Your College Application Super Power for Artists (and everyone else)

Mo Hyman Getting Into College, How To, Parent/Educator, Performing Arts, Student Resources, Tips, Visual Arts

The college application process can be challenging, but not if you know what your super power is and how to use it.

So you know how X-Man Scott Summers — or Cyclops — has these really powerful laser eyes that he can’t control until he puts on those glasses that kind of look like the ones Geordi La Forge from Star Trek Next Generation wears?


Say you are a high school artist/actor/musician, etc. and prepping for college, you’re Cyclops. You’re really powerful. But you need to wear your glasses.

There’s something — or maybe two or three things — that you love to do…and that you may even be really good at. Photography. Reading books. Dissecting frogs. Hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Great! Colleges desire candidates who are passionate. They also desire candidates who illustrate dedication to those passions. If at all possible, this dedication should be illustrated through participation in sanctioned and structured activities.

What did that last sentence mean? Let’s yank it apart a bit.

Sanctioned and Structured Activities

The best way to build your super power is to surround yourself with other people who are passionate about the same things — and with adults who are experienced experts in them, too (the Professor X to your Cyclops). This is why you should seek opportunities that a) already exist or b) can provide basic architecture for you to build upon.

Think of it this way: your passion is the earth, and you’re standing on the red hot core. Look around you first — are there extracurricular activities or clubs at your school, religious institution, or youth group that match your passions that you’re not yet participating in; if not, could you pretty easily get something started at one of these places? If you’ve got the core covered, move on to the next layer, the mantle. Are there local institutions, like nonprofit organizations or community colleges, that hold classes or offer opportunities that you can take advantage of? Finally, move on to the earth’s crust. Are there free online courses at Khan Academy that you can take or a spring break trip you can go on that will further develop your passion?

Here’s an example:

I love photography. I start a photography club at my school (this shows leadership as well as passion, and colleges love leaders — bonus!) and take the one course that is available. But I want more, so I join the local chapter of the Sierra Club and join in on regular nature hikes that help me to unleash my inner Ansel Adams and start attending exhibits at a local arts collective so that I can talk to some working photographers. Finally, I find a nonprofit summer program that will allow me to take intensive photography courses with experts from the local college and build my portfolio over the summer (plus I qualify for a need-based scholarship — score!).

Now I’ve started to really show off my passion for snapping awesome photos, and colleges that I apply to will love to see that I’ve really focused my laser, shown leadership, and ventured beyond my usual hang-outs. Impressive. But I’ve also learned a lot, made new friends who share my interests, and gotten support from adults who taught me how I can incorporate photography into my college, career, and life goals. Phew. That’s a lot of awesome.

5010113-U-2If at All Possible…

This part is really important. What if you have a lot of family responsibilities — like taking care of siblings or elderly relatives — and can’t go hiking every weekend or go away for the summer? These responsibilities are really important, and you need to: 1) tell colleges about them (and show off your leadership!) and 2) enjoy your passion when you can.

Back to my photography example: every once in a while, I will take my family on field trip to a museum or gallery. I can’t go hiking every weekend, but I may be able to get out to nature once-per-month and take a ton of photos. And I can still start that photography club at school — it meets at lunchtime!

Back to Cyclops and Those Glasses…

CyclopsclassicFirst, you may not always just focus on one thing. You may have a few things that you love. Great! Try to balance them by

choosing one academic passion, one artistic passion, and one social passion to focus on. Just don’t choose everything.

Students who take on too many things look scattered — lasers beaming this way and that, which is pretty unhelpful (and kinda dangerous), superpower-wise. They also struggle to show real leadership because they bounce around too much. Most of all, they burn out, beaming in all directions but not really getting anywhere. Next, don’t fake it. If you really don’t like something, change your mind.

Passions should invigorate us — they should be chosen, cherished.

They shouldn’t be a chore. Sure, you may face up and downs, and sometimes it’s best to stick with it and find the best avenue for success (maybe it’s the people and not the passion), but if you don’t like something…just get a new pair of glasses.

Lastly, keep your eyes open for new and developing passions. Remember: you’re wearing glasses that help to focus your passions, but you can still see other things through them. Humans can both focus and see 360 degrees — we contain multitudes. Keep your eyes open to new adventures that feed your super power and make you stronger.

The Best Thing About Your Super Power

When you apply to college, you will be ready. Your chosen major will most likely relate to your passions, and you will have adventures, experiences, and failures to write about in a compelling personal essay. And you will have experience identifying friends and mentors who share your passion and your core values, which will help you to build a social network when you get to school. Most of all, you will know your authentic self, which is the greatest defense you have against life challenges and scary new experiences. You will be prepared to face your nemeses — and you may meet a few fellow superheroes along the way.

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Mo Hyman
Mo Hyman is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of College Access Plan, a drop-in program that provides college readiness workshops and one-to-one advisement after school to students attending public school in Pasadena, CA. Mo has a BA in English from Michigan State University, an MA in English from the University of New Mexico and a Masters of Public Administration from USC. An avid writer, hiker, reader, and food-lover, she lives in Pasadena, CA, with her husband and two very, very cute dogs.