How does Daphne’s attempt to become the next great country singer on the TV show Nashville and writing your college essay or personal statement relate? Both are about connecting with the audience.
In case you are not familiar with the show Nashville, Daphne is a 14-year-old girl whose mother, Rayna James, a huge country music star, recently died. She’s on an American Idol-like show for country singers. At first it’s too painful for Daphne to identify with the emotions of losing her mom and she hides behind her guitar when she performs. As a result, she is not getting many votes from the audience. The producer of the show and her singing coach push her to lose the guitar and the walls she put up to reach down to her emotions and share that with the audience. Of course she resists (it wouldn’t be a drama without some conflict!), but once she pushes past her discomfort she delivers a heartfelt performance that connects with the audience.
So how will you connect with the admission officer through your writing? As applications increase, the amount of time each admission officer spends reading your applications decreases. Some schools spend as little as 2.5 minutes per application, but most spend about 8-10 minutes. Below are some tips for connecting.
Tell a Story. It’s much more interesting to read a story that describes what happened to you in a vivid way than to read a rehash of your resume. Every story has a conflict, a resolution, and a transformation. In Daphne’s case, her conflict was dealing with the loss of her mother, the resolution was writing a song that helped her deal with her emotions, and the transformation was understanding that music could be a vehicle to help her deal with the loss and being able to perform it. Think about a conflict that you have faced. How did it affect you? How did you deal with it? How did you change as a result of this experience?
Share your vulnerability. This is perhaps one of the hardest things to do because you may think, “I can’t show my weakness to colleges.” But that’s not true. They want to understand how you overcome your weaknesses because college is hard. Admissions officers know that resilient students fare better in college because they have grit and perseverance. Showing a vulnerability whether it be admitting that you reacted poorly when you didn’t get a leadership position or when you bombed tryout is much more compelling than bragging about all your accomplishments. For Daphne, her vulnerability was stepping away from her protective shield of her guitar and connecting with her emotions.
Bring us to the scene. You often hear “show, don’t tell.” But how exactly do you do that? Daphne showed us through her performance and lyrics. But in a college essay, you need to use your words to paint the scene. One of our clients was a strong debater faced with a challenge. Instead of telling us that she made everyone listen to her by giving a great speech about female censorship during debate. She showed us this by bringing us to the scene.
“It is a well-known fact that in today’s society, it is impossible to hold men accountable for their reactions to women’s bodies,” I started with a deadpan look, doing my best not to smile. A murmur rippled through the room, emboldening me. “Female nudity censorship laws don’t present a double standard; women should just be responsible for covering themselves up.” Laughter rang through the room, but more importantly, everyone was listening.
Make us care. When you write something that’s genuine and helps the admission officer understand what drives you, they start to care about you as a person. The audience was cheering for Daphne because they understood her pain. What do you want the admission officers to feel after reading your essay? Our debater’s essay was able to show how she had grown and we were rooting for her success.
But a year later when I was debating nudity censorship, I didn’t feel typecast as an angry feminist beating her audience over the head with radical ideology; instead, I felt recognized as an effective debater who knew how to use satire well. The audience’s laughter made me calmer and cooler than usual. People were listening to me because they wanted to hear what I had to say.
Add detail and context. The more specific detail and grounding in your background and story, the better able for the admission officer to understand how you have changed. Instead of just giving us a summary of something, help us understand where you are? How old are you? What is going through your mind? What was challenging or surprising to you? Daphne’s lyrics gave us the context for her pain. Our debater’s essay helped set the scene of where she was, what she was doing and how she felt right away.
“Resolved, that female nudity censorship laws are misogynistic. Jane Smith will be speaking con.” With the bang of the gavel, I slowly walked to the podium, cringing as my high heels echoed around the hushed room.
I did not want to do this.
Watch Daphne let down her guard and connect. Let one of our essay specialists help you find your way to connect.