This week, Noodle Pro Lisa Cornelio discusses Prompt 5 of the Common App essay: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
Lisa has been an essay editing and writing tutor for 26 years. She has a BA in English Literature from Princeton University.
Almost any essay you write for the Common App will demonstrate some kind of personal growth. That’s because the very act of reflection requires uncovering something about yourself you didn’t necessarily realize five minutes ago. At least good essays do this. Essays that state something stale and predictable – such as “field hockey taught me the value of teamwork” or “being an older sibling has made me a better person” – just aren’t going to jump off the table and into the hearts of admission officers.
And that is your goal.
Don’t whine or complain or be arrogant or annoying or any of those other qualities that would make you want to stick hot pokers in your eyes if you sat next to this person on an airplane. In fact, that’s a great question to ask yourself: Would I survive a five hour flight next to this guy or gal?
To write an essay that wins the hearts and minds of the highly-caffeinated sleep-deprived folks whose job it is to sift through hundreds of teenagers’ masterpieces, you must do two things. First, you must be honest. Any good reader can smell baloney from the opening line. So don’t lie. Or fabricate. Or embellish. Or be anyone other than yourself.
Which leads us to the second requirement of a great essay. Readers should like the person who’s writing it. Yep. I’m talking about you. Be likable. Don’t whine or complain or be arrogant or annoying or any of those other qualities that would make you want to stick hot pokers in your eyes if you sat next to this person on an airplane. In fact, that’s a great question to ask yourself: Would I survive a five hour flight next to this guy or gal?
If your honest answer is no, start over. And tell the truth. Write what you know and write it as if you were having a cool conversation with a groovy stranger on an airplane. Use dynamic verbs and compelling sensory details to explain how you’ve become the person you are – whether you’re the guy who never wears matching socks or the gal who taught her babysitter how to do the electric slide.
If you do choose to write about something more predictable, try to surprise your reader. For example, if tennis is your life and really has made you push your limits, don’t write about the obvious hard physical work but instead focus on the mental aspect of your game. Maybe tennis taught you to silence your inner critic. Has that helped academically? Are you writing more freely, without that annoying editor stopping you with every sentence? Or perhaps tennis has made you appreciate literature differently, recognizing the arc of a story in every match you play.
Regardless of your topic, if you show your readers how you do you, I promise you’ll also demonstrate some personal growth and understanding.