What are they?

These are the elements critical to creating transformative personal narrative.

Why are they Important?

College admissions essays should clearly articulate responses to the questions

  • Who are you?
  • How will you benefit by being admitted?
  • How will the university benefit by admitting you?

These elements are needed to effectively answer those questions.

The following comes courtesy of acclaimed comedian, solo performer, and performance coach Alicia Dattner. 


Central Moment is something important, intense, powerful, and transformative that occurred in your life. It may even be connected to some issue out in the world that is equally important, intense, and powerful. In my second play, Riding in Cars with Black People and Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness, the Central Moment is having a police officer draw his gun on me.

Keep in mind, some of life’s most important moments are happenstance encounters. If one day you were downtown and strike up a conversation with a homeless person, and this conversation impacted your views on homelessness in an intense, powerful, transformative way this could be your Central Moment.

Leading Moments are the relevant moments that led up to the Central Moment. Ask yourself: What was happening in and around your life? Who were YOU a year, month, week, day before that Moment? What did you think/know to be true about yourself before the Central Moment?

In the case of the encounter with the homeless person, what were your thoughts, beliefs, and biases about homeless people before this encounter? Remember when it comes to transformative storytelling, leading moments are as important as the Central Moment. They are how we show the audience who we used to be in relationship to who we are now.

Turning Points are about revealing how you got to the point you are now. It is impossible to show transformation without them. It’s important to remember you don’t have to have walked on burning coals to get to where you are for your account of life turning points to matter. When it comes to college admissions essays your turning points should clearly articulate “Who are you?” “How will you benefit by being admitted?” “How will the university benefit by admitting you?” 

Through Lines are important when you are a writing about a moment or series of moments, centered around a theme and drawing certain conclusions. These may include recurring themes, actions, situations, and events that relate to your Central Moment. Often through lines string together the random moments in your life relating to this Moment. One way to explore through lines is to find the earliest memory that relates to your Central Moment and anchor your through line with it.


Use this exercise to help you begin and/or analyze your admissions essay:

  • Draw a circle in the middle of a piece of paper.
  • Insert your Central Moment.
  • Around the circle write the relevant Leading Moments that led up to the Central Moment.
  • On separate pieces of paper repeat the process for Turning Points and Through Lines.
Leading/Central Moments, Turning Points, Through Lines
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