College Essays

Common Application

Dear Shelby, 
Congratulations on your new position as Head of Costume Crew! You’re off on an exciting journey into the boundless unknown (aka boiler-room-turned-costume-closet).  I’ll give you my map, albeit a bit tattered, to follow. You are now keeper of the costumes and protector of your crew—rigging quick changes, sewing loose buttons, making split-second decisions in the millisecond before a swarm of performers sashay onto the stage—all for this crazy, wonderful must-go-on moment called “the show.”
About 99.9% of the most vital advice I’ll give you, I acquired through trial and (much) error during my first production as costume head for Peter and the Starcatcher. With its army of pirates and school of mermaids, this show nearly sunk my ship with its siren call to throw in the towel.
I was a sophomore, and only five girls had joined costume crew that fall. Beyond costuming a cast of 35 in less than 10 weeks, we tackled 16 trash-to-treasure mermaid costumes bedecked from crown to tail in whatever Dollar Store baubles we could find. After my more experienced co-chair quit on day three and the school could not find a supervisor for our team, I realized that forming a loyal crew to commandeer through even the most tumultuous tempest was key to everything. First tip: it is your job to maintain positivity to motivate your volunteers. A “good job” or “great idea” with a smile goes far at 10pm, especially when there’s no end in sight. Second: the crew’s safety is paramount—if people are burning themselves on hot glue guns as they fuse Scrabble tiles to bras, bring in oven mitts so that the end of every sentence is not punctuated with “OW!”
Your parents might not be too happy when you take work home with you (i.e. spill buckets of glitter on the living room floor), and the director may not always clearly communicate a critique. Don’t give up. One week before opening night, the director observed that the mermaid tops “looked too much like bras” and the bedsheet bottoms “didn’t look enough like tails,” which meant picking off every last bell and whistle (literally) and starting from scratch. Her criticism was valid, even if it took several long nights to remedy. Side note: remember that all the costumes should land very solidly in the G-to-PG range…and Double FF Maidenforms, without enough sequins, feathers, and seashells glued on to mask their identity, are apparently not in that category.
I also discovered some other interesting tidbits from Peter, like the fact that the security alarms in the school activate at 11 pm and signal the town police, so don’t stay later than 10:59 (and many nights you’ll want to). Don’t go too crazy when everyone on the cast forgets to hang up their costumes—again. Instead, make a joke, remotivate, and remember you’re not that far from the best three days of drama club, when the feeling of pixie dust is everywhere and, even when you’re sewing a zipper back on faster than you ever thought humanly possible, you’ll feel the electricity coursing through the theater. 
If you ever find stray fans plastered with tinsel (aka Mermaid Fins), you’ll know which production they came from, and hopefully they’ll remind you that, undoubtedly, costume crew will be turbulent from time to time; indeed, you will want to jump ship and so might the people around you, but everything will work out in the end. Unbelievably, after all our tribulations, Peter and the Starcatcher was nominated for Best Costumes at the Montclair State Foxy Awards. We may not have won the coveted golden treasure, but my team and I felt like we had.
I’m so happy that my favorite place at school, the costume closet, is in such good hands. You’re going to do great!

Tips for Writing:
Get comfortable talking about yourself. You’re really going to have a hard time writing an essay if you can’t bring yourself to admit that you excel at certain things! Be proud of the things you do well and use those to guide your essay. Have multiple people read your essays. You never know how a phrase or tone can translate, and what sounds funny and lighthearted to one group of people may concern another. Along the same vein, never make fun of anybody directly. You can talk about someone doing something strange or unconventional, but be careful about sounding too mean-spirited (or like you’re blaming them) when you describe them. It is never, ever, ever too late to change your essay topic. Don’t stick with something just because other people think it would be a good topic, and don’t stick with something just because you think it would be a waste of time to scrap it. Trust me—it’s not. Usually, you can take the principle or theme behind the essay you didn’t like and translate it into a much stronger topic. Play with creative risks, but don’t let them control/overpower your essay. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, and that’s okay! Your thoughts should be the clearest thing and if a risk like writing your essay as a list or a poem is obscuring it, then take it out. “Basic” essays can be very strong essays, too.

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