College Essays

Common Application

Essay:

It’s the middle of March and I have Christmas music stuck in my head. I hum the tune of Pentatonix’s “O Come All Ye Faithful,” while sorting holiday music into boxes in the choir room. I turn to the cabinets which take up the entire right side of the room. Heaving open the doors, I discover dozens of boxes filled with songs from previous years, stacked on shelves reaching the ceiling – like paintings decorated on a cathedral. At this moment, I behold the rich history of my high school’s choir program. It occurs to me that I will be the first person to place boxes with new handwriting in the cabinet after Mrs. Retzko (“Retz”), our recently retired choir director, who filled the cabinets herself for forty years. I feel honored to place a piece of myself in the archives, because it is so much more than my sloppy cursive. 

History, like the boxes of music, is also a collection of stories. It is the subject that has always piqued my interest, because I am trying to understand where I fit within these stories. As I leave the choir room and meander through the hallways to my next class, my thoughts are somewhere else. I remember forcing my grandma to dig her grandfather’s family history out of the attic so I could read it, and discovering that my ancestors gave shelter to James Monroe during the Revolutionary War! I remember when my uncle first gave me access to our family’s ancestry.com account, and how I decided firmly that I would continue the research after him. I remember how my friends jokingly refused to let me play music in the car, “because I’d put on Beethoven,” and watching The English Patient with my grandpa at Thanksgiving, the first period piece that made me wish I was born in another generation.

My passion for the past causes me to view the scenes of my life as pieces of history that need to be carried on, just like a valuable piece of art begs to be preserved. When I looked at dozens of boxes in the choir room, I saw thousands of memories. Now, in order to honor the legacy of choir members who came before me, I maintain the traditions. At each concert, when I pin a rose on a new senior’s shirt and ultimately receive one at the end of my senior year, I feel reassured that the memories of years passed will not disappear; our retired choir director Retz will never be gone. I also incorporate my own influence into the songs we choose to sing each year, reviving past favorites and suggesting songs from cultures and religions that our program has yet to explore – new songs that someone else will place into boxes just like I did. 

The day I placed boxes of music with my own handwriting – new handwriting – I interacted with history. Sorting music reminds me to recognize the value of all things, like how I am now part of the story of choir; my dedication to preserve choir traditions and shape the program for the future is just as important as how my ancestors impacted lives during the Revolutionary War. I continually strive to make even the smallest moments in my life have meaning, because I have to believe that if I try to make an impact on this world, I will. 

 

Tips for Writing:

  • Be true to yourself. Colleges want to get to know YOU, so authenticity is key. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re not, don’t. Make sure your voice and personality really shines through in your writing. 
  • Brainstorm. Brainstorm. Brainstorm. Jot down any key memory, interest, story, or idea you have. Talk to your friends and family – they know you best and may think of something you forgot. An essay with a topic you are passionate about will be much better than an essay you think colleges want to read.
  • The hardest part is sitting down to write. Force yourself to write whatever comes to your mind. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t like your first draft. You need to write something first in order to get to the final draft. Remember to maintain your voice. Avoid words like “thus,” “truly,” or any word you wouldn’t use in real life
  • Edit. It’s important to not rush the editing process. New ideas may come to you after a few days, or you may notice some grammatical errors. Have your family members read it, but remember that it is YOUR essay. Don’t let them rewrite an entire paragraph for you. 

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