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How to Write Common App Essay Prompt 5

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Hale Jaeger in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:



What is Prompt 5?


The fifth prompt option for the Common App essay is as follows:


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


Prompt five asks you to delve into a time in your life where you experienced a period of personal growth and gained a new understanding of yourself or others. This prompt is expansive, in the sense that you can choose any accomplishment event, realization, time in your life.


Prompt 5 Tips, Tricks, and Ideas


An idea for this prompt is to discuss a formal event, such as a religious ritual as a form of confirmation that reflects your personal growth or something social, like a social rite of passage. Specific aspects of said ritual and how they contributed to your personal growth are especially important. For example, this could be about the meaning of becoming an Eagle scout or the accomplishment of being elected to senior leadership for an organization. In the case of religious topics, make sure not to get too carried away with the details and focus on the nature of your personal growth.


Making the Prompt Personal


Make sure you’re remembering your audience. Alternatively, a more relaxed way to address this prompt is using an informal event or realization, which could allow you to show more personality and creativity. An example of this could be learning how to bake with your mother, which sparked a newfound connection with your mom. 


Another example could be having a long discussion about life or philosophy with your dad, one that could also suffice in sparking more thoughts about your own identity. You could write about a realization that caused you to join a new organization or quit an activity you didn’t think you’d enjoy because doing so would force you to grow out of your comfort zone to try new things.


Brainstorming and Planning


The key to answering this prompt is clearly defining what it is that sparked your growth, and then describing this spark in detail, going into the nature of this growth and how it relates to your perception of yourself and others around you. You have to answer or reference this prompt in all parts of the essay, and this is crucial because you have to dedicate sufficient time to the new perception of yourself and others in order to not undersell the description of how you grew and changed.


It can’t be as simple as “I grew” – this just doesn’t really work. You have to be specific and in depth. You can grow in complex ways, but your essay can also be open-ended to hint at the idea that you’re still growing and changing. It can be an ever changing process of growing your identity.


Prompt 5 Example and Analysis


Here’s an excerpt that will give you an idea of well-written essay for this prompt:


I had anticipated a vacation in Washington, DC, but, unexpectedly, I was rushing to the hospital behind an ambulance carrying my mother as a 14 year old from a single mom household without a driver’s license and seven hours from home.


I was distraught over the prospect of losing the only parent I had. Three blood transfusions later, my mother’s condition was stable, but we were still states away from home. So I coordinated with my mother’s doctors in North Carolina to schedule the emergency operation that would save her life. My mother had been a source of strength for me, and now I would be strong for her through her long recovery ahead.


As I started high school, everyone thought the crisis was over, but it had really just started to impact my life. My mother was often fatigued, so I assumed more responsibility, juggling family duties, school athletics, and work. I made countless trips to the neighborhood pharmacy, cooked dinner, biked to the grocery store, supported my concerned sister, and provided the loving care my mother needed to recover.


I now take ownership over small decisions, such as scheduling daily appointments, managing my time and also major decisions involving my future, including the college admissions process. My mother remains a guiding force in my life, but the feeling of empowerment I discovered within myself is the ultimate form of my independence.


You can see that this person really invited the reader into their life to understand the experience and then showed how it catalyzed change in them. Instead of just skipping to the final paragraph and discussing their personal growth, the writer shows how they got to that point in their life. In detail, they describe the different ways they took on more responsibility in their family, and this helps bridge the gap between their experience and the lessons they took away from it.


How to Perfect Your Prompt 5 Essay


Want to know if your response to Common App’s prompt 5 is strong enough for your top-choice schools? Check out this Peer Essay Review tool, where you’ll get a free, anonymous, and secure review of your essay from another student. You can also work on improving your own writing skills, and earn CollegeVine Karma by reviewing other users’ essays!