Some classic questions from previous years…
Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story.
—Inspired by Drew Donaldson, AB'16
Alice falls down the rabbit hole. Milo drives through the tollbooth. Dorothy is swept up in the tornado. Neo takes the red pill. Don’t tell us about another world you’ve imagined, heard about, or created. Rather, tell us about its portal. Sure, some people think of the University of Chicago as a portal to their future, but please choose another portal to write about.
—Inspired by Raphael Hallerman, Class of 2020
What's so odd about odd numbers?
–Inspired by Mario Rosasco, AB'09
Vestigiality refers to genetically determined structures or attributes that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function, but have been retained during the process of evolution. In humans, for instance, the appendix is thought to be a vestigial structure. Describe something vestigial (real or imagined) and provide an explanation for its existence.
—Inspired by Tiffany Kim, Class of 2020
In French, there is no difference between "conscience" and "consciousness." In Japanese, there is a word that specifically refers to the splittable wooden chopsticks you get at restaurants. The German word “fremdschämen” encapsulates the feeling you get when you’re embarrassed on behalf of someone else. All of these require explanation in order to properly communicate their meaning, and are, to varying degrees, untranslatable. Choose a word, tell us what it means, and then explain why it cannot (or should not) be translated from its original language.
– Inspired by Emily Driscoll, Class of 2018
Little pigs, French hens, a family of bears. Blind mice, musketeers, the Fates. Parts of an atom, laws of thought, a guideline for composition. Omne trium perfectum? Create your own group of threes, and describe why and how they fit together.
– Inspired by Zilin Cui, Class of 2018
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, AB'16
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, AB'15
The ball is in your court—a penny for your thoughts, but say it, don’t spray it. So long as you don’t bite off more than you can chew, beat around the bush, or cut corners, writing this essay should be a piece of cake. Create your own idiom, and tell us its origin—you know, the whole nine yards. PS: A picture is worth a thousand words.
—Inspired by April Bell, Class of 2017, and Maya Shaked, Class of 2018 (It takes two to tango.)
"A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies." –Oscar Wilde. Othello and Iago. Dorothy and the Wicked Witch. Autobots and Decepticons. History and art are full of heroes and their enemies. Tell us about the relationship between you and your arch-nemesis (either real or imagined).
–Inspired by Martin Krzywy, AB'16.
Heisenberg claims that you cannot know both the position and momentum of an electron with total certainty. Choose two other concepts that cannot be known simultaneously and discuss the implications. (Do not consider yourself limited to the field of physics).
–Inspired by Doran Bennett, BS'07
Susan Sontag, AB'51, wrote that "[s]ilence remains, inescapably, a form of speech." Write about an issue or a situation when you remained silent, and explain how silence may speak in ways that you did or did not intend. The Aesthetics of Silence, 1967.
"…I [was] eager to escape backward again, to be off to invent a past for the present." –The Rose Rabbi by Daniel Stern
1. Something that is offered, presented, or given as a gift.
Let's stick with this definition. Unusual presents, accidental presents, metaphorical presents, re-gifted presents, etc. — pick any present you have ever received and invent a past for it.
—Inspired by Jennifer Qin, AB'16
So where is Waldo, really?
–Inspired by Robin Ye, AB'16
–Inspired by Benjamin Nuzzo, an admitted student from Eton College, UK
Dog and Cat. Coffee and Tea. Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. Everyone knows there are two types of people in the world. What are they?
–Inspired by an alumna of the Class of 2006
How did you get caught? (Or not caught, as the case may be.)
–Proposed by Kelly Kennedy, AB'10
Chicago author Nelson Algren said, "A writer does well if in his whole life he can tell the story of one street." Chicagoans, but not just Chicagoans, have always found something instructive, and pleasing, and profound in the stories of their block, of Main Street, of Highway 61, of a farm lane, of the Celestial Highway. Tell us the story of a street, path, road—real or imagined or metaphorical.
UChicago professor W. J. T. Mitchell entitled his 2005 book What Do Pictures Want? Describe a picture, and explore what it wants.
–Inspired by Anna Andel
"Don't play what's there, play what's not there."—Miles Davis (1926–91)
–Inspired by Jack Reeves
University of Chicago alumna and renowned author/critic Susan Sontag said, "The only interesting answers are those that destroy the questions." We all have heard serious questions, absurd questions, and seriously absurd questions, some of which cannot be answered without obliterating the very question. Destroy a question with your answer.
–Inspired by Aleksandra Ciric
"Mind that does not stick."
–Zen Master Shoitsu (1202–80)
Superstring theory has revolutionized speculation about the physical world by suggesting that strings play a pivotal role in the universe. Strings, however, always have explained or enriched our lives, from Theseus's escape route from the Labyrinth, to kittens playing with balls of yarn, to the single hair that held the sword above Damocles, to the Old Norse tradition that one's life is a thread woven into a tapestry of fate, to the beautiful sounds of the finely tuned string of a violin, to the children's game of cat's cradle, to the concept of stringing someone along. Use the power of string to explain the biggest or the smallest phenomenon.
–Inspired by Adam Sobolweski
Have you ever walked through the aisles of a warehouse store like Costco or Sam's Club and wondered who would buy a jar of mustard a foot and a half tall? We've bought it, but it didn't stop us from wondering about other things, like absurd eating contests, impulse buys, excess, unimagined uses for mustard, storage, preservatives, notions of bigness…and dozens of other ideas both silly and serious. Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard.
–Inspired by Katherine Gold
People often think of language as a connector, something that brings people together by helping them share experiences, feelings, ideas, etc. We, however, are interested in how language sets people apart. Start with the peculiarities of your own personal language—the voice you use when speaking most intimately to yourself, the vocabulary that spills out when you're startled, or special phrases and gestures that no one else seems to use or even understand—and tell us how your language makes you unique. You may want to think about subtle riffs or idiosyncrasies based on cadence, rhythm, rhyme, or (mis)pronunciation.
–Inspired by Kimberly Traube
Essays Students Can Get Started on Before Aug. 1 Open of Common Application
As the summer begins to wind down, and the college application season starts up, many colleges and universities across the US have released their essay prompts for the 2014-15 application season, allowing students the opportunity to get a head start.
Some applications are already open, including the Universal College Application, which includes member schools like Harvard, Princeton, UChicago, and Johns Hopkins, to name a few.
For those who are applying to schools that have prompts and applications readily available, it’s important to get a head start.
Here are some of the essays and applications available now, including the 2014-15 Common Application essay prompts.
The Common Application
Limit of 650 words.
Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
Universal College Application
Please write an essay (500 words or fewer) that demonstrates your ability to develop and communicate your thoughts. Some ideas include: a person you admire; a life-changing experience; or your viewpoint on a particular current event.
Engineering: If you are applying to the Pratt School of Engineering as either a first-year or transfer applicant, please discuss why you want to study engineering and why you would like to study at Duke. (No more than 150 words.)
Arts & Sciences:If you are applying to the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences as either a first-year or transfer applicant, please discuss why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something particular about Duke that attracts you? (No more than 150 words.)
Optional Essays for All Applicants:
Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you'd like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you've had to help us understand you better—perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background—we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke.
Duke will learn about your extracurricular involvement through the Activities section of the Common or Universal College Application. If you wish to include a brief resume you may include it here.
All Applicants (Short): In the space available discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved.
All Applicants: As Georgetown is a diverse community, the Admissions Committee would like to know more about you in your own words. Please submit a brief essay, either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you.
Applicants to the McDonough School of Business: Discuss the factors that have inﬂuenced your interest in studying business
Applicants to the Walsh School of Foreign Service: Brieﬂy discuss a current global issue, indicating why you consider it important and what you suggest should be done to deal with it.
Applicants to the School of Nursing and Health Studies: Describe the factors that have inﬂuenced your interest in studying health care. Please speciﬁcally address your intended major (Health Care Management & Policy, Human Science, International Health, or Nursing).
Applicants to Georgetown College: Please relate your interest in studying at Georgetown University to your goals. How do these thoughts relate to your chosen course of study? (If you are applying to major in the FLL or in a Science, please speciﬁcally address those interests.)
Candidates respond to all three essay topics. (250 word limit for each essay.)
Stanford students possess an intellectual vitality. Reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development.
Virtually all of Stanford's undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—know you better.
What matters to you, and why?
University of Chicago
What's so odd about odd numbers?
In French, there is no difference between "conscience" and "consciousness". In Japanese, there is a word that specifically refers to the splittable wooden chopsticks you get at restaurants. The German word “fremdschämen” encapsulates the feeling you get when you’re embarrassed on behalf of someone else. All of these require explanation in order to properly communicate their meaning, and are, to varying degrees, untranslatable. Choose a word, tell us what it means, and then explain why it cannot (or should not) be translated from its original language.
Little pigs, french hens, a family of bears. Blind mice, musketeers, the Fates. Parts of an atom, laws of thought, a guideline for composition. Omne trium perfectum? Create your own group of threes, and describe why and how they fit together.
Were pH an expression of personality, what would be your pH and why? (Feel free to respond acidly! Do not be neutral, for that is base!)
A neon installation by the artist Jeppe Hein in UChicago’s Charles M. Harper Center asks this question for us: “Why are you here and not somewhere else?” (There are many potential values of "here", but we already know you're "here" to apply to the University of Chicago; pick any "here" besides that one).
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.
University of Michigan
Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. (Required for all applicants. Approximately 250 words.)
Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests? (Required for all applicants. 500 words maximum.)
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
Choose one prompt and respond in an essay of 400-500 words.
Why do you do what you do?
You were just invited to speak at the White House. Write your speech.
What one thing should all students know before their high school graduation?
What concerns you about your world? What do you hope to do to make it better?
UNC Professor Barbara Fredrickson – an expert in positive emotions – has defined love as “micro-moments of connection between people, even strangers.” Tell us about a time when you experienced a “micro-moment of connection.” What did you learn?
University of Pennsylvania
The Admissions Committee would like to learn why you are a good fit for your undergraduate school choice (College of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing, The Wharton School, or Penn Engineering). Please tell us about specific academic, service, and/or research opportunities at the University of Pennsylvania that resonate with your background, interests, and goals. (400-650 words)
University of Virginia
We are looking for passionate students to join our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists. Answer the question that corresponds to the school/program to which you are applying in a half page or roughly 250 words.
College of Arts and Sciences - What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences - U.Va. engineers are working to solve problems that affect people around the world, from our long-term water purification project in South Africa to continuing to research more efficient applications of solar power. However, most students start small, by using engineering to make a difference in daily life. If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make your everyday life better, what would you do?
School of Architecture - Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.
School of Nursing - Discuss experiences that led you to choose the School of Nursing.
Kinesiology Program - Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major.
Answer one of the following questions in a half page or roughly 250 words.
What’s your favorite word and why?
We are a community with quirks, both in language (we’ll welcome you to Grounds, not campus) and in traditions. Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.
Student self-governance, which encourages student investment and initiative, is a hallmark of the U.Va. culture. In her fourth year at U.Va., Laura Nelson was inspired to create Flash Seminars, one-time classes which facilitate high-energy discussion about thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework. If you created a Flash Seminar, what idea would you explore and why?
While a student at U.Va., Fulbright Scholar Rowan Sprague conducted groundbreaking research aimed at protecting the complex structure of honeybee hives. We know that colonies include bees acting in a diverse range of roles, all equally important to the success of the hive. What role will you play in the U.Va. hive?
To tweet or not to tweet?
These are just a sample of the essay prompts that are available for students to begin working on now! Didn’t see one you were looking for? Tell us in the comments below and we’ll find it for you!