Colorado College Essay Example: Breakdown + Analysis

Today, we’re going to be breaking down a standout essay for Colorado College and discussing how you can apply its strategies to your own application. We’ll be identifying specific, applicable techniques used by the writer and helping you achieve the same clarity and effectiveness. 

 

(Also, CollegeVine has a ton of other resources for your Colorado application. Want to learn what CC will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering CC needs to know.

 

Ready? Let’s go! 

 

Colorado College Supplemental Essay Prompt

The Block Plan at Colorado College has a  tradition of innovation and flexibility. Please design your own three-and- a-half- week course and describe what you would do. (Recommended length: 2-3 paragraphs)

Note: this is not a prompt for the 2020-2021 cycle, but a previous prompt. We still think it’s helpful to see a sample response and analysis, but we want to make it 100% clear that you shouldn’t be writing this essay for this cycle.

 

The first thing you should notice about this prompt is that its “limit” is in paragraphs, not words. That tells us a lot about what Colorado wants you to emphasize: they want you to feel creatively free, unburdened by the pressure of a word count. 

 

That being said, we recommend sticking with the maximum of 3 paragraphs (or, if you end up 2 paragraphs, make sure they’re substantial). It’s better to err on the side of being too rigorous than too sparing. For example, our example essay is actually 6 paragraphs, but they’re each fairly short. So, overall, try to match the example’s word length and level of detail, while having fewer but longer paragraphs. 

 

Now, for the prompt itself: CC is asking you to “design” a short course for its special Block plan sessions. CC’s “Blocks” are weeklong, intensive classes that cram a semester’s worth of learning into 4 weeks. Students often take Blocks in isolation, meaning those 4 weeks are spent only on a single class. Many blocks feature travel and out-of-class experience. This must-read summary is the best explanation out there. We also advise digging around a bit about on CC’s webpage to familiarize yourself. 

 

Your Block class should: 

 

  • Have a narrow focus. Blocks allow in-depth leaning into unique areas: for example, broad topics like “science” probably won’t be successful. Try instead a specific figure, niche, or era, like “The Age of Tesla” or “Epigenetics.” 
  • Involve hands-on experiences. The strength of Blocks is that, by taking only one class, students free up their schedules for outings, travel, volunteerism, and more. Envision some fun, involving activities that you’d enjoy: for example, a class on Sophocles could put on their own version of Electra at the end of the Block. 
  • Involve a variety of materials. Feel free to bring a lot to the table, especially content that’s been meaningful to you. You can involve non-paper materials like movies, operas, plays, and podcasts.
  • Embody the ethos of Block programming as a whole. Your class should prioritize the values of the Block format: creativity, independence, depth, and focus. And you can feel free to state these values explicitly. 

 

Colorado College Essay Example

 

Before we break it down to its successful elements, we recommend you read the essay as a whole. This will give you a good sense of pace, content, and tone. Feel free to print out this page, circle what you think is effective, and annotate what you like or could do similarly for your own essay. 

I love country music. I am moved by its sad, sultry lyrics, like “Take your records, take your freedom” in Keith Urban’s You’ll Think of Me; I smile over its hopeful, trusting words, like “Something about your hand in mine, just feels right” in James Barker Band’s Good Together; and I laugh when Garth Brooks sings, “Blame it all on my roots, I showed up in boots, and ruined your black-tie affair,” in Friends in Low Places.

 

Still, as a genre, country is far from perfect. Whether it’s objectifying women or promoting alcohol as the solution to all problems, the music can be wildly unprogressive, yet still quickly accepted by listeners. I also have questions regarding certain motifs: Why are trucks seen as more fitting for songs than cars? Why does everyone wear bluejeans? 

 

If I were to design a course for Colorado College’s block plan, I would call it  “Country Music in the 21st Century.” Week One would study the history. Reaching as far back as the Civil War, the course would survey the various influences, instruments, and personalities that shaped the genre. It would also look at artists like Brooks & Dunn and Johhny Cash; key regional centers for country music, such as Nashville, Kentucky, and even California; and how various forces shaped the music into what is now popular country. This week would also include lyrical analysis of some of country’s biggest hits — from “Jolene” to “You’re Still the One” — and begin comparing themes from the 20th century to those that are popular today. 

 

Week Two would focus on the underrepresentation and the objectification of women in country music. The domination of the genre by men results in the music talking about women, yet rarely allows them to form their own opinions. The first half of the second week would expose this prejudice, looking at sexism found in lyrics (for example, Billy Curington’s “Hey, Girl”), showing the numbers in male success vs female success, and look at the hurdles women must jump over to gain stardom in country music. The second half would celebrate female country stars and their progressive hits, like Danielle Bradberry’s “Worth it” and Kelsi Ballerini’s “I Miss Me More.” 

 

Week Three would identify and analyze the subgenres of new country – from sad country, to “in love” country, to good times country, to political country, and everything in between. The final for the class (worked on and and presented in the last half-week of the block) would not be a traditional exam, but rather a final project in which students compose their own country song which incorporates elements from old country, women in country, and other themes that have emerged. Additionally, throughout the course, students would attend a local modern country concert every week.

 

I am extremely enticed by the block plan at Colorado College. Diving into just one topic, rather than splitting my focus between a number of classes, sounds like my cup of tea, especially when that course could be all about country music.

Analyzing This Colorado College Essay Example

 

Strength #1: Writer Asks Probing Questions

 

Since a key part of the Block program is inquiry and personal research, it’s paramount that you mention some sort of research question or personal dilemma in your essay. For the above essay, the applicant actually devotes a whole paragraph to questions and qualms: 

 

“…the music can be wildly unprogressive, yet still quickly accepted by listeners. I also have questions regarding certain motifs: Why are trucks seen as more fitting for songs than cars? Why does everyone wear bluejeans?”

 

The repetition of “Why” shows that our applicant is not just someone who wants to absorb knowledge – she wants to research and contribute to our collective knowledge as well. 

 

For your essay: Think about any mysteries that bother you about your topic. If you had the resources, what research question would you want to solve? If you can’t think of one on your own, consider any longstanding debates within your subject and discuss your interest in working towards a solution. Be sure to cite any resources you’d use to pursue your question. Plan this section along the lines of this table:

 

Research Question Importance Resources
Why does everyone in country music wear bluejeans? It’s a ubiquitous motif we hear all the time, so it seems important to the psyche of the genre Compiling songs from the past 10 years and tracking use of “blue jeans” and contexts, analysis of jeans ads from the 1990s-2000s
Why does Shakespeare have so many characters named Rosalind? Could provide an insight into early modern playwriting processes Shakespeare’s source materials (novels, poems), Elizabethan birth name records, and online databases for word frequency
Why does classical music help people concentrate? Implications for the psychology of focus, connections between different parts of the brain In-person interviews about music preference, clinical studies and brain scans, music theory writings

 

As you can see, I actually “beefed up” the research plan beyond what was in the original country music essay. That’s because I tend to think the more comprehensive the research plan, the better. Thoughtful plans like these – tying together question, importance, and strategy – will show that you’re the kind of researcher who would thrive at Colorado College. 

 

Strength #2: Demonstrates an Understanding of Block Format

 

You could write about the most interesting subject in the world, but still end up with an unsuccessful essay. How? By failing to integrate your subject with the teaching environment of the Block at Colorado. 

 

Take a look at how the applicant above provides a clear “mini-syllabus” for her class. She shows that she understands the timeframe of a block:

 

“Week One would study the history [of Country]…. Week Two would focus on the underrepresentation and the objectification of women…. Week Three would identify and analyze the subgenres of new country…. The final for the class (worked on and and presented in the last half-week of the block) would not be a traditional exam, but rather a final project…. Additionally, throughout the course, students would attend a local modern country concert every week.”

 

That’s a lot of specifics! They show that our applicant has put a lot of effort into developing her Block. 

 

For your essay: Compile a list of assignments and topics for your class. This includes weekly learning plans, readings, a final exam/project, any creative projects, and off-campus activities. Check them off as you include them. Feel free to use this table to brainstorm:

 

Syllabus Item Example Essay My Essay
Week 1 History of country
Week 2 Country and misogyny
Week 3 Subgenres of country
Week 4 Final project work and presentation sessions
Final Students write their own country songs
Out-of-class Weekly, students attend one country concert in the area

 

Our recommended strategy: Use paragraph 1 to introduce your subject and why you think it would make a good Block. You could then use paragraphs 2 and 3 to discuss your syllabus and materials. 

 

2-4 comprehensive sentences per week of class is a good length to shoot for. 

 

Strength #3: Writer Uses Detail

 

The applicant provides a wealth of specific works (“Hey Girl,” “Jolene,” “I Miss Me More”), people (Johnny Cash, Keith Urban), and other details (subgenres, recording locales) that demonstrate her knowledge of country music. She even quotes “Friends in Low Places,” which is generally the mark of a stellar individual.

 

For your essay: How can you show that your understanding of the subject is more than just superficial? Go through your essay and circle any terms or sections that don’t convey a lot of specificity – then correct them. Here are some examples:

 

“We would cover YA literature of the past” → “We would read some influential books that helped formed YA as a genre, like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and The Outsiders. We would also read historical studies on the intensified marketing of books to kids in the 1980s and 1990s, including the rise of Scholastic book fairs.”

 

“Week 3 would focus on chaos theory” → “In Week 3, students would read sections of Chaos: An Introduction to Dynamical Systems, and use the program XenoDream to create their own fractals.” 

 

You want to make sure you sound like the second sentences, not the first! 

 

Strength #4: Personal Conclusion

 

Our applicant closes her essay with a reminder that she’s personally interested in the Block and in Colorado College as a whole. This is a strong move, because it shows her head is still firmly in the game – admission. Her essay would have been nice if it had simply laid out a Block class, but what makes it great is her first-person involvement. Think of it as a crucial, final “sales pitch” for her admission: 

 

I am extremely enticed by the block plan at Colorado College. Diving into just one topic, rather than splitting my focus between a number of classes, sounds like my cup of tea, especially when that course could be all about country music.”

 

She identifies a specific element of the block that fit her personality, and implies that she would thrive at Colorado College. 

 

For your essay: Conclude with a few sentences that identify a personal appeal of the Block class format, and why they match your personality. Some examples could be:

 

  1. How Blocks complement your learning style
  2. How Blocks would challenge your learning style!
  3. The inherently niche subject matter
  4. The off-campus activities
  5. The tight-knit social environment of Blocks

 

What the Example Could Do Better

 

As our final note, we just wanted to point out a few changes that would have improved our already-great example. No essay is perfect, but all the same, you should consider the following areas for improvement in your own work, too.

 

It needs more diversity of materials. While the writer shows a detailed knowledge of country songs, her essay doesn’t include any other types of sources. This makes her planned course seem a little monotonous and one-dimensional. It would add a lot of rigor to include a variety of media, like Ken Burns’ Country Music docuseries and Charles Hughes’ book Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South. These add more interest to the course, and show the applicant to be well-versed (no pun intended) in the subject. 

 

It has a bit of an agenda. The applicant makes it explicit that her course will commend certain female singers for their “progressive” songwriting. While this phrasing shows her passion, we wouldn’t recommend that you set up your class as a way to prove something or change minds. Rather, you should emphasize creating discussion and facilitating inquiry. For example, a more nuanced stance than “modern female country singers should be praised for their progressivism” might be “what demographic or music-industry changes have enabled these female singers to find receptive female audiences?” This ensures that it’s about the discussion, not the applicant’s belief. 

 

The conclusion, while personal, is a bit generic. It’s not as specific as it could be, and a cliche like “my cup of tea” doesn’t help with the authenticity. While the writer did describe a connection to the Block (“Diving into just one topic, rather than splitting my focus between a number of classes”), it’s not very imaginative or unique. When you’re finding your connection, spend a while thinking about a more granular, specific advantage of the Block.

 

For example, the above sentence might be fleshed out a little more: “I plan on going into musicology, specifically research, after college. The focused nature of the Block would enable me to dive into focused investigative projects without the distractions of other classes. As such, it would offer me fantastic preparation for the research profession, and enable me to devote all my energies to honing this skill.” See how that’s more comprehensive than simply “diving into one topic”?

 

Further Resources

 

As you’re working on your Colorado College essay, feel free to use our additional resources on the school. As always, we’re here to make every aspect of your application a success. 

 

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Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.