College application essays don’t have to be a drag – and these schools prove it. They’ve created some of the most outlandish, thought-provoking and original essay questions out there.
Here are the 15 schools that think outside the box, when it comes to admissions essay, with some examples of our favorite questions they’re asking on The Common Application this year.
Now, it’s up to you to impress admissions officers with a response that measures up.
Amongst the schools with the most create assortments were Lehigh University, Tufts University and Wake Forest, though we’ve decided to remain (sort of) impartial and list the schools with the most creatively candid questions in alphabetical order.
The following 15 schools had some of our favorite imaginative college admissions essay questions begging the question: how would you answer?
1. Brandeis University
“You are required to spend the next year of your life in either the past or the future. What year would you travel to and why?”
Leave it to the liberal arts colleges to come up with something thought-provoking. This private research university, located in Waltham, MA, is sure to get your creative juices flowing!
Learn more about Brandeis University.
2. Bucknell University
“Pick a movie or novel where the protagonist makes a difficult choice. Do you agree or disagree with the decision he or she made?”
Another private liberal arts university, Bucknell is located in the central part of Pennsylvania in the town of Lewisburg. If you’re looking to bring unique perspectives to a university, this may be the one for you.
Learn more about Bucknell University.
3. Hampshire College
“Create two questions that drive you.”
This private liberal arts school, located in Amherst, MA, is so outside of the box, they got rid of the box (i.e. questions) all together. If you’re up for the creative challenge, seize it!
Learn more about Hampshire College.
4. Kalamazoo College
“Let’s go back to a time when learning was pure joy. Please tell us your favorite childhood book and why.”
Also dubbed “K College” or “K,” this Kalamazoo, Michigan school produces more Peace Corp volunteers than any other U.S. academic institution!
Learn more about Kalamazoo College.
5. Lehigh University
“What is your favorite riddle and why?”
“Describe your favorite \”Bazinga\” moment.”
“You’ve just reached your one millionth hit on your YouTube video. What is the video about?”
“If your name were an acronym, what would it stand for and how would it reflect your strengths and pesonality?”
When it comes to originality, Lehigh definitely took the cake. Believe it or not, we had to narrow our choices down to the above questions! But this Bethlehem, PA, university is also known for academics and landed on the Top Party Schools list. Talk about well rounded!
Learn more about Lehigh University.
6. Stanford University
“What matters to you, and why?”
Stanford left the essay open to interpretation for the scholars applying to the university, which is considered to be one of the most prestigious in the United States and the world.
Learn more about Stanford University.
7. Texas Christian University
“Take a blank sheet of paper. Do with this page what you wish. Your only limitations are the boundaries of this page. You don’t have to submit anything, but we hope you will use your imagination.”
This optional “assignment” from the university, located in Forth Worth, TX, must leave a blank stare on students faces all the time. Who else wonders what types of submissions (and how many paper airplanes) they get?
Learn more about Texas Christian University.
8. Tufts University
“Celebrate your nerdy side.”
“What makes you happy?”
“What does #YOLO mean to you?”
Competing with Lehigh, Tufts University had quite the array of unique questions, so we had to pick favorites. Tufts is known as a Little Ivy and a “New Ivy,” so we imagine that those applying to this school, which ranks amongst the top in the nation, appreciate the chance to speak their minds via the college application essay. Learn more about Tufts University.
9. University of Chicago
“Winston Churchill believed ‘a joke is a very serious thing.’ Tell us your favorite joke and try to explain the joke without ruining it.”
“How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared?”
The University of Chicago cleverly takes essay questions suggested by students. So if you find the questions a little too peculiar, blame your peers. If you can take on the essays, you can join the nearly 15,00 students that attend the school – which is another ranked as one of the most prestigious, both nationally and worldwide.
Learn more about University of Chicago.
10. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
“What do you hope to find over the rainbow?”
This public research university is consistently ranked among the highest in the United States and is one of eight original Public Ivy schools. Perhaps the answer to the essay question should be: an Ivy League education with public university tuition prices?
Learn more about University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
11. University of Notre Dame
“By the end of the college application process, you will have probably written dozens of essays and responded to a multitude of questions. Use this opportunity to try something new.”
If you want to become one of the 8,000 undergraduates who identify as the Fighting Irish, you’ll need to plan and strategize to impress admissions officials at this private Catholic research university.
Learn more about University of Notre Dame.
12. University of Virginia
“To tweet or not to tweet?”
“What’s your favorite word and why?”
“Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.”
Located in Charlottesville, VA, this public university was conceived and designed by U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. We cannot help but wonder, which side of the “tweet” or “not to tweet” spectrum do you think he’d land?
Learn more about University of Virginia.
13. Villanova University
“What sets your heart on fire?”
Founded in 1842, this private university is the oldest Catholic university in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It was named for Saint Thomas of Villanova, but we’d advise against answering in any way that may suggest he sets your heart ablaze. That’s just …awkward.
Learn more about Villanova University.
14. Wake Forest University
“Some say social media is superficial, with no room for expressing deep or complex ideas. We challenge you to defy these skeptics by describing yourself as fully and accurately as possible in the 140-character limit of a tweet.”
“Give us your top ten list.”
Wake Forest is a private university with its main campus located in Winston Salem, NC. The original location was in Wake Forest, hence the name. What would be on our top ten list? How about these school facts? The school has 93 percent retention rate and an 85 percent four-year graduation rate – not bad!
Learn more about Wake Forest University.
15. Yale University
“You have been granted a free weekend next month. How will you spend it?”
“What is something about which you have changed your mind in the last three years?”
You may have heard of Yale University – it’s a private Ivy League research university in Connecticut? It’s also the alma mater of five U.S. presidents, among countless other scholars. With a retention rate of 99 percent, we’re guessing most students don’t answer, “Going to Yale,” as what they’ve changed their minds about.
Perhaps which side of a legal issue you fall on would be a safer answer, especially since Yale Law School is the most selective within the United States.
Learn more about Yale University.
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We may be a little less than a month away from the August 1 release of the 2015-16 Common Application, but many colleges have already released their supplemental essay prompts, allowing students the opportunity to get a head start on their college application essays.
These days, it’s not uncommon for students to apply to seven or more colleges. At IvyWise, we advise students to apply to a balanced list of 10-12 target, reach, and likely colleges, all of which are a best fit for students’ personal, academic, and financial needs. With a balanced college list, students can expect to write two to three additional essays for each application – sometimes totaling up to 20 or more essays for the entire college application process. This is a lot of work, and can often be overwhelming during the school year.
This is why more and more colleges, even those that do not use the Common Application, are releasing their essay prompts earlier in the summer, giving students the chance to start brainstorming and writing before the chaos of senior year begins.
The Common Application has even released its changes for the 2015-16 application season and essay prompts early, also allowing students the opportunity to get started before the application officially opens on August 1.
College-specific supplements and essay prompts are a critical piece of a student’s application because they help colleges gauge a student’s demonstrated and informed interest, and allow the student an opportunity to show how he or she will contribute to the campus community and expand upon his or her specialty. It’s important to take time to craft standout supplements in order to maximize chances of admission.
Here are the essay prompts for the 2015-16 Common Application, and the individual school essay prompts that have already been released. We will update this list as more become available.
Common Application Essay Prompts
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
- Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
- Respond to one of the following quotations in an essay of not more than 300 words. It is not necessary to research, read, or refer to the texts from which these quotations are taken; we are looking for original, personal responses to these short excerpts. Remember that your essay should be personal in nature and not simply an argumentative essay.
- “Rigorous reasoning is crucial in mathematics, and insight plays an important secondary role these days. In the natural sciences, I would say that the order of these two virtues is reversed. Rigor is, of course, very important. But the most important value is insight—insight into the workings of the world. It may be because there is another guarantor of correctness in the sciences, namely, the empirical evidence from observation and experiments.” Kannan Jagannathan, Professor of Physics, Amherst College
- “Literature is the best way to overcome death. My father, as I said, is an actor. He’s the happiest man on earth when he’s performing, but when the show is over, he’s sad and troubled. I wish he could live in the eternal present, because in the theater everything remains in memories and photographs. Literature, on the other hand, allows you to live in the present and to remain in the pantheon of the future. Literature is a way to say, I was here, this is what I thought, this is what I perceived. This is my signature, this is my name.” Ilán Stavans, Professor of Spanish, Amherst College. From “The Writer in Exile: An Interview with Ilán Stavans” by Saideh Pakravan for the Fall 1993 issue of The Literary Review.
- “It seems to me incumbent upon this and other schools’ graduates to recognize their responsibility to the public interest…unless the graduates of this college…are willing to put back into our society those talents, the broad sympathy, the understanding, the compassion… then obviously the presuppositions upon which our democracy are based are bound to be fallible.” John F. Kennedy, at the ground breaking for the Amherst College Frost Library, October 26, 1963
- “Stereotyped beliefs have the power to become self-fulfilling prophesies for behavior.” Elizabeth Aires, Professor of Psychology, Amherst College. From her book: Men and Women In Interaction, Reconsidering the Difference.
- “Difficulty need not foreshadow despair or defeat. Rather achievement can be all the more satisfying because of obstacles surmounted.” Attributed to William Hastie, Amherst Class of 1925, the first African-American to serve as a judge for the United States Court of Appeals
- Submit a graded paper from your junior or senior year that best represents your writing skills and analytical abilities. We are particularly interested in your ability to construct a tightly reasoned, persuasive argument that calls upon literary, sociological or historical evidence. You should NOT submit a laboratory report, journal entry, creative writing sample or in-class essay.
We would like to get a better sense of you. Please select one of the questions below and write an essay of 400 words or less providing your response.
- What contemporary issue or trend relating to politics, culture and society, or foreign policy particularly concerns you and why?
- Many human beings throughout history have found inspiration and joy in literature and works of art. Is there a book, play, poem, movie, painting, music selection, or photograph that has been especially meaningful for you?
- Contemporary higher education reflects a tension between preparing for a meaningful life and preparing for a career. What are you looking for in an undergraduate education? Which emphasis is important to you at this moment and why?
- “Magis”, a Latin word meaning “more,” is often cited in reference to the goals of Jesuit education, which seeks to help students become better, do more, and have as much impact on society as possible. How do you hope to achieve the Magis in your life?
- In the space available discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved.
- As Georgetown is a diverse community, the Admissions Committee would like to know more about you in your own words. Please submit a brief essay (approximately one page), either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you.
- Indicate any special talents or skills you possess.
- Applicants to the McDonough School of Business: The McDonough School of Business is a national and global leader in providing graduates with essential ethical, analytical, financial and global perspectives. Please discuss your motivations for studying business at Georgetown.
- Applicants to the School of Nursing & Health Studies: Describe the factors that have inﬂuenced your interest in studying health care. Please speciﬁcally address your intended major (Health Care Management & Policy, Human Science, International Health, or Nursing).
- Applicants to Georgetown College: Please relate your interest in studying at Georgetown University to your goals. How do these thoughts relate to your chosen course of study? (If you are applying to major in the FLL or in a Science, please speciﬁcally address those interests.)
- Applicants to the Walsh School of Foreign Service: Brieﬂy discuss a current global issue, indicating why you consider it important and what you suggest should be done to deal with it.
- Transfer Applicants: As Georgetown is a diverse community, the admissions committee would like to know more about you in your own words. Please submit a brief essay (approximately one page), either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you. If transferring from a four-year institution, please indicate your reasons for transferring.
Georgia Institute of Technology
- Beyond rankings, location, and athletics, why are you interested in attending Georgia Tech? (max 150 words)
- A Georgia Tech experience and education provides you an unbound future. What will yours be? (max 150 words)
- Georgia Tech’s motto is Progress & Service. In 25 words or less, what is your personal motto?
Think outside the box as you answer the following questions. Take a risk and go somewhere unexpected. Be serious if the moment calls for it but feel comfortable being playful if that suits you, too.
- Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short: “Why Tufts?” (50–100 words)
- There is a Quaker saying: “Let your life speak.” Describe the environment in which you were raised – your family, home, neighborhood, or community – and how it influenced the person you are today. (200–250 words)
- Now we’d like to know a little bit more about you. Please respond to one of the following six questions (200-250 words):
- A) Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—the first elected female head of state in Africa and winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize—has lived a life of achievement. “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough,” she once said. As you apply to college, what are your dreams?
- B) What makes you happy?
- C) Science and society are filled with rules, theories, and laws such as the First Amendment, PV=nRT, Occam’s Razor, and The Law of Diminishing Returns. In baseball, three strikes and you’re out. A green light on a roadway means “go.” Pick any law and explain its significance to you.
- D) It’s cool to be smart. Tell us about the subjects or ideas that excite your intellectual curiosity.
- E) Nelson Mandela believed that “what counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Describe a way in which you have made or hope to make a difference.
- F) Celebrate the role of sports in your life.
University of Chicago
- How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago. (Required)
- Share with us a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music, musicians, performers, paintings, artists, blogs, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed, or add a category of your own. (Optional)
- Extended Essay Questions: (Required; Choose one)
- Orange is the new black, fifty’s the new thirty, comedy is the new rock ‘n’ roll, ____ is the new ____. What’s in, what’s out, and why is it being replaced? —Inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015
- “I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” –Maxine Hong Kingston. What paradoxes do you live with? —Inspired by Danna Shen, Class of 2019
- Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story. —Inspired by Drew Donaldson, Class of 2016
- “Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” –Paul Gauguin. What is your “art”? Is it plagiarism or revolution? —Inspired by Kaitlyn Shen, Class of 2018.
- Rerhceseras say it’s siltl plisbsoe to raed txet wtih olny the frist and lsat ltteres in palce. This is beaucse the hamun mnid can fnid oderr in dorsdier. Give us your best example of finding order in disorder. (For your reader’s sake, please use full sentences with conventional spelling). —Also inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015. Payton is extra-inspirational this year!
- In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose a question of your own. If your prompt is original and thoughtful, then you should have little trouble writing a great essay. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun.
- In the spirit of historically adventurous inquiry, to celebrate the University of Chicago’s 125th anniversary, please feel free to select from any of our past essay questions.
University of Colorado – Boulder
The University of Colorado Boulder’s Flagship 2030 strategic plan promotes exceptional teaching, research, scholarship, creative works, and service distinguishing us as a premier university. We strive to foster a diverse and inclusive community for all that engages each member in opportunities for academic excellence, leadership, and a deeper understanding of the world in which we live. Given that statement above, how do you think you could enrich our diverse and inclusive community, and what are your hopes for your college experience? (200 – 500 words)
University of Florida
Choose one (450 words):
- You have been elected President of the United States. Write your inauguration speech for us.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” Describe a time when your perspective changed. How did your perspective change and why did it change?
- If you were offered the role of the villain or the hero in a movie, which role would you accept and why?
- If admitted to the University of Florida, tell us three SPECIFIC things you plan to do during your time here.
University of Michigan
- Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. (Required for all applicants. Approximately 250 words.)
- Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests? (Required for all applicants. 500 words maximum.)
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
Choose one prompt and respond in an essay of 400-500 words. (Freshmen applicants)
- Teen activist and 2014 Nobel Peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai said, “I raise up my voice-not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard”. For whom have you raised your voice?
- Students learn both inside and outside the classroom. What would other members of the Carolina community learn from you?
- You get one do-over of any moment in your life. What would you do over, and why?
- You’ve been invited to give a TEDtalk. What is yours about?
- There are 27 amendments to the Constitution of the US. What should be the 28th?
- Please provide a statement that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve. (250-650 words)
- Choose one of the following prompts and respond in an essay of 400-500 words:
- What bothers you about your world? What could you do to change it?
- How do you define wisdom?
- You were just invited to speak at the White House. Write your speech.
- Why do you do what you do?
- UNC Computer Science Professor Frederick P. Brooks discovered what has become known as Brook’s law – “adding more man-power to a late project will make the project later.” Tell us about a counterintuitive or surprising solution to a problem you stumbled upon in your life.
University of Pennsylvania
How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying. (400-650 words)
University of Virginia
We are looking for passionate students to join our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists. Answer the question that corresponds to the school/program to which you are applying in a half page or roughly 250 words.
- College of Arts and Sciences – What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
- School of Engineering and Applied Sciences – U.Va. engineers are working to solve problems that affect people around the world, from our long-term water purification project in South Africa to continuing to research more efficient applications of solar power. However, most students start small, by using engineering to make a difference in daily life. If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make your everyday life better, what would you do?
- School of Architecture – Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.
- School of Nursing – Discuss experiences that led you to choose the School of Nursing.
- Kinesiology Program – Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major.
Answer one of the following questions in a half page or roughly 250 words.
- What’s your favorite word and why?
- We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions. Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.
- Student self-governance, which encourages student investment and initiative, is a hallmark of the U.Va. culture. In her fourth year at U.Va., Laura Nelson was inspired to create Flash Seminars, one-time classes which facilitate high-energy discussion about thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework. If you created a Flash Seminar, what idea would you explore and why?
- U.Va. students paint messages on Beta Bridge when they want to share information with our community. What would you paint on Beta Bridge and why is this your message?
Wake Forest University
Help us get to know you better by responding briefly to these questions. No need for research, just be creative and enjoy the process.
- List five books you have read (with authors) that piqued your curiosity. Discuss an idea from one of these works that influenced you.
- We want to know what makes you tick intellectually. A paper? A project? An academic passion? Describe it.
- Hashtags trend worldwide. Give us a hashtag you wish were trending. #______________________________________ Why?
- Give us your top ten list.
- There is a nationwide dialogue about cross-cultural interactions. Like most college campuses, Wake Forest is currently in a place of conversation about what it means to engage across difference. As a country, why do you think we have reached this point?
- What outrages you and why?
Use the following essay to give the Admissions Committee insight into your character and intellect. Watch this: http://go.wfu.edu/thisisaboutyou
- Right now, what is uniquely you?
When choosing a college community, you are choosing a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. Generations of inspiring women have thrived in the Wellesley community, and we want to know what aspects of this community inspire you to consider Wellesley. We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but the “Wellesley 100” is a good place to start. Visit the Wellesley 100 and let us know, in two well-developed paragraphs, which two items most attract, inspire, or energize you and why.(PS: “Why” matters to us.)
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