“Yale University loved her Papa John’s Pizza college application essay.” Carolina Williams’ supplemental essay for Yale has gone viral thanks to headlines like this one.
Now let’s get some perspective on the situation, understand what really matters about this application essay, analyze how it can help you come up with compelling angles in your own narratives, and map out how this essay connects to other Yale supplemental essay topics.
BUSTING THE MYTH OF THE PIZZA ESSAY
GETTING A STUDENT INTO YALE
Let’s face an essential fact.
Saying that an essay on pizza got Carolina into Yale is a bit of an exaggeration.
Take a look at the handwritten letter from Yale:
“I absolutely loved reading your application. Your essay on reading 100 books in a year was so passionate, fun, and likable, and, as a fellow lover of pizza, I laughed out loud (then ordered pizza) after reading your application.”
Her regional admissions officer wrote to say:
“I am so glad that I had the opportunity to read your application. As someone who kept trying to read books for fun on top of thousands of applications this winter, I really loved reading your essay on reading 100 books in a year and I laughed so hard on your pizza essay. I kept thinking that you are the kind of person that I would love to be best friends with. I want you to know that every part of your application stood out in our process and we are thrilled to be able to offer you a spot at Yale.”
Hmmmm. . . .
Interesting, isn’t it?
The first essay both admissions officers commented on was the one on reading, but. . . .
The media is only picking up and promoting the pizza essay.
Stories about essays on books just aren’t very likely to go viral.
That’s sad but true.
However, what’s also true is that the Yale team felt that every single part of her application stood out.
Trust me, no admissions officer or committee is going to say, “Wow. . .this one essay on pizza is so clever. . .it made me laugh so hard. . .we have to let her in.”
WHAT’S SO IMPORTANT ABOUT THIS PIZZA ESSAY?
On the surface, it might seem that Carolina’s pizza essay is just some sort of gimmicky hook, but it’s not.
Let’s consider her perspective:
“When I read the prompt, `Write about what do you love to do,’ ordering pizza was literally the first thing that came to my mind. So I just ran with it. I thought that even if I wanted to change it I would just start writing and see how it went. And it flowed so well, and I loved it so much and I didn’t want to change it and I was so proud of it. It was so reflective of my personality that if they wanted me they would really know what they are getting. So I decided to submit it.”
So many students stress out about being super serious and trying to impress admissions officers by telling them what they think they want to hear.
That often backfires.
Carolina’s essay works so well precisely because it’s so real and relatable. It isn’t pretentious. There are no veiled brag alerts.
She’s simply describing something she loves:
“The sound of my doorbell starts off high, then the pitch mellows out, and the whole effect mimics an instrumental interpretation of rain finally finding a steady pace at which to fall. I have spent several minutes analyzing its tone because I have had many opportunities to do so, as one thing I love to do is order pizza and have it delivered to my house. When the delivery person rings my doorbell, I instantly morph into one of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating to the sound that signals the arrival of the cheesy, circular glory. It smells like celebration, as I love to rejoice a happy occasion by calling Papa John’s for my favorite food. It tastes like comfort, since having pizza delivered to my quiet home is a way for me to unwind. It looks like self-sufficiency, because when I was young, ordering pizza made me feel grown-up, and it still provides that satisfaction for my child at heart. Accepting those warm cardboard boxes is second nature to me, but I will always love ordering pizza because of the way eight slices of something so ordinary are able to evoke feelings of independence, consolation, and joy.”
Her essay is refreshingly simple and straightforward, but also humorous and serious.
REMEMBER. . . .
Admissions officers are genuinely curious about what you love to do.
That’s why Yale gives you the option of writing a 200-word supplemental essay to share “something that you love to do.”
That’s also why MIT has a similar 100-word essay: “We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do for the pleasure of it.”
One of my students who recently graduated from Yale wrote his MIT essay on glowsticking. It was awesome.
(Obviously, that’s not a video of my student.)
YALE SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAYS
As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to keep in mind that the pizza essay was one of a few additional essays that Yale requires.
Yale asks you “choose two of the following topics and respond to each in 200 words or fewer”:
1. What is a community to which you belong? Reflect on the footprint that you have left. (You may define community and footprint in any way you like.)
2. Reflect on a time in the last few years when you felt genuine excitement learning about something.
3. Write about something that you love to do.
1. Who or what is a source of inspiration for you?
2. If you could live for a day as another person, past or present, who would it be? Why?
3. You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?
4. Most Yale freshmen live in suites of four to six students. What would you contribute to the dynamic of your suite?
If you’re applying to computer science or engineering, you’re asked to write another essay:
“Please tell us more about what has led you to an interest in this field of study, what experiences (if any) you have had in computer science or engineering, and what it is about Yale’s program in this area that appeals to you.(Please answer in 500 words or fewer).”
MY PERSPECTIVE ON SHORT SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAY TOPICS
I’m not sure if Carolina’s essay would have worked so well if it were expanded into a longer 650-word essay like the one you have to write for the Common Application.
My sense is that it packed a nice punch precisely because it was short and part of multiple short narratives.
You should think about how each of your essays–long or short–offer additional insight into who you are.
Are you coming across as one-dimensional? Is everything in your application very serious? Then, you need to consider how you can show more range.
Are you coming across as totally scattered? Will admissions officers walk away not having a clear sense of who you are? Then, you need to consider how you can tactfully and subtly tweak your narratives so there’s more unity.
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