College Admissions: Common Application Prompt – Transition to Adulthood

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Oct 22, 2014 in Rat News | Subscribe

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Photo Credit: Dvortygirl via Compfight cc

The intention of this series is to show readers a sample of a good essay in response to each of the Common Application prompts. This essay is an actual college admission essay, written and submitted by a real student. It is followed by comments from admissions professionals about what makes this personal statement effective.

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

I stroll upstairs on a dreary winter afternoon, my mind on the upcoming first lacrosse game of the season and the 10th grade English paper due the next day. I notice the dog gate, installed upon the purchase of two pet rats, is carelessly left open. I call downstairs to my eleven-year-old brother, Tanner, and scold him for his irresponsibility. It was his idea to install this gate to protect his rats from our dog. Frustration soon turns to fear as I see my dog, Buster, heading down the hallway with an item in his mouth. I hope for the best, but something deep inside tells me that he is not chewing on one of his standard dog toys. I dive towards my guilty-looking pooch and grasp his collar, causing him to violently flick his prize into the wall. My heart drops.

As I see the mangled body hit the ground, I know I have only moments to devise a plan. My mind is racing. “What to do with the body? The dog? Where could the other rat be? How to deal with my soon-to-be-heartbroken little brother? Why in the world are both my parents gone at this moment?” Ever cognizant of Tanner’s sensitive nature, I recognize the importance of keeping my brother from the horrible visual remnants of his beloved “Skittles.” I immediately cover the rat with a towel, and enlist the help of our 17-year-old brother. “Parker, you need to take Buster outside, look for the other rat, and then locate mom or dad.” 

I dash downstairs, grab Tanner’s shoulders, kneel down, and look him straight in the eye. Gently, I tell Tanner, “Skittles has passed away. Can you be tough and help us look for Oreo?” Screams and hysterical crying fill the room. “I killed my rat! I left the gate open. It’s all my fault!” I keep my arms around him and breathe loudly in a steady pattern, hoping to calm his ragged gasps. “Tanner,” I say softly, “We all make mistakes, and sometimes they have pretty bad consequences. We can talk about that later, but right now you need to focus on finding Oreo.” Eventually, he calms down enough to join Parker in the hunt.

While my two siblings’ frantically search, I make a resting place for his beloved pet. I find the perfect-sized box, and quickly decorate it in Tanner’s favorite color, neon green. I label the coffin, “Skittles the Rat, Loved by Many.”

By the time I finish, Parker has found Oreo quivering in my lacrosse helmet. 

As Parker safely stashes the survivor upstairs, firmly latching the dog gate, all my focus shifts to Tanner, who is still in desperate need of condolence.  We sit together on the couch and turn on one of his favorite cartoon shows. He cuddles against me as I tell him, “You gave Skittles a much better life than he would have had in a pet store. Let’s write a list of happy Skittles memories that we can read at his burial ceremony when mom and dad get home.” He sniffs woefully, but takes the marker and paper I hand him and begins to write. “Skittles was the cutest rat in the pet store.  The first time I held him his whiskers tickled me as he licked my face. I loved watching him chase Oreo around the room.” After the first three items on his list, I remind him about the time when Skittles climbed onto a shelf covered with stuffed animals and blended right in. Pretty soon we are laughing at rat stories, interspersed with smirks about Sponge Bob and his friend Patrick. By the time my folks rush in from their shopping trip Tanner and I are eating popcorn and the eulogy is ready. (Connor L., Vanderbilt University, Class of 2014).

Charlie’s feedback: Cleverly well written and very descriptive. What the author intended to invoked worked for me. By the end of the story, I was empathetic about Skittles, the pet rat! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Andrea’s feedback: Common App essays are most successful when they both answer the prompt and do something unexpected with the idea; in this case, taking a leadership role in the family when tragedy strikes for a younger sibling. In this essay, I see again, leadership, but also compassion, creativity, and learn that he is a dedicated student, athlete, and brother. It’s densely packed with a lot of good personal information, and still manages to show, not tell. 

Jodi’s feedback: Wow! That student is really sensitive, a creative problem-solver and a natural leader. I suspect he will be a great future Resident Assistant (R.A.) in the dorms or president of his fraternity.

Charles S. Nolan, Ph.D. is the Vice President and Dean of Admission at Olin College of Engineering. He previously served in similar roles at Boston College, Santa Clara University, and Washington University in St. Louis.

Andrea Hendrickson is Senior Assistant Dean of Admission at Reed College, and previously worked in admissions at Lawrence University.

Jodi Walder is the founder of Portland, Oregon-based College Admission Coach LLC www.collegeadmissioncoach.com which helps students identify and gain admission to right-fit schools where they will thrive academically and personally. Contact her at: jodi.walder@comcast.

Banner Photo Credit: iStock 

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