The Common Application Essays: #5

By Ryan Hickey + updated on September 30th, 2015

In the final installment of our five part series on the 2015-2016 Common App prompts, we take a closer look at the fifth option. Rites of passage mark the changing stages of our lives, and this also applies to our education. From the first day of school to the day we walk across the stage to receive our diploma, certain events and accomplishments let us know that we are growing and maturing. This prompt asks you to discuss your transition from adolescence to adulthood and what that means to you.

Here’s the prompt. The wording is exactly the same as the one from the 2014-2015 season.
Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.


On the positive side, the Common App is giving you a lot of freedom with this prompt. While the topic is specific, you can organize the essay in any way that makes sense to you. However, that’s also the negative of this prompt. You’ll need to make sure that the essay still has a strong structure with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion.

Also, the prompt is specific that the accomplishment or event needs to be relevant to your family, community or culture. It needs to be something where you not only felt and/or behaved like an adult but that others around you also recognized that you were now an adult.

Finally, although the prompt does not state this, the admissions officers are looking for you to reflect on this transition. What did it mean to you? Did you embrace it fully? Were you prepared for the transition? How did you feel when others around you started treating you differently?

Most of all, help the admissions officers see what this transition means in terms of becoming part of the community at the school. How will your maturity benefit you and others as you make this new transition to being a college student?


One of the most common mistakes that applicants make with this prompt is writing about a series of events or accomplishments. For most people, our transition to adulthood is a process that cannot be demarcated by a clear ‘before’ and ‘after’. If this is the case, then you probably want to consider writing about a different prompt. For this one, the admissions officers are looking for something where your status among those around you changed from that of an adolescent to that of an adult – with all of the responsibilities and privileges that come with it.

Moving into adulthood can be a time of mixed feelings. Although we look forward to the new opportunities and autonomy that it brings, we can also have doubts about our ability to manage that independence. In this essay, don’t be afraid to explore the difficulties as well as the joys of this transition. Also, loved ones, especially parents, can also have mixed emotions as they begin to accept your new life as an adult. Being sincere throughout the essay, while expressing optimism and maturity, will help you have the right tone for creating an essay that will leave a lasting impression on the admissions officers.

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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