Music students preparing for college know that the essay portion of the application is crucial. If you’ve been reading the news lately, you know that one high school senior, Kwasi Enin, was recently accepted to every school he applied, including eight Ivy League schools. Granted, he scored 2250 on his SAT and was in the top 2% of his class, but his essay (which you can read here) is being touted as a major influence. In fact, many admissions board members say that your application essay has the power to solidify your approval or scuttle your chances.
So, knowing what to write and how to write your student essay is very important. These tips can get you started by providing some clear guidelines about what and what not to do when you’re writing your application essay.
Content—What (and What Not) to Write
The topic of your essay should be original. Generic writing with unsupported generalizations are tedious and unexciting to read. Your student essay is the one shot you have for giving the approval committee a glimpse of your character, the kind of person you are today, and what you want to bring to the academic community at that school. You can do that by:
- Brainstorming—Jot down ideas about your strengths, personality traits, ambitions, and topics that will answer the essay question or prompt ideas.
- Writing without restraint—during your first draft, let your writing flow. Don’t stop to worry about grammar or structure, you can edit later.
- Be Honest—Don’t fabricate or exaggerate your experiences. Don’t develop your essay around what you think the approval board will want to hear. Write your essay using personal stories that come from the heart.
- Be Creative—Your opening line, like all good writing, should be intriguing. The acceptance board is most likely wading through hundreds of essays and you want yours to stand out. A snappy opening line should grab their attention and whet their appetite for more.
- Choosing the right topic—Avoid political, sensitive, or controversial subjects. Experts suggest leaving out things like your opinion of the last election or how you overcame a mental illness or other health problems. Also, shy away from the same old hackneyed ideas. Your student essay isn’t a way to glorify your goodness or make yourself a victim, it’s an opportunity for the school of your choice to understand who you are.
Your school application essay should convey a sense of perspective (yours) and self-awareness that’s compelling to others. It should be authentic and show your quality of thinking. Be humble, but not modest. You’re writing about the best of your abilities and passions, so don’t short change yourself.
Form—How to Write
Yes, form is a very important part of your essay. Although you don’t want to create a “cookie cutter” essay that bores the board, it should still follow the basic structure of introduction paragraph, body (3-4 paragraphs), and conclusion paragraph. Plus, your paragraphs should follow the rules of composition, topic sentences should introduce the content, statements should be backed up by details and examples, and you should employ an appropriate amount of transitions.
In fact, all of the rules of good writing apply, including:
- Proofread/Corrections—Make sure that there are no grammatical errors by reading your essay out loud and having other people read it, looking for errors. Reading out loud is an old writer’s trick because it illuminates mistakes that are ignored when you read silently.
- Follow the Instructions—Each school will have different aspects they want to examine, so make sure that you cover the points requested in the essay.
- Remember, it’s not a resume—Your school application essay isn’t another form of your activity resume, so don’t approach it like one.
- Know your audience—Although it’s tempting to use the thesaurus to sound smarter, don’t do it. The school wants to know about you. You should avoid slang, but definitely use your own voice. Be concise and use active voice.
- Let character attributes shine through—Whatever experiences you decide to express, make sure that the examples reflect the attributes you want to showcase.
- Get feedback—Ask teachers, parents, and friends to read and critique your essay. The people who know you best may be able to offer great insights into your character, so don’t be afraid to ask them.
Writing a great application essay doesn’t have to be a struggle. Remember to start early so you won’t feel rushed. If you’re unsure about the grammar, the Purdue Online writing Lab (OWL) is an excellent source of information for style guides, grammar, and mechanics. Music students who take their time developing their music school essay improve their chances of being accepted by the school of their choice and eventually landing their chosen music careers.