Countdown to College: A question for the introspective student - The Buffalo News

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Countdown to College: A question for the introspective student

Saving the best for last! The Common Application no longer offers “Topic of Choice” as its final essay option. Instead this year we have Prompt No. 5 (commonly referred to as “The Rite of Passage Question”): “Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.”

Students who know enough to stay away from cliché events like a quinceanera or a bar or bat mitzvah typically find this to be an intimidating prompt.

Realistically, very few 17-year-olds consider themselves to be adults. Colleges know that but they are interested to hear stories about times when a student may have felt pushed into adulthood earlier than they had wanted.

Did they take on more adult responsibilities? Colleges are also curious to hear about things that students do that aren’t typical teen activities, or how they behaved in an unusual situation. Students should ask themselves, “When did I rise to the occasion and demonstrate more adultlike behavior?”

This prompt is best answered with an anecdote. You should tell a story about what happened to you and allow that to be the framework for sharing the lessons you learned about yourself and others. The best way to approach this prompt is to think about an experience, an issue, a challenge or an event that you faced and then discuss how you handled it.

This is an ideal prompt for the introspective soul – the student who can examine his or her actions and write reflectively about what happened.

What to avoid? Writing about saving the team with the winning touchdown is not an original idea. Stay away from bragging about your own actions or behavior and instead focus on the reasons why you did or said something.

What to include? Be sure to write about lessons learned. Ask yourself: “How did I grow?” “How did I change?” “Why do I feel this way?” “What really marked a transition for me from being treated as a kid to being treated more like an adult?”

Essay advice: Take a look at the five Common App essay prompts and eliminate two or three that really just don’t resonate. Take a closer look at the other two or three and brainstorm possible responses. Think of an anecdote that will allow you to tell a story about yourself that demonstrates some insight into who you are and why you do what you do.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit

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