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From Youth to Adulthood: 4 Things to Avoid in Common App Prompt #5

by Danielle Phan, on Aug 23, 2016 10:49:57 AM


I stood at the base of the bleachers in the school gym, alongside seven other seniors, in front of the entire freshman class. We were to introduce ourselves as their peer advisors, talk a little bit about our interests and activities, and mostly express to the freshmen how thrilled we were to be working with them that year. I imagined myself in their shoes, three years earlier when I was a rising freshman. I was horrified to be starting high school -- at a new school, in a new neighborhood -- and I had no idea what to expect. I remembered what the seniors looked like when they introduced themselves to me: poised, confident, and, most of all, kind. I wanted to be just like them. I stepped up, raised my hand, and said, “Hey! I’m Danielle!”

It’s true of all admissions and supplement essays—and especially this Common Application essay prompt—that you need to get past the obvious to write an essay that shows admission officers who you are.

The big problem here is the word “accomplishment.” Your achievements will show up in the Activities + Awards section of the Common App. And, in general, big accomplishments are less interesting than more complex and ambiguous moments of learning and change. Often it’s a matter of how you frame the moments that shape who you are today, the moments that have created the person you will be in college.

Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Here’s how to avoid the dangers inherent in college essays and in Common App essay prompt #5:

  1. Avoid the obvious: Any essay that includes the words “that is the day I learned” is sure to flop. Find a story that reveals what you learned without hitting your reader over the head with it. Often a moment when you learned one of life’s less obvious lessons can show something quirky and unusual.
  2. Get out of your own thoughts: Use details, dialogue and description to explore the world around you. Guide the reader through your world. What important things will they understand about you from the world around you?
  3. Spice it up with discussion: When an essay seems a little flat, try introducing another character. What did they say? What did they experience at your big event or accomplishment? Dialogue instantly draws the reader into your experience.
  4. Create tension: “Event” and “achievement” are pretty neutral. Is there some aspect to the story that adds some tension—perhaps overcoming an obstacle, or rising to a challenge of some kind?

Remember, the most important job of your essays is to reveal your character. Make sure, when talking about accomplishments, that you go past the event or achievement itself to reveal what the accomplishment says about who you are as a person.

Want more tips for Common App essay prompts? Check out our Guide to the Common App.

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Topics:college admission