Writing your college admissions essay can feel intimidating. How do you relay your life story and impress the admissions board in so few words? Check out the sample essay excerpts below, written by New York teacher Jasmine B., and her tips for writing your own winning essay:
Writing a college entrance essay? Here are a few helpful hints, along with examples from my very own entrance essay for The Juilliard School. I applied for, and am currently a part of, the Drama Division.
LET THEM IN
I thought about titling this part “Introduce Yourself,” but ideally, what you want is to do better than give a simple self-introduction. Give the readers a peek into who you are, and don’t be afraid to be honest. Assume your reader is incredibly intelligent, amicable, and someone you want to know. If you don’t know who will read your essay, imagine writing to someone you care deeply about and whom you admire. I wrote my college entrance essay after a particularly tumultuous time in my life, and rather than hide that, I decided to be honest. I realized that my story was one of strength and resilience, and that there was (and is!) great value in the power to overcome.
Four months ago, I was kicked out of my childhood home. It occurred two months prior to my college graduation and I was suddenly left homeless; without a family, without a sense of stability, of hope, or promise. While my colleagues and dear friends planned cross country trips, made plans to travel the world, and scheduled flights to start their new and promising lives, I was trying to deal with loss.
WHAT MAKES YOU SPECIAL?
For the past three months, I have been fighting harder than I ever thought I would. I’ve somehow made a way to still attend auditions in New York, Virginia, and Ohio while working forty hours a week at a coffee shop, saving every penny that I earn for the dream that I just won’t give up on. It is a dream that I cannot give up on; its every bit a part of me as the physical form that I inhabit. For as long as I can remember, every time that I’ve felt lost, alone, or cast away, I’ve found my purpose in the theater.
Little did I know that in confessing my hardships, I was painting the picture of someone who could endure the long days and nights of school; exactly the kind of person that any rigorous program is looking for. Instead of listing your accolades and accomplishments, why not tell a story that allows your character to shine through?
WHY WHY WHY
For every job opportunity, audition, or teaching artist position I’ve gotten, I have had to answer one question: WHY?
“Why do you want this job?”
“Why do you think Shakespeare is important?”
“Why should middle school students learn hip hop dance?”
In order to answer this WHY most effectively, I felt the need to be as honest as possible.
Acting makes me happy.
(That seems to be a running theme in this article, yes?)
If you are going to spend the next four, five, or even six years of your life with a group of people, don’t you want them to know who you really are? It is a lot harder to find the perfect fit for your college experience if your admissions material does not truly reflect its maker. Also know that the admissions process is a two-way street – not only do your adjudicators need to know you, but you have the power to evaluate them. It’s like a date: How can you know if you and your school are compatible if you act like someone else when you meet? So when you tell them why you want to be a member of their college community, tell them the truth!
Acting gives me a sense of a purpose; a way to express different sides of myself, discover myself…to remember myself. I get to take unimaginable risks – to fight with swords, to be honest about anything and everything, to fight the good fight when it would be so much easier to lie down and quit. I get courage from my work. Delving into an imaginary circumstance somehow always helps me conquer fear. It not only helps me, it helps the other people involved – the audience, the other cast members, the director, the writer, the producer – everyone is affected by one piece, by one moment in time that I get to be a part of it. What else can make this kind of impact? Theatre is the only thing of progress that has stood the test of time. For me, there is no other option. I cannot imagine a life without the pursuit of this dream…
Yes, of course you have to include professional references, such as a teacher, coach, or mentor, but in this case I mean LITERATURE. A well-read student is a valuable student. Don’t be afraid to include passages that help you tell your story in a unique way. Before writing my essay for Juilliard, I had been inspired by Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”. Here is how I incorporated “The Alchemist” into my personal statement:
In Paulo Coelho’s novel, The Alchemist, a wise character says to a young Shepard: “People learn, early in their lives, what is their reason for being…Maybe that’s why they give up He describes the reason for being as a ‘personal legend,’ and that, “When you want something with all your heart, that’s when you are closest to the Soul of the I’ve come to understand that this is my personal legend. I am closest to the Soul of the World when I am actively contributing to creation, when I use the talents given to me to affect the lives of others and to bring about a change in them similar to that my personal legend has brought to me. I have grown to understand that they make me who I am: the difficulties are what push me to keep trying; to move forward.
FINALLY, HERE ARE SOME GOLDEN RULES:
- Be concise. ‘Nuff said.
- Check your grammar and spelling – don’t just spell-check. Have a trusted friend/parent/teacher/mentor read over your statement and check for grammatical and spelling errors.
- Have fun! Applying for college is stressful, yes, but this is one of the opportunities you have to truly have fun, be yourself, and shine in your own way. Use it and enjoy it – it’s not everyday you have a platform to speak on things you truly care about; this is a gift!
Jasmine B. teaches speaking voice, stage performance, and acting in New York City. She’s studied acting from a young age, graduating from the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts, and Wright State University’s Professional Actor Training Program. She currently serves as an educational outreach fellow for the Juilliard School. Learn more about Jasmine here!
Once again we return to our So You Want My Job series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can live their dream.
Eitan Loewenstein is a professional actor who has been seen on “Ghost Whisperer,” “iCarly” and Lifetime’s “Final Justice” in addition to his commercial work for “Saturn,” “Las Vegas, “AT&T” and “Hertz” among others. Eitan lives in Los Angeles, CA with his wife and daughter. Quiet on the set. Annnnddd…. action!
1. Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? How old are you? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, ect).
My name is Eitan Loewenstein and I’ve lived in Los Angeles over half my life, but didn’t start getting into acting professionally until after I graduated from college. Before that I’ve lived in Bethesda, MD, Sharon, MA, and very briefly Tel Aviv, Israel. I am 28 years old, so that means I’ve been a professional actor for almost seven years.
2. Why did you want to become an actor? When did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I’ve been acting in some capacity (school plays, student films, shows friends asked me to be in) since I was in second grade but only during college did I decide I wanted to do this professionally. When I first went away to college I wanted to be an engineer. So for three years I studied electrical engineering at the University of California at Santa Barbara. In my third year I realized I really hated what I was doing.
The prospect of living in a cubicle for the next several decades sounded pretty unappealing, and I had stopped enjoying even learning about engineering. The only thing I enjoyed was acting. I had gotten involved in the school’s drama department as well as with some independent productions on campus. Some days I’d have six hours of physical rehearsal but I never once complained. It was then I decided I wanted to do this professionally and to stop being an engineer. My parents threatened to shiv me if I changed majors or dropped out of college so I spent the last year of my education preparing to move to LA after graduation and finishing up my degree by taking the “Intro to…” course load.
3. Did anyone ever try to persuade you not to take up acting as a profession, to do something more practical instead?
Someone tries to talk me out of being a professional actor almost every day. Even when I have a national commercial running someone asks, “So when are you going to get a real job?” I thought it would end when I started making some money, but it didn’t. Until you’re a regular on a TV show or starring in a major movie people assume you’re just doing this to get it out of your system. Hopefully that level of success isn’t too far off for me; I’d hate to have to keep coming up with witty answers to these questions.
4. If a man wishes to become an actor, how should he best prepare? Do you recommend going to acting school or going to college and majoring in theater?
I hold a minority opinion that almost all acting classes are a waste of time. In my years I’ve seen very few people improve from taking an acting class, and I’ve found almost nothing I’ve learned in a class to be applicable to the job of being a professional actor. The only exception to this has been my improv classes. I studied improvisation at The Groundlings, and it has been worth every penny. I’m constantly asked to improvise lines or actions and classes can really help give you a structure to do that.
Acting classes where you read scenes and perform them in front of a super-critical teacher can be a gigantic waste of time. Most of the teachers are failed actors or run their classes in a way that is completely dissimilar to any professional job as to be more harmful than helpful. Teachers aren’t looking for your work to be good, only to be bad so they can critique it. Casting directors and directors watch acting with the opposite view; they are looking for you to be good. This is my personal opinion, and there are more people who disagree with me than agree.
But most people agree that to some extent acting can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t. The best (possibly only) way to get better and to hone your natural acting talent is to perform. Starting out that’s going to involve doing a lot of very bad theater and no-budget films. Everyone does it and it’s the best way to learn. You have to focus not only on making the show you’re doing good but also improving yourself. Don’t pull out your hair about how unprofessional everyone else is, how the director doesn’t give you enough to do or how the scenery looks. Only focus on improving your acting and doing an amazing job.
I know many actors who studied acting in college and personally I feel like it didn’t prepare them for the world of TV/Film acting. My school’s theater department was focused on students leaving the school to get a Masters in Fine Arts in acting or going to work in regional theater. There was very little encouragement to students leaving to work in TV/Film (even though Los Angeles was a mere 90 miles away).
5. So a man decides he wants to be an actor. What does he do next? Take some headshots? Move to LA? Get an agent (how do you get one, or do they get you)? How do you know when there is a casting call for something? In short, how to you go about breaking into the biz?
The first thing to do if someone decides to be an actor is to start acting. I’m shocked at how many actors I meet in LA who’ve done almost no acting before deciding to be a professional. No one would dare dribble a basketball a couple of times and decide they want to be in the NBA, yet with acting this is oddly common. Do something. If you live in Iowa, do some theater in Iowa. It’s going to be terrible (probably) and no one’s going to come see it, but you have to keep working. I did a sketch show at a dingy theater upstairs from an ice cream shop for an audience of two. I did the work, got better and moved on.
Don’t even think about moving to LA unless you’re ready to compete with the big dogs. To even get an audition you have to best thousands of people who look exactly like you, have more credits than you and have personal relationships with people in the industry. When those opportunities come (and they do come, eventually) you have to be at the very top of your game. You can’t explain to the casting director that you are new to town and that’s why you flubbed your audition. They don’t care; they simply want someone who will be the best in the role they’re trying to fill. If you can’t perform in an audition, they assume you can’t perform on set.
Agents are tough to crack. The old adage of “you can’t get work without an agent and you can’t get an agent without doing any work” is true. The solution is to spend some of your time trying to get an agent interested in you and some of your time trying to get work. You’re probably best with a 25/75 split. It’s easier to meet a casting director and get them to bring you in for an audition than to convince an agent to sign you. An audition takes five minutes while agents spend hours a week per-client trying to get them work.
There are three ways to get an agent. The worst is to mail out headshots/resumes to their offices. They look at them but rarely call anyone in. The agents that do call people in tend to be on the lower end of the pecking order. The next best way is to meet the agent through a friend or business contact. This is how I got my commercial agent. A friend who worked at a manager’s office met this agent and suggested we meet. I went in, charmed her and I’ve been working with her for the past four years. The absolute best way to get an agent is to have them find you. This is how the really big agencies get most of their clients. Someone books a part on an independent movie and is generating some buzz, the agent gives them a call and they come in for a meeting. This is far and away the hardest way of getting an agent but it does work, and it’s the only way to get signed by one of the top agencies.
A note about agencies for the newer folks: You should NEVER pay for an agent to represent you. Agents take a percentage of earnings from work booked and THAT’S IT! A real agent will never require you to sign up for a specific class, go to a particular photographer or pay any sort of “management fee.” These classes/photos are worthless and will in no way further your career. If someone approaches you at a mall and says you (or your kid) are perfect for modeling or acting work take some time to Google their company name plus the word “scam.” They’ll almost always pop up as scam artists trying to rip off the hopeful.
If you’re in Los Angeles or another major market there are various ways to access casting notices (called breakdowns). There’s a wonderful service run by the same people who post notices for agents/managers eyes only called Actors Access. This is where the best notices are posted. It’s mostly full of low/no paying work but occasionally a TV show will need something very specific and open the notice up to the general acting population. My yearly subscription to Actors Access is some of the best money I spend on my career. There are only two other legit sites in Los Angeles (LA Casting and Now Casting) but their pickings are slim by comparison.
There are many sites on the web that claim to post notices for major TV shows/films. If they’re not called “Actors Access” then they’re scams. Those notices go out only on Actors Access or the agents/managers only version “Breakdown Express.” Occasionally these sites will copy/paste the casting notices from Actors Access or Breakdown Express and charge people money to read them. They tell the actors to mail in headshots to be considered for roles that were only going out to name actors anyway. All but a very small number of submissions are now done online, so mailing in headshots to these companies for roles that may or may not exist is a merely a waste of time and money.
A casting director friend told me a story about this practice. She had posted a notice for a lowish budget independent film and posted it on Actors Access. She got submissions online, had auditions, the film was cast and shot. Months later she received submissions from actors for this exact film. She was confused as the film had already been shot. Apparently one of these scam sites had taken her casting breakdown, changed the date the film was shooting and was charging actors to access it and giving them her mailing address.
6. What do actors do to supplement their income while they’re waiting for their big break? Do many give up after giving themselves a certain number of years to try it?