For many people, the college essay is the hardest part of their application, as they seek to define themselves in 500 words or less for a faceless committee of admissions officers. The Columbia Class of 2017, though, has given us an inside look at what exactly it takes to be part of the 6.89 percent to win entry to the school this year. A tipster recently directed us to a Google Drive folder in which newly admitted Columbians are posting their application essays for their peers to see. And, thankfully, they left it public.
Topics range from the deeply personal, to the seemingly mundane, to the blatantly ridiculous. We’ve included a list of some of the more notable entries below; feel free to categorize them yourself:
- The sub-prime mortgage crisis, told as a tortoise and hare allegory (“There are regulators at every mile to ensure the hare plays by the rules established by the Security Enforcement Commission.”)
- Sketching a nude model for the first time (“As the model stepped out of her robe, I felt unsettled and self-conscious. I was scared. Where was I supposed to look? Was I ready for this?”)
- Arrested Development getting renewed (“So ‘Arrested Development’ is the epitome of all things—good, bad, or ironic—coming to inevitable conclusions.”)
- Imagining literary lunch dates with fictional characters (“Generally, my peers don’t understand my compulsion to inhabit the worlds I read, or my overactive imagination’s ability to project those worlds into its own reality.”)
However, some of the essays deserve a closer examination. Here are our personal favorites:
The IvyGate award for “Most Original Essay (For Better Or Worse)” goes to a mock script of a conversation between the applicant, musical theater heavyweight Oscar Hammerstein II (Columbia Class of 1919), and composer Tom Kitt (Columbia Class of 1996). The alums lead our author on a journey of self-discovery as he finds that, yes, he should pursue his dreams and doggone it, people like him. Here are the opening lines, which subtly set the scene for the author’s insecurity:
Hammerstein: Ok, kid. You’ve seen the school. Now what?
Noah: (HE knew this was coming) I—I really don’t know…Major in Drama and
Psychology or choose something safe…Economics?
Kitt: (Bombastic as always) Oh cut the crap, why don’t ya? You worked your ass off for years to get to this point, and now you finally have; if you get in, you’d have all the resources you could possibly want—
Noah: (Frantically) BUT, I don’t know how to use them. I don’t know how to use them or what to do with them. Musical Theater is my life; I love it more than anything else I’ve ever done. To be up on the stage—the songs—the emotion…but as a career?
Hammerstein: Kid, breathe. Pursue it.
Noah: But that’s easier said than done! It’s just so—so…
Kitt: (Like the Hindenburg, exploding) Christ! SPIT IT OUT!
As the scene moves forward, our hero is blind to the support that these theatrical luminaries are giving him:
Noah: (With increasing defeat) But I don’t have anything to say! I don’t have some heroic family story, or a liberating experience building houses in the third-world. My entire family has lived in the US, and gone to college, for generations. I’ve never gone to bed hungry…I mean, I’m a reasonably smart, well-off kid who likes Showtunes trying to apply to Columbia…What part of my story hasn’t been heard a thousand times?
Finally (seriously, finally) he gets it. Not only should he follow his dream, but his new buddies Oscar and Tom convinced him that Columbia is the perfect school for him!:
Noah: So I think what you’re saying is that if I am lucky enough to spend the next four years in the City, I should take advantage of the plethora of resources Columbia has to offer, and use the cultural atmosphere to hone those skills. I know it will be plenty of hard work, but I think that if I’m doing something I really love…then maybe it won’t be so bad!
Hey Columbia admissions officers, isn’t that a neat coincidence? Some advice though, for our young artiste: show, don’t tell. Also, learn how to use the red pen (the script is more than twice the allowed length).
We also have the IvyGate award for “Most Columbia Essay.” This honor goes to “The Conformity Paradox: My Rise and Fall in Hipsterdom,” a personal recollection of the applicant’s need to be seen as a nonconformist. However, as he strives to be more individualistic, the author finds that he is unwittingly falling into a “hipster” stereotype. Oh, the agony!
The author identifies his “natural instinct” to be different, which showed in various ways during middle school — Harlem renaissance jazz, Chuck Palahniuk novels, etc. However, then he got to high school:
As my identity shifted, my career as a social renegade flourished, and I found in myself a certain pride in being different and a passion for seeking out eccentric new ways to express myself … With the realization of my newfound passion, my nonconformist qualities were locked in, and I began high school without the usual freshman trepidation about getting labeled or branded. Thereby, I continued my habitual antics, rebelling against the social norm and doing what I could to think freely. In doing so, however, I encountered a particular subculture defined by certain fashion trends and, to some extent, genres of music. This subculture was and still is often associated with the term “hipster” and regarded as having a correspondence with the “hipster lifestyle.”
As a “hipster,” the author ditched his love of jazz for some every Smiths album, sporting a beanie and a cardigan to let everyone know how eccentric he was. He quickly realized, though, the deep and disturbing paradox that lay within his newfound uniqueness. He had, by no fault of his own, become a … conformist. He bravely confesses:
Much of my mental vitality was spent on keeping my appearance and status up to a sufficiently “hipster” standard. The questions I asked myself about who I wanted to be quickly evolved into “How can I fit the ideal?” and “How can I conform?”
Herein lies the continual paradox for people who identify themselves as “hipsters” and the contradiction that brought me much confusion and uncertainty for parts of my high school career: implicit in the definition of the term “hipster” is the prominence of nonconformity in all aspects of a “hipster’s” lifestyle. Individualist ideals permeate his clothes, his music, his social behavior, even his politics. Simultaneously, however, one who seeks to identify himself and be identified by others as a “hipster” undoubtably strives to conform to the “hipster” construct; he tries to fit himself inside an inflexible “hipster” box.
Nevertheless, as with most paradoxes, the problem at hand does not imply a real contradiction. I found the solution after many months of personal struggle with my own identity. It is not that there is something inherently wrong with the qualities of a “hipster.” I have come to understand that a label such as “hipster” must never precede my own actual characteristics, and I can never let such a notion inform my identity by itself.
Don’t worry too much about your individuality, you sound like you’ll fit right in at Columbia. If you still have a burning desire to be seen as different however, just start being good at sports.