This is one of the best examples of a successful Ivy League college admissions essay that I have ever read, in my many years of working with the best high school students in the country, to help them gain admissions to the Ivy League.
The essay was written by a student named Calvin Heiman, to give credit where credit is due, and he now attends Columbia University. However, as a former Harvard admissions interviewer, had this come across my desk (and if everything else in his application was super strong) he would have gotten in.
Here is the essay in its entirety. It has everything I was trained by Harvard admissions to look for: originality, heart, serious challenge, adversity, and yet his positive outlook comes through, and he creates a great, thoughtful conclusion at the end that ties everything together. He paints a great picture with words.
Furthermore, this Common App essay really gives us a sense of who this person is: what he values, the tastes and flavors of his world, and once again, his positive outlook, despite real hardship going on in his family.
And now for the essay, so you too can see a prime example of what a great essay looks like, if you’re trying to get in to the Ivy League college this year. Here it is!
I love pasta.
I’m not Italian, nor do I know anyone who is. I’m a half-Polish, half-German kid from Boulder, Colorado. I should instead crave perogies, wienerschnitzel, or maybe vegan avocado toast sprinkled with microgreens.
So why exactly do I love pasta? Memories.
When I was seven, my favorite restaurant, Noodles, had mac-n-cheese that was legendary. However, it played second fiddle to Pasta Fresca, my little secret that hid down on the bottom right of the menu. I would order it every time, exactly the same: extra tomatoes, half spinach, double feta. Perfection.
But with my insatiable desire for perfection, came complications; it was impossible for a seven-year-old to routinely find his way to Noodles, come up with $8.50, and convince the cashier that No, I am not lost, and Yes, I know the feta will cost extra. Therefore, I had to get creative. Armed with a to-go menu and one brief shopping trip later, I attempted to make Pasta Fresca. I unfortunately learned, however, that an ingredient list alone contains no indication of measurement; a teaspoon quickly turns into a tablespoon. The result was a soupy, vinegary mess. That magic touch, that fresca, was missing. In fact, calling it Pasta Fresca would’ve been a crime. But it was my own–I made that pasta and there was something powerful in that.
Five years later, that warm glow of pride of my foray into Pasta Fresca was long gone. I had hit rock bottom. It was winter and I was living with my best friend. Sledding, snowball fights, and hot cocoa filled our days. So, how does a twelve-year-old living his dream hit rock bottom?
My brother Klaus was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood sarcoma that forced my family to New York City for treatment, while I was stuck in cold Colorado. Days bled into weeks, weeks into months of simply grinding away at school, craving the comfort of sleep, where I could forget my anxiety for a while. My sole comfort, the one thing that turned the worst of weeks into something bearable, was Gruffalo Pasta. Contrary to the name, it contained no mythical beast; it was simply penne with meat sauce, and yet there was something magical about it. Every Friday night, my friend’s family and I would sit down and eat Gruffalo Pasta with their famous garlic cheesy bread (worthy of its own essay). Laughs rang out as we played games, watched movies, and went sledding–we would be a family. Although my real family was thousands of miles away, every Friday night, home felt tangible.
When my family returned, spring gave way to summer, and with it came neverending afternoons of skinned knees, balls lost over fences, new neighborhood friends, and Mac n’ Cheese. We ripped through box after box, new faces cycling through the kitchen as mac n’ cheese lunches became a neighborhood tradition. There was a sense of independence that came with it, as us kids cooked it ourselves–exactly how we liked it. We added extra butter and milk, peas, chicken, bacon; whatever our little hearts desired. The days seemed infinite, brimming with possibility and spontaneity, with the comfort that there was always a mac n’ cheese lunch at someone’s house to look forward to.
Pasta continues to weave its thread through my life, from the Christmas dinners of Pasta Puttanesca, my pesto business started in 8th grade, gifts of exotic pasta and sauces for my birthday, to the cross-country team’s pasta parties. Pasta is a narrative tightly intertwined with that of my own. It’s been said that one should look for good in the world, whether it be memories, hope for the future, or simple joys, find that good that drives your every day. I say you need look no further than what is in front of you. I found that goodness in a bowl of pasta.
[Applying to college this year? I’m a former Harvard admissions interviewer, and Harvard grad, and run the award-winning Ivy League college admissions firm: www.IvyCollegeEssay.com Contact me today for a free consultation, and get into the school of your dreams!]
Are you a parent looking for Ivy League college help? Check out my blog article here, especially for parents!: https://ivycollegeessay.com/2016/06/23/how-to-prepare-your-kid-for-an-ivy-league-college-education/