How Can Broadway Help My College Essay

When my kids were younger and I drove them to school, I often subjected them to The Broadway Channel. While they preferred the smooth stylings of Howard Stern (what my husband would play when he drove them, but that’s a topic for another day), they grumpily indulged my inner Barbra Streisand or Idina Menzel while I belted out songs from a playlist I imagined Seth Rudetsky created solely for me.

I love Broadway musicals. Who doesn’t? (Well, my children, for starters…) My team of essay experts does too. In fact, one of our specialists, Hillary Kessler, once equated the application and writing process with the song Getting to Know You… it’s not what you have done but who you are. I agree!

Easy, right? Nope.

While I have come across the occasional student who, at the age of 17, has a full conviction of who they are, most students are still trying to figure that out. Heck, I am 55 and I am still figuring out new things about myself all the time. But luckily, I don’t have to find 650 words to explain myself.

For students applying to college, they need to tell the world – well, at least the members of a college admissions committee – who they are, what they value, who shaped them, and what experiences led them to be who they are or who they want to be, in no more than 650 words.

Easy, right? Maybe not, but it can be fun…

A common brainstorming technique that college essay specialists often use with their students is to have them develop a playlist of songs that describe their life and the experiences they have had so far. Sometimes we use this as an icebreaker activity during our essay workshops.

From there, most students won’t use the actual song in their essays, but that brainstorming process does help them find inspiration. A fun article on the Santa Clara Admissions Blog offers suggestions from current students about specific songs that help set the mood to write.

Speaking of songs, this past year, I had four students looking to study acting or musical theater in college and one who is heading off to study comedic arts! One of them wrote a beautiful essay in the form of an acceptance speech for her first Tony Award – which she said was inspired by our writing activity.

Once I had a student who was struggling with how to answer the classic Common App prompt: 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. So, I organized my own Broadway playlists into songs to help him develop some ideas. From my classics list, I came up with these top choices:

While my student did not fully agree with my taste in songs, he erupted in laughter as I played the opening bars and chorus to “I Can Do Anything Better Than You” on my phone. I hit pause and asked what brought on his joyous outburst. Trying to compose himself, he said this could be the theme song at his family dinner table because his brother was always one-upping him, which he found quite annoying.

This led us into a wonderful conversation where I learned that he had a new, secret skill that would one day one-up his brother: photography. This was a surprise to me, because he had never mentioned it before. Through talking, I learned that last summer, when he was cleaning out his grandparents’ garage, he found an old film camera. He started playing around with it, and discovered that he really liked it. And while he admits he is not very good right now, he knows over time, if he puts the work in, he will get there (and I know he will!).

And ta-da! An essay topic was born.

What songs would you choose? Share this idea with your child and see how creative they will get!

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