Hunger Games: Writing Your College Essay (With Food)

The college application season has descended upon us, and with the Common Application opened since August 1, there’s no time like the present to begin writing the dreaded college essays. Limited to under 1,000 words, writing this essay may seem like a challenge—what’s the right way to answer this prompt, should I talk about my passion for anime or should I talk about something less mainstream? Figuring out the right words and the right thing to say are quite difficult especially with the added word count. Needless to say, it’s stressful. But take advice from these people, who were accepted, and happened to write their essays about food.

College Essay #1: Papa John’s and Yale University (Class of 2021)

In an essay of 200 words and fewer, Tennessee native Carolina Williams answered the prompt to write about “something you love to do” with a moving piece on ordering Papa John’s pizza. While this seems a little silly, the genuine emotion felt after reading the essay about pizza is undeniable.

“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,” Williams wrote. In a statement to the Tenessean, Williams said ,”Honestly, I thought I should go with the first thing that popped in my head. It was completely genuine.”

That is what the college essay should be for you, after all, it is a personal essay meant to find out more about you as a person. Williams graduated in the top 10 of her class and competing against the top students in the country for acceptance to Yale is hard when everyone has the same GPA and intense extracurricular involvement. In this way, the personal essay can make or break you as an applicant to other schools with a high volume of applicants. Being able to effect your personal voice and to illustrate a story effectively is what can put you before your own peers.

College Essay #2: Cilantro and Cornell University (Class of 2019)

If you’ve taken one of Dr. Aughey’s classes, you may have encountered the dreaded “cilantro” essay. While hashing over the same points might be boring or tedious, there is in fact a point to take into account. The cilantro essay answers what can be assumed as Cornell’s Supplementary Essay prompt for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The question reads: “How have your interests and related experiences influenced the major you have
selected in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences?”

While this is direct and simple to answer, the way the cilantro essay answers this question is unique and uses the humble brag so efficiently. Take a gander of the essay, it was published by the writer on in a thread on reddit. It’s an interesting read and showcases the brilliant problem solving skills, the thirst for knowledge, and the appreciation for the scientific method. Along the way, there are also great transitions—clever humble brags and name dropping (“Harvard University”, “independent study of Organic Chemistry”). This is one of the things to incorporate when writing about your experiences.

For example, in my own personal essay I wrote about my experience as a library volunteer. As ordinary as that sounds, adding in the accomplishments such as the number of hours dedicated to volunteering and the greater involvement I was given for my dedication exemplifies traits and qualities that can be applied upon studies in school. But let me make clear that point of the humble brag is not to embellish the act, but to emphasize the experience behind it. Because, yeah sure, you took OChem. The reasoning behind it and what it emphasizes is what makes the difference.

A quick recap on how to tackle essay writing: write about something you love and don’t be afraid to humble brag. Writing about something you love is much easier than forcing your enthusiasm for something you feel is “more appropriate”. There is nothing inappropriate about a personal essay that answers the prompt and shows who the amazing qualities of who you are as a person. Adding in the factor of the humble brag constitutes the academic qualities through credibility. It all simply boils down to effectively using the rhetorical triangle—ethos, pathos, logos—with an effective and exciting twist.