by Lauren DiProspero, former admissions officer at Columbia University
As I spend time speaking with families, I notice that many are missing the cultural experiences they had before stay-at-home policies were established. Some love museums, no matter how small and quirky. Some miss the popcorn at their local movie theater. Some are yearning to learn new things at lectures. And, honestly, many didn’t have regular access to these experiences within their community before this.
It may feel a bit strange to talk about cultural experiences in relation to college applications. However, there are many colleges that value these experiences; a quick look at this past application cycle’s supplemental questions shows that many colleges ask questions that both directly and indirectly ask about this type of engagement. Here are just three examples:
The Ohio State University Honors Program: “To what fictional character do you most relate, and why? You may select a character from animation, art, film, literature, television, theater or any other medium.”
Colorado College: “What piece of culture have you been consuming (e.g. book, film, album, etc.) that you want to tell people about?”
Columbia University: “List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year.”
It is likely that these questions will continue to appear on supplemental applications even in this unprecedented time. Admissions officers will review applications knowing that each student will have had limited access, but expecting that curious and engaged students will likely still have explored their interests virtually. There are a ton of resources out there to do just that, but it can be overwhelming just knowing where to start. The key is to engage in a way that expresses your interests. Don’t like opera? There is no need to sit through La Boheme. Love historical fiction? Dive on in! Your specific interests should drive your decisions.
Don’t feel limited by the ideas or categories listed below. Taking the time to explore your interests will help you grow intellectually, can provide a source of inspiration for a college essay, and can serve as a talking point during a college interview. It may even allow you to make connections between subjects and enhance your classroom experience.
Always wanted to see every single Academy Award Best Picture winner? Now is the time to scour streaming movie services; check out Kanopy to see if you have free access to their catalog via your local public library. Do you have a love of another language? Explore foreign language films. Have a passion for documentaries? Dig in! If you want to watch movies with friends, you could even start a cinema club through remote group viewings of streaming films.
A quick internet search will yield numerous lists of museums with virtual tours. A virtual tour allows you to “visit” the museum in your city or one in a country you’ve never been to! Always wanted to get close to the paintings in the Van Gogh Museum? You can do that! Interested in Mayan artifacts? You can “visit” the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Check out this Smithsonian Magazine article for more great ideas.
Concerts and Lectures
Many prominent and lesser known artists are live streaming concerts on social media. You can also look for opportunities to support local venues. Some smaller venues, like comedy and music clubs, may have virtual performances with a donation option to support those artists. Many orchestras, ballets, and opera houses, like the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Berlin Philharmonic, are streaming performances. Many are free and some have a subscription service. If you are eager to hear lectures on particular subjects, explore the websites of your local YMCA or YHA or library, as well as larger, nationally known venues like the 92nd Street Y in New York City. All of those event flyers you used to walk by at libraries and coffee shops are still happening—they’re just online.
Now, more than ever, you may have time to read for fun. This could be a great opportunity to re-read Harry Potter but I encourage you to explore books related to your interests or potential major. Ask your teachers or look to your local library or bookstore’s websites for recommendations.