Not too long ago a friend and former student emailed me about the author and artist Miranda July. Specifically, she wanted to make sure I'd seen this School of Life event that July hosted about strangers.
There's a project that July and Harrell Fletcher did a few years ago called Learning to Love You More that has relevance for ambitious high school students. While it doesn't have a direct correlation to applying for college, it's all about getting to know yourself better, engaging more with people around you, and taking creative risks. Those are all good things for college-bound people.
In Learning to Love You More, July and Fletcher gave assignments for people to complete. The participants--of all ages and backgrounds--sent in their products from the assignments, and then the products were displayed both online and in some physical exhibits. So it became a communal artwork, one that shifted and grew over time.
A few of the assignments seem really good for self-reflection and self-knowledge. Any of these would make better essay prompts than the ones on the Common Application, so I'm going to share them here. You can go to the project website for the full list of assignments, and to see plenty of the products that participants sent in. (They no longer take submissions.)
*Note: below I have the titles of the original assignment, and anything in quotations is directly from the site. The rest is my own summary and commentary. You can find the word-for-word assignments on the website.
4. Start a lecture series. This assignment asked you to come up with a topic, find three people who would give different lectures on the topic, and then present the lectures in a public space.
10. Make a flier of your day. First write a paragraph about your typical day, and then make a flier for it. The original assignment also included making 100 copies of the flier to post around your neighborhood.
11. Photograph a scar and write about it. Not a fresh wound, but a scar. Most every scar has a good story, and they're often important to a person's identity.
14. Write your life story in less than a day. Try to write as detailed a life history as you can, taking no less than 1 hour and no more than 24.
17. Make your own guided meditation. Come up with a helpful and positive guided meditation for other people to follow.
35. Ask your family to describe what you do. "Ask three family members to write a down a description of what it is they think you do with your time. Ask them to try to think about how you live your life and what are your main activities and interests. They could give a particular example of something you are doing, for example "at the moment Susie is building a car, and it is taking up most of her evenings and weekends....," but they should not focus on examples of things you have done in the past. Also you are not asking them to say what they think of what you are doing, but only to describe it in as much detail as they know. Don't let the members of your family compare notes (until the assignment is complete) and similarly try not to put words into their mouth or tell them what they should write. This can be of any length."
45. Reread your favorite book from fifth grade. Pretty self-explanatory.
52. Write the phone call you wish you could have. Think about a person you wish would call you, and type out the entire conversation you wish you would have with that person.
53. Give advice to yourself in the past. "Choose a particular age you have been, perhaps a time when you were particularly lost. Write out a list of practical advice to yourself at that age. Begin the list with this header: 'Advice To Michelle Cambell at Sixteen' (only use your name and whatever age you want.) You must specify the age that you are giving yourself advice to!! Be very specific with your advice, for example, don't just say 'Hold on to your heart,' but instead say 'Don't go out with Kevin, he will eventually cheat on you. Go out with Jake instead, he is actually cooler.' If you need to use fake names go ahead. It is easy to say that everything happens for a reason, but take this opportunity to redirect yourself towards what you think might have been better." Do this one well, and you pretty much have a great draft of your application ready. Plus, and more important, some wisdom.
61. Describe your ideal government. "Describe in a paragraph or two how your ideal government would function."
70. Say goodbye. "Sometimes it's hard to say goodbye. It just feels easier to keep holding on. But in the long run it's usually a good idea to let go, it's the daring thing to do. It allows room for new things, for transformation. And maybe the goodbye isn't even forever, but you can't know until you really say goodbye and mean it. In some cases, goodbye is really the end, and good riddance! For this assignment, say goodbye to all the things you need to let go of: bad habits, dead people, alive people, ex-boyfriends and girlfriends, self-destructive feelings and behaviors, jobs, projects, re-occuring thoughts, etc.
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