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Essays About Personal Growth: Top 5 Examples and 8 Prompts

If you’re writing essays about personal growth, our guide’s article examples and prompts will help stimulate your creative thinking.

Personal growth is looking at ways to improve yourself mentally, socially, spiritually, emotionally or physically. It is a process where we envision a better version of ourselves and strive to realize that ideal self. Personal growth demands the setting of personal goals and ensuring routine progress. The work toward personal development involves a great deal of hard work and discipline as we push our existing skills and strengths to a higher boundary while reducing our underlying weaknesses.  

Read our essay examples and prompts below to help you produce a rich and creative essay about personal growth.

5 Essay Examples About Personal Growth

1. is it really too late to learn new skills by margaret talbot, 2. i’ve completed hundreds of 30-day challenges. here’s what i’ve learned by tara nicholle-nelson, 3. i was a self-help guru. here’s why you shouldn’t listen to people like me by michelle goodman, 4. how to craft a personal development plan that inspires meaningful results by scott jeffrey, 5. personal development and the power of feedback by emily marsh, 10 prompts on essays about personal growth, 1. why is personal growth important, 2. take up a personal growth challenge, 3. your personal growth journey, 4. personal growth among successful people, 5. personal growth for leaders , 6. personal growth at work, 7. best personal growth books, 8. strong motivation for achieving personal growth.

“… [H]e decides to throw himself into acquiring five new skills. (That’s his term, though I started to think of these skills as “accomplishments” in the way that marriageable Jane Austen heroines have them, talents that make a long evening pass more agreeably, that can turn a person into more engaging company, for herself as much as for others.)

Learning new things may not be a cup of tea for those in their middle ages. To get out of established expertise, be looked down on as a novice, and push the brain to work double time may even be a dreary and intimidating process. , But Journalist Tom Vanderbilt, award-winning writers, and Nobel Prize recipients prove that satisfaction is worth it for personal growth and fulfillment. 

“I think of Challenges as self-directed projects to change my behavior or spark some personal growth or development I’m clear that I’d like to have. Sometimes I want a mindset shift or want to make (or break) a habit, or I just have a sort of big project I want to sprint to finish…”

Why are we so drawn to self-imposed challenges? For one, it’s a competition only between you and yourself, giving room for flexibility in the rules you set. It provides structure to your goals, chunks your bigger long-term self-growth goals into gradual and doable daily tasks, provokes a sense of self-accountability, and helps you focus your energy on what matters most. 

“Apparently, I learned, gurus are people too, even gurus lining the self-help shelves of friendly neighborhood bookstores. They aren’t infallible, all-knowing oracles above worrying about their generous muffin top or widening backside. They are businesspeople — businesspeople with books, keynotes, and openings in their consulting practice to peddle”

From abhorring gurus to becoming one and then hating the industry much more — this is the story of a self-help book author who realizes it was herself who needed the most advice for personal growth. But, as she creates a facade of a well-balanced life to establish her credibility, things turn dark, almost costing her life. 

“When entertainment, distraction, and workaholism consume our attention, something doesn’t feel right within us… To have a full and meaningful life requires us to open to more dimensions of ourselves. And a Personal Development Plan can help us do just that.”

Everyone strives for personal growth. But once we jump at it, some wrong ingredients may spoil the sense of fulfillment we expect. The right process involves navigating your potential, creating a larger vision, selecting areas to focus on, setting your schedule, and monitoring your progress. You might also be interested in these essays about motivation .

“Without feedback, we would learn very little about ourselves, in or out of work. The feedback process is like holding a mirror up to yourself; that’s why it can be uncomfortable at times. You have to be prepared to listen to and acknowledge whatever reveals itself.”

Hearing feedback is critical to personal growth. Negative feedback is constructive in losing our bad habits. However, purely positive feedback is non-progressive and dangerous if we only seek to affirm how we regard ourselves.

We can never be perfect. But we can always progress. In your essay, explain why nurturing a growth mindset in life is essential. What long-term benefits can you reap daily from wanting to be a better person? How does it affect the mind, body, and overall wellness? Answer these while citing studies that outline the essence of personal growth.

Essays About Personal Growth: Take up a personal growth challenge

Take up any challenge you find exciting and feel up to. Then, write about your experience. If successful, offer tips to your readers on how one can prepare their body, mind, and discipline to stick to the goals. If you did not complete the challenge, don’t worry! Your failure can still be a learning experience that contributes to personal growth and is worth writing about. In addition, you can add what areas of yourself you would like to improve on if you ever take up the challenge again. 

Talk about your goals and your daily efforts to reach this goal. It could relate to acing a test, your sports team winning or professional success. Of course, there will be a handful of challenges in any journey toward a goal. What were the obstacles and distractions that tried to keep you off track? Share these with your readers and how you strived or are striving to conquer them.

When you see people already at the height of their careers, you’ll find some continuing to walk out of their comfort zones and reach for the next higher mountain. For this essay, explain the connection between striving for personal growth and success. Then, provide a list of everyday habits among successful people that others could consider adopting.

Leaders must adapt and address problems efficiently and decisively as they move through a fast-changing landscape. Elaborate on how the pursuit of personal growth helps leaders deliver in their enormous role in organizations, companies, and communities.

If you firmly believe that growth at work translates to personal growth, it would be less hard for you to get by at work. But this gets a bit more complex if your feel that your work is no longer satisfying your self-actualization needs and even limiting you. For this prompt, help your readers determine if it’s time to quit their job and continue their journey for personal growth elsewhere. If you want to address companies, offer recommendations enabling their employees to grow and have a vision for themselves. You may also suggest how managers can keep an open line of communication so that personnel can relay their self-development needs.

Essays About Personal Growth: Best personal growth books

We all have that book that has given us a new kind of energy that made us feel and believe we can do anything if we put our heart into it. We keep these books close to our hearts, serving as a reminder of other bigger goals ahead of us when the going gets tough. Create a numbered list of the books that have captivated you and helped you realize your potential. Talk about the best quotes that struck the chord and the thought racing in your mind while reading them.

When you tap onto your inherent and external motivation for a much-needed push, it may be easier to turn bad moments into something that helps advance personal development plans. For your essay, explain how motivation can be a bridge to get you to your growth goals.

If you’re still stuck, check out our general resource of essay writing topics .

For help with this topic, read our guide explaining what is persuasive writing ?

personal growth essay

Yna Lim is a communications specialist currently focused on policy advocacy. In her eight years of writing, she has been exposed to a variety of topics, including cryptocurrency, web hosting, agriculture, marketing, intellectual property, data privacy and international trade. A former journalist in one of the top business papers in the Philippines, Yna is currently pursuing her master's degree in economics and business.

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Robert Puff Ph.D.

The Path to Personal Growth

Growth is about overcoming our tendency to respond quickly or negatively..

Posted June 13, 2021 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader

  • Steps to personal growth include learning how to respond better to situations and finding those we can learn from on our journey.
  • Reframing our mindset to be more solution-focused than reactive can ultimately help make our lives happier. 
  • It is important to find a teacher whose teachings and philosophy resonate with you, and to apply their principles to your own life.

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Many people are focused on achieving fleeting things like wealth, success, or fame. While they may bring about temporary happiness , the feeling is often fleeting. I believe that out of all of the things we can work towards, pursuing personal growth is the best choice to achieve lifelong happiness and contentment. Today, we’ll learn why.

We don’t have much control over things in the external world. For example, we didn’t choose the place we were born, our family, or our natural talents. The one thing we do have control over is how we respond to the world, more specifically to adversity. Personal growth is about overcoming our natural tendency to respond quickly or negatively to situations. When we’re able to control our reactions, or our internal selves, a world of possibilities opens up.

In today’s post, I want to discuss the two ways we can achieve personal growth and how we can better respond to the world around us. This will help us find inner peace no matter what’s happening in our external world. This may sound hard for some of us, and it is. But when we change how we see the world and how we respond to the world, there is an unlimited amount of potential for achieving happiness and peace.

The first aspect of personal growth is learning how to respond better to situations that we have historically struggled with. Let’s use self-confidence as an example. When we’re having a particularly low day, we may look in the mirror and think, “I don’t like the way I look.” To combat these thoughts, we can develop skills to accept our appearance and even begin to like the way we look. This acceptance stems from the realization that there are some things that are out of our control. Once we internalize this fact, we can begin to accept what is, and eventually love what is.

The second key ingredient to personal growth is finding a teacher or teachers that we can learn from on our journey. The reason this is a key ingredient is that it’s helpful to have an expert in the subject who can help us understand these principles more deeply.

Let’s dive deeper into both of these concepts.

The first aspect of personal growth is focused on re-framing our struggles. What I mean by this is, the next time we face a problem, the best way to overcome it is to see it differently. For example, the next time we wake up anxious , are upset at a friend, or have an interaction that causes us to stress , we can choose to see these as opportunities to make our lives better.

Something I have repeated throughout my podcast is that there is a solution to every single problem we face. One of life’s purposes is to find these solutions. We have the power to adjust our typical responses to situations that bring on intense emotions, whether that is shame , anger , depression , etc. We now can begin to say, “I’m struggling with this. There must be something that I’m doing that is causing me to struggle, because there are other people who have also faced this problem and they’re doing well. This means there must be a solution.” Instead of criticizing ourselves, or hating our lives, we can reframe our mindset to be more solution-focused than reactive. This will guide us towards finding a way to solve our problems and ultimately make our lives happier.

Let me use an example to explore this point. Studies have shown that about 80% of people are unhappy at work. For the purpose of this example, let’s say we’re in that 80%. In order to change our circumstances, or find a solution, we must ask ourselves what can we do to make our situation better? We can perhaps leave our job, but that would have consequences since we’re responsible for supporting our family. Maybe we can look into other career paths, but seeking out more education may take a long time. Or we can say, maybe I can reduce my living expenses so I don’t need to keep up with the lifestyle I’ve created for myself. With these reduced expenses, I can now work a little less or find a job that will be more fulfilling. Happiness is about enjoying our day all day long, so we want to make sure that our job makes us feel happy and fulfilled.

There are so many ways to tackle this problem. One solution that many of my clients have reached over the years is to work less. A lot of people have flexibility in their work already that they may not be taking advantage of. For example, one of my clients gets three weeks of vacation a year but is tempted to skip out on the vacation because they get paid out on those days at the end of the year. In response, I asked them, is it worth not taking your vacation to have a little more money? When they examined the option more closely they decided that no, it wasn’t worth giving up the opportunity to recharge and decompress. My goal is to help folks reframe what life is about. I believe that it’s about enjoying the journey and for most people who work regularly, taking a vacation is necessary to maintain our happiness.

personal growth essay

Remember that this is just an example. Your story and your struggles may look completely different. The overarching point here is that we often have some control over situations that may seem out of our control. And when we take the opportunity to make some changes, we will find that happiness is within our reach. We can look at life’s challenges as an opportunity for personal growth, rather than an inconvenience or hassle. The best part is, when these challenges re-emerge later, we’ll know how to handle them.

The second aspect of personal growth is to find a teacher whose teachings and philosophy resonate with you. When you do find the right teacher, it’s important to apply their principles to your own life. This step may seem less important but it is just as important as step number one. Our parents or caretakers were the people who taught us how to respond to the world and if we want to change that, we need someone who is better aligned to our current belief system than the one we had when we were younger. We also don't necessarily have to access these teachings in person. We can listen to them on audiobooks, watch them on youtube, or read about their beliefs in a book. And if you reach a point where their teachings are no longer serving you, there are always other people out there who can guide you through your path to self-discovery

Working on ourselves is no easy task. It involves unlearning and practicing different responses to problems, over and over again. But we must remember that we are capable of real change, and these changes can help us live beautiful lives. When we look at problems in a different light and follow a teacher with whom we resonate, we’ll grow exponentially.

Robert Puff Ph.D.

Robert Puff, Ph.D. , is host and producer of the Happiness Podcast, with over 16 million downloads.

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As the lines between real and fake blur, Americans increasingly chase the idea of authenticity. The first step may be to consider self-knowledge, truthfulness, and other building blocks on the road to personal growth.

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personal growth essay

What Is Personal Growth and Why Is It So Important?

  • March 27, 2023

Vishen, founder of Mindvalley

If there was ever a time to invest in your personal growth, it’s now. Also known as personal development and self-improvement , it’s one of the most important buzzwords of our time.

This concept has built an entire empire around its name. You could say it’s the Beyoncé of one’s well-being.

Philosophers, theologians, and psychologists are continuously trying to figure out how to live up to our greatest potential.

If personal growth is your thing, here’s everything you need to know about the self-growth game.

Ready to unlock your greatness? Let’s dive in.

What Is Personal Growth?

Personal growth is the improvement of our skills, knowledge, wisdom, habits, behavior, and personal qualities. Personal development allows you to reach your full potential, be your best self, and live your happiest, most successful life.

Personal growth definition

Think of personal growth as any positive mental, physical, and spiritual transformation. It’s not just about learning; it’s about applying whatever you learn so it becomes part of who you are .

Here at Mindvalley, we believe that your growth should always come first. After all, it’s through self-growth that we’re able to show up in the world as the most extraordinary version of ourselves.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs , self-actualization, a.k.a., personal growth, leads to the highest form of human fulfillment.

Sure, we need to breathe, eat, sleep, and have a social network around to keep us sane and safe. But if you want to explore your limitless potential, you’ll need to explore the last step of the pyramid. And once you do, you’ll discover that self-actualization enhances the way you enjoy all other aspects of the triangle too. 

Personal growth can make you a sort of Buddha but a badass at the same time. Peaceful but highly productive. Kind but resilient. Loving but assertive. Healthy, but with the fun-loving nature of a child.

Visual of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Types of personal growth

  • Expanding your mental capacity
  • Improving your social skills
  • Connecting to your spiritual self
  • Increasing emotional intelligence
  • Boosting your overall health and well-being

Personal development can improve your self-love, relationships, career prospects, spirituality, and mental or physical health, just to name a few . It’s homemade. Or self-made. It’s personal to you.

Examples of personal development goals

It can sometimes be difficult to find a place to start. So here are a few examples of personal growth goals to get you inspired:

  • Learning to be more productive at work
  • Developing emotional intelligence or expressing feelings healthily
  • Leading a healthier lifestyle (including food and exercise)
  • Forging better relationships
  • Learning the art of active listening or public speaking
  • Adopting new skills such as learning new languages, instruments, meditation, and other platforms
  • Boosting your self-esteem and confidence
  • Getting wiser with your finances
  • Becoming generally more self-aware
  • Learning to respond with resilience to challenging circumstances 
  • Cultivating more inner peace, love, and joy on a day-to-day basis

The true beauty of self-growth is that the possibilities are infinite. Furthermore, you can grow towards your goals in whichever way you choose, whether you’re 8 or 80. And the more you grow, the happier and more fulfilled you’ll be now and in the future.

Not sure where to start? Complete this quick and fun quiz to identify your key growth areas.

Personal growth at A fest

Why Is Self-Growth So Important?

Personal growth gives you the tools you need to thrive in an ever-changing world. If you want life to get better as you get older, you’ll need to become a better version of yourself.

It goes way beyond polishing your halo. It’s vital if you want to live a happy life. It’s also the key to success in every single area of the human experience.

Personal growth is important if you want to have:

  • Healthy, loving relationships with yourself and others
  • A baseline of happiness, positivity, and wellbeing
  • Greater resilience 
  • Career success
  • Long-term financial success
  • Motivation and productivity
  • A sense of calm in a storm
  • A healthy mind, body, and spirit

There’s nothing more important than your growth as a person. That’s why Mindvalley offers a vast array of personal growth courses that cover all aspects of personal growth. From improving your romantic relationships to clean eating, from entrepreneurship to spirituality, you’ll find everything you need under one roof. 

What’s more, the world needs you to be the best version of yourself. Because it’s only when you’re the strongest, happiest you that you can go out there and help others .

What Are the Main Challenges of Personal Growth?

Your personal growth is caused by change— big life events, struggles, new relationships, and spiritual enlightenment. It can happen by accident through forces outside your control. 

Co-founder of Mindvalley, Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani, shares an interesting approach to personal growth causes. She underlines the fact that growing from pain can happen, but it might be unnecessary. What can drive true transformation is our curiosity to learn the best skills on how to play this amazing game called life.

But with any change, there’s always something there to test you. Here’s a list of challenges that can seem like blockers to your transformation:

  • Getting overwhelmed by information
  • Being resistant to change
  • Forcing yourself to do too much too soon
  • Feeling lonely along your journey
  • Questioning what the next best step is
  • Fearing the unknown
  • Realizing that the more you know, the more you actually don’t know

That said, whether you’ve noticed it or not, you’ve adapted and grown into different versions of yourself your entire life. You developed the resilience to leave your mother’s side to go to school. You then learned to share your toys, then your time, then your money.

Maybe you chose to embrace kindness over selfishness (most of the time). At some point, you probably lost someone you loved along the way, so you found a way to cope with overwhelming emotions. All this causes personal growth.

But once you have built the experience to be self-aware, you’re ready to facilitate transformative learning and personal growth on purpose. It doesn’t just have to come about from pain, suffering, and survival. You can facilitate personal growth through reading, therapy, podcasts, and, best of all, courses.

You can find plenty of best-in-class self-growth resources on Mindvalley. Sign up for FREE and join the world’s most powerful life transformation platform.

Vishen personal growth

How to Achieve Personal Growth

The great news is that you’ve got a variety of options to choose from when it comes to how you want to focus on your self-improvement. The bad news is that it could get difficult to pick one when so many tempting options are available.

Here go a few of the best personal growth resources out there.

1. Personal growth books

If the good old method of reading books goes right up your alley, the sky is the limit, as the saying goes.

Books open up a whole new world of possibilities while comforting you with the process of absorbing wisdom through the pages. Whenever you’re ready, make yourself some tea, sit down in the coziest chair, and grab yourself a self-growth book.

To make it easier for you, here’s a list of 10 Must-Read Personal Development Books by Bestselling Mindvalley Authors .

2. Personal growth podcasts

Podcasts are a fantastic way to add a touch of personal growth to your daily routine. They’re easy to access, packed full of wisdom, and can be listened to whenever you’re running your daily errands and chores.

This way you can sprinkle some personal growth into your daily activities, such as driving your car, cooking dinner, doing the dishes, or eating lunch.

If you need some inspiration for the next podcast to listen to, here are 5 Podcasts to Support Your Personal Growth Journey .

3. Go out of your comfort zone

As you may know already, nothing grows in your comfort zone. The idea isn’t to turn your life outside down and go bungee jumping when you wake up tomorrow morning.

What truly matters is that step by step, you do something small that challenges you. Here are some examples of how to get out of your comfort zone on a daily basis:

  • Take up a new course
  • Go for a walk in the evening
  • Say hi to a stranger today
  • Listen to a podcast on your way to work
  • Enjoy a healthy meal
  • Spend five minutes focusing on your breathing
  • Pay someone a compliment 

True growth lies in the new habits that we slowly create, as they will end up creating a new version of ourselves.

Not sure where to start? Get some inspiration from this article: Use Your Discomfort Zone to Your Advantage—Here’s How .

4. Meet new people

New connections have the power to elevate your consciousness when you’re around people who inspire you. Gently pushing yourself to get to know people outside of your usual social circle will help with improving communication skills and finding a fresh perspective.

Looking for inspiration in your environment might redefine your idea of success. As you are surrounded by people who aid your personal growth, you’ll not only be motivated to work on your development more and more but will also see how possible it is to achieve your goals.

I f you’re looking for a tribe of like-minded people, check out the Connections by Mindvalley app , which you can use to stay in touch with the community wherever you are in the world.

5. Professional help

Why choose to do everything on our own when someone can easily point us in the right direction? It saves time, money, and energy to learn from someone who has already done it.

A 2020 study showed that 80% of clients who hired a life coach have reported an increase in self-confidence and overall well-being. Personal growth is indeed a one-man job, as you can’t pay a fitness trainer to work out for you. But you can hire them to teach you how to do it.

If you want to learn how to help others, life coaching could be the thing for you.

6. Write down your true life goals

Knowing your goals will act as a roadmap for your personal growth journey. And for this task, you only need to ask yourself The 3 Most Important Questions . 

Asking the right questions will not only bring more clarity to what your dream life would look like but will also sketch out the first directions in your self-improvement plan.

7. Find out your personal growth level

Maybe one of the most essential things is to know where to start. What that means is finding out your personal growth starting point.

You can then move on to pick up the best development tools for your specific level.

7 Personal Growth Quotes to Inspire You by Mindvalley Authors

  • “ The swiftest way to triple your success is to double your investment in personal development . ” — Robin Sharma, leadership expert and trainer of Mindvalley’s Hero. Genius. Legend Quest
  • “ In the process of learning to fascinate healing in others, you yourself become healed.” — Deborah King, esoteric healer and trainer of Mindvalley’s Be a Modern Master Quest
  • “ Self-enrichment is that act of creating a thousand micro-wins so you can have one macro win.” — Lisa Nichols, renowned inspirational speaker and trainer of Mindvalley’s Speak and Inspire Quest
  • “ The quest for wholeness can never begin on the external level. It is always an inside job .” — Dr. Shefali Tsabary, psychologist and trainer of Mindvalley’s Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest
  • “Your potential expands as you move towards it. You could never know what you are capable of because as you get to it, your potential allows you to go even further.” — Marisa Peer, professional hypnotherapist and trainer of Mindvalley’s Rapid Transformational Hypnotherapy for Abundance Quest
  • “Your soul doesn’t care what you do for a living and when your life is over, neither will you. Your soul cares only about what you are being while you are doing whatever you are doing.” — Neale Donald Walsch, worldwide spiritual teacher and trainer of Mindvalley’s Awaken the Species Quest
  • “We need to understand how our minds work, so we can work our minds better.” — Jim Kwik, renowned brain coach and trainer of Mindvalley’s Superbrain Quest

Words can move us so deeply that will trigger action taken immediately. Especially when coming from people whose work is profoundly inspirational.

How to Make a Self-Improvement Plan 

When it comes to personal growth, actions speak louder than words. So grab a journal and pen, and start your plan via the following four steps:

  • Ask the question: “What’s not working?” Identify what area of your life you’d like to improve. It could be your relationship, your career, or your level of health and general well-being. 
  • Now you know what’s not working, ask yourself the question: “ What do I want instead? ” It could be an enhanced romantic life, a fitter, healthier body, more self-love, or self-expression. 
  • Next, ask yourself what qualities you’ll need in order to manifest your dreams . If you want to lose weight, maybe you’ll need motivation and nutrition advice. If you wish to cultivate inner peace, you’ll need to learn how to meditate, etc. That’s where personal growth companies like us come in. We have a vast array of personal growth courses designed to help you grow into the best version of yourself in all areas of your life. 
  • Set milestones. Make a promise to yourself that you’ll achieve certain goals by certain dates. Make sure they’re specific, achievable, and time-bound. For example, you may want to write a book in the next year. Your milestones may be writing the first chapter within six weeks, the second chapter within 12 weeks, the third chapter within 18 weeks, etc. 

How to continue your journey

You can make sure you’re always growing and developing yourself by:

  • Keeping a personal growth journal to record your progress every day
  • Finding a mentor
  • Reading about whichever area you’ve chosen to work on
  • Creating a personal growth-oriented morning routine
  • Getting an accountability partner to keep you on track

Fuel Your Future

Once you start your personal development journey, you may never go back. And not because you can’t, but your life will improve so much that you might not want to.

If you need guidance on how to explore any area of your life and find the answers you’re looking for, here is where to begin. Mindvalley is the place for personal growth expertise. You’ll find everything you need to know about leveling up your mind, relationships, health, career, or spirituality. 

What’s even better is that personal growth doesn’t have to be a lonely ride. Along your journey, you can connect with the Mindvalley tribe, a global community of people aspiring to meet goals similar to yours. So welcome in.

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Mindvalley is committed to providing reliable and trustworthy content. 

We rely heavily on evidence-based sources, including peer-reviewed studies and insights from recognized experts in various personal growth fields. Our goal is to keep the information we share both current and factual. 

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  • External Contributions: We welcome insights from external contributors who share our passion for personal transformation and consciousness elevation.
  • Product Recommendations and Affiliations: Recommendations come after thoughtful consideration and alignment with Mindvalley’s ethos, grounded in ethical choices.

To learn more about our dedication to reliable reporting, you can read our detailed editorial standards .

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Essay Examples on Personal Growth and Development

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Personal Growth Essay | A Winning Essay Writing Strategy

EssayEdge > Blog > Personal Growth Essay | A Winning Essay Writing Strategy

Personal Growth. Perhaps this topic is the most popular one since it delves into the heart of what the admissions essay is all about: helping the college gain better insight into an applicant’s personality and character. Some schools ask targeted questions — “What was the most challenging event you have ever faced, and how have you grown from it?” — while others leave the topic open: “Describe an event that has had great meaning for you. Explain why and how it has affected you.”

One of the most successful strategies is to use a past event as a lens through which you can assess who you were and the person you became, how you have grown and changed, your transformation. Most children are curious, but were you the one who asked your teacher what caused the change of seasons of the year and then created a solar system model and explained the concept to your classmates? Though you may think that your topic needs to be more grandiose, that is not necessary for an essay to be effective. Instead, success lies in painting an accurate and vivid picture of yourself — one that will show admissions officers that you have much to offer their school.

Anastasia M.

The most important advice we can give is to be honest, refrain from using clichés, and show maturity. College represents a radical change from high school, so you want your reader to realize that you are more than ready to take the next major step in your life.

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Tips for Writing an Essay on an Event That Led to Personal Growth

Tips and Strategies for an Essay on an Event that Led to Personal Growth

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For the 2019-20 admissions cycle, the fifth essay option on the Common Application  focuses on "personal growth":

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

We all have all had experiences that bring about growth and maturity, so essay option five will be a viable choice for all applicants. The big challenges with this essay prompt will be identifying the correct "accomplishment, event, or realization" and then making sure the discussion of your growth has enough depth and self-analysis to show that you are a strong and thoughtful college applicant. The tips below can help guide you as you tackle essay option five:

What Defines a "Period of Personal Growth"?

The heart of this essay prompt is the idea of "personal growth." It's a remarkably broad concept, and as a result this essay prompt gives you the freedom to talk about almost anything meaningful that has ever happened to you. Your job with this essay prompt is to identify a moment that is meaningful and that provides the admissions folks with a window into your interests and personality.

As you work to define an appropriate "period of personal growth," reflect on the last several years of your life. You shouldn't go back more than a few years since the admissions folks are trying to learn about who you are now and how you process and grow from the experiences in your life. A story from your early childhood won't accomplish this goal as well as a more recent event. As you reflect, try to identify moments that made you rethink your assumptions and worldview. Identify an event that has made you a more mature person who is now better prepared for the responsibilities and independence of college. These are the moments that can lead to an effective essay.

What Type of "Accomplishment, Event, or Realization" Is Best?

As you brainstorm ideas for this essay prompt, think broadly as you try to come up with a good choice for the "accomplishment, event, or realization." The best choices, of course, will be significant moments in your life. You want to introduce the admissions folks to something you value highly. Also keep in mind that these three words—accomplishment, event, realization—are interconnected. Both accomplishments and realizations stem from something that happened in your life; in other words, without some kind of event, you're unlikely to accomplish something meaningful or have a realization that leads to personal growth. 

We can still break down the three terms as we explore options for the essay, but keep in mind that your options include, but are not limited to:

  • You reach a goal that you have set for yourself such as earning a certain GPA or performing a difficult piece of music.
  • You do something independently for the first time such as preparing a meal for the family, flying across the country, or house-sitting for a neighbor.
  • You overcome or learn to appreciate a disability or handicap.
  • Working alone or with a team, you win an award or recognition (a gold medal in a music competition, a strong showing in Odyssey of the Mind, a successful fundraising campaign, etc.)
  • You successfully launch your own business (a lawn-mowing service, babysitting business, web company, etc.)
  • You successfully navigate or extricate yourself from a dangerous or challenging situation (an abusive family, a problematic peer group, etc.)
  • You do something challenging like winter camping, white-water kayaking, or running a marathon.
  • You complete a meaningful service project such as creating a public garden or helping build a house with Habitat for Humanity.
  • You pass a milestone in your life such as the first day of high school or your first time driving by yourself.
  • You have an interaction with someone (whether that be a friend, family member or stranger) that opens your awareness in a profound way.
  • You perform at an event such as a concert or competition in which your hard work and perseverance finally pay off.
  • You experience a traumatic event such as an accident or sudden loss that makes you reevaluate your behavior or beliefs.
  • You experience a moment of failure (much like option #2 ) that causes you to grapple with and grow from the experience.
  • You are moved by a world event that makes you reflect upon what you most value and what your role in the world might be.
  • You realize that you can accomplish something you hadn't thought possible.
  • You realize your limitations.
  • You realize that failure is as valuable as success.
  • You realize that your understanding of people who are different than you had been limited or faulty.
  • You experience something that makes you realize that you need to redefine your priorities.
  • You realize that relying on the help of others isn't a failure.
  • You come to understand how much a parent or mentor has to teach you.

Personal Growth Can Stem From Failure

Keep in mind that the "accomplishment, event, or realization" doesn't have to be a triumphant moment in your life. An accomplishment can be learning to deal with setbacks or failure, and the event could be a losing game or an embarrassing solo in which you missed that high C. Part of maturing is learning to accept our own shortcomings, and recognizing that failure is both inevitable and an opportunity to learn.

Most Important of All: "Discuss"

When you "discuss" your event or accomplishment, make sure you push yourself to think analytically. Don't spend too much time merely describing and summarizing the event or accomplishment. A strong essay needs to show off your ability to explore the significance of the event you have chosen. You need to look inward and analyze how and why the event caused you to grow and mature. When the prompt mentions "a new understanding," it is telling you that this is an exercise in self-reflection. If the essay doesn't reveal some solid self-analysis, then you haven't fully succeeded in responding to the prompt.

A Final Note for Common Application Option #5

Try to step back from your essay and ask yourself exactly what information it conveys to your reader. What will your reader learn about you? Does the essay succeed in revealing something that you care about deeply? Does it get at a central aspect of your personality? Remember, the application is asking for an essay because the college has holistic admissions —the school is evaluating you as a whole person, not as a bunch of test scores and grades. They essay, then, needs to paint a portrait of an applicant the school will want to invite to join the campus community. In your essay, do you come across as an intelligent, thoughtful person who will contribute to the community in a meaningful and positive way?

No matter which essay prompt you choose, pay attention to style , tone, and mechanics. The essay is first and foremost about you, but it also needs to demonstrate a strong writing ability. These 5 tips for a winning essay can also help guide you.

Finally, realize that many topics fit under multiple options on the Common Application. For example, option #3 asks about questioning or challenging a belief or idea. This can certainly connect with the idea of a "realization" in option #5. Also, option #2 on encountering obstacles could also overlap with some of the possibilities for option #5. Don't worry too much about which option is best if your topic fits in multiple places. Most important is that you write an effective and engaging essay. Be sure to check out this article for tips and samples for each of the Common Application essay options .

  • The 2021-22 Common Application Essay Prompts
  • Common Application Essay Option 2 Tips: Learning from Failure
  • Common Application Essay on a Meaningful Place
  • Tips for an Application Essay on a Significant Experience
  • Common Application Essay Option 3 Tips: Challenging a Belief
  • 2020-21 Common Application Essay Option 4—Solving a Problem
  • Tips for the Pre-2013 Personal Essay Options on the Common Application
  • Common Application Essay, Option 1: Share Your Story
  • "Grandpa's Rubik's Cube"—Sample Common Application Essay, Option #4
  • The Length Requirements for the Common Application Essay in 2020-21
  • Sample Short Answer Essay on Running
  • How to Ace Your University of Wisconsin Personal Statements
  • Tips for Writing a Winning College Application Essay
  • Addressing Diversity in a College Application Essay
  • Tips for Writing a Winning College Transfer Essay
  • Tips for the 8 University of California Personal Insight Questions

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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application

personal growth essay

What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?

How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Start early.  Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
  • Keep the focus narrow.  Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
  • Be yourself.  Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
  • Be creative.  “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
  • Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.

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We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.

  • AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business,  All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including  Pine Row Press ,  Months to Years,  and  Atlanta Review .

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personal growth essay

6 ways to writing an empowering personal growth essay

personal growth essay

Did you know that personal growth essays are a common and popular prompt during college applications? 

Like other essay prompts such as “ learning from obstacles ”, college admission essays are meant to help the college gain better insight into your character and personality. 

A winning essay should be personal — one which showcases your uniqueness.

Some schools ask targeted questions like “What was the most challenging event you have ever faced, and how have you grown from it?”.

Or a more open-ended one like “Describe an event that has had great meaning for you. Explain why and how it has affected you.”

Knowing how to craft a strong essay can increase your admissions chances by ten times, according to a  case study  done on Harvard’s admission rates. 

What’s more, college essays play a significant role in determining whether or not your  application receives a second look  or gets tossed aside. 

Hence, knowing how to craft an impactful essay can make a world of a difference: 

Here’s how to write a winning personal growth essay:

Elements of a good personal growth essay.

personal growth essay

College admission essays are meant to help the college gain better insight into your character and personality. Source: Ina Fassbender/AFP

There are four main components of an excellent personal growth essay. 

Apart from having zero spelling and grammar mistakes, it’s also essential to have an engaging narrative, convincing argumentation, a well-organised structure and relevant information.

Your essay should also emphasise your motivations, strengths, and accomplishments that make you the ideal candidate.

If you are confused as to what you just read, remember the following when writing your essay:

  • Craft a compelling narrative that highlights your experience and capabilities. A successful introduction usually begins with a story, anecdote, or personal experience.
  • A well-organised structure consists of at least three to four paragraphs, excluding the introduction and conclusion.
  • Place relevant information regarding your accomplishments and strengths.
  • Like any other essay, conclude with an “answer” that is direct to the question posed and avoid adding new information.

6 steps to writing the best personal growth essay

personal growth essay

Craft the best personal growth essay with these six steps. Source: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

The standard format for these types of essays consists of three primary components: an introduction paragraph, a primary body composed of two to four paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph.

1. Create an outline 

Creating an outline helps you determine the overall tone of the piece. A framework lets you lay out the main points you want to include.

These points can include a valuable lesson that had a personal impact on how you live your life.

2. Write a strong introduction

Think of your introduction as a “hook” to reel your readers in to make a solid first impression. A weak hook gives the impression that your content is dull.

Immediately give the reader an idea of what they can expect from the rest of the piece by explaining the topic from the get-go. This will encourage them to continue reading.

3. Crafting an impactful story with emotions

In the body paragraph, you flesh out what you’ve mentioned in the introduction.

When developing the body of your essay, keep your thesis statement in mind and build around it.

To keep your readers interested throughout your personal growth essay, you have to gradually take them on a visual journey across your essential points.

4. Be direct 

One of the most important points when writing your essay is being concise and direct. It can be tempting to input extra information to hit the word count, but we don’t recommend that.

Remember, the essay’s purpose is to talk about a significant moment in your life. So, it’s essential that you get to the point quickly with ample details.

5. Conclude 

Your conclusion should summarise and highlight the key takeaway from your essay.

6. Double-, triple-check for errors

Even the most famous writers proofread their work.

Since this personal growth essay is for your college application, paying attention to detail when reading your piece before submitting it can go a long way.

An excellent way to do this is by reading out loud; this helps highlight any errors you may have missed.

Apart from checking for grammar and spelling, check if your main message is conveyed accurately. Proofreading helps ensure that the narrative flows in the manner that you desire.

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How to Write Common App Prompt #5: Showing Personal Growth

personal growth essay

Your college admissions essay is a way to open a conversation with your admissions officers. In 650 words, you have the opportunity to share details about yourself as if you were fellow passengers on a long plane ride. A strong personal statement can quickly win over admissions officers because they find you likable, thoughtful, intelligent, and self-aware.

Among all the Common App Essay Prompts this year, the best one to highlight these qualities is Prompt #5, which focuses on personal growth and maturity. Through sharing a poignant moment in your life, you can show them how critically you assess your goals and character. Explain what you value and how you aim to develop yourself so that colleges and universities can gain a good sense of whether you have what it takes to thrive as an independent person in the challenging diverse environment they have to offer.

Common App Essay Prompt #5

PROMPT #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

In Common App Essay Prompt #5, the words “accomplishment” and “event” are somewhat open to interpretation. Therefore, an essay inspired by this question could address anything from a minor event to a major occurrence in your life. An event accomplishment might include birthdays or weddings, or perhaps big achievements like winning a competition or earning an esteemed award. 

Informal examples could include meeting a person in your life who ended up being special; taking a fateful bus or train ride; or participating in a meal or social event that opened up your mind to other realities you hadn’t considered. Events that are smaller or less formal can actually lead to more surprising and memorable essays, but these must also be written with originality and add a personal or unique twist. The art of storytelling is important in this essay prompt.

Some other things to consider:

  • How do periods of transition impact you in general? Are there actions or events that have inspired a change of heart or thought in your mind?
  • Have you ever had a “eureka” moment that has fundamentally shifted how you view the world in some way?
  • Did you ever learn a fact or hear a viewpoint that made you feel more capable or confident in voicing your own opinion and position?

Some example topics for this prompt:

  • Did your expansion of a lemonade stand into a successful small business motivate you into raising funds for a friend or relative’s illness or encourage you to pay off a debt?
  • Do you love sports playback video that forces you to examine your mistakes and take criticism that leads to self-improvement?
  • How did serving soup each week at a homeless shelter for half a year help ground your views of social opportunity and giving? How did this impact how you connect with and serve other people?

Keep in the front of your mind the central elements of growth, understanding, and transformation. The realization or activity you write about should be something that helped you mature in your understanding of the world and other people. And don’t forget to receive professional proofreading services , including essay editing services for your Common App essay, before submitting it to your target schools.

common app essay prompt 5 tips

Dr. Jennifer B. Bernstein

Dr. Jennifer B. Bernstein

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Here’s one of the most popular Common Application essay topics that’s going to be used again in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle: “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.”

According to the Common Application, in the 2018-2019 cycle, 23.7% of students opted to write about an experience of personal transformation that changed their perception of themselves and others.

What you’re about to read is a significantly updated version of my original article.

Since publishing this article back in 2017, more and more of my own students have written amazing Common App essays on this topic.

As such, I’ve decided to update this article to share more insights into what does and doesn’t work when crafting narratives about experiences of “personal growth.”

Read the whole article or click on one of the following links to jump ahead to any section that interests you:

What DON’T Admissions Officers Want to See in Your Common App Essay?

What DO Admissions Officers Want to Read About in Your “Sparked a Period of Personal Growth” Essay?

Why Are Colleges Interested in Essays on Personal Growth?

What Are Some Unique Ways of Approaching the “Sparked a Period of Personal Growth” Essay?

Stanford Student’s Common App Essay on an Experience that “Sparked a Period of Personal Growth”

What don’t  admissions officers want to see in your common app essay .

Let’s start by stating the obvious.

Your track record—your record of past accomplishments—plays a significant role in the college admissions process.

Many students fixate on this part of how they’re going to be evaluated. Even the most talented students fall prey to this tendency because they want to emphasize all the amazing things they’ve done.

This urge is understandable.

Rest assured that there are plenty of places in your application to showcase your accomplishments.

However, your Common Application essay ISN’T  the place to  just focus on  what you’ve done .

Admissions officers don’t  just want to read an essay that’s all about the end result or the “high impact” of your project, accomplishment, or whatever event it is that you’ve chosen to write about.

Every year, I have myth-busting conversations with students who are suffering under the mistaken idea that the Common App essay needs to be first and foremost a demonstration of some very significant high-impact thing they’ve done.

Pay close attention to my phrasing.

I’m NOT saying you shouldn’t include significant accomplishments in your Common App essay on a “period of personal growth.”

I AM saying that your essay shouldn’t  just be about the accomplishments.

Click here to a ccess all my tips, techniques, and case studies on writing great Common App essays.

What DO   Admissions Officers Want to Read About in Your “Sparked a Period of Personal Growth” Essay?

The reality is that admissions officers are extremely curious about how  YOU have been  transformed by projects, experiences, and accomplishments .

Want to write a great Common App essay on something that “sparked a period of personal growth”?

Then, you need to share your  process of transformation –your before, during , and after .

Just FYI, the best transformation narratives often feature both internal and external transformation.

Many students leap right over the “process” part of the essay. They want to jump from the “before” to the “after” because they feel the process–the “middle” or “during”–isn’t exciting or dramatic.

I know you want to dazzle the people reading your application essays.

However, mere “before and after” narratives aren’t as compelling to admissions officers as those that feature the “during.”

In addition to including the “during” part of your transformation, your “after” shouldn’t  just focus on the external result (especially in the “sparked a period of personal growth” essay). Your “after” should include some philosophical contemplation of your transformation.

I strongly recommend that you read two articles:

“Two Elements of the Best Common Application Essays”

“Techniques Used in the Best College Application Essays”

These articles feature strategies to help you master the art of structuring your Common App essay and include analysis of actual student application essays.

Why Are Colleges Interested in Essays on Personal Growth? 

The answer is simple and sometimes surprising.

Colleges aren’t  just looking at your track record.

They’re also looking forward, out beyond what you’ve already accomplished. Admissions officers need to make what a former Yale president describes as a “hunchy judgement” about your potential.

When Stanford is reviewing your application, they’re looking for signs of your “intellectual vitality”–your “commitment, dedication and genuine interest in  expanding your intellectual horizons” and “the initiative with which you seek out opportunities and  expand your perspective.”

Harvard is considering some key questions when they’re reviewing your application: “Have you reached your maximum academic and personal potential?” Or “do you have reserve  power to do more ?” “How  open are you to  new ideas and people ?” “Will you be able to stand up to the pressures and freedoms of College life?”

Yale is looking for a “desire and ability to  stretch one’s limits.”


College is a time of massive intellectual and overall personal growth.

Admissions officers at all colleges are looking for students who are open to this process of growth and have the underlying strategies for handling it .

The best, most memorable college experiences are often ones in which your mind is blow and your perspectives expanded in ways you never could have imagined in high school.

But how can you demonstrate your potential?

How can you demonstrate that you’re ready for the challenge?

Writing your Common App essay about an experience that “sparked a period of personal growth,” especially one that transformed your “understanding of yourself or others,” is an excellent way to show colleges you have the kind of qualities and capabilities described above.

Growth, expansion, openness, and transformation sound lovely. They sound positive. But anyone who has undergone a period of massive growth knows that it’s more complex than it sounds, and there are almost always setbacks and challenges along the way.

The “during” part of your essay is a great place to show that you’ve started cultivating the underlying skills that are essential for navigating your way through the growth process.

What Are Some Unique Ways of Approaching the “Sparked a Period of Personal Growth” Essay? 

There are so many juicy possibilities for writing about an experience that “sparked a period of personal growth.”

Here are some things my students have written about. . .

Getting lost in a foreign city

Losing their passport

Changing a deeply held conviction based on the results of a research project or conversation

Getting called out by an employer for insufficient attention to details

Hurting someone’s feelings by acting in an ungrateful manner

Standing up to someone

Doing something way out of their comfort zone (e.g., working on a farm, going on a solo wilderness hike, etc.)

Taking charge of organizing a family holiday gathering due to a parent’s illness

Student Background:  One of my students who is studying engineering at Stanford was originally planning to write her Common App essay on the time she felt like a failure because she couldn’t answer a judge’s question. ( Click here to read “How to Successfully Apply to Engineering Programs.” )

Problem:  We both agreed that the first draft she wrote felt too stiff and formulaic.

She glossed over the experience with the judge. The experience just seemed like a gimmicky hook that led into a essay that was mainly about the impact her organization had on the young people in her community. That is, she was falling into the trap of trying to write a “LOOK AT WHAT I’VE DONE!!” essay that I mentioned earlier. Plus, the draft featured all the cliches guaranteed to make an admissions officer’s eyes glaze over in “I’ve read this same basic narrative a thousand times” boredom.

There wasn’t sufficient introspection. The juiciest parts of her experience–the ones that would probably matter most to college admissions committees–didn’t even make their way into her essay. The most interesting aspects of her experience had to do with the way she contemplated the implications of her inability to answer the judge’s question about how her project “could change children’s lives” and how this contemplation propelled her into a  process of rethinking the nature of her engineering work and led to the development of her organization.

Solution:  In our conversations, she shared how, up until that moment with the judge, she’d only really focused on pursuing her own intellectual interests. This experience of feeling dumfounded by the judge’s question was painful, but it set her off on a new journey that involved finding applications for her work that could benefit others. She started thinking about the needs of others, not just her own. As it turns out, this was an experience that “sparked a period of personal growth.”

As she worked through the details of this transformation in her goals and approach, she also began transitioning from always being the young person getting mentored to becoming a mentor for the next generation of budding scientists and engineers. One element of her “personal growth” had to do with this shift from always “taking” to being someone who does more “giving.” A fruit of this experience that “sparked a period of personal growth” was her development of what eventually became a high-impact and award-winning program for children in her city. This program was originally the narrative star of her essay (in terms of how much attention she gave it), but now it had even more impact because the whole personal backstory was there.

Our conversations focused on mapping out vivid anecdotes that helped admissions officers see her process of inner and outer transformation. She developed super specific “before, during, and after” anecdotes that also shed light on her family background and culture. She took readers on a journey that started with the seemingly simple question from a science fair judge that plunged her into a process of “personal growth” which ultimately resulted in a “new understanding” of herself and others.

Dr. Bernstein’s Commentary: This student’s essay was now far more psychologically and intellectually nuanced.

Her essay wasn’t filled with exaggerated external drama and didn’t have the light, whippy tone that many websites featuring sample application essays love to emphasize.

Once she let go of many of the common misunderstandings about what matters in this kind of essay, she wrote an essays that was true to her experience and style.

Her vivid “before, during, and after” anecdotes made it possible for readers to really see and feel her “aha” moment in action. It’s very satisfying when readers can feel the “aha”–when they can see your mind and heart in action.

Admissions officers aren’t  just interested in the surface level of what your essay is about.

They’re also interested in your habits of mind–the way you make sense of your experiences, your level of self-awareness, and a whole host of other qualities.

Let’s end by connecting the student’s essay back to what I shared earlier about what Stanford, Harvard, and Yale are looking for in applicants.

Now her essay showed how she keeps “questing” and stretching herself. She’s demonstrating how she has “reserve power to do more” because each significant experience she has sparks more personal growth, contemplation, and action. She’s constantly deepening and expanding her perspectives to benefit not only herself but also others. So even though this essay started with what seemed like a moment of failure (not being able to answer the judge’s question), it was really about her own growth.


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If you search for the theme you want, you can find many examples to utilize as inspiration.

Is it allowed to submit your samples as mine?

We warn against claiming these writings to be your own. Since they are in the public domain, other students may have already mentioned them. But they can also serve as a source of inspiration and the first stage of your writing.

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You can find tens of thousands of examples in our database.

Personal development is the process of growing as a person. The phrase can refer to a person’s growth in various aspects, such as their mental, physical, and emotional well-being. The ultimate goal of every personal growth goal is to improve all facets of your life, and these areas are frequently interconnected.

Self Growth Essay: Look Deep Inside of You

Self-growth is a natural process that helps you improve and broaden your capabilities. But what self-development helps you to achieve?

  • Increases one’s manners and consideration.
  • Teaches to control resentment.
  • Helps get rid of procrastination and idleness.
  • Enhances personal responsibility.
  • Helps to be more optimistic and shift your perspective.

Self-improvement can benefit your professional and personal life by enabling you to reach your best potential. Motivation, the desire to enhance and the willingness to work hard to achieve changes are necessary for successful personal growth.

Problems and challenges can sometimes catalyze a person’s desire to change for the better.

Other times, reading a motivating book, watching a motivating movie, or reading about successful people inspires people to take action toward personal progress. You may be allocated to write an essay on any of these traits for a teacher to know you as a person and see your goals and experiences.

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Great College Essay Advice for the Common App – The Personal Growth Prompt

Mark montgomery.

  • September 28, 2023

man looking at papers of applicant

All the essay prompts for the Common Application ask you to provide evidence of your personal growth. One particular prompt–the personal growth prompt–makes this request more explicit. Here you are asked to look at your circumstances, point of view, and personal understanding, and then provide evidence of how these things might have changed due to some accomplishment, event, or realization. Then you go on to reflect on these changes.

The Personal Growth Prompt

Here’s how the prompt is worded on the Common App.

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

Next we will got through the prompt word by word and phrase by phrase to help you respond to this prompt in the best way possible.  The more you think about what the prompt is asking, the easier it will be to come up with an excellent idea for how to address it.

Discuss Your Story for the Personal Growth Prompt

At first glance, this prompt doesn’t seem to have a story at the heart of it. However, the focus is on a transition, which implies a description of “before” and “after” this event, accomplishment, or realization. So you should retell the story briefly to help your reader understand the transition. As with the other prompts, you should then go on to put this event, accomplishment, or realization into a larger context. You need to interpret this story for your reader through analysis and synthesis.

Your story must be brief.  But it must also be interesting for the reader. You don’t need to think of a story that is heroic or grandiose.  While an “accomplishment” might bring about personal growth, sometimes the most mundane events or off-handed conversations can lead us to reevaluate ourselves or the world around us. 

Again, the story is not the heart of your essay–it is the pivot between how you thought or felt before the accomplishment, even, or realization, and how you thought or felt after it. You need to define the transitional moment so that your reader can visualize this change.  But the real meat of your essay is the reflection you will make that is based on this brief anecdote from your life.

By reflecting upon what happened after this event, accomplishment, or realization, you can give your reader a sense of your increasing maturity and your priorities, values, and personality.

Personal Growth and Understanding

As we grow older, we find that in some situations we feel—or are treated—as children, while in other situations we feel more like adults. Sometimes this transition is subtle. For example, you may perceive ways in which other adults begin to treat you with greater seriousness in places like restaurants, at the post office, and in other public places. Sometimes, however, this transition can seem more abrupt, as in the day you get your driver’s license or register to vote for the first time. Religion often marks this transition (first communions, bar mitzvahs), as do particular cultures (quinceañeras, debutante balls).

This prompt asks you to more closely examine your own transition from childhood to adulthood. Granted, for all of us, this transition is slow and gradual (and frankly, sometimes even we are not sure we have completely transitioned to adulthood!). But no matter our age, religion, or culture, this transition is marked by some memorable stories–stories that you are being asked to share with your readers.

But here again, remember that the meat of the essay is not the story of the transition. Rather the focus of this prompt is you reflection upon how you changed and grew as a result of this accomplishment, event, or realization.  

Accomplishments or Events

The transition to adulthood is marked by both accomplishments and events. An accomplishment is something that you achieved through hard work. An event, on the other hand, is a happening in which you may have been more passive. But nonetheless marks a very important milestone in your life. Some of these accomplishments and events are formal (e.g., learning Hebrew and reciting the Torah before your congregation in a ceremony before your friends and family).

Other accomplishments and events are informal (e.g., you finally look old enough that when you enter a restaurant with your parents, the hostess no longer gives you the kiddie menu). College admissions folks do not care so much about the exact nature of these accomplishments or events. Rather they care about how you tell an interesting story about your transition to adulthood.


Unlike an accomplishment or event, a realization can have no outward manifestation that others can see or experience. You may, instead, experience some sort of internal “Aha!” moment. Your understanding changes. You see yourself—or others—in a completely new light. Perhaps you shared this realization with others, or perhaps it is one that is intensely private. But the change or transition is real, because it leads to a new and different understanding of yourself and the world around you.

 Summary: The Personal Growth Prompt

This Common Application prompt is a great opportunity for you to reflect on your own maturation. High school is a time in life when we make great strides on the road from childhood to adulthood.  This road is punctuated with various moments that lead us to reflect on how we are growing and changing.  The Personal Growth Prompt invites you to identify one of these important moments and then reflect upon this growth and change.  

College admissions officers want to understand the “real you” underneath all the academic and other data on the application.  This prompt is a great way to show them who you really are.

************** Need some help with your college application essay? Whether you’re aiming for the Ivy League or just want to look your best when applying to the school of your dreams, our expert advisors can help you brainstorm, structure, and edit a fantastic application essay. Give us a call or complete our contact form for a free, no-obligation consultation..

Mark Montgomery Educational consultant and admissions expert

VIEW THE COMPLETE SERIES OF POSTS ANALYZING THE COMMON APPLICATION PROMPTS Writing About A Belief or Idea Writing About A Place or Environment Writing About the Transition to Adulthood Writing About Your Background Story

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21 Stellar Common App Essay Examples to Inspire Your College Essay

What’s covered:, what makes a good common app essay, is your common app essay strong enough.

When you begin writing your Common App essay, having an example to look at can help you understand how to effectively write your college essay so that it stands apart from others. 

These Common App essay examples demonstrate a strong writing ability and answer the prompt in a way that shows admissions officers something unique about the student. Once you’ve read some examples and are ready to get started, read our step-by-step guide for how to write a strong Common App essay.  

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Read our Common App essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.

It’s Personal

The point of the Common App essay is to humanize yourself to a college admissions committee. The ultimate goal is to get them to choose you over someone else! You will have a better chance of achieving this goal if the admissions committee feels personally connected to you or invested in your story. When writing your Common App essay, you should explore your feelings, worldview, values, desires, and anything else that makes you uniquely you.

It’s Not Cliché

It is pretty easy to resort to clichés in college essays. This should be actively avoided! CollegeVine has identified the immigrant’s journey, sports injuries, and overcoming a challenging course as cliché topics . If you write about one of these topics, you have to work harder to stand out, so working with a more nuanced topic is often safer and easier.

It’s Well-Done

Colleges want good writers. They want students who can articulate their thoughts clearly and concisely (and creatively!). You should be writing and rewriting your essays, perfecting them as you go. Of course, make sure that your grammar and spelling are impeccable, but also put in time crafting your tone and finding your voice. This will also make your essay more personal and will make your reader feel more connected to you!

It’s Cohesive

Compelling Common App essays tell a cohesive story. Cohesion is primarily achieved through effective introductions and conclusions , which often contribute to the establishment of a clear theme or topic. Make sure that it is clear what you are getting at, but also don’t explicitly state what you are getting at—a successful essay speaks for itself.

Common App Essay Examples

Here are the current Common App prompts. Click the links to jump to the examples for a specific prompt, or keep reading to review the examples for all the prompts.

Prompt #1 :  Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Prompt #2 :  The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Prompt #3 :  Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Prompt #4 : Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? (NOTE: We only have an example for the old prompt #4 about solving a problem, not this current one)

Prompt #5 :  Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Prompt #6 :  Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Prompt #7 :  Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Note: Names have been changed to protect the identity of the author and subjects.

Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Prompt #1, example #1.

The room was silent except for the thoughts racing through my head. I led a spade from my hand and my opponent paused for a second, then played a heart. The numbers ran through my mind as I tried to consider every combination, calculating my next move. Finally, I played the ace of spades from the dummy and the rest of my clubs, securing the contract and 620 points when my partner ruffed at trick five. Next board.

It was the final of the 2015 United States Bridge Federation Under-26 Women’s Championship. The winning team would be selected to represent the United States in the world championship and my team was still in the running.

Contract bridge is a strategic and stochastic card game. Players from around the world gather at local clubs, regional events, and, in this case, national tournaments.

Going into the tournament, my team was excited; all the hours we had put into the game, from the lengthy midnight Skype sessions spent discussing boards to the coffee shop meetings spent memorizing conventions together, were about to pay off.

Halfway through, our spirits were still high, as we were only down by fourteen international match points which, out of the final total of about four hundred points, was virtually nothing and it was very feasible to catch up. Our excitement was short-lived, however, as sixty boards later, we found that we had lost the match and would not be chosen as the national team.

Initially, we were devastated. We had come so close and it seemed as if all the hours we had devoted to training had been utterly wasted. Yet as our team spent some time together reflecting upon the results, we gradually realized that the true value that we had gained wasn’t only the prospect of winning the national title, but also the time we had spent together exploring our shared passion. I chatted with the winning team and even befriended a few of them who offered us encouragement and advice.

Throughout my bridge career, although I’ve gained a respectable amount of masterpoints and awards, I’ve realized that the real reward comes from the extraordinary people I have met. I don’t need to travel cross-country to learn; every time I sit down at a table whether it be during a simple club game, a regional tournament or a national event, I find I’m always learning. 

I nod at the pair that’s always yelling at each other. They teach me the importance of sportsmanship and forgiveness.

I greet the legally blind man who can defeat most of the seeing players. He reminds me not to make excuses.

I chat with the friendly, elderly couple who, at ages ninety and ninety-two, have just gotten married two weeks ago. They teach me that it’s never too late to start anything.

I talk to the boy who’s attending Harvard and the girl who forewent college to start her own company. They show me that there is more than one path to success.

I congratulate the little kid running to his dad, excited to have won his very first masterpoints. He reminds me of the thrill of every first time and to never stop trying new things.

Just as much as I have benefitted from these life lessons, I aspire to give back to my bridge community as much as it has given me. I aspire to teach people how to play this complicated yet equally as exciting game. I aspire to never stop improving myself, both at and away from the bridge table.

Bridge has given me my roots and dared me to dream. What started as merely a hobby has become a community, a passion, a part of my identity. I aspire to live selflessly and help others reach their goals. I seek to take risks, embrace all results, even failure, and live unfettered from my own doubt.

This student draws readers in with a strong introduction. The essay starts ambiguous—“I led with a spade”—then intrigues readers by gradually revealing more information and details. This makes the reader want to keep reading (which is super important!) As the writer continues, there is a rather abrupt tone shift from suspenseful to explanatory with statements like “It was the final of the 2015 United States Bridge Federation Under-26 Women’s Championship” and “Contract bridge is a strategic and stochastic card game.” If you plan to start with an imagery-heavy, emotional, suspenseful, or dramatic introduction, you will need to transition to the content of your essay in a way that does not feel abrupt. 

You will often hear that essays need to “show, not tell.” This essay actually does both. First, the student tells readers the importance of bridge, saying “we gradually realized that the true value that we had gained wasn’t only the prospect of winning the national title, but also the time we had spent together exploring our shared passion” and “I’ve realized that the real reward comes from the extraordinary people I have met.” Then, the student shows the lessons they have learned from bridge through a series of parallel sentences: “I nod… sportsmanship and forgiveness” “I greet… not to make excuses” “I chat… it’s never too late to start anything” and so on. This latter strategy is much more effective than the former and is watered down because the student has already told us what we are supposed to get out of these sentences. Remember that your readers are intelligent and can draw their own conclusions. Avoid summarizing the moral of your story for them!

Overall, this essay is interesting and answers the prompt. We learn the importance of bridge to this student. The student has a solid grasp of language, a high-level vocabulary, and a valuable message, though they would be better off if they avoided summarizing their point and created more seamless transitions. 

Prompt #1, Example #2

Growing up, I always wanted to eat, play, visit, watch, and be it all: sloppy joes and spaetzle, Beanie Babies and Steiff, Cape Cod and the Baltic Sea, football and fussball, American and German.

My American parents relocated our young family to Berlin when I was three years old. My exposure to America was limited to holidays spent stateside and awfully dubbed Disney Channel broadcasts. As the few memories I had of living in the US faded, my affinity for Germany grew. I began to identify as “Germerican,” an ideal marriage of the two cultures. As a child, I viewed my biculturalism as a blessing. I possessed a native fluency in “Denglisch” and my family’s Halloween parties were legendary at a time when the holiday was just starting to gain popularity outside of the American Sector.

Insidiously, the magic I once felt in loving two homes was replaced by a deep-­rooted sense of rootlessness. I stopped feeling American when, while discussing World War II with my grandmother, I said “the US won.” She corrected me, insisting I use “we” when referring to the US’s actions. Before then, I hadn’t realized how directly people associated themselves with their countries. I stopped feeling German during the World Cup when my friends labeled me a “bandwagon fan” for rooting for Germany. Until that moment, my cheers had felt sincere. I wasn’t part of the “we” who won World Wars or World Cups. Caught in a twilight of foreign and familiar, I felt emotionally and psychologically disconnected from the two cultures most familiar to me.

After moving from Berlin to New York at age fifteen, my feelings of cultural homelessness thrived in my new environment. Looking and sounding American furthered my feelings of dislocation. Border patrol agents, teachers, classmates, neighbors, and relatives all “welcomed me home” to a land they could not understand was foreign to me. Americans confused me as I relied on Urban Dictionary to understand my peers, the Pledge of Allegiance seemed nationalistic, and the only thing familiar about Fahrenheit was the German after whom it was named. Too German for America and too American for Germany, I felt alienated from both. I wanted desperately to be a member of one, if not both, cultures.

During my first weeks in Scarsdale, I spent my free time googling “Berlin Family Seeks Teen” and “New Americans in Scarsdale.” The latter search proved most fruitful: I discovered Horizons, a nonprofit that empowers resettled refugees, or “New Americans,” to thrive. I started volunteering with Horizon’s children’s programs, playing with and tutoring young refugees.

It was there that I met Emily, a twelve­-year-­old Iraqi girl who lived next to Horizons. In between games and snacks, Emily would ask me questions about American life, touching on everything from Halloween to President Obama. Gradually, my confidence in my American identity grew as I recognized my ability to answer most of her questions. American culture was no longer completely foreign to me. I found myself especially qualified to work with young refugees; my experience growing up in a country other than that of my parents’ was similar enough to that of the refugee children Horizons served that I could empathize with them and offer advice. Together, we worked through conflicting allegiances, homesickness, and stretched belonging.

Forging a special, personal bond with young refugees proved a cathartic outlet for my insecurities as it taught me to value my past. My transculturalism allowed me to help young refugees integrate into American life, and, in doing so, I was able to adjust myself. Now, I have an appreciation of myself that I never felt before. “Home” isn’t the digits in a passport or ZIP code but a sense of contentedness. By helping a young refugee find comfort, happiness, and home in America, I was finally able to find those same things for myself.

Due to their endearing (and creative) use of language—with early phrases like “sloppy joes and spaetzle” as well as  “Germerican” and “Denglisch”—readers are inclined to like this writer from the get-go. Though the essay shifts from this lighthearted introduction to more serious subject matter around the third paragraph, the shift is not abrupt or jarring. This is because the student invites readers to feel the transition with them through their inclusion of various anecdotes that inspired their “feelings of cultural homelessness.” And our journey does not end there—we go back to America with the student and see how their former struggles become strengths.

Ultimately, this essay is successful due to its satisfying ending. Because readers experience the student’s struggles with them, we also feel the resolution. The conclusion of this essay is a prime example of the “Same, but Different” technique described in our article on How to End Your College Essay . As the student describes how, in the end, their complicated cultural identity still exists but transitions to a source of strength, readers are left feeling happy for the student. This means that they have formed a connection with the student, which is the ultimate goal!

Prompt #1, Example #3

“1…2…3…4 pirouettes ! New record!” My friends cheered as I landed my turns. Pleased with my progress, I gazed down at my worn-out pointe shoes. The sweltering blisters, numbing ice-baths, and draining late-night practices did not seem so bad after all. Next goal: five turns.

For as long as I can remember, ballet, in all its finesse and glamor, had kept me driven day to day. As a child, the lithe ballerinas, donning ethereal costumes as they floated across the stage, were my motivation. While others admired Messi and Adele, I idolized Carlos Acosta, principal dancer of the Royal Ballet. 

As I devoted more time and energy towards my craft, I became obsessed with improving my technique. I would stretch for hours after class, forcing my leg one inch higher in an effort to mirror the Dance Magazine cover girls . I injured my feet and ruined pair after pair of pointe shoes, turning on wood, cement, and even grass to improve my balance as I spun. At competitions, the dancers with the 180-degree leg extensions, endless turns, and soaring leaps—the ones who received “Bravos!” from the roaring audience—further pushed me to refine my skills and perfect my form. I believed that, with enough determination, I would one day attain their level of perfection. Reaching the quadruple- pirouette milestone only intensified my desire to accomplish even more. 

My efforts seemed to have come to fruition two summers ago when I was accepted to dance with Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet at their renowned New York City summer intensive. I walked into my first session eager to learn from distinguished ballet masters and worldly dancers, already anticipating my improvement. Yet, as I danced alongside the accomplished ballerinas, I felt out of place. Despite their clean technique and professional training, they did not aim for glorious leg extensions or prodigious leaps. When they performed their turn combinations, most of them only executed two turns as I attempted four. 

“Dancers, double- pirouettes only.” 

Taken aback and confused, I wondered why our teacher expected so little from us. The other ballerinas seemed content, gracing the studio with their simple movements. 

As I grew closer with my Moscow roommates, I gradually learned that their training emphasized the history of the art form instead of stylistic tricks. Rather than show off their physical ability, their performances aimed to convey a story, one that embodied the rich culture of ballet and captured both the legacy of the dancers before them and their own artistry. As I observed my friends more intently in repertoire class, I felt the pain of the grief-stricken white swan from Swan Lake , the sass of the flirtatious Kitri from Don Quijote, and I gradually saw what I had overlooked before. My definition of talent had been molded by crowd-pleasing elements—whirring pirouettes , gravity-defying leaps, and mind-blowing leg extensions. This mindset slowly stripped me from the roots of my passion and my personal connection with ballet. 

With the Bolshoi, I learned to step back and explore the meaning behind each step and the people behind the scenes. Ballet carries history in its movements, from the societal values of the era to each choreographer’s unique flair. As I uncovered the messages behind each pirouette, kick, and jump, my appreciation for ballet grew beyond my obsession with raw athleticism and developed into a love for the art form’s emotive abilities in bridging the dancers with the audience. My journey as an artist has allowed me to see how technical execution is only the means to a greater understanding between dancer and spectator, between storyteller and listener. The elegance and complexity of ballet does not revolve around astonishing stunts but rather the evocative strength and artistry manifested in the dancer, in me. It is the combination of sentiments, history, tradition, and passion that has allowed ballet and its lessons of human connection to become my lifestyle both on and off stage.

The primary strength of this essay is the honesty and authenticity of the student’s writing. It is purposefully reflective. Intentional language creates a clear character arc that begins with an eager young ballerina and ends with the student reflecting on their past. 

Readers are easily able to picture the passion and intensity of the young dancer through the writer’s engagement with words like “obsessed,” “forcing,” and “ruined” in the second paragraph. Then, we see how intensity becomes pride as they “wondered why our teacher expected so little from us.” And ultimately, we see the writer humbled as they are exposed to the deeper meaning behind what they have worked so hard for. This arc is outstanding, and the student’s musings about ballet in the concl usion position them as vulnerable and reflective (and thus, appealing to admissions officers!)

The main weakness of this essay (though this is a stellar essay) is its formulaic beginning. While dialogue can be an effective tool for starting your essay, this student’s introduction feels a bit stilted as the dialogue does not match the overall reflective tone of the essay. Perhaps, in place of “Next goal: five turns,” the student could have posed a question or foreshadowed the growth they ultimately describe.

Prompt #1, Example #4

My paintbrush dragged a flurry of acrylic, the rich colors attaching to each groove in my canvas’s texture. The feeling was euphoric.

From a young age, painting has been my solace. Between the stress of my packed high school days filled with classes and extracurriculars, the glide of my paintbrush was my emotional outlet.

I opened a fresh canvas and began. The amalgamation of assorted colors in my palette melded harmoniously: dark and light, cool and warm, brilliant and dull. They conjoined, forming shades and surfaces sharp, smooth, and ridged. The textures of my paint strokes — powdery, glossy, jagged — gave my painting a tone, as if it had a voice of its own, sometimes shrieking, sometimes whispering.

Rough indigo blue. The repetitive upward pulls of my brush formed layers on my canvas. Staring into the deep blue, I felt transported to the bottom of the pool I swim in daily. I looked upward to see a layer of dense water between myself and the person I aspire to be, an ideal blurred by filmy ripples. Rough blue encapsulates my amorphous, conflicting identity, catalyzed by words spewed by my peers about my “oily hair” and “smelly food”. They caused my ever present disdain toward cultural assemblies; the lehenga I wore felt burdensome. My identity quivers like the indigo storm I painted — a duel between my self-deprecating, validation-seeking self, and the proud self I desire to be. My haphazard paint strokes released my internal turbulence.

Smooth orange-hued green. I laid the color in melodious strokes, forming my figure. The warmer green transitions from the rough blue — while they share elements, they also diverge. My firm brushstrokes felt like the way I felt on my first day as a media intern at KBOO, my local volunteer-driven radio station, committed to the voices of the marginalized. As a naturally introverted speaker, I was forced out of my comfort zone when tasked with documenting a KBOO art exhibition for social media, speaking with hosts to share their diverse, underrepresented backgrounds and inspirations. A rhythmic green strength soon shoved me past internal blue turbulence. My communication skills which were built by two years of Speech and Debate unleashed — I recognized that making a social change through media required amplifying unique voices and perspectives, both my own and others. The powerful green strokes that fill my canvas entrench my growth.

Bright, voluminous coral, hinted with magenta and yellow. I dabbed the color over my figure, giving my painting dimension. The paint, speckled, added depth on every inch it coated. As I moved the color in random but purposeful movements, the vitality ushered into my painting brought a smile across my face. It reminded me of the encounters I had with my cubicle-mate in my sophomore year academic autism research internship, seemingly insignificant moments in my lifelong journey that, in retrospect, wove unique threads into my tapestry. The kindness she brought into work inspired my compassion, while her stories of struggling with ADHD in the workplace bolstered my empathy towards different experiences. Our conversations added blobs of a nonuniform bright color in my painting, binding a new perspective in me.

I added in my final strokes, each contributing an element to my piece. As I scanned my canvas, I observed these elements. Detail added nuance into smaller pictures; they embodied complexities within color, texture, and hue, each individually delivering a narrative. But together, they formed a piece of art— art that could be interpreted as a whole or broken apart but still delivering as a means of communication.

I find beauty in media because of this. I can adapt a complex narrative to be deliverable, each component telling a story. Appreciating these nuances — the light, dark, smooth, and rough — has cultivated my growth mindset. My life-long painting never finishes. It is ever-expanding, absorbing the novel textures and colors I encounter daily.

This essay is distinct from others due to its melodic, lyrical form. This is primarily achieved because the student’s form follows the movements of the paintbrush that they use to scaffold their essay. As readers, we simply flow through the essay, occasionally picking up bits of information about its creator. Without even realizing it, by the end of the essay, admissions officers will know that this student is a swimmer, was in Speech and Debate, is Indian, and has had multiple internships.

A major strength of this essay is the command of language that the student demonstrates. This essay was not simply written, it was crafted. Universities are, of course, interested in the talents, goals, and interests of applicants, but an essay being well-written can be equally important. Writing skills are important because your reader will not learn about your talents, goals, and interests if they aren’t engaged in your essay, but they are also important because admissions officers know that being able to articulate your thoughts is important for success in all future careers.

While this essay is well-written, there are a few moments where it falls out of the flow and feels more like a student advertising their successes. For example, the phrases “media intern at KBOO” and “autism research internship” work better on a resume than they do in this essay. Admissions officers have a copy of your resume and can check your internship experiences after reading your essay! If you are going to use a unique writing style or narrative form, lean into it; don’t try to hybridize it with the standard college essay form. Your boldness will be attractive to admissions officers.

personal growth essay

Readers are easily able to picture the passion and intensity of the young dancer through the writer’s engagement with words like “obsessed,” “forcing,” and “ruined” in the second paragraph. Then, we see how intensity becomes pride as they “wondered why our teacher expected so little from us.” And ultimately, we see the writer humbled as they are exposed to the deeper meaning behind what they have worked so hard for. This arc is outstanding, and the student’s musings about ballet in the conclusion position them as vulnerable and reflective (and thus, appealing to admissions officers!)

Prompt #2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Prompt #2, example #1.

“You ruined my life!” After months of quiet anger, my brother finally confronted me. To my shame, I had been appallingly ignorant of his pain.

Despite being twins, Max and I are profoundly different. Having intellectual interests from a young age that, well, interested very few of my peers, I often felt out of step in comparison with my highly-social brother. Everything appeared to come effortlessly for Max and, while we share an extremely tight bond, his frequent time away with friends left me feeling more and more alone as we grew older.

When my parents learned about The Green Academy, we hoped it would be an opportunity for me to find not only an academically challenging environment, but also – perhaps more importantly – a community. This meant transferring the family from Drumfield to Kingston. And while there was concern about Max, we all believed that given his sociable nature, moving would be far less impactful on him than staying put might be on me.

As it turned out, Green Academy was everything I’d hoped for. I was ecstatic to discover a group of students with whom I shared interests and could truly engage. Preoccupied with new friends and a rigorous course load, I failed to notice that the tables had turned. Max, lost in the fray and grappling with how to make connections in his enormous new high school, had become withdrawn and lonely. It took me until Christmas time – and a massive argument – to recognize how difficult the transition had been for my brother, let alone that he blamed me for it.

Through my own journey of searching for academic peers, in addition to coming out as gay when I was 12, I had developed deep empathy for those who had trouble fitting in. It was a pain I knew well and could easily relate to. Yet after Max’s outburst, my first response was to protest that our parents – not I – had chosen to move us here. In my heart, though, I knew that regardless of who had made the decision, we ended up in Kingston for my benefit. I was ashamed that, while I saw myself as genuinely compassionate, I had been oblivious to the heartache of the person closest to me. I could no longer ignore it – and I didn’t want to.

We stayed up half the night talking, and the conversation took an unexpected turn. Max opened up and shared that it wasn’t just about the move. He told me how challenging school had always been for him, due to his dyslexia, and that the ever-present comparison to me had only deepened his pain.

We had been in parallel battles the whole time and, yet, I only saw that Max was in distress once he experienced problems with which I directly identified. I’d long thought Max had it so easy – all because he had friends. The truth was, he didn’t need to experience my personal brand of sorrow in order for me to relate – he had felt plenty of his own.

My failure to recognize Max’s suffering brought home for me the profound universality and diversity of personal struggle; everyone has insecurities, everyone has woes, and everyone – most certainly – has pain. I am acutely grateful for the conversations he and I shared around all of this, because I believe our relationship has been fundamentally strengthened by a deeper understanding of one another. Further, this experience has reinforced the value of constantly striving for deeper sensitivity to the hidden struggles of those around me. I won’t make the mistake again of assuming that the surface of someone’s life reflects their underlying story.

Here is a prime example that you don’t have to have fabulous imagery or flowery prose to write a successful Common App essay. You just have to be clear and say something that matters. This essay is simple and beautiful. It almost feels like having a conversation with a friend and learning that they are an even better person than you already thought they were.

Through this narrative, readers learn a lot about the writer—where they’re from, what their family life is like, what their challenges were as a kid, and even their sexuality. We also learn a lot about their values—notably, the value they place on awareness, improvement, and consideration of others. Though they never explicitly state it (which is great because it is still crystal clear!), this student’s ending of “I won’t make the mistake again of assuming that the surface of someone’s life reflects their underlying story” shows that they are constantly striving for improvement and finding lessons anywhere they can get them in life.

The only part of this essay that could use a bit of work is the introduction. A short introduction can be effective, but this short first paragraph feels thrown in at the last minute and like it is missing its second half. If you are keeping your introduction short, make it matter.

Prompt #2, Example #2

Was I no longer the beloved daughter of nature, whisperer of trees? Knee-high rubber boots, camouflage, bug spray—I wore the garb and perfume of a proud wild woman, yet there I was, hunched over the pathetic pile of stubborn sticks, utterly stumped, on the verge of tears. As a child, I had considered myself a kind of rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free. I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms. Yet here I was, ten years later, incapable of performing the most fundamental outdoor task: I could not, for the life of me, start a fire. 

Furiously I rubbed the twigs together—rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers. No smoke. The twigs were too young, too sticky-green; I tossed them away with a shower of curses, and began tearing through the underbrush in search of a more flammable collection. My efforts were fruitless. Livid, I bit a rejected twig, determined to prove that the forest had spurned me, offering only young, wet bones that would never burn. But the wood cracked like carrots between my teeth—old, brittle, and bitter. Roaring and nursing my aching palms, I retreated to the tent, where I sulked and awaited the jeers of my family. 

Rattling their empty worm cans and reeking of fat fish, my brother and cousins swaggered into the campsite. Immediately, they noticed the minor stick massacre by the fire pit and called to me, their deep voices already sharp with contempt. 

“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame. 

In the tent, I pondered my failure. Was I so dainty? Was I that incapable? I thought of my hands, how calloused and capable they had been, how tender and smooth they had become. It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive. And I’d gotten glasses, having grown horrifically nearsighted; long nights of dim lighting and thick books had done this. I couldn’t remember the last time I had lain down on a hill, barefaced, and seen the stars without having to squint. Crawling along the edge of the tent, a spider confirmed my transformation—he disgusted me, and I felt an overwhelming urge to squash him. 

Yet, I realized I hadn’t really changed—I had only shifted perspective. I still eagerly explored new worlds, but through poems and prose rather than pastures and puddles. I’d grown to prefer the boom of a bass over that of a bullfrog, learned to coax a different kind of fire from wood, having developed a burn for writing rhymes and scrawling hypotheses. 

That night, I stayed up late with my journal and wrote about the spider I had decided not to kill. I had tolerated him just barely, only shrieking when he jumped—it helped to watch him decorate the corners of the tent with his delicate webs, knowing that he couldn’t start fires, either. When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.

This Common App essay is well-written. The student is showing the admissions officers their ability to articulate their points beautifully and creatively. It starts with vivid images like that of the “rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free.” And because the prose is flowery, the writer can get away with metaphors like “I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms” that might sound cheesy without the clear command of the English language that the writer quickly establishes.

In addition to being well-written, this essay is thematically cohesive. It begins with the simple introduction “Fire!” and ends with the following image: “When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.” This full-circle approach leaves readers satisfied and impressed.

While dialogue often comes off as cliche or trite, this student effectively incorporates their family members saying “Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” This is achieved through the apt use of the verb “taunted” to characterize the questioning and through the question’s thematic connection to the earlier image of the student as a rustic princess. Similarly, rhetorical questions can feel randomly placed in essays, but this student’s inclusion of the questions “Was I so dainty?” and “Was I that incapable?” feels perfectly justified after they establish that they were pondering their failure.

Quite simply, this essay shows how quality writing can make a simple story outstandingly compelling.

Prompt #2, Example #3

The muffled voices behind thin walls heralded trouble.

They were fighting about money.

It wasn’t the first time this had happened and it wasn’t going to be the last. It was one of those countless nights I had to spend curled up under the blanket while pretending to be asleep. My father had been unemployed for five years now, and my mother, a local kindergarten teacher, was struggling to support the family alone. Our situation was bleak: Savings had run out and my parents could no longer hide our lack of money from me. To make matters worse, I was a few weeks away from starting high school, which would inevitably lead to college, yet another financial stressor for my family.

The argument didn’t sound like it would end soon.

“Why did you spend money on that?” my mother said, with an elongated sigh.

“I had to,” my father said, decidedly.

Every fight over the years had left me in despair and the idea of going through another fight daunted me. I had looked forward to my teen years all my life, an age that allows, for the first time, more responsibility. Indeed, after this fateful night, after my fourteenth birthday, I felt a mounting responsibility to help my family, and started brainstorming.

Always being fascinated by computers, I spent my childhood burying myself under computer cabinets, experimenting with computer parts. Naturally, I wondered if my skills in this area might be marketable.

The next morning, my friend, Naba, mentioned that her computer wasn’t working. A tuk-tuk ride later, and I was at her doorstep, and her mother was leading me to her room. I was off to work: I began examining her computer, like a surgeon carefully manages his scalpels and tools. A proper diagnosis was not far from reach, as I realized a broken pin in her computer’s SATA slot. After an hour of work, and a short trip to the hardware store, I successfully fixed the computer. To my pleasant surprise, Naba’s mother drew out two fresh 500 Rupee notes. One covered the cost of the parts I bought and the other was a token of appreciation. Bidding her goodbye, I went straight back home and put one of the 500 Rupee notes inside my family’s “savings-jar.”

Later that day, I devised a plan. I told my friends to spread the word that I was available to fix computers. At first, I got only one or two calls per week. I would pick up the computer from my client’s home, fix it quickly, and return it, thus earning myself a commission. While I couldn’t market my services at a competitive price, because I wasn’t able to buy the parts wholesale, I compensated by providing convenience. All my clients had to do was call me once and the rest was taken care of. Thus, my business had the best customer service in town.

At the beginning of my junior year, after two years of expanding my business through various avenues, I started buying computer parts from hardware suppliers in bulk at a cheaper rate. My business grew exponentially after that. 

Before long, I was my town’s go-to tech person. In this journey throughout high school, I started realizing that I had to create my own opportunities and not just curl up under a blanket, seeking only comfort, as I used to. Interacting with people from all walks of life became my forte and a sense of work ethic developed in me. My business required me to be an all-rounder– have the technical skills, be an easily approachable person, and manage cash flow. Slowly becoming better at this, I even managed to sway admins of a local institution to outsource their computer hardware purchases and repairs through me. As my business upsized throughout the years, I went from being helpless to autonomous – the teenager I always aspired to be.

This essay truly feels like a story—almost making you forget you are reading a college essay. The student’s voice is strong throughout the entire essay and they are able to give us insight into their thoughts, feelings, and motivations at every step of the story. Letting the reader into personal challenges like financial struggles can be daunting in a college essay, but the way this student used that setback to establish an emotional ethos to their narrative was well done.

Because the essay is essentially just telling a story, there’s a very natural flow that makes it enjoyable and easy to read. The student establishes the conflict at the beginning, then describes their solution and how they implemented it, and finally concludes with the lessons they took away from this experience. Transitions at the beginning of paragraphs effortlessly show the passage of time and how the student has progressed through the story.

Another reason this essay is so successful is because of the abundance of details. The reader truly feels like they are hiding in the room with the student as their parents yell because of the inclusion of quotes from the argument. We understand the precision and care they have for fixing computers because of the allusion to a surgeon with their scalpel. Not only does this imagery make the story more enticing, it also helps the reader gain a deeper appreciation for the type of person this student is and the adversity they have overcome.

If there were one thing this essay could do to improve, it would be to include a resolution to the conflict from the beginning. The student tells us how this business helped them grow as a person, but we don’t ever get to find out if they were able to lessen the financial burden on their parents or if they continued to struggle despite the student working hard. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending, but it would be nice to return to the conflict and acknowledge the effect they had on it, especially since this prompt is all about facing challenges.

Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Prompt #3, example #1.

When I was younger, I was adamant that no two foods on my plate touch. As a result, I often used a second plate to prevent such an atrocity. In many ways, I learned to separate different things this way from my older brothers, Nate and Rob. Growing up, I idolized both of them. Nate was a performer, and I insisted on arriving early to his shows to secure front row seats, refusing to budge during intermission for fear of missing anything. Rob was a three-sport athlete, and I attended his games religiously, waving worn-out foam cougar paws and cheering until my voice was hoarse. My brothers were my role models. However, while each was talented, neither was interested in the other’s passion. To me, they represented two contrasting ideals of what I could become: artist or athlete. I believed I had to choose.

And for a long time, I chose athlete. I played soccer, basketball, and lacrosse and viewed myself exclusively as an athlete, believing the arts were not for me. I conveniently overlooked that since the age of five, I had been composing stories for my family for Christmas, gifts that were as much for me as them, as I loved writing. So when in tenth grade, I had the option of taking a creative writing class, I was faced with a question: could I be an athlete and a writer? After much debate, I enrolled in the class, feeling both apprehensive and excited. When I arrived on the first day of school, my teacher, Ms. Jenkins, asked us to write down our expectations for the class. After a few minutes, eraser shavings stubbornly sunbathing on my now-smudged paper, I finally wrote, “I do not expect to become a published writer from this class. I just want this to be a place where I can write freely.”

Although the purpose of the class never changed for me, on the third “submission day,” – our time to submit writing to upcoming contests and literary magazines – I faced a predicament. For the first two submission days, I had passed the time editing earlier pieces, eventually (pretty quickly) resorting to screen snake when hopelessness made the words look like hieroglyphics. I must not have been as subtle as I thought, as on the third of these days, Ms. Jenkins approached me. After shifting from excuse to excuse as to why I did not submit my writing, I finally recognized the real reason I had withheld my work: I was scared. I did not want to be different, and I did not want to challenge not only others’ perceptions of me, but also my own. I yielded to Ms. Jenkin’s pleas and sent one of my pieces to an upcoming contest.

By the time the letter came, I had already forgotten about the contest. When the flimsy white envelope arrived in the mail, I was shocked and ecstatic to learn that I had received 2nd place in a nationwide writing competition. The next morning, however, I discovered Ms. Jenkins would make an announcement to the whole school exposing me as a poet. I decided to own this identity and embrace my friends’ jokes and playful digs, and over time, they have learned to accept and respect this part of me. I have since seen more boys at my school identifying themselves as writers or artists.

I no longer see myself as an athlete and a poet independently, but rather I see these two aspects forming a single inseparable identity – me. Despite their apparent differences, these two disciplines are quite similar, as each requires creativity and devotion. I am still a poet when I am lacing up my cleats for soccer practice and still an athlete when I am building metaphors in the back of my mind – and I have realized ice cream and gummy bears taste pretty good together.

This essay is cohesive as it centers around the theme of identity and the ability for two identities to coexist simultaneously (an interesting theme!). It uses the Full Circle ending strategy as it starts with a metaphor about food touching and ends with “I have realized ice cream and gummy bears taste pretty good together.”

The main issue with this essay is that it could come off as cliché, which could be irritating for admissions officers. The story described is notably similar to High School Musical (“I decided to own this identity and embrace my friends’ jokes and playful digs, and over time, they have learned to accept and respect this part of me”) and feels slightly overstated. 

At times, this essay is also confusing. In the first paragraph, it feels like the narrative is actually going to be about separating your food (and is somehow going to relate to the older brothers?). It is not entirely clear that this is a metaphor. Also, when the writer references the third submission day and then works backward to explain what a submission day is and that there are multiple throughout the semester, the timeline gets unnecessarily confusing. Reworking the way this paragraph unfolded would have been more compelling and less distracting.

Overall, this essay was interesting but could have been more polished to be more effective.

Prompt #3, Example #2

I walked into my middle school English class, and noticed a stranger behind my teacher’s desk. “Hello,” she said. “Today I will be your substitute teacher.” I groaned internally. “Let me start off by calling roll. Ally?” “Here!” exclaimed Ally. “Jack?” “Here.” “Rachel?” “Here.” “Freddie?” “Present.” And then– “…?” The awkward pause was my cue. “It’s Jasina,” I started. “You can just call me Jas. Here.” “Oh, Jasina. That’s unique.” The word “unique” made me cringe. I slumped back in my seat. The substitute continued calling roll, and class continued as if nothing had happened. Nothing had happened. Just a typical moment in a middle school, but I hated every second of it.

My name is not impossible to pronounce. It appears challenging initially, but once you hear it, “Jas-een-a”, then you can manage it. My nickname, Jas (pronounced “Jazz”), is what most people call me anyway, so I don’t have to deal with mispronunciation often. I am thankful that my parents named me Jasina (a Hebrew name), but whenever someone hears my name for the first time, they comment, and I assume they’re making assumptions about me. “Wow, Jas is a cool name.” She must be pretty cool.“I’ve never heard the name Jasina before.” She must be from somewhere exotic. “Jas, like Jazz?” She must be musical and artsy. None of these assumptions are bad, but they all add up to the same thing: She must be unique. 

When I was little, these sentiments felt more like commands than assumptions. I thought I had to be the most unique child of all time, which was a daunting task, but I tried. I was the only kid in the second grade to color the sun red. I knew it was really yellow, but you could always tell which drawings were mine. During snack time, we could choose between apple juice and grape juice. I liked apple juice more, but if everyone else was choosing apple, then I had to choose grape. This was how I lived my life, and it was exhausting. I tried to continue this habit into middle school, but it backfired. When everyone became obsessed with things like skinny jeans and Justin Bieber and blue mascara (that was a weird trend), my resistance of the norm made me socially awkward. I couldn’t talk to people about anything because we had nothing in common. I was too different. 

After 8th grade, I moved to Georgia, and I was dreading being the odd one out among kids who had grown up together. Then I discovered that my freshman year would be Cambridge High School’s inaugural year. Since there were students coming in from 5 different schools, there was no real sense of “normal”. I panicked. If there was no normal, then how could I be unique? That’s when I realized that I had spent so much energy going against the grain that I had no idea what my true interests were or what I really cared about. 

It was time to find out. I stopped concentrating on what everyone else was doing and started to focus on myself. I joined the basketball team, I performed in the school musical, and I enrolled in Chorus, all of which were firsts for me. I took art classes, joined clubs, and did whatever I thought would make me happy. And it paid off. I was no longer socially awkward. In fact, because I was involved in so many unrelated activities, I was socially flexible. My friends and I had things in common, but there was no one who could say that I was exactly like anyone else. I had finally become my own person.

My father named me Jasina because he wanted my nickname to be “Jazz.” According to Webster, “jazz” is “music characterized by syncopated rhythms, improvisation, and deliberate distortions of pitch.” Basically, jazz is music that is off-beat and unpredictable. It cannot be strictly defined. 

That sounds about right. 

Right off the bat, this essay starts extremely strong. The description of attendance in a class with ample quotes, awkward pauses, and the student’s internal dialogue immediately puts us in the middle of the action and establishes a lot of sympathy for this student before we’ve learned anything else. 

The strength of this essay continues into the second paragraph where the use of quotes, italics, and interjections from the student continues. All of these literary tools help the student express her voice and allow the reader to understand what this student goes through on a daily basis. Rather than just telling the reader people make assumptions about her name, she shows us what these assumptions look and sound like, and exactly how they make her feel.

The essay further shows us how the student approached her name by providing concrete examples of times she’s been intentionally unique throughout her life. Describing her drawing red suns and choosing grape juice bring her personality to life and allow her to express her deviance from the “norm” in a much more engaging and visual way than simply telling the reader she would go against the grain to be different on purpose.

One part of the essay that was a bit weaker than the others was the paragraph about her in high school. Although it was still well written and did a nice job of demonstrating how she got involved in multiple groups to find her new identity, it lacked the same level of showing employed in previous paragraphs. It would have been nice to see what “socially flexible” means either through a conversation she had with her friends or an example of a time she combined her interests from different groups in a way that was uniquely her.

The essay finishes off how it started: extremely strong. Taking a step back to fully explain the origin of her name neatly brings together everything mentioned in this essay. This ending is especially successful because she never explicitly states that her personality aligns with the definition of jazz. Instead, she relies on the points she has made throughout the essay to stick in the reader’s memory so they are able to draw the connection themselves, making for a much more satisfying ending for the reader.

Prompt #4 (OLD PROMPT; NOT THE CURRENT PROMPT): Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Prompt #4, example #1.

“Advanced females ages 13 to 14 please proceed to staging with your coaches at this time.” 

Skittering around the room, eyes wide and pleading, I frantically explained my situation to nearby coaches. The seconds ticked away in my head; every polite refusal increased my desperation. 

Despair weighed me down. I sank to my knees as a stream of competitors, coaches, and officials flowed around me. My dojang had no coach, and the tournament rules prohibited me from competing without one. 

Although I wanted to remain strong, doubts began to cloud my mind. I could not help wondering: what was the point of perfecting my skills if I would never even compete? The other members of my team, who had found coaches minutes earlier, attempted to comfort me, but I barely heard their words. They couldn’t understand my despair at being left on the outside, and I never wanted them to understand. 

Since my first lesson 12 years ago, the members of my dojang have become family. I have watched them grow up, finding my own happiness in theirs. Together, we have honed our kicks, blocks, and strikes. We have pushed one another to aim higher and become better martial artists. Although my dojang had searched for a reliable coach for years, we had not found one. When we attended competitions in the past, my teammates and I had always gotten lucky and found a sympathetic coach. Now, I knew this practice was unsustainable. It would devastate me to see the other members of my dojang in my situation, unable to compete and losing hope as a result. My dojang needed a coach, and I decided it was up to me to find one. 

I first approached the adults in the dojang – both instructors and members’ parents. However, these attempts only reacquainted me with polite refusals. Everyone I asked told me they couldn’t devote multiple weekends per year to competitions. I soon realized that I would have become the coach myself. 

At first, the inner workings of tournaments were a mystery to me. To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side. I learned everything from motivational strategies to technical, behind-the-scenes components of Taekwondo competitions. Though I emerged with new knowledge and confidence in my capabilities, others did not share this faith. 

Parents threw me disbelieving looks when they learned that their children’s coach was only a child herself. My self-confidence was my armor, deflecting their surly glances. Every armor is penetrable, however, and as the relentless barrage of doubts pounded my resilience, it began to wear down. I grew unsure of my own abilities. 

Despite the attack, I refused to give up. When I saw the shining eyes of the youngest students preparing for their first competition, I knew I couldn’t let them down. To quit would be to set them up to be barred from competing like I was. The knowledge that I could solve my dojang’s longtime problem motivated me to overcome my apprehension. 

Now that my dojang flourishes at competitions, the attacks on me have weakened, but not ended. I may never win the approval of every parent; at times, I am still tormented by doubts, but I find solace in the fact that members of my dojang now only worry about competing to the best of their abilities. 

Now, as I arrive at a tournament with my students, I close my eyes and remember the past. I visualize the frantic search for a coach and the chaos amongst my teammates as we competed with one another to find coaches before the staging calls for our respective divisions. I open my eyes to the exact opposite scene. Lacking a coach hurt my ability to compete, but I am proud to know that no member of my dojang will have to face that problem again.

This essay is great because it has a strong introduction and a strong conclusion. The introduction is notably suspenseful and draws readers into the story. Because we know it is a college essay, we can assume that the student is one of the competitors, but at the same time, this introduction feels intentionally ambiguous as if the writer could be a competitor, a coach, a sibling of a competitor, or anyone else in the situation.

As we continue reading the essay, we learn that the writer is, in fact, the competitor. Readers also learn a lot about the student’s values as we hear their thoughts: “I knew I couldn’t let them down. To quit would be to set them up to be barred from competing like I was.” Ultimately, the conflict and inner and outer turmoil is resolved through the “Same, but Different” ending technique as the student places themself in the same environment that we saw in the intro, but experiencing it differently due to their actions throughout the narrative. This is a very compelling strategy!

The main weakness of this essay is that it is slightly confusing at times—how the other students found coaches feels unintentionally under-explained (a simple phrase like “through pleading and attracting sympathy” in the fourth paragraph could have served the writer well) and a dojang is never defined. Additionally, the turn of the essay or “volta” could’ve packed a bigger punch. It is put quite simply with “I soon realized that I would have become the coach myself.” A more suspenseful reveal could’ve served the author well because more drama did come later.

Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Prompt #5, example #1.

Tears streamed down my face and my mind was paralyzed with fear. Sirens blared, but the silent panic in my own head was deafening. I was muted by shock. A few hours earlier, I had anticipated a vacation in Washington, D.C., but unexpectedly, I was rushing to the hospital behind an ambulance carrying my mother. As a fourteen-year-old from a single mother household, without a driver’s license, and seven hours from home, I was distraught over the prospect of losing the only parent I had. My fear turned into action as I made some of the bravest decisions of my life. 

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. Throughout her surgery, I anxiously awaited any word from her surgeon, but each time I asked, I was told that there had been another complication or delay. Relying on my faith and positive attitude, I remained optimistic that my mother would survive and that I could embrace new responsibilities.

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 didn’t know I was capable of such maturity and resourcefulness until it was called upon. Each day was a stage in my gradual transformation from dependence to relative independence.

Throughout my mother’s health crisis, I matured by learning to put others’ needs before my own. As I worried about my mother’s health, I took nothing for granted, cherished what I had, and used my daily activities as motivation to move forward. I now take ownership over small decisions such as scheduling daily appointments and managing my time but also over major decisions involving my future, including the college admissions process. Although I have become more independent, my mother and I are inseparably close, and the realization that I almost lost her affects me daily. Each morning, I wake up ten minutes early simply to eat breakfast with my mother and spend time with her before our busy days begin. I am aware of how quickly life can change. 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. Though I thought the summer before my freshman year would be a transition from middle school to high school, it was a transformation from childhood to adulthood.

This essay feels real and tells readers a lot about the writer. To start at the beginning, the intro is 10/10. It has drama, it has emotions, and it has the reader wanting more.

And, when you keep going, you get to learn a lot about a very resilient and mature student. Through sentences like “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” and “Relying on my faith and positive attitude, I remained optimistic that my mother would survive and that I could embrace new responsibilities,” the reader shows us that they are aware of their resilience and maturity, but are not arrogant about it. It is simply a fact that they have proven!

Sometimes writing about adversity can feel exploitative or oddly braggy. This student backs up everything they say with anecdotes that prove and show their strength and resilience, rather than just claiming their strengths. When I read this essay, I want to cheer for its writer! And I want to be able to continue cheering for them (perhaps, if I were an admissions officer, that would make me want them at my school!).

Prompt #5, Example #2

Armed with a red pen, I slowly walked across the room to a small, isolated table with pink stools. Swinging her legs, my young student beamed and giggled at me, slamming her pencil bag on the table and bending over to pick up one of her toys. Natalie always brought some new toy with her to lessons—toys which I would sternly take away from her and place under the table until she finished her work. At the tutoring center where I work, a strict emphasis on discipline leaves no room for paper crowns or rubber chickens. 

Today, she had with her a large stuffed eagle from a museum. As she pulled out her papers, I slid the eagle to the other side of the table. She looked eagerly around, attempting to chat with other students as I impatiently called her attention to her papers. “I should name my eagle,” she chimed, waving her pencil in the air. I cringed—there was no wondering why Natalie always had to sit by herself. She was the antithesis of my academic values, and undoubtedly the greatest adversary of my teaching style.  

As the lesson progressed, Natalie became more fitful; she refused to release her feathered friend, and kept addressing the bird for help with difficult problems. We both grew increasingly more frustrated. Determined to tame this wryly, wiggling student, I stood my ground, set on converting this disobedient child to my calm, measured ways of study.  

As time slowly crept by, I noticed that despite Natalie’s cheerful tone and bright smile, the stuffed eagle was troublesomely quiet and stern-faced. Much like myself. Both the eagle and I were getting nowhere in this lesson—so we hatched a quick plan. Lifting the eagle up in the air, I started reading in my best impersonation of an eagle, squawking my way through a spelling packet. The result provided a sense of instant gratification I never knew I needed. She sang out every letter, clapped her hands at every page, and followed along with the eagle, stopping at every few letters to declare that “E is for eagle” and pet her teacher fondly on the beak.  

Despite my ostensibly dissatisfied attitude toward my students, I did not join the tutoring center simply to earn money. I had always aspired to help others achieve their fullest potential. As a young adult, I felt that it was time for me to step out of the role of a pupil and into the influential role of a teacher, naively believing that I had the maturity and skill to adapt to any situation and help these students reach their highest achievements academically. For the most part, the role of a stern-faced, strict instructor helped me get by in the workplace, and while my students never truly looked happy, I felt that it was part of the process of conditioning a child to learn. 

Ironically, my transition to adulthood was the result of a stuffed animal. It was indisputable that I always had the skill to instruct others; the only thing needed to instruct someone is knowledge of the subject. However, it was only upon being introduced to a stuffed bird in which I realized that students receive the most help not from instructors, but teachers. While almost anyone can learn material and spit it back out for someone, it takes the maturity and passion of a teacher not only to help students improve in their students, but also to motivate them and develop them into better citizens. From my young pupil and her little bird, I have undergone a change in attitude which reflects a growth in maturity and ability to improve the lives of others that I hope to implement in my future role as a student, activist, and physician. My newfound maturity taught me that the letter “e” stands for many things: empathy, experience, enthusiasm, and eagle.

In this essay, the student effectively explores their values (and how they learned them!) then identifies these values through a reflective conclusion. While the writer humbly recognizes the initial faults in their teaching style, they do not position their initial discipline or rigidity as mean or poorly intentioned—simply ineffective. This is important because, when you are discussing a transition like this, you don’t want admissions officers to think of you as having been a bad person. 

My favorite part about this essay is its subtlety. The major shift in the essay comes through the simple sentence “The result provided a sense of instant gratification I never knew I needed.” The facts of this narrative are not too complicated. Simply put, the writer was strict then learned that it’s sometimes more effective not to be strict. The complexity of this narrative comes through reflection. Notably, through the ending, the student identifies their values (which they hadn’t given a name to before): “it takes the maturity and passion of a teacher not only to help students improve in their students, but also to motivate them and develop them into better citizens.” 

The final sentence of this essay ties things up very nicely. Readers are left satisfied with the essay and convinced that its writer is a kind human with a large capacity for reflection and consideration. That is a great image to paint of yourself!

Prompt #5, Example #3

When it’s quiet, I can still hear the Friday night gossip and giggles of my friends. It’s a stark contrast from the environment I’ve known all my life, my home. My family has always been one to keep to themselves; introverts with a hard-working mentality—my father especially. He spent most of his time at work and growing up without him around, I came to be at peace with the fact that I’d probably never really get to know him. The thought didn’t bother me at the time because I felt that we were very different. He was stoic and traditional; I was trying to figure out who I was and explore my interests. His disapproval of the American music I listened to and my penchant for wearing hand-me-downs made me see him as someone who wanted to restrain my individuality. That explains why I relied heavily on my friends throughout middle and high school; they liked me for who I was. I figured I would get lonely without my friends during quarantine, but these last few months stuck at home gave me the time to make a new friend: my father. 

It was June. I had the habit of sleeping with my windows open so I wouldn’t need to set an alarm; the warmth of the sun and the sounds of the neighborhood children playing outside would wake me. One morning, however, it was not the chirping of birds or the laughter of children I awoke to, but the shrill of a saw. Through the window screen, on the grass below, my father stood cutting planks of wood. I was confused but didn’t question him—what he did with his time was none of my business. It was not until the next day, when I was attempting to work on a sculpture for an art class, that the sounds of hammering and drills became too much to ignore. Seeking answers, I trudged across my backyard towards the corner he was in. On that day, all there was to see was the foundation of what he was building; a shed. My intrigue was replaced with awe; I was impressed by the precision of his craft. Sharp corners, leveled and sturdy, I could imagine what it would look like when the walls were up and the inside filled with the tools he had spread around the yard. 

Throughout the week, when I was trying to finish my sculpture for art class—thinking about its shape and composition—I could not help but think of my father. Art has always been a creative outlet for me, an opportunity to express myself at home. For my dad, his craftsmanship was his art. I realized we were not as different as I had thought; he was an artist like me. My glue and paper were his wood and nails.

That summer, I tried to spend more time with my dad than I have in all my 18 years of life. Waking up earlier than usual so we could have our morning coffees together and pretending to like his favorite band so he’d talk to me about it, I took advantage of every opportunity I had to speak with him. In getting to know him, I’ve recognized that I get my artistry from him. 

Reflecting on past relationships, I feel I am now more open to reconnecting with people I’ve perhaps misjudged. In reconciling, I’ve realized I held some bitterness towards him all these years, and in letting that go, my heart is lighter. Our reunion has changed my perspective; instead of vilifying him for spending so much time at work, I can appreciate how hard he works to provide for our family. When I hear him tinkering away at another home project, I can smile and look forward to asking him about it later.

This is an outstanding example of the great things that can be articulated through a reflective essay. As we read the essay, we are simply thinking alongside its author—thinking about their past relationship with their father, about their time in quarantine, about aspects of themselves they think could use attention and growth. 

While we reflect, we are also centered by the student’s anecdote about the sculpture and the shed during quarantine. By centering us in real-time, the student keeps us engaged in the reflection.

The main strength here is the maturity we see on the part of its writer. The student doesn’t say “and I realized my father was the best dad in the world;” they say “and I realized my father didn’t have to be the best dad in the world for me to give him a chance.” Lots of students show themselves as motivated, curious, or compassionate in their college essays, but a reflective essay that ends with a discussion of resentment and forgiveness shows true maturity.

Prompt #5, Example #4

As a wide-eyed, naive seven-year-old, I watched my grandmother’s rough, wrinkled hands pull and knead mercilessly at white dough until the countertop was dusted in flour. She steamed small buns in bamboo baskets, and a light sweetness lingered in the air. Although the mantou looked delicious, their papery, flat taste was always an unpleasant surprise. My grandmother scolded me for failing to finish even one, and when I complained about the lack of flavor she would simply say that I would find it as I grew older. How did my adult relatives seem to enjoy this Taiwanese culinary delight while I found it so plain?

During my journey to discover the essence of mantou, I began to see myself the same way I saw the steamed bun. I believed that my writing would never evolve beyond a hobby and that my quiet nature crippled my ambitions. Ultimately, I thought I had little to offer the world. In middle school, it was easy for me to hide behind the large personalities of my friends, blending into the background and keeping my thoughts company. Although writing had become my emotional outlet, no matter how well I wrote essays, poetry, or fiction, I could not stand out in a sea of talented students. When I finally gained the confidence to submit my poetry to literary journals but was promptly rejected, I stepped back from my work to begin reading from Whitman to Dickinson, Li-Young Lee to Ocean Vuong. It was then that I realized I had been holding back a crucial ingredient–my distinct voice. 

Over time, my taste buds began to mature, as did I. Mantou can be flavored with pork and eggplant, sweetened in condensed milk, and moistened or dried by the steam’s temperature. After I ate the mantou with each of these factors in mind, I noticed its environment enhanced a delicately woven strand of sweetness beneath the taste of side dishes: the sugar I had often watched my grandmother sift into the flour. The taste was nearly untraceable, but once I grasped it I could truly begin to cherish mantou. In the same way the taste had been lost to me for years, my writer’s voice had struggled to shine through because of my self-doubt and fear of vulnerability.

As I acquired a taste for mantou, I also began to strengthen my voice through my surrounding environment. With the support of my parents, peer poets, and the guidance of Amy Tan and the Brontё sisters, I worked tirelessly to uncover my voice: a subtle strand of sweetness. Once I stopped trying to fit into a publishing material mold and infused my uninhibited passion for my Taiwanese heritage into my writing, my poem was published in a literary journal. I wrote about the blatant racism Asians endured during coronavirus, and the editor of Skipping Stones Magazine was touched by both my poem and my heartfelt letter. I opened up about being ridiculed for bringing Asian food to school at Youth Leadership Forum, providing support to younger Asian-American students who reached out with the relief of finding someone they could relate to. I embraced writing as a way to convey my struggle with cultural identity. I joined the school’s creative writing club and read my pieces in front of an audience, honing my voice into one that flourishes out loud as well.

Now, I write and speak unapologetically, falling in love with a voice that I never knew I had. It inspires passion within my communities and imparts tenacity to Asian-American youth, rooting itself deeply into everything I write. Today, my grandmother would say that I have finally unearthed the taste of mantou as I savor every bite with a newfound appreciation. I can imagine her hands shaping the dough that has become my voice, and I am eager to share it with the world.

This essay is structurally-sound, with the student’s journey learning to savor mantou and their journey trying to find their voice serving as outstanding parallels. Additionally, as they describe the journey to find a voice in their writing, they definitely show off their voice! The clear introduction provides a great image and draws us in with an intriguing question. Additionally, their little inserts like “a strand of sweetness” and “falling in love with a voice that I never knew I had” work very well.

When the student describes their first published poem, however, their writing gets a little more stilted. This is a common error students make when writing about their achievements. If this student is writing about the craft that goes into writing, we should hear the details of the craft that went into the poem, instead of simply learning that they “opened up about being ridiculed for bringing Asian food to school at Youth Leadership Forum.” This is interesting information but would be stronger if it were supplemented by descriptions of the voice they created, comparisons to the styles of other poets, and analysis of their stylistic choices. This would make the essay feel more cohesive, centering entirely around concepts of voice and style.

Prompt #6: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Note: We don’t have a stellar example for this prompt, so instead, we’re sharing a couple examples that need improvement, and what can be done to make the essays more engaging. 

Prompt #6, Example #1

What factors shape the depth and allure of a literary character? This is the exact question I asked myself as my eyes riveted on the white pages covered with little black letters.

I was reading my old novels. I’ve written three novels and many short stories. Each of them repetitively portrayed the hero as intelligent and funny, and the antagonists as cold and manipulative. I came to the appalling realization that my characters were flat, neither exciting nor original. They just didn’t stand out! 

As Oscar Wilde said, ‘Vice and virtue are to the artist material to an art.’ Their mixing makes a novel addictive because its plot is rich with turnarounds and its characters more engaging. In his famous work The Picture of Dorian Gray , Wilde deconstructs the psyche of his characters. He brilliantly plays with the protagonist’s youthful appearance and the decaying portrait to build a truly unique idiosyncratic identity. The persona of Dorian Gray is so complicated a psychologist could analyze it for hours on end!

Inspired by this character, It was my turn to explore good and evil into characters to make my stories more enthralling. I skillfully played with vice and virtue, separating, merging them… My latest novel is the fruit of this exercise. I chose to set it in 20th century London. Its opium dens and exclusive salons; middle-class workers, peasants and politicians breathed the same newly industrialized air; modernity in Blackfriars bridge and tradition in St Paul’s Cathedral; all of these contrasts set the perfect environment for my characters to grow. Following Laclos’ Valmont, Maupassant’s Georges Duroy and Duffy’s Myra Hindley, I played with those contrasts to present an intricate character, truly creative – unlike my previous ones. Insanity, religion, depravity and love are merged into each character, reflecting Edwardian London. As I reflected on my work, I realized vice and virtue altogether made them more human and credible. These characters stood out, they were interesting, I even wanted to know more about them! 

After rewriting, erasing, typing, and thinking countless times, I realized writing is a unique exercise. Nothing is definite when you are holding a fountain pen, hearing its screeching sound on the white paper and watching the ebony ink forming letters. When I wasn’t too happy about a change I made in my story, I simply erased and rewrote it. Everything I imagined could happen: white pages are the only place the mouse eats the cat or the world is taken by a zombie attack! 

This exact exercise of diversifying my characters satisfied my relentless curiosity. Asking myself ‘how could this character be if she had lost her parents in a maritime tragedy?’ allowed me to view the world from different perspectives (some very dissimilar to my own) and considering how each character would react to different situations brought them to life. As I was writing, I was aiming to change the usual narratives I had previously traversed. I loved experimenting with countless personality traits in my characters – minutes flowing, my hand dancing on the paper as my mind was singing words coming alive….

There were times where my hand just stopped writing and my mind stopped raging. I tried thinking differently, changing a character’s background, the story, the setting. I was inspired by Zola, A.Carter, Fitzgerald, the Brontë sisters… I could observe the different reactions of their characters, and reflect on mine theoretically. But it was only part one of the work: I then had to write, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes frantically, always leading to fresh ideas – I was exploring the practical, trying, erasing and rewriting. Both theory and practice are required to gain intellectual independence and experience, in writing and more globally: before I can change a character, I have to understand it. Before we can change the world, we have to understand it.

The main strength of this essay is the authenticity of the topic the student chose. They aren’t making anything up or stretching the truth. Writing is something that captivates them, and that captivation shines through—particularly through their fourth paragraph (where they geek out over specific plots and characters) and their fifth paragraph (where they joyfully describe how writing has no limitations). Admissions officers want to see this passion and intensity in applicants! The fact that this student has already written three novels also shows dedication and is impressive.

The main weakness of this essay is its structure. Ironically, it is not super captivating. The essay would have been more compelling if the student utilized a “anecdote – answer – reflection” structure. This student’s current introduction involves a reflective question, citations about their past writing experience, then their thoughts on Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. Instead, this student could’ve provided one cohesive (and powerful!) image of them being frustrated with their own writing then being inspired by Dorian Gray. This would look something like:

“I stayed up three nights in a row studying my own writing—bored by my own writing. The only thing more painful than seeing failure in the fruits of your labor is not seeing a path for improvement. I had written three novels and numerous short stories, and all I could come up with was funny and intelligent heroes going up against cold and manipulative villains. What kind of writer was so consistently cliche? On the third night, I wandered over to my bookshelf. Mrs. Dalloway caught my eye (it has such a beautiful cover). I flipped through. Then, I grabbed Giovanni’s Room . I was so obsessed with my shortcomings that I couldn’t even focus long enough to see what these authors were doing right. I picked up The Picture of Dorian Gray and decided to just start reading. By the end of the night, I was captivated.”

An introduction like this would flow nicely into the student describing their experience with Dorian Gray then, because of that experience, describing how they have altered their approach to writing. The conclusion of this essay would then be this student’s time for reflection. Instead of repeating content about their passion—“I then had to write, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes frantically” and “I was exploring the practical, trying, erasing and rewriting”—, the student could dedicate their conclusion to reflecting on the reasons that writing is so captivating or the ways that (until the day they die) writers will always be perfecting their craft.

This essay is a great example of how important it is to pick a topic that truly excites you. It also illustrates how important it is to effectively structure that excitement.

Prompt #6, Example #2

Astonished by the crashing sound of waves in my ear, I was convinced this magical shell actually held the sound of the big blue sea — my six-year-old self was heartbroken when I couldn’t take the thirty-dollar artificial shell from SeaWorld’s gift shop . It distinctly reminded me of the awestruck feeling I had when I witnessed the churning waves of a windy night by the ocean the previous weekend; I lost track of time gazing at the distant moonlit border dividing our world from the ever-growing black void. Turning to my mom, I inquired curiously, “Can we go to the place where the water ends one day?”

She explained to me I could never reach the end of the ocean because the harsh line I had seen was actually an illusion called the horizon —  there was no material end to the ocean. For a mind as young as mine was, the idea of infinity was incomprehensible. As my infatuation with the ocean continued to grow, I finally understood that regardless of how far I travel, the horizon is unattainable because it’s not a physical limit. This idea is why the ocean captivates me — no matter how much you discover, there is always more to explore. 

Learning about and exploring the ocean provided an escape from one reality into another; though we are on the same planet, it’s an entirely separate world. Through elementary and middle school, I devoted vast amounts of my free time to learning about simpler concepts like a dolphin’s ability to echolocate and coral reef ecosystems. I rented countless documentaries and constantly checked out books from my local library — my all-time favorite was an episode of the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey titled “The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth.” This episode remained memorable because it was centered around the impacts of fossil fuels on marine animals; it was the first time I’d learned about the impending crisis we are faced with due to the human mistreatment of our planet.

Prior to viewing that episode, I relied on the ocean as an outlet — I fueled all of my emotions into studying marine organisms. Once I learned of its grave future, I delved into the world of environmental activism. This path was much more disheartening than studying echolocation — inevitable death due to climate change took a toll on my mental health. I attended two climate strikes in November of my sophomore year. Following the strikes, I joined Sunrise Movement Sacramento, a youth-led climate justice organization advocating for the Green New Deal. While analyzing legislation and organizing protests were significant takeaways from my experience with climate activism, they were not the most important. I became an organizer because of my love for the ocean and I remain an organizer because of my passion for dissolving the disproportionalities marginalized groups face due to the sacrificing of people’s livelihood for the sake of profit. The more I learned about our modern society, the more hopeless I grew that I could see any significant change within my lifetime.

However, this hopelessness comes in waves; every day, I remind myself of the moment I discovered the horizon. Or the moment I first dove into the beautiful waters of the Hawaiian coast and immediately was surrounded by breathtaking seas of magnificent creatures and coral gardens — life felt ethereal and beautiful. I remind myself that like the ocean, the vast majority of the universe has yet to be discovered; that distant border holds infinite opportunity to learn. In a universe as vast as ours, and life as rare as ours, individuals still choose to prioritize avarice over our planet. Despite this grave individualism, the ocean reminds me every day there is hope in the fight for a better world. Though I will never discover every inch of the ocean’s floor, I will forever envision and reach for new horizons.

Sometimes the path to a great essay is taking something normal and using it to show admissions officers who you are and what you value—that is precisely this student’s approach! Finding the ocean fascinating is not unique to this student. Tons of kids (and adults, too!) are obsessed with the ocean. What this student does is take things a step further as they explain their curiosity about the ocean in relation to their pain about the destruction of the environment. This capacity for reflection is great!

This student shows a good control of language through their thematic centering on ocean and horizons that carries through their essay—with ”this hopelessness comes in waves” and “I will forever envision and reach for new horizons.” The details provided throughout are also effective at keeping readers engaged—things like “ my six-year-old self was heartbroken when I couldn’t take the thirty-dollar artificial shell from SeaWorld’s gift shop” and “ my all-time favorite was an episode of the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey titled “The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth.”

The main weakness of this essay is the lack of reflection when the student discusses environmental activism. There’s reflection on the student’s connection to the ocean and horizons at the beginning and at the end, but when the student discusses activism, the tone shifts from focusing on their internal thoughts to their external actions. Remember, a lot of students write about environmental activism, but not a lot of students write about an emotional connection to the ocean as an impetus for environmental activism. This student would stand out more to admissions officers if they had dug into questions of what the ocean means to them (and says about them) in the paragraphs beginning “Learning about and exploring the ocean…” and “Prior to viewing that episode.”

Prompt #7: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Prompt #7, example #1.

Scalding hot water cascades over me, crashing to the ground in a familiar, soothing rhythm. Steam rises to the ceiling as dried sweat and soap suds swirl down the drain. The water hisses as it hits my skin, far above the safe temperature for a shower. The pressure is perfect on my tired muscles, easing the aches and bruises from a rough bout of sparring and the tension from a long, stressful day. The noise from my overactive mind dies away, fading into music, lyrics floating through my head. Black streaks stripe the inside of my left arm, remnants of the penned reminders of homework, money owed and forms due. 

It lacks the same dynamism and controlled intensity of sparring on the mat at taekwondo or the warm tenderness of a tight hug from my father, but it’s still a cocoon of safety as the water washes away the day’s burdens. As long as the hot water is running, the rest of the world ceases to exist, shrinking to me, myself and I. The shower curtain closes me off from the hectic world spinning around me. 

Much like the baths of Blanche DuBois, my hot showers are a means of cleansing and purifying (though I’m mostly just ridding myself of the germs from children at work sneezing on me). In the midst of a hot shower, there is no impending exam to study for, no newspaper deadline to meet, no paycheck to deposit. It is simply complete and utter peace, a safe haven. The steam clears my mind even as it clouds my mirror. 

Creativity thrives in the tub, breathing life into tales of dragons and warrior princesses that evolve only in my head, never making their way to paper but appeasing the childlike dreamer and wannabe author in me all the same. That one calculus problem that has seemed unsolvable since second period clicks into place as I realize the obvious solution. The perfect concluding sentence to my literary analysis essay writes itself (causing me to abruptly end my shower in a mad dash to the computer before I forget it entirely).  

Ever since I was old enough to start taking showers unaided, I began hogging all the hot water in the house, a source of great frustration to my parents. Many of my early showers were rudely cut short by an unholy banging on the bathroom door and an order to “stop wasting water and come eat dinner before it gets cold.” After a decade of trudging up the stairs every evening to put an end to my water-wasting, my parents finally gave in, leaving me to my (expensive) showers. I imagine someday, when paying the water bill is in my hands, my showers will be shorter, but today is not that day (nor, hopefully, will the next four years be that day). 

Showers are better than any ibuprofen, the perfect panacea for life’s daily ailments. Headaches magically disappear as long as the water runs, though they typically return in full force afterward. The runny nose and itchy eyes courtesy of summertime allergies recede. Showers alleviate even the stomachache from a guacamole-induced lack of self-control. 

Honestly though, the best part about a hot shower is neither its medicinal abilities nor its blissful temporary isolation or even the heavenly warmth seeped deep into my bones. The best part is that these little moments of pure, uninhibited contentedness are a daily occurrence. No matter how stressful the day, showers ensure I always have something to look forward to. They are small moments, true, but important nonetheless, because it is the little things in life that matter; the big moments are too rare, too fleeting to make anyone truly happy. Wherever I am in the world, whatever fate chooses to throw at me, I know I can always find my peace at the end of the day behind the shower curtain.

This essay is relatable yet personal! The writer makes themself supremely human through discussing the universal subject of showering. That being said, an essay about showering could easily turn boring while still being relatable. This writer keeps its relatable moments interesting and fun through vivid descriptions of common feelings including “causing me to abruptly end my shower in a mad dash to the computer before I forget it entirely” and “the stomachache from a guacamole-induced lack of self-control.”

While describing a universal feeling, this student also cleverly and intentionally mentions small facts about their life through simple phrases like “I’m mostly just ridding myself of the germs from children at work sneezing on me” and “the childlike dreamer and wannabe author in me.” To put it simply, though we are talking about a shower, we learn about so much more!

And, at the end, the student lets us know that that is exactly why they love showers. Showers are more than meets the eye! With this insightful and reflective ending (“the big moments are too rare, too fleeting to make anyone truly happy”), readers learn about this student’s capacity for reflection, which is an important capacity as you enter college.

The one major error that this writer commits is that of using a trite transition. The inclusion of “Honestly though” at the beginning of this student’s ending detracts from what they are trying to say and sticks out in their writing.

Prompt #7, Example #2

Steam whooshed from the pot as I unveiled my newest creation: duck-peppercorn-chestnut dumplings. The spicy, hearty aroma swirled into the kitchen, mingling with the smell of fresh dough. Grinning, I grabbed a plump dumpling with chopsticks, blew carefully, and fed it into the waiting mouth of my little sister. Her eyes widening, she vigorously nodded and held up five stubby fingers. I did a little happy dance in celebration and pulled my notebook out of my apron pocket. Duck-peppercorn-chestnut: five stars.

In my household, dumplings are a far cry from the classic pork and cabbage. Our menu boasts everything from the savory lamb-bamboo shoot-watercress to the sweet and crispy apple-cinnamon-date. A few years ago, my sister claimed she was sick of eating the same flavors over and over. Refusing to let her disavow our family staple, I took her complaint as a challenge to make the tastiest and most unconventional dumplings to satisfy her. With her as my taste tester and Mum in charge of dough, I spent months experimenting with dozens of odd ingredient combinations. 

During those days spent covered in flour, my dumplings often reminded me of myself—a hybrid of ingredients that don’t usually go together. I am the product of three distinct worlds: the suburbs of Boston, the rural Chinese village of [location removed], and the coastal city of [location removed]. At school, I am both the STEM nerd with lightning-fast mental math and the artistic plant mom obsessed with funky earrings. I love all that is elegant, from Chinese calligraphy to the rolling notes of the Gourd flute, yet I can be very not elegant, like when my sister and I make homemade slime. When I’m on the streets, marching for women’s rights and climate action, I’m loud, bellowing from the bottom of my gut. In the painting studio, though, I don’t speak unless spoken to, and hours can slip by like minutes. I’m loud and quiet. Elegant and messy. Nerdy and artistic. Suburban, rustic, and metropolitan.

While I’m full of odd combinations, they are only seemingly contradictory. Just as barbeque pork and pineapple can combine beautifully in a dumpling wrapper, different facets of my identity also converge. After my tenth-grade summer, when I spent six weeks studying design at art school and another three researching the brain at Harvard Med, I began asking myself: What if I mixed art and neuroscience together? That fall, I collaborated with my school’s art museum for an independent research project, exploring two questions: How are aesthetic experiences processed in the brain? And how can neuroscience help museums design exhibits that maximize visitor engagement? I combed through studies with results from tightly controlled experiments, and I spent days gathering my own qualitative data by observing museum visitors and asking them questions. With the help of my artistic skills, I could identify the visual and spatial elements of the exhibits that best held visitors’ attention. 

By synergizing two of the ingredients that make me who I am—art and neuroscience—I realized I shouldn’t see the different sides of myself as separate. I learned to instead seek the intersections between aspects of my identity. Since then, I have mixed art with activism to voice my opinions nonverbally, created Spotify playlists with both Chinese and western pop, and written flute compositions using music theory and math. In the future, by continuing to combine my interests, I want to find my niche in the world. I can make a positive impact on society without having to choose just one passion. As of now, my dream is to be a neuroscientist who designs art therapy treatments for mental health patients. Who knows though? Maybe my calling is to be a dim sum chef who teaches pottery on the side. I don’t know where I’ll go, but one thing’s for sure—being a standard pork and cabbage dumpling is definitely not my style.

This essay is outstanding because the student seems likable and authentic. With the first image of the student’s little sister vigorously nodding and holding up “five stubby fingers,” we find ourselves intrigued by the student’s daily life. They additionally show the importance of family, culture, and creativity in their life—these are great things to highlight in your essay!

After the introduction, the student uses their weird dumpling anecdote to transition to a discussion of their unique intersections. This is achieved smoothly because weirdness/uniqueness is the focus of both of these topics. Additionally, the comparison is not awkward because dumplings are used as more than just a transition, but rather are the through-line of the essay—the student weaves in little phrases like “Just as barbeque pork and pineapple can combine beautifully in a dumpling wrapper,” “By synergizing two of the ingredients that make me who I am,” and “being a standard pork and cabbage dumpling is definitely not my style.” This gives the essay its cohesive feel.

Authenticity comes through in this essay as the student recognizes that they don’t know what the future holds. They just know what kind of a person they are—a passionate one! 

One change that would improve this student’s essay would be focusing on fewer intersections in their third and last paragraph. The student mentions STEM, music, family activities, activism, and painting, which makes it feel like a distraction in middle of the essay. Focus on the most important things you want to show admissions officers—you can sit at intersections, but you can’t be interested in everything.

Prompt #7, Example #3

“Everyone follow me!” I smiled at five wide-eyed skaters before pushing off into a spiral. I glanced behind me hopefully, only to see my students standing frozen like statues, the fear in their eyes as clear as the ice they swayed on. “Come on!” I said encouragingly, but the only response I elicited was the slow shake of their heads. My first day as a Learn-to-Skate coach was not going as planned. 

But amid my frustration, I was struck by how much my students reminded me of myself as a young skater. At seven, I had been fascinated by Olympic performers who executed thrilling high jumps and dizzying spins with apparent ease, and I dreamed to one day do the same. My first few months on skates, however, sent these hopes crashing down: my attempts at slaloms and toe-loops were shadowed by a stubborn fear of falling, which even the helmet, elbow pads, and two pairs of mittens I had armed myself with couldn’t mitigate. Nonetheless, my coach remained unfailingly optimistic, motivating me through my worst spills and teaching me to find opportunities in failures. With his encouragement, I learned to push aside my fears and attack each jump with calm and confidence; it’s the hope that I can help others do the same that now inspires me to coach. 

I remember the day a frustrated staff member directed Oliver, a particularly hesitant young skater, toward me, hoping that my patience and steady encouragement might help him improve. Having stood in Oliver’s skates not much earlier myself, I completely empathized with his worries but also saw within him the potential to overcome his fears and succeed. 

To alleviate his anxiety, I held Oliver’s hand as we inched around the rink, cheering him on at every turn. I soon found though, that this only increased his fear of gliding on his own, so I changed my approach, making lessons as exciting as possible in hopes that he would catch the skating bug and take off. In the weeks that followed, we held relay races, played “freeze-skate” and “ice-potato”, and raced through obstacle courses; gradually, with each slip and subsequent success, his fear began to abate. I watched Oliver’s eyes widen in excitement with every skill he learned, and not long after, he earned his first skating badge. Together we celebrated this milestone, his ecstasy fueling my excitement and his pride mirroring my own. At that moment, I was both teacher and student, his progress instilling in me the importance of patience and a positive attitude. 

It’s been more than ten years since I bundled up and stepped onto the ice for the first time. Since then, my tolerance for the cold has remained stubbornly low, but the rest of me has certainly changed. In sharing my passion for skating, I have found a wonderful community of eager athletes, loving parents, and dedicated coaches from whom I have learned invaluable lessons and wisdom. My fellow staffers have been with me, both as friends and colleagues, and the relationships I’ve formed have given me far more poise, confidence, and appreciation for others. Likewise, my relationships with parents have given me an even greater gratitude for the role they play: no one goes to the rink without a parent behind the wheel! 

Since that first lesson, I have mentored dozens of children, and over the years, witnessed tentative steps transform into powerful glides and tears give way to delighted grins. What I have shared with my students has been among the greatest joys of my life, something I will cherish forever. It’s funny: when I began skating, what pushed me through the early morning practices was the prospect of winning an Olympic medal. Now, what excites me is the chance to work with my students, to help them grow, and to give back to the sport that has brought me so much happiness. 

A major strength of this essay comes in its narrative organization. When reading this first paragraph, we feel for the young skaters and understand their fear—skating sounds scary! Then, because the writer sets us up to feel this empathy, the transition to the second paragraph where the student describes their empathy for the young skaters is particularly powerful. It’s like we are all in it together! The student’s empathy for the young skaters also serves as an outstanding, seamless transition to the applicant discussing their personal journey with skating: “I was struck by how much my students reminded me of myself as a young skater.”

This essay positions the applicant as a grounded and caring individual. They are caring towards the young skaters—changing their teaching style to try to help the young skaters and feeling the young skaters’ emotions with them—but they are also appreciative to those who helped them as they reference their fellow staffers and parents. This shows great maturity—a favorable quality in the eyes of an admissions officer.

At the end of the essay, we know a lot about this student and are convinced that they would be a good addition to a college campus!

Prompt #7, Example #4

Flipping past dozens of colorful entries in my journal, I arrive at the final blank sheet. I press my pen lightly to the page, barely scratching its surface to create a series of loops stringing together into sentences. Emotions spill out, and with their release, I feel lightness in my chest. The stream of thoughts slows as I reach the bottom of the page, and I gently close the cover of the worn book: another journal finished.

I add the journal to the stack of eleven books on my nightstand. Struck by the bittersweet sensation of closing a chapter of my life, I grab the notebook at the bottom of the pile to reminisce.

“I want to make a flying mushen to fly in space and your in it” – October 2008

Pulling back the cover of my first Tinkerbell-themed diary, the prompt “My Hopes and Dreams” captures my attention. Though “machine” is misspelled in my scribbled response, I see the beginnings of my past obsession with outer space. At the age of five, I tore through novels about the solar system, experimented with rockets built from plastic straws, and rented Space Shuttle films from Blockbuster to satisfy my curiosities. While I chased down answers to questions as limitless as the universe, I fell in love with learning. Eight journals later, the same relentless curiosity brought me to an airplane descending on San Francisco Bay.

“I wish I had infinite sunsets” – July 2019

I reach for the charcoal notepad near the top of the pile and open to the first page: my flight to the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes. While I was excited to explore bioengineering, anxiety twisted in my stomach as I imagined my destination, unsure of whether I could overcome my shyness and connect with others.

With each new conversation, the sweat on my palms became less noticeable, and I met students from 23 different countries. Many of the moments where I challenged myself socially revolved around the third story deck of the Jerry house. A strange medley of English, Arabic, and Mandarin filled the summer air as my friends and I gathered there every evening, and dialogues at sunset soon became moments of bliss. In our conversations about cultural differences, the possibility of an afterlife, and the plausibility of far-fetched conspiracy theories, I learned to voice my opinion. As I was introduced to different viewpoints, these moments challenged my understanding of the world around me. In my final entries from California, I find excitement to learn from others and increased confidence, a tool that would later allow me to impact my community.

“The beauty in a tower of cans” – June 2020

Returning my gaze to the stack of journals, I stretch to take the floral-patterned book sitting on top. I flip through, eventually finding the beginnings of the organization I created during the outbreak of COVID-19. Since then, Door-to-Door Deliveries has woven its way through my entries and into reality, allowing me to aid high-risk populations through free grocery delivery.

With the confidence I gained the summer before, I took action when seeing others in need rather than letting my shyness hold me back. I reached out to local churches and senior centers to spread word of our services and interacted with customers through our website and social media pages. To further expand our impact, we held two food drives, and I mustered the courage to ask for donations door-to-door. In a tower of canned donations, I saw the value of reaching out to help others and realized my own potential to impact the world around me.

I delicately close the journal in my hands, smiling softly as the memories reappear, one after another. Reaching under my bed, I pull out a fresh notebook and open to its first sheet. I lightly press my pen to the page, “And so begins the next chapter…”

The structuring of this essay makes it easy and enjoyable to read. The student effectively organizes their various life experiences around their tower of journals, which centers the reader and makes the different stories easy to follow. Additionally, the student engages quotes from their journals—and unique formatting of the quotes—to signal that they are moving in time and show us which memory we should follow them to.

Thematically, the student uses the idea of shyness to connect the different memories they draw out of their journals. As the student describes their experiences overcoming shyness at the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes and Door-to-Door Deliveries, this essay can be read as an Overcoming Obstacles essay.

At the end of this essay, readers are fully convinced that this student is dedicated (they have committed to journaling every day), thoughtful (journaling is a thoughtful process and, in the essay, the student reflects thoughtfully on the past), and motivated (they flew across the country for a summer program and started a business). These are definitely qualities admissions officers are looking for in applicants!

Prompt #7, Example #5

“We’re ready for take-off!” 

The tires hit the tarmac and began to accelerate, and I just realized what I had signed up for. For 24 hours straight, I strapped myself into a broken-down SUV whereas others chose the luxury of soaring through the skies for a mere two hours. Especially with my motion sickness and driving anxiety, I would call myself crazy too.

To say I have always remained in my comfort zone is an understatement. Did I always order chicken fingers and fries at a restaurant? Yup! Sounds like me. Did I always create a color-coded itinerary just for a day trip? Guilty as charged. Did I always carry a first-aid kit at all times? Of course! I would make even an ambulance look unprepared. And yet here I was, choosing 1,000 miles of misery from Las Vegas to Seattle despite every bone in my body telling me not to.

The sunlight blinded my eyes and a wave of nausea swept over me. Was it too late to say I forgot my calculator? It was only ten minutes in, and I was certain that the trip was going to be a disaster. I simply hoped that our pre-drive prayer was not stuck in God’s voicemail box. 

All of a sudden, I noticed brightly colored rocks in the distance, ones I had been dying to see for years. Their fluorescence popped amongst the magnificent winding hills as the sunset became romantic in hue. The desert glistened with mirages of deep blue water unlike anything I had ever seen. Nevada was home, but home always seemed to be just desert and casinos. For once, I looked forward to endless desert outside my window rather than a sea of clouds.

I never realized how little I discovered of the world beyond home. For years I complained about how there was nothing to do or discover outside. Not once did I set out to prove myself wrong. Instead, I chose a daily routine of homework at the kitchen table and late-night TV. However, as summer vacation ended, I decided to set my stubbornness aside and finally give this drive back home a chance. Little did I know that it would turn out to be my favorite trip of all time. 

As we drove along, the world chose to prove me wrong when I discovered Heaven on Earth along Shasta Lake. I stood out of the sunroof, surrounded by lush green mountains and fog. I extended my arms out and felt a sense of flight that no plane could ever take me on. As the water vapor kissed my face, I floated into a dreamland I never wanted to leave. I didn’t have to go to great lengths to discover the beauty of the world; it was right in front of me.  From this moment on, comfort and convenience would no longer be my best friends. Rather than only looking for famous travel destinations or following carefully mapped-out routes, I would let curiosity lead the way. 

Since then, my daily life has been anything but routine. I’m proud to boast of my family’s homemade kombucha attempts, of flights purchased and taken in one day, and of a home flooded with knick-knacks from thrifting trips. Every day I set out to try something new, see a different perspective, and go beyond normal. Whether it is by trying a new recipe using taro, making a risky fashion choice with wide-legged pants, or listening to a new music genre in Spanish, I always act with curiosity first.

Over the years, I have devoted my time towards learning Swedish, building computers, and swimming. Although my accent is horrid, some computers almost broke, and even a starfish would outswim me, I continue to enjoy activities I once criticized. For me, there is no enjoyment without some risk. Nobody I know is a kazoo-playing, boogie-board loving, boba connoisseur like me.

This essay is an Overcoming Challenges story that centers around a single anecdote. The structure works nicely as the student describes what they were like before their road trip, what happened on the road trip, and what they were like after. 

The most major improvement that this essay needs is better-communicated authenticity. At the beginning, it feels a bit gimmicky. The student describes their preparedness, particularly the fact that they always carry a first aid kit, and it’s not super believable. Then, when they write “Was it too late to say I forgot my calculator?” it feels like we are in a sitcom and the student is that funny obsessive kid. Sitcom characters don’t feel real and you want to make yourself appear profoundly real.

On a similar note, the narrative arc of this essay isn’t entirely believable. The student describes a large personality and value shift but doesn’t describe any struggles that accompany the shift. A quick shift like that is far from easy. On the other hand, if the immediacy of the shift was easy, they could write about moments after their shift in mindset when they have felt troubled by residual desires to stay in their comfort zone, instead of writing “I always act with curiosity first.”

The greatest strength of this essay is the paragraphs beginning “I never realized how little…” and “As we drove along…” The fixation on comfort seems much more believable when it involves “homework at the kitchen table and late-night TV.” The descriptions of the drive provide beautiful, evocative imagery. And it’s topped off with some nice reflection! Digging into this great portion of the essay would make this an even stronger essay!

Want to see more examples? Check out this post with 16 strong essay examples from top schools , including common supplemental essay questions.

At selective schools, your essays account for around 25% of your admissions decision. That’s more than grades (20%) and test scores (15%), and almost as much as extracurriculars (30%). Why is this? Most students applying to top schools will have stellar academics and extracurriculars. Your essays are your chance to stand out and humanize your application.

That’s why it’s vital that your essays are engaging, and present you as someone who would enrich the campus community.

Before submitting your application, you should have someone else review your essays. It’s even better if that person doesn’t know you personally, as they can best tell whether your personality shines through your essay. 

That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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101 Personal Growth Examples

personal growth examples and definition, explained below

Personal growth is the process in which an individual recognizes and maximizes their own potential.

For instance, a person may seek to improve their communication skills (a facet of personal growth) by participating in public speaking workshops over a period of time.

Personal growth is a continuous and lifelong process, often marked by periods of rapid personal development followed by periods of slower growth, much like the physical growth from infancy to adulthood (Johnson & Swanson, 2016).

The personal growth process entails the development and enhancement of various aspects of life, including but not limited to:

  • Career Growth: Career growth pertains to the progression and advancement in one’s professional life. It entails acquiring new skills, achieving high performance in current roles, and moving upward in professional responsibilities (Ng, Eby, Sorensen, & Feldman, 2010). An example of career growth could be a junior software developer who hones their coding expertise over time, eventually leading a team of developers. Career growth is not just about upward mobility; it’s about doing work that is fulfilling, challenging, and aligned with personal interests and values.
  • Intellectual Growth: Intellectual growth involves the expansion of knowledge, critical thinking abilities, and cognitive skills . It can occur formally through education or informally through self-directed learning and reasoned experience (Ramsden, 2015). For example, you might take online courses on philosophy, triggering deeper questioning and critical examination of life’s profound questions.
  • Emotional Growth: Emotional growth refers to the maturation of emotional responses and the strengthening of emotional intelligence (Brackett, Rivers, & Salovey, 2011). A person growing emotionally might learn how to manage anger more effectively or become better at expressing feelings in a healthy manner. Emotional growth fosters better interpersonal relationships, self-awareness, and psychological resilience.
  • Moral Growth : Moral growth signifies the development of your ethical understanding, values, and behavior (Nucci, 2014). It includes the cultivation of virtues such as honesty, integrity, and empathy. For instance, an individual might reflect on an unfair action they have taken and decide to apologize and rectify the mistake, demonstrating moral growth. By refining our moral compass, you may enhance your sense of justice, empathy, and social responsibility.

Personal Growth Examples

1. Cultivating a Growth Mindset : When you cultivate a growth mindset, you’re building the inner belief that your abilities and intelligence can be developed over time (Dweck, 2010). Embracing such a mindset provides a pathway for maximum self-improvement . It also promotes lifelong learning , with the recognition that you can always improve and become a better you. This means embracing the thought, “I can’t do it…yet,” rather than “I can’t do it.”

2. Developing Leadership Skills : Leadership skills can include the ability to guide, inspire, and influence others toward achieving a common goal (Van Vugt, Hogan, & Kaiser, 2008). They might be important indicators of personal growth if you’re going for a promotion. These skills include abilities like decision-making, communication, delegating tasks, and fostering team spirit.

3. Engaging in Volunteer Work: Volunteering allows you to contribute to your communities while fostering empathy and understanding (Wilson, 2012).  Doing volunteer work, such as serving food in a soup kitchen, can allow you to connect with diverse backgrounds, widens their perspective, and therefore nourish your empathy and social conscience.

4. Nurtiring Self-Compassion: Self-compassion involves acknowledging your own shortcomings and treating yourself with kindness despite failures (Neff, 2011). Instead of harsh self-criticism, self-compassion offers a balanced approach to dealing with personal flaws and failures. For instance, if you fail at a job interview, self-compassion would entail understanding that failure is part of human experience and does not reflect your overall worth. This, obviously, is good for your mental health.

5. Overcoming Fears: Fear often deters us from exploring our full capabilities (Öhman, 2008). Overcoming fears means confronting what scares us, be it fear of heights, public speaking, or failure. Overcoming fear is a telltale sign of personal growth To overcome fear, you might intentionally and gradually expose yourself to the fearful situation in a process called systematic desensitization . For example, someone afraid of heights might start by climbing a short ladder, then moving to a two-story building, and so forth. Such bravery encourages psychological resilience and enables exploration of unknown territories, hence fostering personal growth.

6. Improving Time Management: If you’re trying to demonstrate personal growth to an employer, this one’s perfect. When done successfully, time management enhances productivity, mitigates stress, and unveils avenues for growth – all things your employer loves to see. An example of improved time management could be an individual employing a systematized daily planner or a digital application. This system aids in organizing tasks, creates reminders for deadlines, and consequently opens up time for self-development, relaxation, and recreation.

7. Adopting Healthy Habits: Healthy habits can totally change your life, leading to huge personal growth (Lippke, Nigg, & Maddock, 2012). They may help you lose weight, sleep better, have more energy, wake earlier, and so on. For instance, an individual might opt to consume five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. By doing this, the individual improves their physical health, enhances their immune system, and acquires necessary energy for undertaking other personal growth initiatives.

8. Cultivating Humility: Humility, a vital attribute of personal growth, involves acknowledging our limitations and displaying a lessened level of arrogance (Exline & Hill, 2012). The development of humility occurs through the getting of wisdom and growing as a person. In real-world terms, a humble person acknowledges errors or mistakes, an act that catalyzes learning and cultivates interpersonal relationships.

9. Pursuing Passions: Passionate engagement in activities increases joy, reduces stress, and augments motivation, thereby contributing to personal growth (Vallerand & Houlfort, 2019). Allocating time to pursue hobbies or other passions can lead to the acquisition of new abilities and experiences. For instance, a person with a zeal for painting can foster creativity, hone focus, and derive deep satisfaction—elements imperative for personal growth.

10. Developing a Sense of Purpose: The possession of a life-purpose instills a sense of direction, and fortifies motivation, resilience, and satisfaction (Steger, 2012). Identifying this purpose—be it nurturing a family, building a career, or serving the community— gives life meaning and direction. An illustration of this can be an individual who discerns their purpose in educating and empowering others. This realized purpose provides both fulfillment and the impetus for continued personal growth.

11. Understanding Personal Values : Personal values are profound beliefs that shape behavior and provide a guide for decision-making (Hitlin & Piliavin, 2019). Having a true understanding of personal values, whether they be honesty, integrity, or kindness, helps an individual align their actions with their beliefs. For example, a person who values honesty might prioritize transparent communication, improving their relationships with others. Thus, by understanding personal values, individuals can lead a more authentic and fulfilling life.

12. Understanding Personal Biases: Personal biases, conscious or unconscious, can significantly distort our perspectives (Greenwald, Poehlman, Uhlmann, & Banaji, 2009). Developing an understanding of these biases allows us to challenge their influence over our decisions and actions. If someone identifies a bias against a particular group, they might purposefully educate themselves about that group and interact more with its members. Therefore, recognizing and addressing personal biases fertilifies our dealings with others, advancing personal growth.

13. Learning About Mental Health: Mental health awareness is a cornerstone of personal development (Kutcher, Wei, & Coniglio, 2016). By learning about mental health, people can better understand their emotional experiences, recognize signs of mental distress and seek appropriate help, either for themselves or others. For instance, a person studying about the symptoms of depression might realize a friend’s struggles and suggest they seek professional help. In this way, learning about mental health promotes not only self-growth but also the welfare of others.

14. Learning to Deal with Rejection: Life presents instances of rejection in various forms, such as not getting a job or a breakup (Buckley, Winkel, & Leary, 2004). Knowing how to cope with rejection in a healthy way reduces its negative impact and promotes resilience. After a job rejection, one might evaluate their application process for possible improvements, providing a growth opportunity for future applications. This demonstrates how dealing with rejection rather than avoiding it leads to self-improvement.

15. Encouraging a Work-Life Balance : Achieving the right balance between work and personal life positively affects mental health and satisfaction (Michel, Kotrba, Mitchelson, Clark, & Baltes, 2011). Striking a fruitful equilibrium could involve setting boundaries to disconnect from work during personal time, such as turning off work notifications after office hours. Encouraging a work-life balance nurtures personal well-being and enhances productivity, ultimately leading to substantial personal growth.

16. Building Conflict Resolution Skills: Conflict is inherent in all spheres of life. Therefore, developing skills to resolve conflicts amicably is a significant element of personal growth (Deutsch, Coleman, & Marcus, 2011). Conflict resolution skills involve active listening , empathy, problem-solving, and negotiation. For instance, during a heated disagreement, someone might employ active listening, aiming to understand the other party’s perspective, before proposing a solution. This practice encourages a positive outcome, which not only preserves the relationship but also expands an individual’s emotional intelligence and communication skills . 

17. Cultivating the Habit of Reading: Reading is a powerful conduit of personal growth that can stimulate intellect, broaden horizons, and encourage empathy (Mol & Bus, 2011). By inculcating a routine reading habit, an individual can immerse themselves in varied thoughts, cultures, and experiences. An avid reader might dedicate a specific time each day for reading, working through different genres. Over time, this steady commitment to literature can bolster verbal abilities, critical thinking skills, and provide a more profound understanding of the world, thereby driving personal growth.

Full List of 101 Personal Growth and Development Examples

I’ve categorized the following examples into the four categories for you. Although, it’s worth noting that the categorizations overlap a lot, and can span multiple categories simultaneously (Mruk, 2013).

  • The courage to change your mind (Moral, Intellectual)
  • Embracing change (Career, Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Becoming self-aware (Career, Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Setting personal goals (Career, Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Developing emotional intelligence (Career, Emotional)
  • Pursuing lifelong learning (Career, Intellectual)
  • Improving communication skills (Career, Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Building resilience (Career, Emotional)
  • Learning new languages (Career, Intellectual)
  • Cultivating a growth mindset (Career, Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Taking up meditation (Emotional)
  • Practicing gratitude (Emotional, Moral)
  • Improving physical health (Career, Emotional)
  • Cultivating positive relationships (Career, Emotional)
  • Learning to listen actively (Career, Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Becoming financially literate (Career, Intellectual)
  • Developing leadership skills (Career, Emotional)
  • Fostering creativity (Career, Intellectual)
  • Engaging in volunteer work (Career, Moral)
  • Strengthening problem-solving skills (Career, Intellectual)
  • Learning stress management (Career, Emotional)
  • Nurturing self-compassion (Emotional, Moral)
  • Pursuing spirituality (Emotional, Moral)
  • Developing a healthy self-image (Career, Emotional)
  • Cultivating mindfulness (Emotional)
  • Overcoming fears (Career, Emotional) (like speaking in public)
  • Honing negotiation skills (Career, Intellectual)
  • Seeking therapy (Emotional)
  • Practicing patience (Emotional, Moral)
  • Cultivating optimism (Career, Emotional)
  • Improving time management (Career, Intellectual)
  • Adopting healthy habits (Career, Emotional)
  • Learning to forgive (Emotional, Moral)
  • Building confidence (Career, Emotional)
  • Developing a strong work ethic (Career, Moral)
  • Cultivating discipline (Career, Intellectual, Moral)
  • Establishing boundaries (Career, Emotional)
  • Adopting sustainable living practices (Moral)
  • Cultivating curiosity (Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Strengthening decision-making skills (Career, Intellectual)
  • Cultivating humility (Emotional, Moral)
  • Nurturing an appreciation for diversity (Career, Intellectual, Moral)
  • Taking self-defense classes (Career, Emotional)
  • Encouraging self-expression (Career, Emotional)
  • Developing assertiveness (Career, Emotional)
  • Engaging in professional development (Career, Intellectual)
  • Pursuing passions (Career, Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Nurturing empathy (Career, Emotional, Moral)
  • Improving body language (Career, Emotional)
  • Learning to say no (Career, Emotional)
  • Gaining cultural competency (Career, Intellectual, Moral)
  • Learning cooking skills (Career, Emotional)
  • Developing a sense of purpose (Career, Emotional, Moral)
  • Understanding personal values (Career, Emotional, Moral)
  • Developing public speaking skills (Career, Intellectual)
  • Recognizing personal strengths and weaknesses
  • Maintaining a personal journal (Emotional)
  • Improving social skills (Career, Emotional)
  • Developing IT skills (Career, Intellectual)
  • Cultivating adaptability (Career, Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Understanding personal biases (Career, Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Exploring personal identity (Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Encouraging personal reflection (Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Building a personal brand (Career, Emotional)
  • Developing listening skills (Career, Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Cultivating self-love (Emotional)
  • Learning about mental health (Career, Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Improving networking skills (Career, Emotional)
  • Developing critical thinking skills (Career, Intellectual)
  • Learning to deal with rejection (Career, Emotional)
  • Cultivating courage (Career, Emotional)
  • Understanding and respecting differences (Career, Intellectual, Moral)
  • Developing environmental consciousness (Career, Intellectual, Moral)
  • Understanding personal rights and responsibilities (Career, Intellectual, Moral)
  • Taking care of personal grooming (Career, Emotional)
  • Improving personal organization (Career, Intellectual)
  • Encouraging a work-life balance (Career, Emotional)
  • Encouraging diversity in thought (Career, Intellectual, Moral)
  • Engaging in self-care activities (Career, Emotional)
  • Learning personal finance management (Career, Intellectual)
  • Building a supportive network (Career, Emotional)
  • Building conflict resolution skills (Career, Emotional)
  • Practicing active citizenship (Career, Intellectual, Moral)
  • Seeking continuous feedback (Career, Emotional)
  • Enhancing customer service skills (Career, Emotional)
  • Building a personal library (Intellectual)
  • Developing an understanding of politics (Career, Intellectual, Moral)
  • Practicing self-advocacy (Career, Emotional)
  • Improving personal presentation skills (Career, Emotional)
  • Encouraging the love of nature (Emotional, Moral)
  • Developing a hobby (Career, Intellectual, Emotional) (like model trains)
  • Enhancing writing skills (Career, Intellectual)
  • Gaining awareness of global issues (Career, Intellectual, Moral)
  • Cultivating the habit of reading (Intellectual)
  • Encouraging fitness activities (Career, Emotional)
  • Pursuing a healthy diet (Career, Emotional)
  • Taking up music or art (Career, Intellectual, Emotional)
  • Developing etiquette (Career, Emotional)
  • Pursuing self-directed learning (Career, Intellectual)
  • Strengthening emotional regulation skills (Career, Emotional)
  • Encouraging exploration (Career, Intellectual, Emotional)

These myriad examples of personal growth represent not only opportunities for self-improvement but also crucial assets that can enhance our professional lives. Whether preparing for a meeting with a boss, designing a personal development plan, or simply reflecting on one’s journey, each of these areas can significantly contribute to our abilities, resilience, and well-being. They enable us to be more effective leaders, collaborators, and innovators , fostering better relationships and a more fulfilling life. Therefore, it’s vital to continuously strive for growth, leveraging these examples as stepping stones on the path towards our personal and professional objectives.

Brackett, M. A., Rivers, S. E., & Salovey, P. (2011). Emotional intelligence: Implications for personal, social, academic, and workplace success. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5 (1), 88-103. doi:

Deutsch, M., Coleman, P. T., & Marcus, E. C. (2011). The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice . New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success . United States: Random House Incorporated.

Exline, J. J., & Hill, P. C. (2012). Humility: A consistent and robust predictor of generosity.  The Journal of Positive Psychology ,  7 (3), 208-218. doi:

Greenhaus, J. H., & Allen, T. D. (2011). Work–family balance: A review and extension of the literature. In Handbook of occupational health psychology . American Psychological Association.

Johnson, B., & Swanson, E. (2016). Personal Growth in Adults: A Literature Review. Journal of Adult Development, 33 (4), 274-285.

Leary, M. R. (2001). Interpersonal rejection. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mol, S. E., & Bus, A. G. (2011). To read or not to read: a meta-analysis of print exposure from infancy to early adulthood. Psychological bulletin, 137 (2), 267. doi:

Mruk, C. (2013). Self-Esteem and Positive Psychology: Research, Theory, and Practice . Springer Publishing Company.

Neff, K. D. (2011). Self‐compassion, self‐esteem, and well‐being. Social and Personality Psychology Compass.

Ng, T. W., Eby, L. T., Sorensen, K. L., & Feldman, D. C. (2010). Predictors of objective and subjective career success: A meta‐analysis. Personnel psychology, 58 (2), 367-408.

Nucci, L. (2014). Handbook of moral and character education . New York: Routledge.

Ramsden, P. (2015). Learning to teach in higher education . London: Routledge.


Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

  • Chris Drew (PhD) 102 Examples of Social Norms (List)
  • Chris Drew (PhD) 15 Social Environment Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) 15 Selective Perception Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) Field Observation (Research Method): Definition and Examples

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48 Personal Growth Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

🏆 best personal growth topic ideas & essay examples, 📝 most interesting personal growth topics to write about, 👍 simple & easy personal growth essay titles, 💯 free personal growth essay topic generator.

  • Growth and Motivation Theories: Application in Personal Behavior, Professional Goal Setting, Social Policy Formulation Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory of Growth Maslow’s hierarchy of needs growth theory states that, an individual has needs that need to be fulfilled at various levels for the individual to achieve personal and professional […]
  • Effective Leadership: Character and Personal Growth In turn, this will ensure that the leader has an open mind and is accommodating to the different personalities of the followers.
  • Personal Growth and Development From a personal perspective, the strategy I intend to use to address the issue of diversity in the workplace is to be open-minded and willing to listen to others before making judgments.
  • Student’s Personal Growth: University Experiences The chosen data collection method was the semi-structured interview, as this method enables the researcher to elicit a lot of information and encourage the participants to share their views freely.
  • Stress Impact on Self-Esteam and Personal Growth The causes of stress in Jennifer’s life and its possible effect on her health number of factors can be regarded as causing stress in Jennifer’s life.
  • My Greatest Passion and How It Has Contributed to My Personal Growth Within no time I realized that I needed to pursue the career of a social worker to fulfil my passion for the poor and downtrodden section of the society.
  • Multispecies Ethnography and Personality Growth Politics became the determinant element to the determination of biodiversity protection, but the majority of the leaders focused on the essence of power.
  • The Role of Music in Personal Growth I believed that someday I would graduate from school, then I would do my best to have a degree in the field that interests me the most and pursue the career that will make me […]
  • Achieving Personal and Professional Development
  • Relations Between Accept and Personal Growth
  • Personal Growth in the Book “Great Expectations”
  • Importance of Personal Development and Self-Assessment Exercises
  • Blueprint for Professional and Personal Growth
  • The Usefulness of Self-Assessment Tools for Personal Growth
  • Coping With Childbirth: Brain Structural Associations of Personal Growth Initiative
  • Grief After Suicide: A Health Perspective on Needs, Effective Help, and Personal Growth
  • The Relationships Between Emotional Intelligence and Personal Growth
  • Personal Growth and Happiness: Positive Psychology
  • Five-Year Personal Growth Plan Overview
  • From Childhood to Adulthood: Emotional and Physical Changes
  • The Attributes That Complement Professional and Personal Growth
  • Human Services Theory: Guidance for Personal Growth
  • The Relationships Between Journeys Involve New Experiences and Personal Growth
  • Learning and Personal Growth for Students of Poverty
  • Volunteering and Sacrificing as a Pathway to Personal Growth
  • Differences Between Nursing, Creativity, Self Care, and Personal Growth
  • Importance of the Personal Growth in Career Development of Managers and Employees
  • Personal Growth and Development: Behavioral Therapy
  • Achieving Personal Growth From Teaching Practice
  • Overview of Personal Growth and Preparation for Future Goals
  • Personal Growth Development and Multiple Intelligences Analysis
  • Importance of the Personal Growth for Women
  • Personal Growth Initiative and Social Support Overview
  • Analysis of the Plan for Professional and Personal Growth
  • Promoting Personal Growth Through Experiential Learning
  • What Children Can Teach Us About Risk, Failure, and Personal Growth
  • Achieving Human Potential Through Self-Actualization
  • Personal Growth, Self-Care, and Creativity in the Nursing Profession
  • Revisiting the Organismic Valuing Process Theory of Personal Growth
  • The Ladder of Sustainable Personal Growth and Its Steps
  • Personal and Professional Growth Requirements in Relation to the NMC Regulation
  • Supporting Personal Growth and Skill Development
  • What Can Time Management Bring to Your Personal Growth
  • Personal Growth Through Learning Overview
  • Working for Personal Growth and Development
  • The Importance of Personal Growth Within the Group
  • How Young People Use New Media for Community Action and Personal Growth
  • The Relationships Between Personal Growth and Development of Romanticism
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Common App Essays | 7 Strong Examples with Commentary

Published on November 19, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on May 31, 2023.

If you’re applying for college via the Common App , you’ll have to write an essay in response to one of seven prompts.

Table of contents

What is the common application essay, prompt 1: background, identity, interest, or talent, prompt 2: overcoming challenges, prompt 3: questioning a belief or idea, prompt 4: appreciating an influential person, prompt 5: transformative event, prompt 6: interest or hobby that inspires learning, prompt 7: free topic, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

The Common Application, or Common App , is a college application portal that is accepted by more than 900 schools.

Within the Common App is your main essay, a primary writing sample that all your prospective schools will read to evaluate your critical thinking skills and value as a student. Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs. Instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.

Regardless of your prompt choice, admissions officers will look for an ability to clearly and creatively communicate your ideas based on the selected prompt.

We’ve provided seven essay examples, one for each of the Common App prompts. After each essay, we’ve provided a table with commentary on the essay’s narrative, writing style and tone, demonstrated traits, and self-reflection.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

This essay explores the student’s emotional journey toward overcoming her father’s neglect through gymnastics discipline.

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

When “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” began to play, it was my signal to lay out a winning floor routine. Round off. Back handspring. Double back layout. Stick!

Instead, I jolted off the floor, landing out of bounds. Over the past week, I hadn’t landed that pass once, and regionals were only seven days away. I heaved a heavy sigh and stomped over to the bench.

Coach Farkas saw my consternation. “Mona, get out of your head. You’re way too preoccupied with your tumbling passes. You could do them in your sleep!”

That was the problem. I was dreaming of tumbling and missing my landings, waking up in a cold sweat. The stress felt overwhelming.

“Stretch out. You’re done for tonight.”

I walked home from the gym that had been my second home since fourth grade. Yet my anxiety was increasing every time I practiced.

I startled my mom. “You’re home early! Wait! You walked? Mona, what’s going on?!”

I slumped down at the kitchen table. “Don’t know.”

She sat down across from me. “Does it have anything to do with your father texting you a couple of weeks ago about coming to see you at regionals?”

“So what?! Why does it matter anymore?” He walked out when I was 10 and never looked back. Still, dear ol’ Dad always had a way of resurfacing when I least expected him.

“It still matters because when you hear from him, you tend to crumble. Or have you not noticed?” She offered a knowing wink and a compassionate smile.

I started gymnastics right after Dad left. The coaches said I was a natural: short, muscular, and flexible. All I knew was that the more I improved, the more confident I felt. Gymnastics made me feel powerful, so I gave it my full energy and dedication.

The floor routine became my specialty, and my performances were soon elevating our team score. The mat, solid and stable, became a place to explore and express my internal struggles. Over the years, no matter how angry I felt, the floor mat was there to absorb my frustration.

The bars, beam, and vault were less forgiving because I knew I could fall. My performances in those events were respectable. But, the floor? Sometimes, I had wildly creative and beautiful routines, while other times were disastrous. Sadly, my floor routine had never been consistent.

That Saturday afternoon, I slipped into the empty gym and walked over to the mat. I sat down and touched its carpeted surface. After a few minutes, my cheeks were wet with the bitter disappointment of a dad who only showed up when it was convenient for him. I ruminated on the years of practices and meets where I had channeled my resentment into acrobatics and dance moves, resolved to rise higher than his indifference.

I saw then that my deepest wounds were inextricably entangled with my greatest passion. They needed to be permanently separated. While my anger had first served to launch me into gymnastics, before long, I had started serving my anger.

Anger is a cruel master. It corrupts everything it touches, even something as beautiful as a well-choreographed floor routine.

I changed my music days before regionals. “The Devil” no longer had a place in my routine. Instead, I chose an energetic cyberpunk soundtrack that inspired me to perform with passion and laser focus. Dad made an obligatory appearance at regionals, but he left before I could talk to him.

It didn’t matter this time. I stuck every landing in my routine. Anger no longer controlled me. I was finally free.

Word count: 601

This essay shows how the challenges the student faced in caring for her sister with autism resulted in an unexpected path forward in her education.

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

I never had a choice.

My baby sister was born severely autistic, which meant that every detail of our home life was repeatedly adjusted to manage her condition. I couldn’t go to bed without fearing that Mindy would wake up screaming with that hoarse little voice of hers. I couldn’t have friends over on weekends because we never knew if our entire family would need to shift into crisis mode to help Mindy regain control.

We couldn’t take a family vacation because Mindy would start hitting us during a long car ride when she didn’t want to sit there anymore. We couldn’t even celebrate Christmas like a normal family because Mindy would shriek and run away when we tried to give her presents.

I was five years old when Mindy was born. For the first ten years, I did everything I could to help my mom with Mindy. But Mom was depressed and would often stare out the window, as if transfixed by the view. Dad was no help either. He used his job as an excuse to be away from home. So, I tried to make up for both of them and rescue Mindy however I could whenever she needed it.

However, one day, when I was slowly driving Mindy around with the windows down, trying to lull her into a calmer state, we passed two of my former classmates from middle school. They heard Mindy growling her disapproval as the ride was getting long for her. One of them turned to the other and announced, “Oh my God! Marabeth brought her pet monster out for a drive!” They laughed hysterically and ran down the street.

After that day, I defied my parents at every turn. I also ignored Mindy. I even stopped doing homework. I purposely “got in with the wrong crowd” and did whatever they did.

My high school counselor Ms. Martinez saw through it all. She knew my family’s situation well. It didn’t take her long to guess what had probably happened.

“Marabeth, I get it. My brother has Down syndrome. It was really hard growing up with him as a brother. The other kids were pretty mean about it, especially in high school.”

I doubted she understood. “Yeah. So?”

“I’m guessing something happened that hurt or embarrassed you.”

“I’m so sorry. I can only imagine how you must have felt.”

It must have been the way she said it because I suddenly found myself sobbing into my trembling, cupped hands.

Ms. Martinez and I met every Friday after that for the rest of the year. Her stories of how she struggled to embrace living with and loving her brother created a bridge to my pain and then my healing. She explained that her challenges led her to pursue a degree in counseling so that she could offer other people what no one had given her.

I thought that Mindy was the end of my life, but, because of Ms. Martinez’s example and kindness, I can now see that Mindy is a gift, pointing me toward my future.

Now, I’m applying to study psychology so that I can go on to earn my master’s degree in counseling. I’m learning to forgive my parents for their mistakes, and I’m back in Mindy’s life again, but this time as a sister, not a savior. My choice.

Word Count: 553

This essay illustrates a student’s courage in challenging his culture’s constructs of manhood and changing his course while positively affecting his father in the process.

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

“No son of mine is gonna march around a football field wearing tail feathers while all the real men are playing football!”

I took a step backward and tried not to appear as off-balance as I felt. In my excitement, I had blurted out more information than my father could handle:

“Dad! I made the marching band as a freshman! Nobody does that—I mean nobody!”

As soon as I had said it, I wished I could recall those words. How could I forget that 26 years earlier, he had been the starting wide receiver for the state-champion Tigers on the same field?!

Still, when I opened the email on that scorching hot August afternoon, I was thrilled that five months of practicing every possible major and harmonic minor scale—two octaves up and two octaves down—had made the difference. I had busted reed after reed, trying not to puff my cheeks while moving my fingers in a precise cadence.

I knew he had heard me continually practicing in my room, yet he seemed to ignore all the parts of me that were incongruous with his vision of manhood:

Ford F-150 4x4s. Pheasant hunting. The Nebraska Cornhuskers.

I never had to wonder what he valued. For years, I genuinely shared his interests. But, in the fall of eighth grade, I heard Kyle Wheeling play a saxophone solo during the homecoming marching band halftime show. My dad took me to every football game to teach me the plays, but that night, all I could think about was Kyle’s bluesy improv at halftime.

During Thanksgiving break, I got my mom to drive me into Omaha to rent my instrument at Dietze Music, and, soon after, I started private lessons with Mr. Ken. Before long, I was spending hours in my room, exploring each nuance of my shiny Yamaha alto sax, anticipating my audition for the Marching Tigers at the end of the spring semester.

During those months of practice, I realized that I couldn’t hide my newfound interest forever, especially not from the football players who were going to endlessly taunt me. But not all the guys played football. Some were in choir and theater. Quite a few guys were in the marching band. In fact, the Marching Tigers had won the grand prize in their division at last year’s state showdown in Lincoln.

I was excited! They were the champions, and I was about to become a part of their legacy.

Yet, that afternoon, a sense of anxiety brewed in my belly. I knew I had to talk to him.

He was sweeping the grass clippings off of the sidewalk. He nodded.

“I need to tell you something.”

He looked up.

“I know that you know about my sax because you hear me practicing. I like it a lot, and I’m becoming pretty good at it. I still care about what you like, but I’m starting to like some other things more. I hope you’ll be proud of me whatever I choose.”

He studied the cracks in the driveway. “I am proud of you. I just figured you’d play football.”

We never talked about it again, but that fall, he was in the stands when our marching band won the state championship in Lincoln for the second time. In fact, for the next four years, he never left the stands during halftime until the marching band had performed. He was even in the audience for every performance of “Our Town” at the end of my junior year. I played the Stage Manager who reveals the show’s theme: everything changes gradually.

I know it’s true. Things do change over time, even out here in central Nebraska. I know because I’ve changed, and my dad has changed, too. I just needed the courage to go first.

Word count: 626

The student demonstrates how his teacher giving him an unexpected bad grade was the catalyst for his becoming a better writer.

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

I stared in disbelief at the big red letter at the top of my paper: D. 

Never in my entire high school career had I seen that letter at the top of any paper, unless it was at the beginning of my first name. 

I had a 4.796 GPA. I had taken every pre-AP and AP course offered. My teachers had praised my writing skills! However, Mr. Trimble didn’t think so, and he let me know it:

“Darwin, in the future, I believe you can do better if you fully apply yourself.” 

I furiously scanned the paper for corrections. Not even one! Grammar and syntax? Perfect. Spelling? Impeccable. Sentence and paragraph structure? Precise and indisputable, as always. 

Was he trying to ruin my GPA? Cooper was clearly his favorite, and we were neck and neck for valedictorian, which was only one year away. Maybe they were conspiring to take me down. 

Thankfully, AP Composition was my last class. I fled the room and ran to my car. Defiant tears stained my cheeks as I screeched my tires and roared out of the parking lot. When I got home, I shoved in my AirPods, flopped on my bed, and buried my head under the pillow. 

I awoke to my sister, Daria, gently shaking my arm. “I know what happened, D. Trimble stopped me in the hall after school.”

“I’m sure he did. He’s trying to ruin my life.”

“That’s not what he told me. You should talk to him, D.”

The next day, although I tried to avoid Mr. Trimble at all costs, I almost tripped over him as I was coming out of the bathroom.

“Darwin, can we talk?” 

He walked me down the hall to his room. “Do you know that you’re one of the best writers I’ve ever had in AP Comp?” 

“Then why’d you do it?” 

“Because you’re better than you know, Darwin. You impress with your perfect presentations, and your teachers reward you with A’s and praise. I do frequent the teacher’s lounge, you know.” 

“So I know you’re not trying.”

I locked eyes with him and glared. 

“You’ve never had to try because you have a gift. And, in the midst of the acclaim, you’ve never pushed yourself to discover your true capabilities.”

“So you give me a D?!”

“It got your attention.”

“You’re not going to leave it, are you?”

“Oh, the D stands. You didn’t apply yourself. You’ll have to earn your way out with your other papers.” 

I gained a new understanding of the meaning of ambivalence. Part of me was furious at the injustice of the situation, but I also felt strangely challenged and intrigued. I joined a local writer’s co-op and studied K. M. Weiland’s artistic writing techniques. 

Multiple drafts, track changes, and constructive criticism became my new world. I stopped taking Mr. Trimble’s criticism personally and began to see it as a precious tool to bolster me, not break me down. 

Last week, the New York Public Library notified me that I was named one of five finalists for the Young Lions Fiction Award. They described my collection of short stories as “fresh, imaginative, and captivating.” 

I never thought I could be grateful for a D, but Mr. Trimble’s insightful courage was the catalyst that transformed my writing and my character. Just because other people applaud you for being the best doesn’t mean you’re doing your best . 

AP Composition is now recorded as an A on my high school transcript, and Cooper and I are still locked in a tight race for the finish line. But, thanks to Mr. Trimble, I have developed a different paradigm for evaluation: my best. And the more I apply myself, the better my best becomes. 

Word Count: 627

This student narrates how she initially went to church for a boy but instead ended up confronting her selfishness by helping others.

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

Originally, I went to church not because I was searching for Jesus but because I liked a boy.

Isaac Ono wasn’t the most athletic boy in our class, nor was he the cutest. But I was amazed by his unusual kindness toward everyone. If someone was alone or left out, he’d walk up to them and say hello or invite them to hang out with him and his friends.

I started waking up at 7:30 a.m. every Sunday morning to attend Grace Hills Presbyterian, where Isaac’s father was the pastor. I would strategically sit in a pew not too close but close enough to Isaac that when the entire congregation was instructed to say “Peace be with you,” I could “happen” to shake Isaac’s hand and make small talk.

One service, as I was staring at the back of Isaac’s head, pondering what to say to him, my hearing suddenly tuned in to his father’s sermon.

“There’s no such thing as a good or bad person.”

My eyes snapped onto Pastor Marcus.

“I used to think I was a good person who came from a respectable family and did nice things. But people aren’t inherently good or bad. They just make good or bad choices.”

My mind raced through a mental checklist of whether my past actions fell mostly into the former or latter category.

“As it says in Deuteronomy 30:15, ‘I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.’ Follow in the footsteps of Jesus and do good.”

I glanced to my left and saw Margaret, underlining passages in her study Bible and taking copious notes.

Months earlier, I had befriended Margaret. We had fourth-period Spanish together but hadn’t interacted much. She was friends with Isaac, so I started hanging out with her to get closer to him. But eventually, the two of us were spending hours in the Starbucks parking lot having intense discussions about religion, boys, and our futures until we had to return home before curfew.

After hearing the pastor’s sermon, I realized that what I had admired about Isaac was also present in Margaret and other people at church: a welcoming spirit. I’m pretty sure Margaret knew of my ulterior motives for befriending her, but she never called me out on it.

After that day, I started paying more attention to Pastor Marcus’s sermons and less attention to Isaac. One year, our youth group served Christmas Eve dinner to the homeless and ate with them. I sat across from a woman named Lila who told me how child services had taken away her four-year-old daughter because of her financial and living situation.

A few days later, as I sat curled up reading the book of James, my heart suddenly felt heavy.

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

I thought back to Pastor Marcus’s sermon on good and bad actions, Lila and her daughter, and the times I had passed people in need without even saying hello.

I decided to put my faith into action. The next week, I started volunteering at the front desk of a women’s shelter, helping women fill out forms or watching their kids while they talked with social workers.

From working for the past year at the women’s shelter, I now know I want to major in social work, caring for others instead of focusing on myself. I may not be a good person (or a bad one), but I can make good choices, helping others with every opportunity God gives me.

Word count: 622

This essay shows how a student’s natural affinity for solving a Rubik’s cube developed her self-understanding, academic achievement, and inspiration for her future career.

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

The worst part about writing is putting down my Rubik’s cube so that I can use my hands to type. That’s usually the worst part of tackling my to-do list: setting aside my Rubik’s cube. My parents call it an obsession. But, for me, solving a Rubik’s cube challenges my brain as nothing else can.

It started on my ninth birthday. I invited three friends for a sleepover party, and I waited to open my presents right before bed. Wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows flew through the air as I oohed and aahed over each delightful gift! However, it was the last gift—a 3 x 3 x 3 cube of little squares covered in red, green, blue, yellow, white, and orange—that intrigued me.

I was horrified when Bekka ripped it out of my hands and messed it all up! I had no idea how to make all the sides match again. I waited until my friends were fast asleep. Then, I grabbed that cube and studied it under my blanket with a flashlight, determined to figure out how to restore it to its former pristine state.

Within a few weeks, I had discovered the secret. To practice, I’d take my cube with me to recess and let the other kids time me while I solved it in front of them. The better I became, the more they gathered around. But I soon realized that their attention didn’t matter all that much. I loved solving cubes for hours wherever I was: at lunch, riding in the car, or alone in my room.

Cross. White corners. Middle-layer edges. Yellow cross. Sune and anitsune. 

The sequential algorithms became second nature, and with the assistance of a little black digital timer, I strove to solve the cube faster , each time attempting to beat my previous record. I watched speed solvers on YouTube, like Australia’s Feliks Zemdegs and Max Park from Massachusetts, but I wasn’t motivated to compete as they did. I watched their videos to learn how to improve my time. I liked finding new, more efficient ways of mastering the essential 78 separate cube-solving algorithms.

Now, I understand why my passion for my Rubik’s cube has never waned. Learning and applying the various algorithms soothes my brain and centers my emotions, especially when I feel overwhelmed from being around other people. Don’t get me wrong: I like other people—just in doses.

While some people get recharged by spending time with others, I can finally breathe when I’m alone with my cube. Our psychology teacher says the difference between an extrovert and an introvert is the situations that trigger their brains to produce dopamine. For me, it’s time away, alone, flipping through cube patterns to set a new personal best.

Sometimes, the world doesn’t cooperate with introverts, requiring them to interact with many people throughout the day. That’s why you’ll often find me in the stairwell or a library corner attempting to master another one of the 42 quintillion ways to solve a cube. My parents tease me that when I’ve “had enough” of anything, my fingers get a Rubik’s itch, and I suddenly disappear. I’m usually occupied for a while, but when I finally emerge, I feel centered, prepared to tackle my next task.

Secretly, I credit my cube with helping me earn top marks in AP Calculus, Chemistry, and Physics. It’s also responsible for my interest in computer engineering. It seems I just can’t get enough of those algorithms, which is why I want to study the design and implementation of cybersecurity software—all thanks to my Rubik’s cube.

Just don’t tell my parents! It would ruin all the fun!

Word count: 607

In this free topic essay, the student uses a montage structure inspired by the TV show Iron Chef America to demonstrate his best leadership moments.

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Iron Chef America: College Essay Edition

The time has come to answer college’s most difficult question: Whose story shows glory?

This is … Iron Chef America: College Essay Edition!

Welcome to Kitchen Stadium! Today we have Chef Brett Lowell. Chef Brett will be put to the test to prove he has what it takes to attend university next fall.

And the secret ingredient is … leadership! He must include leadership in each of his dishes, which will later be evaluated by a panel of admissions judges.

So now, America, with a creative mind and empty paper, I say unto you in the words of my teacher: “Let’s write!”

Appetizer: My first leadership experience

A mountain of mismatched socks, wrinkled jeans, and my dad’s unironed dress shirts sat in front of me. Laundry was just one of many chores that welcomed me home once I returned from my after-school job at Baskin Robbins, a gig I had taken last year to help Dad pay the rent. A few years earlier, I wasn’t prepared to cook dinners, pay utility bills, or pick up and drop off my brothers. I thought those jobs were reserved for parents. However, when my father was working double shifts at the power plant and my mom was living in Tucson with her new husband, Bill, I stepped up and took care of the house and my two younger brothers.

Main course: My best leadership experience

Between waiting for the pasta water to boil and for the next laundry cycle to be finished, I squeezed in solving a few practice precalculus problems to prepare for the following week’s mathletics competition. I liked how the equations always had clear, clean answers, which calmed me among the mounting responsibilities of home life. After leading my team to the Minnesota State Finals for two years in a row, I was voted team captain. Although my home responsibilities often competed with my mathlete duties, I tried to be as productive as possible in my free time. On the bus ride home, I would often tackle 10 to 20 functions or budget the following week’s meals and corresponding grocery list. My junior year was rough, but both my home and my mathlete team needed me.

Dessert: My future leadership hopes 

The first thing I ever baked was a chocolate cake in middle school. This was around the time that Mom had just moved out and I was struggling with algebra. Troubles aside, one day my younger brother Simon needed a contribution for his school’s annual bake sale, and the PTA moms wouldn’t accept anything store-bought. So I carefully measured out the teaspoons and cups of various flours, powders, and oils, which resulted in a drooping, too-salty disaster.

Four years later, after a bakery’s worth of confections and many hours of study, I’ve perfected my German chocolate cake and am on my way to mastering Calculus AB. I’ve also thrown out the bitter-tasting parts of my past such as my resentment and anger toward my mom. I still miss having her at home, but whenever I have a baking question or want to update her on my mathlete team’s success, I call her or chat with her over text.

Whether in school or life, I see problems as opportunities, not obstacles, to find a better way to solve them more efficiently. I hope to continue improving my problem-solving skills next fall by majoring in mathematics and statistics.

Time’s up! 

We hope you’ve enjoyed this tasting of Chef Lowell’s leadership experiences. Next fall, tune in to see him craft new leadership adventures in college. He’s open to refining his technique and discovering new recipes.

Word count: 612

If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing


  • How to end an email
  • Ms, mrs, miss
  • How to start an email
  • I hope this email finds you well
  • Hope you are doing well

 Parts of speech

  • Personal pronouns
  • Conjunctions

The Common App essay is your primary writing sample within the Common Application, a college application portal accepted by more than 900 schools. All your prospective schools that accept the Common App will read this essay to understand your character, background, and value as a potential student.

Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs; instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.

When writing your Common App essay , choose a prompt that sparks your interest and that you can connect to a unique personal story.

No matter which prompt you choose, admissions officers are more interested in your ability to demonstrate personal development , insight, or motivation for a certain area of study.

To decide on a good college essay topic , spend time thoughtfully answering brainstorming questions. If you still have trouble identifying topics, try the following two strategies:

  • Identify your qualities → Brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities
  • Identify memorable stories → Connect your qualities to these stories

You can also ask family, friends, or mentors to help you brainstorm topics, give feedback on your potential essay topics, or recall key stories that showcase your qualities.

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

  • A unique, personally meaningful topic
  • A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
  • Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
  • Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
  • Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
  • A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending

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