The College Essay – Just Sing It

By Dr. Paul Lowe, College Admissions Guru

College admissions essays are integral parts of a student’s profile and one of the most important factors in determining the outcome of admissions committees’ decisions.  My view is that all of your essays, whether the main essay or short answers, should be akin to your personalized musical piece.  An essay is a means of self expression that helps you to stand out.  Essays should take on the sound of a vibrant, rhythmic narrative and should be about your feeling, your experience, and your deep emotional reaction to an experience. It should not be just prose.  When writing the essay, one should consider the “listening audience” – THE ADMISSIONS COMMITTEE.  They are listening and evaluating your song (or compilation of songs) for the first time.

Essays must have a unique rhythm, tone, attractive verse, timbre, melody, pitch, syncopation, vibrato, tempo, cadence and definitely deep soul.  To me, they should be a cross between the percussive beats of Hip Hop and the melodic phrases of Jazz and R&B.  Essays must leave an indelible and lasting impression on the entire admissions committee.   They should be entertaining, intellectually persuasive as well as aesthetically pleasing.  Most importantly, they must articulate the author’s unique characteristics.

Our essay reviewers and editors are grammarians as well as musicians, lyricists, dramatists and screenwriters.  One of our essay team members, a former R& B artist with a PhD in Lingustics and Ethnomusicology, listens to the phonetics of my clients’ essays.   As a Jamaican-born jazz musician who was raised listening to Jamaican Ska, Calypso, and Reggae; and inspired by R& B, Rap, Country Western, Klezmer and Pop, I listen and feel the vibe, rhythm and quality of the lyrics of my clients’ essays before they are submitted.  When the essay demonstrates my client’s, personalized, soulful and rhythmic accent, I know that will meaningfully and positively affect and move a committee of professionals who are ethnically, racially, and at times socio-economically different.

Very often, we receive essays to review which are perceived by student-authors, parent reviewers and/or other reviewers as fabulous works of art on paper.  Contrary to these perceptions, the essay sounds one-dimensional, colorless, prosaic, bland, a-cultural, homogenous and arrhythmic.  Words such as “amazing”, “awesome”, “passionate” and “exciting” are often used yet they have no emotional connectivity and are phonetically detached.  Beyond its basic structure, the college essay, like a great song, should be memorable, have depth and have universal appeal while portraying the applicant’s unmatched characteristics in a positive, stimulating and enlightening manner.

It is my professional belief that composing an essay within the musical dimension requires:  The soulful, uplifting, empathic lyrics and music of the Macon Music Masters: James Brown, Otis Redding and Richard Penniman aka Little Richard; the timeless, colorful phrasing and syncopation of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Duke Ellington,  the gymnastic vocals of Dwight Myers aka Heavy D, Dana Owens aka Queen Latifah, and James Smith aka LL Cool J;  the soothing, vocal swing and timing of Frank Sinatra and Luther Vandross;  the combined effective lyrics and musicianship of Reginald Dwight aka Sir Elton John; the wow factor delivery of Peter Hernandez aka Bruno Mars; the narrative style of Robert Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan and James Taylor and of course the dynamic, lyrical and mutable creativity of Taylor Swift.  These artists demonstrate the communicative and creative genius of music and how it articulates their personal style.

Despite statistical and numerical analysis, admissions decisions, ultimately, are made holistically.  College admissions decisions are at times subjective, evaluative, judgmental and emotional.  I believe, based on my professional experience and success, that when admissions committee members individually as well as a group can “hum” or “skat” your essay, are moved by its unique rhythmic personality, and can remember its distinct features, they will add it to their acceptance playlist during the decisions process!

Dr. Paul Reginald Lowe is the managing director and lead admissions expert at Greenwich Admissions Advisors. Tel. (203) 542-7288.  He plays jazz harmonica and banjo.

Dr. Lowe is an active member of several professional organizations including: the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), the New York Association for College Admission Counseling (NYACAC), the New Jersey Association for College Admission Counseling (NJACAC), the Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling (OACAC), and NAFSA: Association of International Educators, American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), and the Admissions Leadership Consortium (ALC).