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The most bizarre admissions essay questions and how to answer them

Say what? Source: Shutterstock

Nothing strikes fear in the heart of college applicants more than the admissions essay.

Every year, colleges and universities in the US ask applicants to showcase their personal stories through writing. Whether you’re local or from abroad, applying through the Common Application or to individual schools, you can’t escape what’s been called the most important component of a college application.

Some universities throw a spanner in the works by coming up with unconventional questions, putting prospective students into a panicked frenzy when they realise what they predicted isn’t the case.

Top of the class for making college applicants sweat is the University of Chicago which prides itself on its provocative essay questions.

Every year, the university asks newly-admitted and current college students to submit essay topics, which are then used as inspiration for new questions for the incoming cohort.

From the horse’s mouth itself: “We think of them as an opportunity for students to tell us about themselves, their tastes, and their ambitions. They can be approached with utter seriousness, complete fancy, or something in between.”

Here are some of their wackiest (and thus, our favourites) from 2018/19, as well as some humble suggestions on how to approach them from Study International’s team of trusted wordsmiths:

1. A letter to any inanimate object in the world

“In 2015, the city of Melbourne, Australia created a “tree-mail” service, in which all of the trees in the city received an email address so that residents could report any tree-related issues. As an unexpected result, people began to email their favorite trees sweet and occasionally humorous letters. Imagine this has been expanded to any object (tree or otherwise) in the world, and share with us the letter you’d send to your favorite.”

Suggestion: “To the most conspicuous tech gadget in the world today (ie. the smartphone), this is not a love letter. Nor is it hate mail. But we know this is not a healthy relationship, you and me. There is no doubt you are fascinating and in possession of all the knowledge in the world. You make me study better, you are my no.1 object of desire, I look at you more than I look at my loved ones. But you, made of plastic and me, of flesh and bone, belong to two different worlds. And so we must part. The end.”

2. How you achieved the impossible geographically

“You’re on a voyage in the thirteenth century, sailing across the tempestuous seas. What if, suddenly, you fell off the edge of the Earth?”

Suggestion: “As the first human to fall off the edge of the Earth, I’d probably be quite glad that the seas were feeling tempestuous that day. Why might you ask? Well, if I had survived this fall, I’d have landed upon a lifelong fortune of fame and the nickname ‘Edge of the Earth Emily’, which I can use to sell my merchandise, thus funding my love for chocolate chip muffins and overpriced earl grey teas in Soho coffee shops. If I died, however, it would be a sad occurrence for all as it would be both a global crisis and I would not be able to submit my answer to this essay question…”

3. Get your Harry Potter on

Source: Shutterstock

“Lost your keys? Alohomora. Noisy roommate? Quietus. Feel the need to shatter windows for some reason? Finestra. Create your own spell, charm, jinx, or other means for magical mayhem. How is it enacted? Is there an incantation? Does it involve a potion or other magical object? If so, what’s in it or what is it? What does it do?” 

Suggestion: “This is a spell all college applicants (especially those applying to the University of Chicago) will love. Anxios terminus, pronounced angk-shuhs tur-muh-nuhs, is a charm to temporarily de-stress a person. Imagine all the wellness and mindfulness techniques combined and (actually) working to give one peace and clarity of mind. Particularly effective on students who are juggling school, extra-curriculars and multiple college applications at the same time.

4. Floccinaucinihilipilification

“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, tell us its meaning, and describe the plausible (if only to you) scenarios in which it would be most appropriately used.”

Suggestion: Sensumresponsumcerritulus, made from three words, “sensum,” “responsum” and “cerritulus” which are Latin for “feeling,” “in response” and “weirdness”. This refers to how one feels when being presented with the wacky and absurd. As a prime example, these questions!

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