By the time decision day rolls around in May, the average musical theater student will have written (by my own iPhone calculator guestimation) about 8000 words for application essays. This encompasses the Common App essay and the whole host of supplements that each school – and each theater department on top of that – also requires. It sounds like a lot of work, and it is. So it’s important to know the function of these essays alongside everything else you’re doing during the application and audition process.
First and foremost, the essays are the HUMAN ELEMENT of your application package. This is where the admissions counselors get to learn about you as a person outside of your academics, and, yes, outside of theater.
First and foremost, the essays are the HUMAN ELEMENT of your application package. This is where the admissions counselors get to learn about you as a person outside of your academics, and, yes, outside of theater. They are something other than the numbers of your GPA, grades, and test scores that give a glimpse into your unique voice and personality. This is your chance to show these schools who you are as a complete, well-rounded person.
The fun part is, these essays are not like an English assignment. There are far fewer rules when it comes to application essay writing than you might think. You can play with form, and colloquialism, and direct address in ways that can be really exciting and refreshing for admissions readers – not to mention, fun to write!
Let’s break down the two types of essays you’ll be writing and what their purposes are.
The Common App essay answers the question “Why am I right for your school?” This is what is also known as the ‘personal statement’, and it’s just that – a snapshot of who you are as a person. It’s a chance for you to show these schools how awesome you are, and how lucky they’d be to have you on their campus. I’ve had people write about their passion for muscle cars, the lemonade stand they built when they were 9, their struggles with mental health, and their fascination with mathematical fractals. The Common App essay comes with endless possibilities for the direction you can go, and it yields really exciting results when you let your imagination run wild. Every school will see this same essay, but some schools don’t require it at all.
The Common App essay comes with endless possibilities for the direction you can go, and it yields really exciting results when you let your imagination run wild.
Supplemental essays answer the question “Why is your school right for me?” This is your chance to show your knowledge about each individual school and program you’re applying to and tell the admissions counselors why you want to go there. These essays will ask things like “Why are you pursuing your chosen major, and why do you want to study it here?” or “What will you contribute to the campus culture at this university?” The most successful essays in this category are the ones that are well-researched and unique; they shouldn’t sound cookie cutter from school to school. Not all schools require supplemental essays, but many of them require upwards of 2 to 3.
The most successful essays in this category are the ones that are well-researched and unique; they shouldn’t sound cookie cutter from school to school.
So there you have it. The quick and dirty version of the essays you’ll be writing in the college application process and why you’ll be writing them. The biggest piece of advice I can give you (other than scheduling a session with me to get started!) is to approach writing as an organized process. Collect a list of everything you’ll have to write based on your school list and give yourself at least a couple months to draft everything you’ll need. Cramming and crunching last minute is the enemy of creativity, and these essays are a chance for you to continue tapping into that wonderful creative brain I know you all have as artists!
Collect a list of everything you’ll have to write based on your school list and give yourself at least a couple months to draft everything you’ll need.
Now stop reading, and get to writing!
About the Author
Lea Sevola is an actor/singer/dancer from Randolph, NJ. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Ithaca College with a BFA in Musical Theatre, and she is a proud MTCA alumna! In New York City she has worked alongside Broadway’s Mauricio Martinez in the workshop of Jaime Lozano’s new musical, Present Perfect. Lea’s acting career has also taken her across the country on the national tour of Legally Blonde, to various regional theatres, and to four Middle Eastern countries playing Wonder Woman in a Justice League show. Lea also prides herself on being a dedicated academic. While at Ithaca, she achieved Dean’s List for 8 semesters and earned the Dean’s Award for graduating at the top of all Fine and Performing Arts students. As a support career, Lea tutors middle and high schoolers in the humanities and in college preparation. She is also an expert on the SAT/ACT standardized tests and has guided students through the college application process for several years. As an SAT/ACT & essay prep coach for MTCA, she strives to make these supplemental aspects of her students’ applications just as strong as the artistic ones!