One of the more intimidating Common Application essay prompts asks students to describe a moment of transition into adulthood. Now, in the first few years of my life when growing up ceases to feel exciting, I find the prompt slightly ironic: teenagers want desperately to escape childhood, while adults will do anything to feel that they are still youthful and impulsive, kids at heart.
Although this prompt didn’t exist when I applied to college, I remember the pains I took to put on an “adult voice.” No longer the childish writer I was six months ago, I broached important philosophical subjects, and I composed and scrapped about five juvenile drafts before I found my winning ticket: a 500-word treatise on the importance of humor in the world.
The question of transition into adulthood asks us equally to examine what adulthood is and what it isn’t: It’s not about taking everything seriously. It’s not about arriving at definite, unwavering answers to life’s big questions. It’s not about having suffered greatly and learning – through years of strife – the importance of Higher Education. What it is about, however, is confronting questions too large for succinct answers and feeling okay with that, but still wanting to learn more. It’s also about recognizing your place in the world, looking both at your fortunes and misfortunes, and making sure that however you grew up, you do not let it define your worldview. But most importantly, it’s about taking your childhood with you: not throwing it away because the Common Application insisted you turned into an adult.
If you do pick this prompt (and it’s not an easy one), I hope you find a way to embrace adulthood without erasing the kid inside you. And if it takes you five drafts, don’t freak out. It’s all part of the process, and you’ll emerge a better writer in the end.