Common Application Essay Prompt #5 (2018-2020)

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


            I took a deep breath and jumped from the shadows at the back of the auditorium. The spotlight swung to meet my tall, lanky figure as every pair of eyes followed. Dressed in a frilled sailor’s shirt, chartreuse leotards and gigantic black boots, I looked like a fool. My thoughts were soon interrupted, though, by shouting from the stage. My beloved Ariel was in the clutches of the evil sea witch Ursula, and I, Prince Eric, was the only one who could save her! There was no time to waste! At that moment – my cue – the theme song from the movie Rocky came on. I charged down the aisle, punching the air just like Rocky himself, training for a fight. The audience was doubled over. I leapt on the stage and received an ovation I will never forget. They loved it, and I couldn’t help but bow while they continued to cheer. Now all that was left was to kill Ursula. After tossing around a few threats and insults in Spanish, I finished off Ursula with a dramatic thrust of my sword. I had won my love back and saved the day. The crowd erupted once more as the curtain fell. 

            So ended the foreign language department’s rendition of The Little Mermaid. What I had done was a huge leap from anything I would have imagined doing my first days as a freshman. Performing? In Spanish? In front of teachers and students I would see every day? I had always stayed with what was safe and worked hard. On the academic front, it paid off. The same was true in sports. Despite not being able to jump more than four inches off the ground, I always found a way to contribute on the basketball court. But this was an opportunity to try something different.

            My fifteen minutes of fame on stage lifted the curtain on a wide field of new possibilities. Suddenly, I saw an entirely new dimension of school and of the life within it. For example, I talked to people with whom I had never spoken before. To this day, I swap “holas” and exchange lines from the play with a couple of Hispanic students who complimented me on my acting as well as my Spanish. A student with Down Syndrome still wraps his arms around me, giving me hugs and calling me Prince Eric whenever we pass in the hall.

            Encouraged by these experiences, I tried something else new this past summer. Instead of attending another summer program where I would be the student, I volunteered at our district’s summer school program for four weeks. Though I was an instructor this time, it was a tremendous learning experience. This summer academy is designed for students who are below their grade level in reading, writing, and math. Because they were deficient in several basic skills, many of the students who attended lacked confidence. Whenever I do well, there is always someone there to congratulate me. But I wasn’t sure they had that someone. At first, I didn’t know how to compensate for the lack, that is, until we got out of the classroom. After three straight weeks of classes, we headed to the mountains for a day of rock scrambling. That day, I led a group of sixth graders though rock labyrinths up the mountain. We held hands, pulled each other along, sometimes in the mud, stopped to help anyone who lost his/her footing, and generally looked out for one another. When my group reached the top, a task we accomplished through hard work and determination, we all felt an overwhelming sense of achievement. Gazing over the rocky paths below, we knew what we had conquered. At that moment, I felt as if I had written the best essay, as if I had hit the game winning three pointer, as if I were once again Prince Eric running through the aisles. But it was even better – because I was able to share. It was a feeling I couldn’t read about in any textbook or hear about from anyone else.

            The mountain was another stage, and although there was no audience to applaud, it wasn’t necessary. This time, the applause came from within.


Marion’s Analysis of Applause

Choice of Topic

The fact that this student who always played it “safe” talks about looking like a fool in front of the entire school exemplifies his honesty, his flexibility, and his willingness to take a chance. Since his transcript does honor to his grades and his basketball, he chose to write about an event that makes this seemingly “perfect” student appear “foolish,” yet flexible and humane. Therefore, writing about being Prince Eric and the effect it had on his life is a perfect choice.


The reader is immediately introduced to a specific person and event: the speaker, the “I” who took a deep breath” and emerged from the “shadows at the back of the auditorium.” With these words both a sense of immediacy and suspense are quickly established, prompting the reader to discover how the spotlight and “the tall, lanky figure” interacted.


The form and word choice are consistent with a candid voice of an individual who shares his limitations, fears, and new experiences.


Using italics and a separate paragraph to convey the author’s thoughts during the actual event gives it an immediacy and the special attention it deserves.

Transitioning into the “new possibilities” that his role as Prince Eric incurred exemplifies the author’s ability to not only engage in new activities but to analyze the effect that the single event had upon his growth and development.

Word Choice

Using words like “huge leap,” playing it “safe” and “not being able to jump four inches off the ground” provide the reader with an authentic voice of one who is not afraid to reveal his shortcomings and is, by deduction, self-assured.  Moreover, “holas,” giving “hugs,” being an “instructor,” not knowing how to “compensate” for a lack of “confidence” and pulling 6th graders in the “mud,” are words we use in our daily lives, and in this case, create the image of a caring individual, who is ready to embrace other cultures and age groups.

Specificity and Coherence

After being introduced to the action of The Little Mermaid, the author provides the reader with the context of the play, his propensity to play it safe, and his daring action followed by specific examples of how that achievement led to “new possibilities.” The reader can hear “Prince Eric” exchanging “holas” with Latino  students, picture him with wrapped arms around a disabled peer, and visualize him “holding hands” with 6th graders, leading them “through rock labyrinths” up a mountain. All of these details provide a credibility to his experiences and paint a picture of a gregarious individual who does not only communicate with all types of people but goes out of his way to help those less fortunate than he, thereby adding a humane dimension to his application. In addition, every sentence relates to the focus of the essay: trying something different.

Style and Mechanics

The essay is interesting not only because of the detail but because of the variety of sentence structures and the clear command of spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.


The essay begins and ends on the same note: with a performance and applause. The difference being that, in the conclusion, the “applause comes from within,” illustrates the author’s satisfaction with his ability to try something “different” and thereby establish a better understanding of himself.