This article focuses on difficult questions you may encounter in your admissions essay.

For the final installment in our series, we're going to focus on essay prompts that aren't strange or complex but just plain tough. Colleges choose prompts like these not because they're trying to trip you up but because they want to read an essay that really made you think. Ultimately, like any application essay, the admissions officers are looking for some critical thinking skills. Therefore, with some analysis of the prompt, brainstorming innovative content, and willingness to go beyond expectations, you can create a truly unique essay that will catch the eye of the admissions officers. Let's get started!

If you want even more assistance, then you should check out EssayEdge, with its array of expert essay editors! 

If you were to develop a Mt. Rushmore representing the 20th century, whose faces would you select and why?
- William and Mary

It has been said [by Andy Warhol] that "in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." Describe your fifteen minutes.
- New York University

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These questions are clear, precise, and intelligible. You know exactly what the prompt means, but that does nothing to ameliorate the fact that, after reading them, you can still be sitting there, stumped, utterly unsure of what direction to take the question. "Whose faces would go on the new Mt. Me-more?" "What would my fifteen minutes be?"

The key technique to help you knock out these questions is brainstorming. Just put your fingers on the keyboard (or, if you're old school, pen to paper), and start writing some ideas. Don't worry about their quality; just get at least 10 different ideas out of your head and on to the screen (or paper). Next, you can start whittling them down to 3-5 favorites. After that, you can begin deciding which one is the absolute best and write your essay from there.

 

What would you do with a free afternoon tomorrow?
- Yale University

If you could balance on a tightrope, over what landscape would you walk? (No net.)
- University of Chicago

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Here, the prompt is all about you. These questions are designed to give you an opportunity to talk about yourself, albeit in an indirect way. On the plus side, you can talk about yourself all you want without feeling like you're hogging the whole conversation. On the other hand, writing about yourself does not mean writing like you're talking to your friends. What's going to make you stand out in these questions is tackling them cleverly and uniquely. The questions are about you, after all, so make them really about you, down to every word. This is not an easy task, but if you can pull it off, it'll pay off in spades.

 

UChicago professor W. J. T. Mitchell entitled his 2005 book What Do Pictures Want? Describe a picture, and explore what it wants.
- University of Chicago

Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote, "Between living and dreaming there is a third thing. Guess it." Give us your guess.
- University of Chicago

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These questions sound simple enough when you read them to yourself, but, upon reflection, it becomes clear that it's a bit more complicated. How do you figure out what a picture wants, or what is between living and dreaming? The brainstorming tip from above still applies, but these questions have less to do with just coming up with a list of possible answers and whittling down until you get to your favorites. What these questions are really about, most likely, are how you answer, and not necessarily as much what you answer.

You obviously can't throw out a silly or empty answer, so don't disregard the "what" aspect. However, the key point here is that the stance you take in the essay means less than whether you explain yourself and your reasoning cogently and coherently. Make sure that your reader will understand not only exactly what it is you're saying but why you're saying it. And if you can, earn some extra points in the eyes of the admissions officers by making it fun.

 

Science, math and society are filled with postulates, laws and theories like the Ninth Commandment, PV=nRT, Occam's Razor and H.R. 3541. Warm air rises. Good (English) grammar requires "i" before "e" except after "c." So pick a law, any law, and explain its significance to you.
- Tufts

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Simple tip here. Don't pick the obvious. Brainstorm (just like the earlier tip! These things actually come in handy!) and come up with a whole of mess of possibilities for a question like this. When you're narrowing your list, keep in mind that originality can do a whole lot to make your essay memorable and enjoyable. For the question above, you have every law ever written, from science to government to math to ANYTHING. Don't limit yourself here. Go with what feels right to you, and of course choose something you can actually write about. But pick something that's really going to represent you. 

 

Elvis is alive! Okay, maybe not, but we have been persuaded that recent Elvis sightings in highway rest areas, grocery stores and laundromats are part of a wider conspiracy involving five of the following: the metric system, the Mall of America, the crash of the Hindenberg, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, lint, J.D. Salinger, and wax fruit. Construct your own theory of how and why five of these items are related.
- University of Chicago

The late William Burroughs once wrote that "language is a virus from outer space." We at the University of Chicago think he's right, of course, and this leaves us wondering what else came here with it. Could this finally explain such improbable features of modern life as the Federal Tax Code, non-dairy creamer, Dennis Rodman, and the art of mime? Name something that you assert cannot have originated any other way. Offer a thorough defense of your hypothesis for extraterrestrial origins, including alternate explanations and reasons for eliminating them from consideration.
- University of Chicago

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Story time! These last two questions are asking for nothing so much as they're asking for you to tell a fun, fascinating, and well-written story. And that last point is probably the most important: well-written. Yes, you need to construct an entire piece that fits together well, but at the same time, the questions themselves are pointing at fun and humor. So have fun with them, while still bringing all of your intelligence and writing skill to bear. 


Got any good college essay questions you've encountered? Or any good tips for people writing college essays? Share with us on our Facebook page!

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