Essay Prompt #5: 2016/17 Common Application

5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.


Prompt 5 is my favorite prompt on the Common Application, because it’s only one sentence. It tells you what to talk about, then it gets out of the way and lets you do it.

Nonetheless, you need nuance for a good admissions essay. One sentence is not going to cut it in your response.


Here are some things to think about when deciding what to add to your essay.


an accomplishment or event, formal or informal”

Write about something that is particular to you, or to a part of your cultural identity that doesn’t belong to everyone. Don’t write about something that is common to most teenagers, like getting your driver’s license.

The best essays written on this prompt are about events that you wouldn’t immediately consider as the start of whatever “adulthood” is. This allows the conversation to shift to the personality and unique characteristics of the student.


The moment you choose doesn’t have to be a conventionally “big” moment. In fact, starting with a small moment can provide a more interesting narrative arc.


“your transition from childhood to adulthood”


So why do colleges even care about when you “transitioned” from being a child to an adult?

There are a few important values central to “adulthood”. Responsibility, humility, independence and maturity are all integral to success in college, and the admissions board wants to know that you have these “adult” qualities when they’re considering you for admission.

One good strategy for this essay is to choose one particular quality, like the ones listed above, and focus your story on how you grew in that one area. Talk about why adulthood requires that quality, and what you have gained through your personal growth.


One more thing:

This applies to every prompt, but it’s especially important in this one:

Be sincere.

The people reading these essays are professionally trained and have seen thousands upon thousands of applications. They know if you are being insincere, or stretching the truth about how much this particular moment meant in your life and personal growth.


Even a poorly written essay that is sincere is better than a well written essay that tries to fool it’s reader.


So if you don’t have an experience that fits this particular prompt, you would be better off writing about one of the other ones. If you do have that experience, be honest about it and don’t exaggerate. The end result will be a far better essay, and a far better representation of you.


This essay requires a lot of introspection.

You’ll need to decide on a moment to write about, think about what it meant, why it meant that, the personal background to the event, and how it connects to your maturation. You’ll have to answer the slippery, subjective question of what adulthood is to begin with.


But if you sort all of that out, you’ll find this essay easier, and maybe even more fulfilling, to write.

Jeremy Baxter

Jeremy is a rising freshman at Cornell University. He graduated in the top 10 of his 500-member high school class and scored a 35 on his first sitting of the ACT. He is a recovering procrastinator who wants to share the methods he uses to get work done and succeed.