Each year, The New York Times puts out a call for college admissions essays to the newest class of applicants.
In 2016, it chose four of the most poignant essays that cut across issues of money, work, and social class. The Times published them on its site to showcase the essays’ raw and honest power.
One of the essays comes from Erica Meister, a senior at Northville High School in Northville, Michigan. In it, she unsparingly critiques her hometown, which was awarded the title of “the snobbiest city in Michigan.”
“We’re from Northville,” she wrote of herself and fellow classmates. “Most of us know nothing of consequences or responsibility for our actions, because our fathers can cover for us with cash and connections.”
These actions often include selling weed and Adderall, Meister wrote.
The piece reads like a searing referendum on how extreme wealth begets thoughtlessness. She describes a situation in which cultural appropriation and emulation of hip-hop artists is common, but programs that assist economically disadvantaged people are belittled.
For example, Meister writes:
“Several years back, when the rap aesthetic was particularly prominent, most of the males came to school in ill-fitting jeans that sagged below their designer boxers, sporting T-shirts and necklaces that likely cost more than the weekly income for the average person, in imitation of their favorite rapper. They carried themselves like Eminem and spewed out Jay Z verses about being raised in extreme urban poverty and racism, before parroting their parents’ views on the ‘communist’ welfare programs.”
Even The Times, which receives hundreds of admissions essay submissions every year, said Meister’s piece was the most candid it has ever received.
“Every year, we receive at least one essay that picks apart an affluent suburb, but we’ve never seen one quite as blunt as her take on Northville, Mich.,” wrote Ron Lieber, a Times columnist.
But the essay also exposes Meister’s own instances of falling victim to thoughtlessness.
She describes asking a friend whose family she knew was struggling financially what AP exams she was planning to take. The exams, which students can voluntarily take and strengthen college applications, cost $92 apiece. Meister’s friend responded that she couldn’t afford any.
“I found myself victim to the disease that infiltrates Northville, the same carelessness I despise,” she wrote.
Northville, Michigan, is a suburb of Detroit. The website RoadSnacks.net, which rated it the snobbiest city in Michigan, gave Northville the top rank because it “combines unparalleled wealth (the highest median household income in Michigan) with expensive homes (second highest in Michigan) to create an enclave of snobbery.”
Indeed, the gulf between the income levels in Northville versus Detroit is stark. The median household income in Northville is $91,270, according to 2014 data from the US government. For Detroit, the figure is $26,095.
Meister, who will attend Stanford University in the fall, concluded her essay by noting that she’s eager to leave behind Northville and become more conscious and curious about life beyond her suburban bubble.
To be sure, the essay wasn’t the only arrow in her quiver. Meister broke a national record when she scaled a 15-meter rock wall in 9.56 seconds. She is also a member of the National Honor Society and maintained a 3.9 GPA at Northville.
You can read Meister’s essay, along with the other top three New York Times picks, here.