an experience for personal growth, and staying humble in your tone, even when talking about achievements may be the key for this prompt.

Read Part 7 of the Common App series.

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