Focus on: Personal Essay Question 5 – A Transitional Moment

college essaysGuest Blog Series by Katrina Oko-Odoi: Writing your College Admissions Essay for the New Common Application 

Focus on: Personal Essay Question 5 – A Transitional Moment

In past posts, we’ve addressed how the new changes to the 2014 Common Application will affect you, and we’ve taken a look at essay questions one through four. Today we focus on the final Common App essay – question number five.

The Basics:

Keep it unique. Originality is key if you want to set yourself apart from the crowd.

Shoot for around 500 words on your first draft. After thorough edits and additions, you’ll likely be closer to the 650 word limit.

-Remember, your essay is a supplement to the rest of your application. Avoid repeating information that’s already stated elsewhere; share your unique story that goes beyond all the test scores and grades.

Common Application Question # 5:

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

Is this question right for you?

Don’t forget that you should read through all of the essay questions before choosing the one that is the best fit for you. Question #5 is somewhat similar to questions 2 and 3, but don’t let their similarities confuse you! The key to this specific question is the word transition – how have you changed from the time you were a child to the young adult you are today? So leave the stories about how you challenged the status quo (question #3) or the lessons you learned from failure (question #2) for those other prompts. This question might be ideal for you if you changed in a dramatic or unexpected way during your teen years. It would also work great for you if a specific experience you had as a teenager forced you to mature or grow into an adult.

Consider the following scenarios:

  • Did you used to be shy and introverted but a leadership opportunity or new passion transformed you into a more confident person? How did your new role as a leader, or your new favorite activity or interest change you as an individual and force you to grow?
  • Was there a specific event or experience during your junior high or high school years that challenged you, or that you found difficult to handle? Perhaps it was a study abroad opportunity through your foreign language class or club, or maybe it was a senior project that you had trouble wrapping your brain around. What was it about the incident that you found challenging and how did you confront and overcome it? Do you feel like you changed because of it? In what ways?
  • Did you experience an unexpected loss, trauma, or accident as a teen that altered your life forever? If this moment occurred earlier in your childhood and defined your identity, question #1 may be a better choice for you. However, if you experienced a tragedy in 8th grade, or even in your junior or senior year of high school, examining how that experience forced you to grow up quickly and act like an adult may be a good approach for this question.

Oftentimes, when we experience emotionally difficult situations, they force us to grow and mature in ways that we don’t realize until a few years later. For example, when I was in junior high, a student at my school committed suicide. It was a terrible, devastating experience for everyone who knew him, and not something that I bring up lightly. But, in hindsight, I do remember it shaping me as a person and my understanding of life and death in a very significant and meaningful way. As we look back on moments like this – whether they are tragic losses or more positive defining experiences – they may prove to be pivotal for us as individuals, especially when one is on the brink of adulthood, struggling to forge an independent identity as a mature adult. Tell the admissions officers how that moment shaped you, and how you grew from it.

Your story is unique to you and the world you grew up in. The examples I’ve shared here are only a few of countless possible responses to this question. Make sure that you reflect on your teenage years and think hard about how you have changed, and what has shaped that change. If you can pinpoint a specific moment or event that was transitional for you – transforming you from a child into an adult – then this might be the perfect question for you. Take some time to immerse yourself in your memories of that period in your life before you decide on the specific narrative you want to write. And make sure that whatever story you settle on, it is representative of you and reveals something important about yourself to the admissions committee.

Katrina Oko-Odoi is the Founder and Chief Editor of, a writing and editing company specializing in academic writing. For further insight into college essay editing and more, follow her blog:

For a limited time, take advantage of ApplyKit’s EXCLUSIVE offer for EditingWorm’s essay editing services. Join ApplyKit now for access to up to 60% off EditingWorm’s regular pricing! 

Bobby Touran is the founder and CEO of ApplyKit. ApplyKit helps students manage their entire college application process and also provides key resources to help them excel every step of the way.