The Essay About Papa John’s That Got One Girl into Yale

June  2, 2017

When Carolina Williams was asked to describe, in 200 words of fewer, “something she loves to do” on her Yale application, she chose construct a narrative about ordering delivery from her favorite pizza joint: Papa John’s.

The essay worked wonders; Williams, a high school senior at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood, Tennessee, was admitted to Yale in late March. Williams’ admissions officer responded rapturously in a personal note to her following her acceptance, claiming that the idiosyncrasy of her chosen topic and her funny, self-aware voice made her a standout candidate. (Papa John's was also quite pleased.)

It's a paean to Papa John’s that's brimming with sensory detail. The essay, in full:

The sound of my doorbell starts off high, then the pitch mellows out, and the whole effect mimics an instrumental interpretation of rain finally finding a steady pace at which to fall. I have spent several minutes analyzing its tone because I have had many opportunities to do so, as one thing I love to do is order pizza and have it delivered to my house. When the delivery person rings my doorbell, I instantly morph into one of Pavlov's dogs, salivating to the sound that signals the arrival of cheesy, circular glory. It smells like celebration, as I love to rejoice a happy occasion by calling Papa John's for my favorite food. It tastes like comfort, since having pizza delivered to my quiet home is a way for me to unwind. It looks like self-sufficiency, because when I was younger, ordering pizza made me feel grown-up, and it still provides that satisfaction for my child at heart. Accepting those warm cardboard boxes at my front door is second nature to me, but I will always love ordering pizza because of the way the eight slices of something so ordinary are able to evoke feelings of independence, consolation, and joy.

Isn’t that something? It’s ambient and scenic, and, like the best food writing, food adjacent—about so much more than mere ingredients.

Williams isn’t going to Yale after all; she’s opted for the more affordable, and nearby, Auburn University. Either way, perhaps there’s a budding food writer in her. Carolina, though you’re just about to start college, we’re hiring another Staff Writer, and we welcome the opportunity to discuss.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


FalkoDieter November 3, 2022
kim June 5, 2017
The writing is great. The pizza least favorite in the world. So sweet, so much sugar, not enough cheese. tasteless sauce. Yikes. Oh well, good on her!
Bevi June 3, 2017
Brava, Carolina!
gandalf June 2, 2017
Also, the girl is from a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee; so Auburn really isn't "nearby" -- it's about 300 miles away in east-central Alabama.
gandalf June 2, 2017
The pizza is much better in New Haven.
Whiteantlers June 2, 2017
Choice of pizza purveyor aside, the writing is quite good. Too bad she can't afford Yale.