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Best College Application Essay Questions

Every year colleges and universities ask applicants to write essays to explain who they are and to show how they think and write (assuming that the students actually write the essays themselves). Even many of the hundreds of schools that accept the online Common Application still require supplemental writing samples. Most of the essay prompts are predictable — but not all. Here are some of the more unusual ones for the 2013-14 college application season.

The ancient Romans started it when they coined the phrase “Carpe diem.” Jonathan Larson proclaimed “No day but today!” and most recently, Drake explained You Only Live Once (YOLO). Have you ever seized the day? Lived like there was no tomorrow? Or perhaps you plan to shout YOLO while jumping into something in the future. What does #YOLO mean to you?

The University of Chicago prides itself on its provocative essay questions, inspired by newly admitted students who are asked to contribute ideas for new prompts. Here are the ones for this admissions cycle:

Essay Option 1.

Winston Churchill believed “a joke is a very serious thing.” From Off-Off Campus’s improvisations to the Shady Dealer humor magazine to the renowned Latke-Hamantash debate, we take humor very seriously here at The University of Chicago (and we have since 1959, when our alums helped found the renowned comedy theater The Second City).

Tell us your favorite joke and try to explain the joke without ruining it.

Inspired by Chelsea Fine, Class of 2016

Essay Option 2.

In a famous quote by José Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher proclaims, “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia” (1914). José Quintans, master of the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division at the University of Chicago, sees it another way: “Yo soy yo y mi microbioma” (2012).

You are you and your..?

Inspired by Maria Viteri, Class of 2016

Essay Option 3.

“This is what history consists of. It’s the sum total of all the things they aren’t telling us.” — Don DeLillo, Libra.

What is history, who are “they,” and what aren’t they telling us?

Inspired by Amy Estersohn, Class of 2010

Essay Option 4.

The mantis shrimp can perceive both polarized light and multispectral images; they have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. Human eyes have color receptors for three colors (red, green, and blue); the mantis shrimp has receptors for sixteen types of color, enabling them to see a spectrum far beyond the capacity of the human brain.

Seriously, how cool is the mantis shrimp: mantisshrimp.uchicago.edu

What might they be able to see that we cannot? What are we missing?

Inspired by Tess Moran, Class of 2016

Essay Option 5.

How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics, linguistics, and philosophy.

Inspired by Florence Chan, Class of 2015

Essay Option 6.

In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose a question of your own. If your prompt is original and thoughtful, then you should have little trouble writing a great essay. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun.

Here are some of the supplemental essay prompts from the 2013-2014 freshman application. Limit: Half a page or roughly 250 words.

–You are required to spend the next year of your life in either the past or the future. What year would you travel to and why?

Imagine that you are backpacking through a country you have never been to before. You are interested in engaging with the local population and your backpack includes three items that will help them learn about your family and culture. What are those three items and how do they represent your background?

Choose one and respond in an essay of 400-500 words.

Most of us have one or more personality quirks. Explain one of yours and what it says about you.

What do you hope to find over the rainbow?

Why do you do what you do?

If you could travel anywhere in time or space, either real or imagined, where would you go and why?

Tell us about a time when your curiosity led you someplace you weren’t expecting to go.

Give us your top ten list.

There’s a difference between being busy and being engaged. Lafayette comes alive each day with the energy of students who are deeply engaged in their academic, co-curricular, and extracurricular explorations. In response to the … prompt, keep it simple—choose one activity and add depth to our understanding of your involvement.

What do you do? Why do you do it? (Optional and 20-200 words in length)

Students Need to Get Creative With These Unusual College Essay Prompts

It’s that time of year again! The 2017-18 Common Application is open, and now's the time for the class of 2022 to start on their college application essays and supplements – which can sometimes include weird and unusual essay prompts and short answer questions.

In addition to the Common Application essay (or the Coalition application essay), colleges will often require additional essays within their school-specific supplements. These essays can be as general as “Why do you want to attend X University?” However, many schools will also include quirky college application essay prompts or short answer questions as a way to get to know applicants better.

Supplemental essays are important because, not only do they help students demonstrate their knowledge of school, but they also help students reveal information that the university might not otherwise gather from other parts of the application. They can also give students the opportunity to show why that institution or major is a good fit for them, and vice versa.

Colleges have been coming up with unusual and quirky essay prompts for years now, with some prompts getting stranger each application season! These unusual essay prompts may seem silly at first, but they offer applicants a great opportunity to set themselves apart.

Here are some quirky and unusual supplement questions and essay prompts from this year’s college applications: 

In Love Medicine, author Louise Erdrich ’76 writes, ''Society is like this card game here, cousin. We got dealt our hand before we were even born, and as we grow we have to play as best as we can.'' Describe your ''hand'' and reflect on how you have played it. (Dartmouth College)

What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (Stanford University)

Short Answer: Hashtag to describe yourself (University of Southern California)

Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your new intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History... a full list of unmodified majors ready for your editor’s eye is available here: https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/academics/majors-minors. -Inspired by Josh Kaufman, Class of 2018 (University of Chicago)

What do you hope will change about the place where you live? (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill)

For whom are you responsible? (University of Notre Dame)

UVA students paint messages on Beta Bridge when they want to share information with our community. What would you paint on Beta Bridge and why is this your message? (University of Virginia)

"Become what you are not yet" - Saint Augustine
When you daydream, who do you hope to become in the future? (Villanova University)

You have a popular podcast. What’s the title? What’s the topic? (Wake Forest University)

You are teaching a Yale course. What is it called? (Yale University)

Are you ready to get started on your college application essays? For more information on how IvyWise can help you with your essays and supplements, contact us today.

Christine: Be Genuine in Your College Applications from IvyWise on Vimeo.

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