I Refuse To Answer That Question! The New (Intimidating) College Essay

On January 25, 2012, someone on the College Confidential discussion group posted this thread:

Did you ever dump a college from your list because of the type (or number) of essays?

Responses flooded in, mostly from parents of students who had indeed given up on an application because they were intimidated by the essay questions, and many from the students themselves. One woman’s daughter dropped three applications and added one that had easier essay requirements. One aunt reported that her nephews applied to one school only – Iowa State – because the school did not require essays. And another self-proclaimed lazy procrastinator chose her colleges based on the ease of their essay requirements. best custom writing reviews

Colleges dropped by students ran the gambit and were headed up by Wake Forest and U Chicago: Barnard, Brown (2x), BU, Bryn Mawr, Caltech, Carnegie Mellon, University of Chicago (8x), Claremont McKenna (3x), Columbia University (3x), CMC (2x), Cornell, University of Delaware, Duke, Elon, Georgetown, Grinnell (2x), Marquette Honors Program, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, MIT (2x), UNC (3x), Northwestern, Notre Dame (2x), NYU (2x), U Penn (3x), Princeton, Puget Sound, Rice (3x), Rutgers, Tufts (2x), Stanford (2x), Syracuse, UVA, Wake Forest (8x), and Yale (2x).

Why the aversion to unique essay topics?

I could rant about how students are lazy or haven’t received sufficient training in thinking for themselves or thinking creatively. I could suggest that if our educational system did a better job on these fronts, and with teaching writing in general, students would not avoid writing essays that challenged them to invest time and thought. I could also suggest that students don’t start their application process far enough ahead of time to ensure they have the time and attention for some uncommon essay questions.

All of those things might be true, but I am more interested in the schools’ logic behind asking unusual question such as “What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato?” (U Chicago), “What is your favorite ride at the amusement park? How does this reflect your approach to life?” (Emory University), “Imagine you have to wear a costume for a year of your life. What would you pick and why?” (Brandeis University), and “What would you do with a free afternoon tomorrow?” (Yale).

Why the inclination toward unique essay topics?

Colleges may be showing themselves to be current with the times. Some applications ask for short essay answers of 25 words, such as “My favorite thing about last Tuesday” (University of Maryland), perhaps catering to the Twitter generation. Tufts, George Mason and the University of Dayton allow prospective students to submit a video essay instead of a written one. Students might jump at the chance to communicate in ways that are spreading like wildfire in the world of social media.



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