Any experience or job in your life can make a great essay! This student wrote about interacting with various characters at her job at a drive-thru window and how that helped form portals to other peoples’ worlds outside of her own.
The drive-thru monitor on the wall quietly clicks whenever a person pulls up to the menu screen. It’s so subtle I didn’t notice it my first two months working at Freddy’s, the retro fast-food restaurant looming over Fairfax’s clogged stretch of Route 50. But, after months of giving out greasy burgers, I have become attuned to it. Now, from the cacophony of kitchen clangs I can easily pick out that click which transports me from my world of fry oil into the lives of those waiting in the drive-thru.
A languid male voice drifts into my ear. He orders tenders, with a side of cheese sauce. “How much cheese sauce is in a cup?” he frets, concerned over the associated 80 cent charge. The answer is two ounces, and he is right to worry. It’s a rip-off.
After I answer him, my headset goes quiet for a second. Finally, his voice crackles through.
“Do you sell cheese sauce by the gallon?”
A man orders two steakburgers and two pints of custard.
Minutes later, he reaches my window. I lean out to take his credit card, only to meet the warm tongue of a wizened dog.
The man apologizes: “She just loves your restaurant.”
I look at the dog, her nose stretching out of the car and resting on the window ledge, then look at the order he had given me.
Once I hand him his food, the dog sniffs one of the pints.
“No!” he reprimands. “Only after you eat your dinner.”
He sets a burger between her paws, then speeds away.
I can’t understand the order, but I know that whoever is speaking is from New Jersey. Tommy, pronounced “Tahmee”, apparently has high blood pressure. He orders fries.
“No!” the woman screeches. “No salt!”
They pull up to the window. The man, clad in a Hawaiian shirt, thrusts a crumpled wad of cash in my hand.
The women pushes him back. “Sorry!” she apologizes, “But we’re lost! Never been to Virginia before - we’re trying to find Lynchburg!”
It is 10:45 PM, and Lynchburg is three hours away. We give them an extra side of fries (no salt of course) and directions to a nearby hotel.
For these brief moments, I am part of their lives: in their cars, they are at home. They are surrounded by their trash and listening to their music, dancing with their friends and crying alone, oblivious to the stranger taking their order. On the surface, these people are wildly different; they range from babies clad in Dolphin’s jerseys (“Her first pre-game party!”) to grandmothers out for ladies’ night; college students looking for a cheese sauce fix to parents on a dieting kick (“Chicken sandwich on a lettuce wrap”). But, despite every contrasting characteristic, they all ended up in the same place: my drive-thru, my portal to their worlds.
*Click* It’s a family, squished into a little car. When I hand them their bags, they happily open them and devour the food. The mother asks me for extra napkins, forks, and knives.
“We just moved,” she explains. “And everything is still in boxes.”
I moved a lot as a child, so I know what they’re going through. I give them an entire pack of utensils.
As the car leaves, the kids in the backseat press their faces against the car window and wave. I wave back as the car slowly makes it way toward 50. New to the area, they have yet to adopt the hurried rush that comes with the proximity to DC.
Customers like these help me realize I am not just a passive traveller in this drive-thru - I do not just watch and observe. I laugh and I help and I talk with them, if only for a few moments. They tell me about their lives, and I mention stories from mine. Over my hundreds of hours behind the drive-thru window, thousands of different people have come through, sharing snippets of their diverse lives. All they have in common when they come in is the desire for greasy fast food. However, by the time they leave, they share something else: a nugget of my life.
The drive-thru portal takes me to disparate places; to Lynchburg, to the grocery store to buy cheese sauce, to a new home filled with opportunity and cardboard boxes. It transports me back to my room, where I hug my dog and feed her chicken and treats. It is a portal to the world, hidden in the corner of a fast-food kitchen.
With each click, that door opens. (764)
By now, most high school seniors planning to attend college in the fall have selected their chosen institute of higher education. It’s an exciting time for you, Wildcats '13, and you probably have some questions about your future. Such as, who will I meet? What clubs will I join? What if my roommate only wants to stay in the room eating cold cuts and watching Moesha re-runs? Will I decide to buy a body pillow from Bed Bath and Beyond? (Yes, besides being extremely comfortable body pillows are an excellent way to block you from other people's booger walls). In an effort to get to know each other a little better before the fall rolls around, several members of Columbia University’s future class of 2017 uploaded their college application essays into a shared Google doc. That Google doc, which contains 70 essays that either answer the Columbia essay prompt or the Common app prompt, was then shared with us. And now with you.
Columbia's incoming freshman class created a Facebook group for all newly accepted students. But you know what? A Facebook group doesn't tell you who is “an exquisite manifestation of dreams." A Facebook group also doesn't leave a whole lotta room for an imagined dialogue between you, Oscar Hammerstein II (class of '19) and Tom Kitt (class of '96) at Sardi's restaurant in New York. A college application essay, though—that will do all the talking for you. So in order to foster a sense of community and shared values, they decided to put theirs all on the internet for each other to read. And us, too.
Not everyone can get into an Ivy league, but wouldn’t it be great if everyone could? We have culled several of the best lines from all 70 essays to create The. ULTIMATE. College. Essay. If you simply follow this format and copy and paste your favorite lines, you are 100% guaranteed to get into Columbia next year. For everyone who wishes "they were taught to love by a city of dancers," here's how it's done:
Hook Em: It's all about that attention-grabbing first line. And adverbs.
- “'Get an abortion.'”
- "All week as I looked at the Drum Circle, waiting for the Flag Ceremony to begin."
- "The comfort zone— I was about to leave it."
- "This was a matter of life and death."
- "This one is mine :)"
- "My fingers twitched at my side, itching to pick up the prosthetic."
- "She was naked, and I was scared."
What makes you YOU: How do you see yourself? Show us how the world should see you.
- "Who else’s identity can really be constructed by the calculus of fragmented memories? Not mine!"
- “'You’re such a hipster.' It’s a phrase heard everyday in school hallways across America, and its usage often operates as a conundrum that obscures teenagers’ perceptions of themselves and who they want to be."
- "A puppet hidden, a walkway lonely, a pair of scissors cheating, a stone opening, a leaf floating, a door shining."
- "I was no Victor Frankenstein."
- "I love experimenting new things [sic], exploring new places, and assisting those in need."
- "I have always been less than enthusiastic about CPR classes."
- "I am an individual free to create my own path and blaze a trail."
- "Despite the years that had passed, the intimacy of the memories flooded me, bringing with them a mix of emotions from anxiety to panic. Through blogging and subsequent interactions, I came to embrace my flawed nature, and I inspired others to do the same."
- "Behind my mask, I am a criminal. Behind my mask, I am a sinner. My soul will burn in hell, as the Bible—and my father—says. Behind this mask is who I really am."
Set the Scene:Remember, god is in the details. What did your cheeks do? They burned. What is your mother? A wild horse. How is your skepticism? Radiant.
- "The setting uproots itself. I muse on a field trip bus and write in an anonymous notebook. I’m creating a language. It’s named 'Elvish,' and it’s based on Latin: the ephemeral warrior with the Roman lover."
- "In the temperate winter of my tenth grade year, I developed an interest in rap music."
- "The summer air was sweet and caring as we sat there, drank some rootbeer and pondered the cosmos."
- "I sat there, perturbed and burning with radiant skepticism."
- "Time skips to a blues rhythm."
- "Here, Dali and Chagall are gods. Frusciante’s music fills the air as I walk down the promenade. Actors are playing out scenes from my life."
- "I could only hope she would see my pleading eyes."
- "My cheeks burned."
- "My heart pounds violently against my chest, pushing against the smooth blue fabric of my dress. I can practically see the silverware quivering, shaking, and as I realize that the adrenaline rush I am feeling is causing my hands to tremble, too, I feel someone seize my arm. Vamos a bailar! Let’s dance!"
- "I feel tingly as my prom date and I stand up together and move to the center of the room. But this time, they aren’t shivers of fear."
- "I stand engulfed in curtained darkness. Around me, shadowy figures shift anxiously, like caged animals searching for an escape."
- "The haggard piece of cloth, worn at the edges but still strong at its core, looked at me desperately and clung to me determinedly."
- "She [my mother] is a wild horse, as erratic as she is gregarious."
- "An exquisite manifestation of dreams, dreams that leave me yearning for more."
- "Not because the sun blazed torridly on my brow and the sultry air hung on my neck like a noose, but disoriented because of the sight before my eyes— stables."
- "The summer air was sweet and caring as we sat there, drank some rootbeer and pondered the cosmos. And so we talked. We talked about women, and how awful they are, and how fantastic they are, and how awful they are. Out of nowhere, I began to cry and in the most gentle and angelic voice I heard Alex say something I found quite alien: 'crying is okay, buddy.' So I cried like a girl and I cried for everything I was losing."
What Did You Do to Impress: You are a snowflake. You are Gaia. You are all that is good. Don't be shy when it comes to describing your goals, your achievements, your Beanie Babies.
- "Thus, my rise to the hipster ideal began. Throughout my middle school years, this natural instinct of mine manifested itself in many different ways: jeans tucked into knee-high socks, anything from punk to Harlem renaissance jazz bellowing from my headphones, Palahniuk novels peeking out of my backpack."
- "I began to participate in Socratic seminars."
- "But as time went on and the songs filed under the 'Rap' genre on my iTunes grew in number, I pinpointed exactly where my general discomfort had started: Rap, as a genre and as an attitude, has little-to-no place for women."
- "When I told Sally that over the summer I was going to Africa to help teach children English, she was horrified, fearing the worst."
- "In the summer of my junior year I stunned my family by insisting on going, instead of our staples of France, Italy and Switzerland, to St. Petersburg, where most of the Russian Royalty had lived."
- "Almost a month had passed and we only had a handful of Beanie Babies to show for all the work I put into this project. And yet, despite all my efforts, only four members responded to my pleas for Beanie Baby donations."
- "As I glanced around, tightly clutching my brand-spanking-new lacrosse stick, an awful epiphany struck me: I had enrolled in an all-boys lacrosse camp."
- "Ironically, I tried hard to use this garment to broadcast my individuality; I went through phases wearing a skullcap bedecked in everything from Pokemon characters to the cast of Seinfeld."
What You Learned: Your journey is over. What have you gleaned?
- "Such is the problem with my infatuation with 'Arrested Development,' which, despite critical acclaim and a loyal fanbase (case in point: me), was cancelled after three seasons. So 'Arrested Development' is the epitome of all things—good, bad, or ironic—coming to inevitable conclusions. However, I recently found out that 'Arrested Development' was revived for another season. Some things aren’t over yet."
- "After qualifying for and going to Nationals, I realize that getting there is 90% want and 10% skill. I love knowing that if I try the hardest I will win."
- "The journey of Taekwondo is analogous to the journey of life."
- "Tortoise= America
- Hare= Banks
- Regulators= Regulators
- Tape-makers= Rating agencies
- Sub-ground= Sub-prime loans
- Bleachers= Housing market
- Prize= Bailout
- Intricate system of tunnels= Derivative markets"
Conclusion: End it. And end it HUGE.
- "I wake up every morning to be nicer, faster, stronger, smarter, and better. I wake up every morning to win."
- "The revelations and inspirations I acquired from my internship have only just begun snowballing."
- "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."
- "After all, what am I but the things I've done?"
- "The tide is rising, my ship is packed, and I am ready to set sail."
- "Moving forward, I cannot wait to meet new friends, hear about their families, and discuss everything from our latest travels."
- "However, I recently found out that “Arrested Development” was revived for another season. Some things aren’t over yet."
Below are two of the most outstanding essays in full. Read the whole enchilada here while you can.
Image by Jim Cooke.
Columbia Essay Hispters (PDF)
Columbia Essay Hispters (Text)
Describe Something (PDF)
Describe Something (Text)