Some colleges ask unusual admissions questions

December 28, 2012

The Los Angeles Times recently documented a somewhat peculiar new policy at the University of Chicago and other schools. Questions along the lines of "So where is Waldo, really?" have been appearing as essay options on applications for enrollment.

These abstract questions are designed to gauge a student's capacity for abstract thought and hopefully make the sometimes arduous application process a bit more whimsical.

"It's a way to see students who can think differently and go beyond their academic, intellectual and extracurricular comfort zones," Garrett Brinker, an admissions official at University of Chicago, told the news source. Responding to one of these essay questions can also"break up the monotony of the application process," for potential students, he said.

Other examples of curious essay questions cited by The Times include "Celebrate your nerdy side" from the Tufts' application, "Describe an unusual way in which you have fun" from Caltech, this one that appears on the Brandeis application, "A package arrives at your door. After seeing the contents, you know it's going to be the best day of your life. What's inside, and how do you spend your day?"

Some commenters incredulous about abstract essay questions
Judy Rothman, the author of a book designed to offer tips for college students' parents, told The L.A. Times that she feels these questions are found on applications, in part, because the answers are usually more entertaining than what college admissions officials usually have to read.

In a L.A. Times op-ed column, Joseph Serna wrote that he feels bad for college employees who are forced to read similar essays all day. However, he also noted that many college applicants are more concerned with telling admissions officials what they want to hear than flexing their creative muscles.

Furthermore, he pointed out that honest answers to these abstract questions, even if entertaining and well-written, may be quite the opposite of what would please admission officials.

For instance, he wrote that his response to the aforementioned "package" question would be the Grays Sports Almanac from 2015 that the villain in Back to the Future II used to bet on sports, becoming fabulously wealthy as a result. Serna expects that any college admissions officials who read such an essay would think he was a gambling addict.

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