College Applications for Artistic Students

College counselors aren’t only looking for straight-A students and star athletes.  A background in the arts can also recommend a candidate.  Use your application to highlight some of the wonderful virtues that artists have to offer:


Artists learn to motivate themselves, and to track their progress independently. Dancers have to train on their own for many hours. Even when part of a class, they are constantly monitoring their own work and improving. This is exactly the kind of self-direction that college admissions counselors are looking for!


When studying music, students learn a melody or beat pattern and have to repeat it.  They learn how to store information quickly – and repeat it back under pressure. Musical training can be very useful in those freshman survey courses with stacks of textbooks and grueling final exams.


Marguerite Gerard, Artist Painting a Portrait of a Musician (The Hermitage)


Whether actors on stage, dancers in a company or musicians in an orchestra, art students learn how to work together. They must watch each other, follow along, and lead among their peers. At times, they must even make up the difference when a peer forgets their lines. As group projects become more central to university courses, a student’s ability to work as part of a group becomes more important.


Let’s not forget the most important characteristic that an artist offers their university: heart. Artists do what they do for the love of it. They follow their intuition down paths unknown, searching for new means of self expression and connection. This quality has driven discovery for centuries, and it is at the center of what learning is all about.


SAT Essay: Drawing out the Details

Assignment: Does progress reduce the number of problems in the world, or does solving old problems just lead to new ones? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

 In the preceding post, The Civil Rights Movement was one area that I brainstormed to address this question.  Going off of that idea, and since I recently enjoyed watching the film Lincoln, I could use that as one of my examples. 


So, in my outline, I would write some quick details that I could use to support my thesis.  First, of all, I have to decide on a thesis!  Since this question is leading me in an obvious direction, I am going to follow along:

 Thesis: Progress creates as many problems as it solves.

 Example #1: The Civil War

             Subthesis: While the Emancipation Proclamation temporarily freed the slaves, it created problems of constitutionality that could only be solved by a constitutional amendment.

             Supporting Facts:

–       The Emancipation Proclamation declared slaves living in the rebellious states free in 1863.

–       This law was passed under martial law and could only take place during wartime.

–       So, in 1865, Lincoln had to garner support for the 13th amendment to the Constitution.

–       Many historians believe that the Emancipation Proclamation was unconstitutional and set a dangerous precedent.

–       While progress was temporarily achieved with the Emancipation Proclamation, this law created some new problems still being solved today: as a country, we are still deciding the extent of executive power in wartime.


Of course, on the actual test, such an outline would be too time-consuming.  That is why it’s good to create about 10 ready examples prior to the test.  You can then mold these examples to any prompt. 

 Here are two more real SAT prompts for which you could use this example:

1)    Is it important to question the ideas and decisions of people in authority?

2)    Should people take more responsibility for solving problems that affect their communities or the nation in general?

Wonder Actively

A freshman English professor makes an unexpected observation in this American Spectator article: none of the students in a remedial writing class knew who Charles Lindbergh was, whereas almost all the honors students did.  Of course, being able to identify the man who made the first solo transatlantic flight is not essential to good writing, but it does show intellectual curiosity.  These honors students are the kind of people who ask questions about the world around them – and seek out answers.  I remember very well a meeting with my thesis advisor at St. Andrews University in which he brought up a tangential issue, to which I responded, “Oh yes, I was wondering about that.”  I will not forget his response: “Next time, wonder actively!”

Knowledge can come from anywhere.  A favorite movie inspires an interest in its setting, which could lead to a trip, and perhaps even a new language.  A passion for cookies can become a science project, and perhaps even a small business.  Personally, my love of Ricky Martin in high school taught me more Spanish than I probably would have learned in a first-year course!

Colleges are looking for intellectual curiosity in future students.  Yale’s admissions department ask themselves, “Who is likely to make the most of Yale’s resources?”  They want students who will follow their curiosity and engage actively with the world around them.  The President of Stanford University urged incoming freshman to emulate Charles Darwin by following their intellectual curiosity wherever it might lead them – despite setbacks.

The greatest setback on a path forged by curiosity is probably the lack of a clear goal.  Students and parents want to know that the work they do will improve grades, SAT scores, and college applications.  Don’t worry!  Following your interests leads to success in these areas because it employs critical thinking, research skills, creativity and communication.  Most importantly, it will lead to a life filled with learning!   After all, what good is a 4.0 grade-point average if you find yourself on the elevator with the president of your dream college, and you don’t know who Charles Lindbergh is?

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