Go Ara won the SM Entertainment Teen Model Contest in 2003. She was immediately launched into stardom following her acting debut in the KBS2 teen drama Sharp and its sequel Sharp 2. She was named Best Young Actress at the 2004 KBS Drama Awards for her work in the first season of the series. In 2006, Go Ara starred in the SBS melodrama Snow Flower, in which she took home the Best New Actress award at the 43rd Baeksang Arts Awards. She made her silver screen debut in the 2007 big-budget Japanese movie Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea. She was chosen from more than 40,000 auditionees to play the role of Genghis Khan’s mistress Khulan. In 2012, she collected Best New Actress nominations for her performance in the films Papa and Pacemaker. In 2013, she headlined the tvN nostalgic campus drama Answer Me 1994, in which she was nominated for Best Actress for TV at the 50th Baeksang Arts Awards. In 2019, she was nominated for a Top Excellence Award at the SBS Drama Awards for the sageuk Haechi. In 2020, she played the role of a down-on-her-luck pianist in the KBS2 romantic comedy series Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol. She scored several popularity award nominations for her work in the drama.

Go Ara contributed her vocals to the official soundtrack of the movie Papa and the series Answer Me 1994.

Go Ara constantly moved around Korea when was a child due to her father’s work as a soldier. She has a younger brother. Aside from her native Korean, she is also fluent in Japanese. She is one of the few Korean celebrities who have unique eye colors.