Are you working on your college applications and wondering where these crazy essay prompts came from? In this blog, we’ll share some delightful essay topics from colleges that are asking ridiculous questions to college students and do two things overall. One, we’ll make fun of colleges for asking stupid questions that the fate of your entire existence hinges on, and two, we’ll give you straight advice on how to deal with some of these prompts.
St. Mary’s College
St. Mary’s College of Maryland has a prompt that says: “You have a day to spend on the beach at the waterfront of St. Mary’s College. How would you spend it, with whom, and why?” Here’s our quick tip for this one: don’t answer the prompt straight. Instead of saying that you’ll get out your towel, write about what your brain will be thinking through or what relationship you are going to have. Basically, talk about something that has nothing to do with sand, towels, and swimming. We’re also kind of scratching our heads at this question, because what are they really trying to get from this? Honestly, we’re not sure either.
This year, Pomona College is asking, “What item are you excited to bring with you to college?” What do you do to approach this question? It sounds kind of corny, so how do you make your essay not sound corny? We guarantee that lots of people will say something like “curiosity” as their answer. But one, curiosity is not an item. And two, everybody is going to say that or something similar. So, the better way to answer this is to find some object in your life that reveals what you’re actually going to bring.
We would actually reframe this question and instead say, “What is a characteristic about me that I want to show to colleges?” and then figure out an item that you own that can be a telling detail to reveal that aspect of your personality. For example, if you have an entrepreneurial spirit, then maybe you could talk about the click pen that you made in the Junior Achievement Club. The pen is meaningless, but the idea is that you’ll bring the same entrepreneurial spirit that you put together to create pens that you sold as your first Junior Achievement project.
The other way that you could do this is that you could be a total comedian, throw this back in their face, and make fun of them for how ridiculous and important it is that you’re bringing clothes with you.
University of Southern California
USC has a slew of short-answer questions that make us scratch our heads and wonder if these really are the questions that will get students into college. Some of them are “get to know you” prompts, but others are really hard to answer. For example, one prompt they have is “What is your favorite snack?” We’re sure people will lie on this question, because telling people what your actual favorite snack is might be boring. So, they’re kind of setting you up for fiction.
Another one of their prompts is “What TV show will you binge watch next?” This one is easy; just pick a show from Netflix, Apple TV, etc. All we have to say about this one is to please not pick a show that’s weird or creepy. This question is one that we would call more of a taste-gauging question as well as a disqualifier. The only thing that this question can do for you is knock you out because you wrote something that sounds really juvenile and silly. Or creepy horror movies that make them think that you’re a little bit of a strange bird, and not in a good way. Just pick a good one; don’t pick something too lowbrow or something with lots of drug use.
Moving onto another USC prompt: “Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?” This one is kind of fun, and we would go with something magical. But if there’s someone whose personality you really like and you think that if you knew them in real life, you’d be best friends, then colleges might be able to learn something about you from that. Again, don’t pick people who do lots of drugs or who are crime bosses. You just have to be careful about the message that you’re sending here.
University of Virginia
UVA has a prompt that says “What’s your favorite word and why?” We guess that they want you to sound clever and to make you dig through Merriam-Webster until you find something quirky and funny. We’re not quite sure what people can learn about you from your favorite word that’s so eye-opening and college-ready-proving. Pick something fun, get goofy, but show them something about yourself if you can. Or get into a little idea that’s somewhat of an “aha,” a “wow,” or a “zing.”
Occidental College has one that asks, “What is the first song you would play for your roommates on move-in day?” Princeton and Columbia, as well as a lot of other schools, also ask about music, so yes, you need to have a good Spotify playlist to get into college.
Stanford’s ridiculous essay prompt is “Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—get to know you better.” If we’re being realistic, the notes that you write to your roommate in college are probably things like “Can you turn your alarm off and not hit snooze so many times?” or “I’m going out of town for the weekend.” We don’t think that’s going to make for a good college essay, though. And the best advice that we have is that you need to angle the question differently. So, instead of pretending that you’re writing a note (which can be really awkward and can make you seem passive-aggressive), imagine that you walked into the room and are going to tell your roommate something. What were you going to tell them?
University of Vermont
The University of Vermont asks “Established in 1978 in a renovated gas station in Burlington, VT, Ben & Jerry’s is synonymous with the ice cream business. The company’s success and unique brand identity are due in part to their one-of-a-kind flavors. Which Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor (real or imagined) best describes you?” This may be a ridiculous prompt, but it’s still asking you to reveal something about yourself.
University of Chicago
Before we get into the University of Chicago, which is the university that is infamous for having the most ridiculous essay prompts, we just want to take a second to be thankful, because essays are not as crazy as some of them used to be. For example, Tufts University used to ask “Kermit the frog famously lamented, ‘It’s not easy being green.’ Do you agree?” Thank goodness they’re not asking that anymore.
But the University of Chicago is asking all the crazy questions, but we will give them props for owning it, because they know it. They let you pick, so you just have to figure out how you can put together something that’s going to be funny, clever, or witty. It’s almost like a test of cleverness or improv. Some of their prompts include “Write an essay somehow inspired by super huge mustard” and “What advice would a wisdom tooth have?” and “Genghis Khan with an F1 race car, George Washington with a super-soaker, Emperor Nero with a toaster, Leonardo da Vinci with a furby. If you could give any historical figure any piece of technology, who and what would it be, and why do you think they’d work so well together?”
These are ridiculous, but we love the openness and creativity of them. Our best advice with UChicago is to pull it off, say something actually worth saying, and be interesting. And make sure to keep working until you find a prompt where you can reveal something about yourself at the same time.
We hope you found this blog helpful, and the message that we want to send home to you guys that are trying to approach these insane essays is that if there’s an obvious answer, do not go the obvious route. They’re being off-the-wall and crazy with their essay prompts, so you get to be creative too.