The headline above was a recent essay prompt as part of the college admissions process for the University of Chicago.
It seems like it would be a fun essay to work on, but to me, it seems crazy that perhaps such a question could carry more weight than the results of standardized math and verbal tests, which have become optional at 72% of colleges in the U.S.
But it seems more and more colleges are using such an approach.
The Wall Street Journal had a recent article titled: College Essay Prompts Get Absurd. ‘So Where Is Waldo, Really?’
Here are some of the essay prompts mentioned in the article:
- What advice would a wisdom tooth have? (University of Chicago)
- Why this college? (boring)
- How did you learn from and overcome an obstacle? (boring)
- Detail your favorite thing about last Tuesday. (University of Maryland)
- Name one dish they would cook for the school’s admission team. (Chapman University)
- What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment? (Princeton University)
- Answer in 50 words or less, “Marvel or DC? Pepsi or Coke? Instagram or TikTok? What’s your favorite ‘this or that’ and which side do you choose? (Pomona College)
- Create a top 10 list with the theme of their choice. (Wake Forest University)
- Which Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor (real or imagined) best describes you? (University of Vermont)
- In lieu of an essay, submit a captionless image that appeals to you. (Rice University)
- Who does Sally sell her seashells to? (University of Chicago)
- Find x. (University of Chicago)
- Genghis Khan with an F1 racecar. George Washington with a Super Soaker. Emperor Nero with a toaster. Leonardo da Vinci with a Furby. If you could give any historical figure any piece of technology, who and what would it be, and why do you think they’d work so well together? (University of Chicago)
- The word floccinaucinihilipilification is the act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant or of having no value. It originated in the mid-18th century from the Latin words ‘floccus,’ ‘naucum,’ ‘nihilum’ and ‘pilus’—all words meaning ‘of little use.’ Coin your own word using parts from any language you choose… (University of Chicago)
- Was it a cat I saw? Yo-no-na-ka, ho-ka-ho-ka na-no-yo (Japanese for ‘the world is a warm place’). Moze jutro ta dama da tortu jezom (Polish for ‘maybe tomorrow that lady will give a cake to the hedgehogs’). Share a palindrome in any language, and give it a backstory. ((University of Chicago))
As you can see, the University of Chicago seems to be the king of the quirky essay prompt.
So how to respond to such an essay question?
One college offers the following advice:
“Proofread, proofread, proofread. There’s a difference between ‘tutoring children’ and ‘torturing children’ and your spell-checker won’t catch that.”
As usual, the readers’ comments are the best part of reading stories in the WSJ, and the responses to this article did not disappoint. I read about a dozen of them, and the majority seem to be critical of such essays. One of my favorites picked on the advice offered above, saying that the college that asked: “Who does Sally sell her seashells to?” did not follow such advice, since the sentence should start with the word “Whom”. (Don’t ask me, I was never 100% sure on those who vs. whom debates.)
It also seemed like there is a lot of criticism directed at colleges in general, much of it perhaps well-founded.
I was happy to see the following comment, though:
“…The prompts should be questions difficult to coach but not absurd. There are many excellent examples like Villanova, Bowdoin, and Tufts. The possibilities are infinite and must vary greatly from year to year.”
I’m not sure what Villanova’s prompt was, but it sounds like it was a good one. Maybe it was something like: “If you got stuck taking Prof. Borden for an accounting class, what would you do to stay awake for class?”
P.S. I might devote a future post to offering one or two-line answers to each essay prompt…
*image from FirstPost