• Dina

How Weird Can College Essay Questions Get?

Updated: Sep 22



The college application process is a tug of war. In addition to dealing with the heavy course load during 12th grade, the applicant must also spend a lot of energy, time, and thoughts on their college essays! Because colleges keep coming up with “outside of the box” essay topics, essay writing has become the biggest source of stress during application season for a lot of students.



Rachel is a high school student in New York who is planning to apply to college with an economics major. In her main essay, she plans to describe how her upbringing helped her develop a worldview about money and capital. Rachel has noticed that a lot of college essay questions aren’t straightforward at all.


For example, this year at the University of Chicago, an essay prompt asks: "What advice would a wisdom tooth have?" Rachel was clueless and didn't know how to answer. If it were you, how would you answer?


This application season, about 72% of the universities have continued or adopted the test-optional policy. Naturally, essays have now assumed an even more important role in the fierce competition of college applications.


Some universities chose to follow the conventional approach, asking questions such as "Why did you choose our university?" or "what did you learn from an experience of overcoming difficulties?" Of course, according to colleges, there are intentions behind these relatively conventional questions.


Peter Wilson, director of admissions at the University of Chicago, explained that this wisdom tooth essay question shows how applicants think and reflect on an unusual question.


Historically, U Chicago have a reputation of coming up with “weird” essay questions, but these questions also convey a message to their applicants: to explore a wider range of possibilities and creativity, a spirit that is embedded in U Chicago’s culture.


There are other strange essay questions as well. For example, "Who did Sally finally sell her seashells to?". This question comes from a tongue twister"Where’s Waldo?" originally from the British children's book Where's Wally ".


University of Maryland, College Park, ask students "What is your favorite thing that happened last Tuesday?" If students flipped their calendars and found a blank space, or if they realized that they had been lying in bed for the day, then they might have a problem...


Pomona College, a well-known liberal arts college, last year asked applicants: "Marvel or DC? Pepsi or Coke? Instagram or TikTok? What is your favorite 'this or that' and which side do you choose? Answer in no more than 50 words."


Princeton University asks applicants: “What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?”


Wake Forest University asks students to come up with their own topics and give their own top ten lists.


Chapman University, a prominent film and television major in the Los Angeles area asks its applicants: “What meal would you make for our admissions staff?”


University of Vermont: "Which Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor (real or imagined!) best describes you?" The university said that around 1/4 of applicants chose to answer this question.


One applicant responded by choosing the Chip Happens flavor pictured on the right, which has potato chips in it, a combination she linked to her own transformation growing up, regaining her lost confidence. Eventually, she was offered admission by Vermont.


Rice University's legacy title: "The Box," requires students to upload a photo that appeals to them, along with an essay. Rice's vice president of admissions acknowledges that many applicants choose to upload a photo of rice.


Leah, a student from Houston, recalled an essay she encountered when applying to U Chicago last year: “The word Floccinaucinihilipilification originated from Latin words floccus, naucum, nihilum, & pilus—all meaning “of little use.” Coin your own word using parts from any language, tell us its meaning and describe how it would be most appropriately used.” One day, she was looking for a water bottle in a hallway at her school, and she felt a sense of peace. The word she coined was solipsilocosm, "sol" in Latin means "alone", "psil" in Greek means "naked", "sil" represents quietness, and finally "cosm" represents the universe.


Prospective applicants, are you ready to wrap your head around all kinds of essay topics this year?


Whether they’re working on a conventional or a creative essay prompt, students should always keep in mind that essays are the most personal way to reach the admissions official in their entire application.

This means that preserving your individual, unique voice is more important than anything in essay writing. At Enlighteens, we provide our best assistance with a customized approach for every student working on their applications. We understand that every student has a unique profile, unique strengths, and a unique voice, and we are here to help them show that to their dream colleges.

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