How to Answer Those Unusual College Application Essay Questions

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Answer Crazy Essay QuestionsApproach Crazy College Essay Prompts with Creativity and an Open Mind 

More and more colleges are getting creative with their applications, including asking some weird, wacky, and unusual essay questions. These out-of-the-ordinary and very open-ended prompts can send some applicants into a panic, unsure about how to approach these crazy admissions essay questions.  

While they may seem intimidating, these crazy supplements are a great opportunity for applicants to demonstrate their creativity and flex their critical thinking muscles. The answers to these prompts are meant to be just as fun as the questions themselves so take a deep breath – colleges aren’t trying to stump or trick you.  

Here’s what to think about when answering unusual college application essay questions:  

Remember: There’s no “right” answer.

Supplemental essays are a way for colleges to get to know you, so don’t stress about whether or not you’re giving the admissions officers the answer that you think they’re looking for. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer to UVA’s “To tweet or not to tweet?” prompt.  Colleges aren’t looking for a specific answer – they’re looking for more insight into who you are as a student and person.  

So leave any hang-ups about what you think colleges are expecting at the door. They’re just looking for an opportunity to know you a little better.  

Keep your interests in mind.

A great way to approach quirky application prompts is to keep your interests, activities, and hobbies in mind. You want to write a response that conveys who you are as a person and a student. So, if possible, relate your essay to something dear to your heart.  

UChicago is known for its wacky and quirky application essays, and the admission office often faces questions about how to answer their uncommon prompts.  

The assistant director of admissions said it best: “A UChicago supplement essay that responds to our question with a topic you see as interesting and compelling (that is, of course, well thought through and edited reasonably) will shine out much more than following a standard ‘college essay’ format. Don’t be afraid to stretch your mind and have a little fun.”  

Write about what you want to write about – especially if it’s something you’re passionate about. For example, USC asks, “What’s the greatest invention of all time?” A student who was passionate about photography once answered the daguerreotype – the first photographic process to come into widespread use. 

Dig deep.

These questions are hard and sometimes confusing for a reason – colleges want you to get creative and exercise your brain! College courses and discussions often pose strange and unusual problems for students to consider, and admissions offices want to see how you approach such open-ended questions. Critical thinking and creativity are important.  

Take your time to consider the prompt and what you want to write about. Time is key here – you don’t want to write a rushed, sloppy essay just to get it over with. Admissions officers read thousands of essays each year, and they can tell how much time and effort went into your response. Remember supplements are also a way to demonstrate your interest in the school, so dig deep, brainstorm, and take your time writing and revising.

Be yourself.

It may seem hard to let yourself shine with such a strange essay prompt with no context, but being yourself is easier than you may think. When reviewing essays, admissions officers are looking to learn something about you that can’t be found anywhere else in the application, so focus on crafting an essay that represents you – not who you think the college wants you to be.  

For example, Villanova University asks, “What sets your heart on fire?” A student athlete who also enjoyed volunteering wrote about how community service and how it impacted his or her life. Another student who was deeply interested in the humanities write about his or her love of history. While these responses may seem a little tame compared to the prompt, they reflect who the students are and their interests – which is much more meaningful than trying to out-quirk the prompt itself.  

When letting your personality shine through in your essays, avoid using language that’s out of character or writing in someone else’s voice. And don’t recycle other essay responses There’s too much room for error and it defeats the purpose of the prompt – which is to get you to think!

Avoid gimmicks. 

Wacky college application questions might elicit some unusual responses, but limit the quirkiness to the content. Avoid using gimmicks like acrostic poems, writing backwards, or not writing anything at all (i.e. just visual responses.) Again, admissions officers read thousands of essays each year, and if they have to spend too much time decoding your formatting rather than reading the content, the effect will be lost and you could end up in the “no” pile.  

If necessary it’s okay to include a visual element like a photo or video with your essay, but remember they ask for a written response for a reason – they want to see how you write! Keep the essay and formatting itself simple, but wow them with the content and substance!  

Approaching unusual college application essays may seem daunting at first, but by taking your time and really brainstorming, you can craft a response that adds substance and character to your application!

Related Topics

College Application Tips, College Essays

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