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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!