New York Times Features Zöe Sottile ’17 “Standout” College Application Essay

As Zöe Sottile ’17 was reading “The New York Times” one afternoon, she stumbled across a column by  Ron Lieber called “Your Money.” It called for students to submit their college essays regarding issues of “money, work, or social class.” Having just written her application to Columbia University with an essay describing her experience at Andover on a full scholarship, Sottile decided it would be fitting to submit. Little did she know her essay would be published in “The New York Times” on May 12, 2017.

Growing up in New Haven, Conn., Sottile has always been aware of the lines separating poverty and wealth. The drastic difference between downtown New Haven and the campus of Yale University exposed the hierarchies of class and race established within the city. This bore her interest in topics involving socioeconomic class, and ultimately inspired her to write her college essay on the subject.

“[New Haven] is a place that a lot of people talk about in a really careless way that doesn’t take into account the systematic causes of poverty and inequality in the city. I grew up just outside of the city, in a town that’s described as the first line of “white flight” from New Haven. So I’ve just always been very conscious of how class and race are marked up and divided… Class and income disparities are topics I’m really passionate about, and I don’t know if I would be had it not been for how I grew up,” said Sottile in an email to The Phillipian.

Her essay begins recounting the moment she received an envelope which enclosed guidelines for the Tang Scholarship she had received to attend Andover. As a part of the amenities of the scholarship, Sottile received a Dell laptop. She goes on to describe how the laptop symbolized wealth disparity at Andover as well as her perspective on attending an elite boarding school on full scholarship.

“My scholarship has affected my life at Andover a lot. For a while, it made me really anxious — the first time I told someone I was on full, I was terrified. But going forward, I’ve found a really awesome community of other students on varying levels of financial aid who can relate more to my background. I think I’ve tried really hard to make sure that I don’t feel like I have to fit in through my clothing or my choices to make up for the ways that I differ from most Andover students financially,” said Sottile.

Sottile was originally reluctant to write about financial aid as she deemed it a “risky topic.” However, after realizing how her background greatly affects her decisions in day-to-day life, she decided it was the best story to share.

“It was hard to write because I wanted to make sure I had the right tone. Like, I think that there are easy narratives to tell about money as a highschooler: there’s the story where you’re privileged and then have some experience that makes you realize it, and there’s the story where you’re underprivileged but persevere and struggle and overcome your background. Neither of those are my story, and I didn’t want to make it seem like I was calling on either of those narratives,” said Sottile.

Sottile will attend Columbia University next fall. According to Sottile, she was attracted to New York City because of her passion for art and activism, and plans to double-major in Human Rights and Film.

“I wanted to apply to Columbia because I feel like going to Andover really made me feel capable of doing whatever I want to do. Andover is a really supportive environment, and while I’ve really appreciated that, I’m ready for a more independent environment. I’m so excited to be able to go out into the city and have internships while also going to school. Art and activism are two of my biggest passions, and they are at the heart and center of New York City,” said Sottile.