Today the Ivy League gossip blog IvyGate unveiled a public Google Drive folder in which members of Columbia University's Class of 2017 had saved the personal essay each had included with their Columbia application. The 69 essays ranged wildly in both quality and form. One featured an imaginary dialogue between the applicant and the librettist Oscar Hammerstein; another consisted of an elaborate fable that sought to explain the subprime mortgage crisis. Writing about "hipsterdom," one prefrosh wrote, "I ... have struggled immensely with the paradoxical use of this label." On Twitter, media types reacted with horror. The essays' authors seemed equally mortified; within an hour, half of the essays disappeared. Eventually, the entire folder was deleted.
As embarrassing as these people might feel, none of the essays were that bad, and they all worked. Judging from the ones I quickly read, most were very standard college application essays. There were a few pearls, too. One essay (which, like the others, disappeared) adeptly discussed queer activism in Lebanon. The more eyeroll-worthy ones, like the "hipsterdom" essay highlighted by IvyGate, seemed all the more honest for being so ridiculous and un-self-aware. Still, it wasn't like these personal reflections had been fished out of the bottom of a desk drawer. Admitted high school seniors had uploaded them to Google to be shared and compared among their future classmates. These essays were small but otherwise public performances suddenly thrust before a much larger audience.