This week, Noodle Pro Amanda Strader tackles Prompt 1 of the Common App essay: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Amanda has been an SAT, ACT, and writing tutor for 10 years. She has a BA from Berkeley and a Master of Music from New York University.
“When writing a college essay that asks for “show us you,” I often make a list of concepts I know colleges are looking for and then a second list of activities I participate in that taught me those lessons.
For example, most colleges are striving for diversity, strong communication skills, and independent learners who will work at the level the colleges expect to maintain their reputation. In high school, I participated a little bit in a lot of clubs to diversify my application, but the singular club I worked the most in was symphony and marching band. I then realized how many of my other activities involved music and why I gravitated toward them; they were groups of students working together for a common goal.
Using the key topics colleges want to read about, I determined the strongest examples of lessons that exemplified those concepts and drafted from there. I wanted to be able to make the reader feel like they were in band with me and invested in the final song.
At the end, I chose to address the admissions officers directly because I wanted them to feel like I was addressing them genuinely and getting them to invest in me as a candidate and person.”
Here’s a sample essay that Amanda wrote based on Prompt 1 of the Common App.
A typical college application these days seems to be a reduction of the last four years of my life into a table for numerical analysis and quantitative assessment. While I find the process aimed at creating the most equitable form of applications, making entrance into any university an option for all, it saddens me that as an applicant I’m unable to show the real me on paper. This is because the real me thrives and survives while creating music.
I have been involved in musical ensembles of all kinds throughout my high school career, such as symphonic bands and orchestras, choirs, competitive marching bands, handbell choirs, community theater productions, state solo and ensemble festivals, and the Disney Magic Music Days. What all of these have in common, other than music, is community. They are groups comprised of people from all cultural, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, in a word, diverse. While we all collectively love making music, the process of making music together binds us in aural space and time. We must work together as a unit; breathe together, play together, conclude together. In those moments we are artists, we are musicians, we are one unified group against an outside world that socially devalues us.
Who I am as a person can be traced back to various conductors and teachers in the musical arts. Above all, I learned to embrace and grow through diversity. With music, it does not matter what you look like, what color your hair is, or your skin. What matters is the music you contribute to the group.
This leads me to the second lesson music taught me: rehearsal is not a time to learn your part, it is a time for polishing the hours of individual practice into a unified sound. Personal accountability and the necessity of practice in advance remains a fundamental value in my life. I utilize the concepts of personal accountability from homework to test prep, group projects to individual presentations, memorizing sports plays to completing chores at home. I am responsible for myself, not my neighbor or a fellow team member, just myself. If everyone took responsibility for themselves and held high standards, then apathy, anger, accusations, and laziness may disappear from our surroundings and a world of those who care may emerge.
Being a member of an ensemble has prepared me for entrance into college classes, study groups, and even future corporate settings. Understanding, accepting and learning to communicate with different types of personalities, belief systems, and work processes all traces back to skills learned in my musical ensembles. These skills cannot be reduced to numbers for a fill in the blank application, but they are integral to my personality and my being. In that sense, my musical talents are so influential in my life that I hope the admissions team looks past simply the figures and sees in me the capacity to work hard, practice, learn, and participate in my education.