Well Done "Personal Growth" Essay
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Tom Zincer succeeded in his task. My science class's first field trip took place on a bitter cold February day in Maine. Tom, our science teacher, led the group of relatively puzzled, well-bundled students into the forest. I was right behind Tom, and the sound of his red boots breaking through the thin layer of ice that covered the crusty snow seemed to bounce off the trees and scare away the few singing birds that had not migrated south for the winter. We stopped fourteen times during that four-hour field trip to hear Tom ramble on about the bark of "this" deciduous tree and the habitat that "this" coniferous tree needs to grow. We examined animal droppings and tracks in the snow and traced a bird's song back to its singer. This was all meaningless to me. I was cold and bored and wanted the field trip to end.
I would later write several essays in my journal about the fact that writing a detailed seven-page analysis of the field trip took all the beauty out of the event. I would complain to Tom about how boring and mundane his class was and how impossible it was to be so "anally" observant. I argued that no field trip could ever be enjoyable if we had to write down and later analyze the percentage of deciduous and coniferous trees, the air temperature, the amount of snow on the ground, the slope of the course taken, the change in temperature over the day, and a plethora of other minutia. Basically, I was lazy. No, no. I was not lazy. I was just not ready; I was not yet ready to become an observer.
"Sam, just trust me on this one. You'll thank me later," Tom said at the conclusion of our meeting. I had gone to see Tom privately in order to discuss how I could survive his class. The minutia was killing me, and my slow death was reflected in my dismal grade. Upon leaving that meeting, I made a personal and academic decision to develop my observational skills, both to please my teacher and to avoid the disappointment of another "D+."
On my next field trip, I set out into the forest with two pencils cocked between my two ears like guns ready to fire. My teeth were clenched with the determination to stay focused throughout the entire field trip and write down every word that man uttered. However, I constantly felt myself drifting, and while my mind wandered, the group advanced significantly ahead of me, and I missed the sighting of another bird. I ran up to the group just in time to hear Tom start his lecture about a nearby rock formation. Instead of listening, I was asking my friend to see his Picasso-like rendition of the bird. I, therefore, fell behind on the lecture, and so went the endless cycle: fall behind, try to catch up, fall more behind. When it came time to rewrite my field notes in legible form, I stared at a piece of paper that consisted of smudged squiggly lines and eventually tears. Frustrated and disappointed, I retreated back to my cabin to seek refuge.
I quickly got undressed and slipped under my blanket for warmth, comfort, and most importantly protection. After I gave myself a few minutes to calm down, I took out the wet crumbled piece of paper from my pocket and tried to redraw a stick figure of a bird. The twelve stick figures, representing the twelve different birds we saw, looked exactly the same, and trying to redraw each body part of each bird to scale was so difficult that I felt like each pen stroke was met with a ton of resistance. Giving up, I pushed the piece of paper back into my pocket and lay down on my back. I saw Simon sitting in his characteristically feminine position on Ethan's bed. Simon was sitting, facing Ethan, with his legs crossed and his right hand casually nestled on his right kneecap, his foot twitching like the tail of a happy dog. Ethan was lying on his side with his big black headphones cupped around his ears, reading Faulkner. As my head swiveled, I noticed Conrad, sleeping, as usual, with his blanket clenched tightly under his chin, with both fists. I heard Fred and Rob discussing the pitfalls of modern education and could see Donald's head rhythmically moving back and forth, in sync with Jimi Hendrix. I then realized that I too was part of my environment. I realized that I was a silent participant, and more importantly, I realized that I was an observer.
On my next field trip, I had one pencil nonchalantly nestled on top of my right ear. I set out with no mission in mind and had no vengeance in my heart. I intentionally lagged behind my fellow classmates in order to get a wider, broader perspective of the environment. Applying what I learned in my cabin, I was able to engage all of my senses and could attempt to take in the vastness of it all. When we returned from our field trip, the task of doing a "rewrite" did not seem so odious, and my pencil flew across the page like a writer who just experienced an epiphany and wants to get his idea down before he forgets it. I drew every bird, tree, and rock as best I could, and although they were not perfect, they were exactly what I saw.
In this essay, the student intends to show how he grew both emotionally and academically. In the beginning, he believes so strongly that his field trips are worthless that he actually tries to persuade his teacher of his point of view. The student then takes the reader along on his "journey" from resistance and self-doubt to the discovery that he can do what the teacher requires of him. This essay is particularly successful because the reader can really see the student's struggle and ultimate triumph.
This essay grabs the reader's attention right away and succeeds in keeping it. The first sentence, "Tom Zincer succeeded in his task," raises the question in the reader's mind: Who is Tom Zincer, and what was his task? The question is immediately answered, and, through the use of vivid storytelling in which the anecdote is developed chronologically, the reader experiences the student's journey from "non-observer" to "observer." In addition, the thesis is clearly stated at the end of the second paragraph: "Basically, I was lazy. No. No. I was not lazy. I was just not ready; I was not yet ready to become an observer." In the rest of the essay, the writer shows how he becomes an "observer." The reader can also readily infer the applicant's maturity and proactive nature: "I had gone to see Tom privately in order to discuss how I could survive his class." The applicant's realization ("I then realized that I too was part of my environment. I realized that I was a silent participant, and more importantly, I realized that I was an observer.") is successful because he builds toward it gradually.
The tone of this essay is effective because it relies on humor and a dose of self-deprecation to make its points. In addition, the writer describes his feelings, his situation, and his surroundings so vividly and in such a personal way that the reader can almost see the wheels of the student's mind turn as he writes. A minor negative is the use of the word "odious," which does not seem as if it is a regular part of the student's vocabulary, instead probably a term he got out of a thesaurus.
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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.
One way to demonstrate these qualities is through the Common App essay 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.
To help you craft the best essay to highlight who you are, we’ve prepared a series of guides on addressing each of the Common App essay prompts. Our cheat sheets, including the one below for prompt #5, will give you the tools you need to write a compelling story about you.
For additional resources regarding other Common App essay prompts and the college admissions process, feel free to visit our Resources Page and our College Admissions Editing Page.
This question is about recent growth and maturity. Admissions officers are interested to know how you digest the experiences you encounter and use them to improve your viewpoints on life and how you set future goals. What did you realize about yourself during the process? How did the experience affect your behavior and plans? Be careful about using this space to brag about an accomplishment. Rather than focusing on the actual achievement, explain why the moment was meaningful to you and how you used that experience to mature. Avoid talking about grades and test scores unless you’re trying to show how you significantly improved or managed to do well despite some personal obstacles. The accomplishment also doesn’t have to be remarkable. It could be as simple as shopping at a grocery store in a foreign country for the first time or learning a new skill. In your first paragraph, you should (1) introduce the accomplishment, event or realization and (2) briefly explain why this moment was meaningful to you in terms of self-reflection and personal growth. In the next paragraphs, elaborate on the resulting intellectual and emotional journey. What did you learn about yourself? Why do you think you’re a better person because of the experience? Would you change anything about the experience? If so, how and why? Make sure you spend the time to critically think about the significance of the event or accomplishment you highlight. Rather than describe the gritty details of the moment itself, explore how you’ve changed. In what ways do you still need improvement? What do you intend to do with this new understanding of who you are? Have or will you change your approach to newer experiences? Has your growth prepared you for the challenges you may face in college (academically and socially)? If so, how? In other words, how do you plan on growing further in college and beyond? Show your ability to critically assess who you are and who you want to become. Identify the college experience you hope will help you in this endeavor and how your growth will benefit your future community. Remember that this is YOUR story. Each word should focus on your personal development. Are you mature enough to make informed decisions and control your situation? If so, prove it!