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Monday, May 15, 2017
Tackling Relevance in Admissions Essays
Each year, the New York Times invites college-bound seniors to submit copies of their admissions essays about money, work and social class. The authors of the top four or five compositions earn a feature in the Times, which also publishes the original work. Each year, the writing is stunning and unspoiled.
These compositions are exquisite in both substance and form. Some are lyrical—short sentences pregnant with meaning, poetry disguised as prose. Others are evocative in their visual imagery. Eighteen-year-old Idalia Felipe, who is headed to Cal State Fullerton in the fall, writes of the "warm touch of a small palm" in her home filled with siblings and tender chaos.
The narratives are flawless, but bear no fingerprints of artifice or professional editing. Caitlin McCormack will start Barnard this year. She grew up padding around the carpets of her parents' bed & breakfast. She writes about the inherent imbalance of power in service professions: "We meet sneers with apologies". Tips become a fertile space for microagressions. And somehow, it is against the texture of this backdrop that she is able to navigate the distinct contours between providing a service and being of service.
This year's selections all tackle the struggle of balancing their socio-economic identities. Jonathan Ababiy, the son of Moldovan immigrants writes of his mother's job cleaning the house of wealthy professors-a home he calls "a telescope to how…the other half lived". But there is no resentment in his words; his hyper-awareness of the social gap was also a window into his ultimate potential.
Setting aside the sheer beauty of this writing, a critical theme emerges. Each of these authors is able to write artfully about privilege-or the lack of it-without sounding brittle. In sharing soft but acute observations, they transcend the narrative ordinary. They become a person you'd like to get to know better.
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