I'm One Of The Class Of 2017 Mocked On The Internet For My Application Essay, But You Know What? It Got Me Into Columbia

My college essay was leaked and mocked all over the Internet. Yeah? Well, checkmate. I got in.
Publish date:
April 25, 2013
college application essays, columbia

It was the last day of my “Accepted Colleges Trip,” and I had just finished sitting in one of Paul Rozin’s renowned psychology seminars at the University of Pennsylvania. I think I liked it so much since he gave the class different types of chocolate to eat, but as soon as I checked my Facebook, that taste went sour.

My news feed was plastered with posts from the “Columbia—Class of 2017” admitted students page. The essays we had posted to Google Docs, in an attempt to foster some kind of community among accepted students, had been leaked to Gawker and IvyGate. From there, everyone from Business Insider to New York Magazine to Aunt Ida’s Cats Wearing Hats Blog felt it necessary to write about it.

Here are the opening lines of my essay, which was an imagined conversation between m,e musical theater heavyweight Oscar Hammerstein II (Columbia Class of 1919), and composer Tom Kitt (Columbia Class of 1996):

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!

Noah: …Hard.

I have yet to achieve any fancy degree or specialized letters at the end of my name to convince you to give my words any weight, but my essay has been referred to and excerpted on several of these sites. So I encourage you to breathe deeply as I offer my two, long-winded cents:

Dear Columbia’s Accepted Class of 2017,

First, let’s pat ourselves on the back. Anyone who was personally victimized by these articles was accepted to Columbia -- snaps for us!

Putting aside all references to Ivy-elitism that will inevitably appear in some anonymous comment section, we all applied to a highly sought-after school, and we all succeeded. We were able to demonstrate our academic, social, and athletic fortitude to some degree.

I know, I know. This exchange of essays was intended for the private group of prospective Columbia students, but kids, this is where the common sense comes in. Last I checked, there were roughly 1,600 members of this group. That’s over 1,000. That’s more than the number of “Friends” I have on Facebook. Strangers. 1,600 strangers had access to these essays.

The whole point of this initiative of sharing the essays was to foster some type of community among admitted students. But it couldn’t have only been my yiddishe mama who warned her children that anything posted on the Internet could easily be used to bite you in the ass.

In reality, every person who shared his or her essay was doing so with more than the number of people who can fit in Alfred Lerner Hall. What’s more, not all of these people are even entirely committed to meeting in Morningside Heights this fall -- I’m certainly not, but if I take my talents to NYC, I wholly encourage you to knock some cents (see what I did there?) into me.

I get it. Several of the articles written have been mocking in tone. Par for the course, the comment sections are even worse. One would expect that, with everything going in the world recently, that these sites would have something more worthwhile to report, like the heroes in Boston or who Madonna’s daughter is now dating (a Columbia Prospie!).

For me, the biggest repercussion of uploading my script would be if Oscar Hammerstein II rose from the dead and disagreed with my characterization of him. I understand, though, that for many people, the essays submitted are private, personal and sometimes embarrassing. There is one particular essay I wrote for a different school, that if made public, would probably get me institutionalized -- at the very least, it resulted in my banishment from College Confidential 20 minutes after posting it.

But ultimately, it was every author’s decision to upload these essays to be seen by a group of strangers. If you ask me, the only difference between 1,600 strangers and the several thousand who have wasted their time reading and commenting on these articles is more publicity for us.

Admittedly, you weren’t terribly disparaging to my essay. IvyGate’s prestigious Most Creative Essay (For Better or Worse) award has a place in my heart right next to my Little League Participation trophy, but that’s not the point. As so many people point out -- with a hat tip to Suzy Lee Weiss and the Wall Street Journal -- there are so many aspects of the college application process that are out of the applicant’s control, to the point that it is a ridiculous game.

In a society that puts so much emphasis on attending a college, why not pull out all the stops? You know, “Smoke if you got ‘em”? In your language: y u mock, bro?

Perhaps you think my script is gimmicky. I don’t particularly care, but I don’t disagree with you. I packaged myself in my application as the “Theater Kid” who has performed all the way to the professional regional level and has written regionally recognized plays. For me, a tough question to answer during this process was whether or not I wanted to seriously pursue theater at the next academic level. The more soul-searching I did, I discovered that yes, I am willing to take the leap into a black hole of professional uncertainty, even if that means I end up living on my brother’s washing machine, after all his years of teasing.

From my playwriting experience, I was comfortable using a script as a medium for my progression of thoughts on this topic, so I went ahead and created it. Is it perfect? No. The character of Noah is denser, humbler and less of a cynical bastard than Noah in reality. Further, the dialogue is far from realistic, and I would probably “Van Gogh” myself if I heard character Noah’s sappy epiphany moment spoken aloud.

Since this was my Common Application, was I pandering when I changed the two other characters based on the school I was applying to at the time? You bet! For Williams, I was talking to William Finn and Stephen Sondheim; for Harvard, Tom Lehrer and Leonard Bernstein helped me see the light. For some schools, it worked, and for others, it didn’t.

Remember all those variables that make the process such a crapshoot? While the Internet may troll those who wrote about hipsters, or adapted one of Aesop’s fables, at the end of the day, all the essays that were leaked were strong enough to be accepted to one of the top universities in the world. Further, these essays were only one component of a larger application. These essays were common to every school these students applied to, and most don’t even address all of the academic and social accomplishments that these ‘17s have.

Hop off, sistah.

I always cringe when you’re just jealous is the rationalization of something, but if it’s in the air, eat your sour grapes elsewhere.

(At the same time, my acceptance, along with the other 7% of applicants, boils down to little more than luck. Many of the schools I applied to determined me to be a good fit. They just as easily could have found an equally, if not more, viable candidate, and I thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster every day that I fooled them in my favor.)

But to those who find it necessary to criticize the Columbia Class of 2017 -- you didn’t like our metaphor of Wall Street, or thought we should take red pens to our scripts -- with all due respect: we set out for Columbia to accept us with these essays, and that’s exactly what they did.


Noah Samotin

Feel free to troll me in public or private at @SamotinTheSmall.