Last night I saw Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein, a one-man show on the life of Leonard Bernstein, composer of West Side Story and noted conductor. I enjoyed the show immensely, but there was one line that particularly resonated and I want to share it, although I am sure I am not quoting it verbatim.
The Bernstein character is talking about working with Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics for West Side Story, one of my favorite musicals –yes, I like Broadway musicals–and quotes Sondheim as saying “I want to write a love song without mentioning the word ‘love,’ a song in which the emotion, the feeling, the passion are so obvious you don’t need the word.”
And indeed, I just listened to “Maria,” and I didn’t hear “love” mentioned once in this beautiful love song. Nor is it mentioned in the first duet of “Tonight” between Tony and Maria, but you would have to be deaf and blind not to know they are in love.
When you write your personal statement or application essay, take Stephen Sondheim’s point to heart. Make it your goal. Showing the qualities you claim as opposed to writing about them in superficial, declarative sentences filled with buzzy, spammy admissions key words, which is what many of you do, will help you write distinctive, engaging, remarkable essays.
Tell a story that demonstrates your leadership abilities so well you don’t need the word “leadership” in your essay. Write so vividly about your contributions to a team, club, or group, that your interpersonal and communications skills stare the reader in the face. Present the challenges and examples that embody analytical skills, and like Sondheim in “Maria,” you won’t need to mention the term.
So instead of A Little Night Music, Stephen Sondheim, with an assist from Leonard Bernstein, provides a lesson for applicants.
For more tips on writing engaging, distinctive application essays and personal statements, please see Essays that Stick, an on-demand webinar.