Ever since I saw their first concert freshman year, I wanted to join my high school jazz band. I loved the sound and the energy the band had on stage; they looked like they were having a great time. However, I was a classic AP track student with a packed schedule; I managed to squeeze in marching/concert band first period, but for my first two years I just had to watch them play from the balcony where the concert band sat.
Then, at the end of my sophomore year, I found out I had a scheduling conflict, and I needed another class 6th period, exactly when jazz band was. Well, I decided it was too good of a chance to pass up, so I told my academic advisor to put me in. His reaction was cautionary. He reminded me of all the other students I would be competing with and how they’d be taking more APs than me. He said to think it over and talk to my parents about it. Well, discouraged, I went home and talked to my parents.
They told me to forget about what he said; if I wanted to play jazz, I should. I emailed my advisor and told him to put me in. So I picked up my tenor sax and started practicing and listening, and I absolutely loved it. I had a great time playing with the band, and I still play now.
So when it came time to apply to schools, I took this supposed weakness in my application and owned it. At this point, I had done jazz band for a year and a half and had been drum major of my marching band. I conveyed my passion for music in my application; I even wrote my supplementary essay about the dimension of experience jazz music opened for me.
I’m now attending Georgetown University, and after I was accepted I received a letter from the dean congratulating me and noting that one of the things that really caught their attention was my involvement in music. So there it is, one of my biggest selling points was a non-academic class that I took because I wanted to, not some AP whatever.
One important thing that I have learned about the college application process is that one extra AP class is not necessarily going to make your application. This is not to say that studying isn’t important (I did very well academically), but once you’ve cleared a certain level, top tier schools are really just looking for someone who interests them.
My mother once came up with an interesting analogy: it’s kind of like a dinner party. They don’t want to let anyone in who is below a certain standard, but after that look for people who would make the most interesting guests at a dinner party. Well this person invented something, this person studied in Tanzania, etc. So by all means keep up the hard work, but don’t sacrifice things you love to do (they just might come in handy). Find something you are passionate about and stick with it. You can get good grades and have fun at the same time.
Eamon Cagney is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in Washington DC. He did a lot of private tutoring and teaching through different organizations in high school, and he was very involved music organizations on his high school campus. Currently, Eamon is studying Computer Science at Georgetown University.