Keep Calm and Carry On!
First of all, Happy New Year everyone! Here's to a great 2011 (:
For all you lovely prospies out there, the New Year marks the approach of those deadlines you've been dreading all year long. Hopefully by now you've got your SAT/ACT scores, you're filling out form after form after form, you're madly rewriting and re-editing your applications, hoping to achieve that 'spark' that admissions deans are looking for in prospective students. We've been there, done that, got the t-shirt--literally.
So my best advice to you is to give you my favourite line:
Honestly. Just breathe.
Work on doing that with some regularity until it becomes a habit.
Now here are some tips on how to write your 'Why Oberlin?' essay.
- Remember to write about Oberlin. It sounds stupid--until you hear stories about people rhapsodising about how much they love huge college campuses, metropolitan cities, and sororities/fraternities. I think you'd be pretty unhappy at Oberlin if that's what you want in a college, as Oberlin has none of the above. Even if you've never visited, get a feel for what it's like. That's what us bloggers are here for!
- Write about what YOU love about Oberlin, not what everyone else loves about Oberlin. It's true that Oberlin has a wonderfully progressive social history, and I'm extremely proud to say that I go to a college which has proved over and over again to be a daring institution that really tries to reinvent the wheel. However, that isn't what draws everyone here, and you should be honest about what it is that really gets you going about Oberlin. For me, it was the arts scene and the fact that it's one of the few colleges that can boast about having a world-class conservatory alongside an elite liberal arts school, so that an amateur musician like me can continue to love and appreciate music while studying other things. That was the first thing that really drew me here; the recognition and appreciation for its achievements as an institution came later. Be honest; you'll stand out for it. If you want to go to Oberlin because of the albino squirrels, then write about it.
- Ever heard the phrase, 'too many chefs spoil the broth'? The whole point about these college applications is to portray who YOU are. Let your parents read over your essay once, maybe twice. Maybe your favourite teacher. But that's it. Don't compare what you've written to what your best friend has written. It's really, really important that you preserve your own voice in your essay, even if it means that it's a little rough around the edges. Flawed pearls have a lot more character than perfect ones.
- If you're anything like me, you'll probably be tinkering with your essay right till the last minute. It really depends on the kind of person you are, and what works for you. In my case, I need a lot of time to think about what exactly I want to write before I put it down, which is why I leave almost everything to the last minute. However, there's a difference between procrastinating and then having to rush what could be a good essay versus stewing over what you want to say for a while and then getting it all out once the idea has fully formed in your head. I do the latter. If that's what you do, great! Know what works for you, and follow through with it. Remember that college essays are about you, so do yourself justice and give yourself the right amount of time and space to write a really good essay that you can submit knowing that your own personality shines through.
- Allow yourself to let go of your application. It's harder for some than others. I know I'm not satisfied until I've read my essay fifty times under a magnifying glass. That's okay too, because it's a reassurance thing. BUT, once you click 'Submit', just let it go. It's out of your hands. Now it's up to the Powers That Be to decide your fate.
Still breathing? Good.
Here's my Oberlin essay to prove some of the points I made earlier. Between Eli's, Chris', Tess' and mine, you should have some pretty good examples to keep you full of ideas until the dreaded January 15th if you're a Regular Decision Applicant. I prefer my Common App essay because I drafted it about 10 times, but I still really enjoyed writing this one because it wasn't so much about why I'm such an irresistibly wonderful student but why Oberlin and I are a genuinely good match. Keep that in mind when you're writing!
The arts have been an inseparable part of my life ever since I can remember. Whether it was brightly colored crayon drawings, scratching out 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' on a violin twice my size, or writing short stories about doomed oranges (I still have that somewhere!), they have always played a starring role. As I've grown and matured, developing my various skills, I've found it increasingly difficult to focus on just one of the many passions I have, as they stretch across many areas such as art, music, literature, drama, and beyond. This has led me to look for a place which will allow me to harness, explore, and merge these interests in a way that will allow me to stay in the field I love most.
My aunt listened to all of this with an amused smile and proceeded to tell me about Oberlin, "because it suits you down to a tee." She explained it as a place for gifted artists who didn't necessarily want to be artists, dancers, actors, or musicians, but wanted the best creative education possible to allow them to stay in those fields (an impression I later confirmed by talking to alumni and counsellors alike). It was the first taste of Oberlin, but certainly not my last.
It sounded perfect: the arts industry is absolutely where I want to be; not at centre-stage, perhaps, but working somewhere in its vibrant ebb and flow of creativity. I thought it was too good to be true; there had to be a catch. Yet, the more I read and hear about Oberlin, the more I want to be a part of its vibrant community. Its progressive social history, dedication to diversity, and efforts towards equality struck me immediately as things I value in a school. I want to attend a small liberal arts college, where students and teachers alike truly care about my education; I refuse to be just another face in a ten-thousand-people crowd. My education is, of course, of utmost importance to me: Oberlin's interdisciplinary curriculum, paired with the close relationship between professors and students, would be the perfect environment for me to explore my interests in the arts. Music, in particular, is an integral part of my life, and I can't think of a place more suited to the development of my performance skills than Oberlin, surrounded by Conservatory students and a lively arts scene.
Everything I hear about Oberlin convinces me more thoroughly that it would be the perfect place for me to continue my single greatest passion in life: learning.
Okay, so it's a little corny, I admit. Like I said, it's not perfect. But I remember reading it to my dad on the phone after I wrote it, and the first thing he said was that it really sounded like me, and not just someone who can string words together in a convincing way. That's the easy part. Inserting your personality into those words is not, and I think I managed to do that with some success. After all, I'm here, aren't I? (: