— Carolina Williams (@justcarolina22) May 9, 2017
When seeing snippets of a successful app, PLEASE REMEMBER you're only getting (ahem) *a slice of the pie* – we will be discussing on blahg! https://t.co/QHK8sCC12H
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) June 6, 2017
This reminds us of the “tortilla essay” that made it into the Stanford GSB many (many) years ago.
You can read more about this current iteration of food in applicant essays at the Washington Post – including the news that this applicant chose Auburn instead of Yale. (wow, that’s pretty incredible right there)
Before you decide to write about pizza in any of your MBA essays this year, we wanted to break down a few things.
First, this is a college application. The rules are (somewhat) different. Applicants to college are like 17 years old. By definition, they have not yet gone to college. You have. The standards and expectations are different for them.
Second, any attempt to replicate another applicant’s success based on following some sort of formula is just so likely to backfire. This young woman was successful in writing about pizza because of the nature of her answer in the context of the question.
As a reminder, the question was “Write about something you love to do” and the space allotted was 200 words. It’s not all that dissimilar to what Columbia is asking in the two variations it’s given you for Essay 3.
One reason we feel this essay resonated with the Yale admissions peeps is because she didn’t overthink it. She loves ordering pizza. It’s meaningful for her, in multiple ways. The remark about how it made her feel like a grown-up when she was younger is particularly insightful; that alone shows some self-reflection took place before she wrote her answer.
However, what a 17-year-old can reveal about herself in a simple story about pizza is going to be different — we hope — from what you will be able to reveal about yourself in a similar short essay.
When most people are faced with the question of “what are you passionate about” they immediately go into I-must-impress-you mode. Many people will launch into stuff like “I am passionate about helping others” or “I am passionate about the environment” or whatever. Those are packaged responses; they may be true, but in many cases they’re more contrived than real. They don’t go very deep.
This young woman was able to show stuff about herself.
Note too how specific she got.
She didn’t say “I love pizza.” She said “I love ordering pizza” and then she described why, with examples. She took you into her world and how she gets excited by it.
It was a direct answer to the question.
It also tells us that probably this young lady did not have the help of an admissions consultant because that type of answer is often ixnayed by “the professionals” as being too meaningless. Instead, her true self came through.
Again, she didn’t overthink it…. but she did think it through. This was an essay she spent time on. She built in layers of her answer, and it reveals stuff to us about her as a person. Plus, it’s quirky; she opens with the bit about the doorbell before going into the true answer to the question. (That’s not necessarily a technique that we think works so great, but again, she’s a teenager; it’s fine.)
The last very important point that we will raise though: This was not the sole essay in her application package. This is what some schools call a “just for fun” question; it’s designed to be low-risk and sometimes high-payoff. You can answer ANYTHING for this type of question. There are no rules for how to handle it, as long as you give something concrete and specific. That’s also true for similar questions in an MBA app, like the aforementioned Columbia Essay 3.
Would this type of answer work for Yale’s single essay asking about a commitment?
Not only was that one essay as part of a set of essays, but the essays are just one part of the total application. We also know that this young lady is the first in her family to go to college. Yale and other elite colleges are actively recruiting from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and the “first in family” profile is particularly of interest to them in helping to increase specific elements of diversity.
Why did admissions officers comment on this essay?
Well, for one, it was memorable.
However, it’s quite likely that the reason that we even heard about this essay is not because of the essay, but because Yale was doing outreach and recruiting to this admit, trying to get her to enroll. Which is what ALL SCHOOLS do. And, in an effort to make that process as effective as possible, the admissions folks who reached out to her specifically commented on what she had submitted to them — in this case, the pizza essay, since it was distinctive and easy to relate to.
Admissions people at many schools do something similar. When they reach out to admits, they want to make a connection. It is, after all, recruiting at that stage; they’re trying to get you to choose them. (Yes, it’s an odd position to be in, when you have multiple offers come in and suddenly the SCHOOLS are courting YOU and wanting YOU to pick THEM; it can be a little surreal when it happens.)
We’d be willing to bet that lots and lots of Yale admits got very similar notes from these same admissions people. It is only because this enterprising young woman tweeted at Papa John’s Pizza to let them know that she wrote about them — and then Papa John’s did what any red-blooded American business would do, they instantly offered her free pizza and the whole thing went viral.
That’s why you heard about it. Because of standard 2017 marketing techniques.
Not because she got in with an essay about pizza.
We’re not knocking the young lady or her creativity. She earned a spot in Yale University, after all. That is not easy to do, whether it’s Yale SOM as an MBA or for undergrad. She deserves the attention.
But please don’t think that there’s a formula for success – or that it has anything to do with pizza.
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