This Year’s Quirkiest College Admissions Essay Prompts


March 3, 2015
by Suada Kolovic
When you envisioned your college application process, I'm sure you thought you were more than prepared. This was the moment you were told to draw on your strengths and articulate every achievement – countless community service hours, a stellar GPA and the fact that you were senior class president – and every sentence would be so perfectly and meticulously thought out that who you are would just leap right off the page. You prepared your answer on why you belonged at your dream college and pinpointed what you had to offer...until you reviewed the actual application and found a serious curveball: I doubt you expected celebrating your nerdy side could get you in!

When you envisioned your college application process, I'm sure you thought you were more than prepared. This was the moment you were told to draw on your strengths and articulate every achievement – countless community service hours, a stellar GPA and the fact that you were senior class president – and every sentence would be so perfectly and meticulously thought out that who you are would just leap right off the page. You prepared your answer on why you belonged at your dream college and pinpointed what you had to offer...until you reviewed the actual application and found a serious curveball: I doubt you expected celebrating your nerdy side could get you in!

In addition to traditional essay prompts, more and more institutions are jumping on the unconventional question bandwagon and are interested in knowing not only why students want to gain admission but just how creative they can be when challenged. Here are some far-from-average questions schools are asking this year:

Tufts University

Celebrate your nerdy side.

University of Chicago

What's so odd about odd numbers?

Lehigh University

You’ve just reached your one millionth hit on your YouTube video. What is the video about?

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

You were just invited to speak at the White House. Write your speech.

University of Notre Dame

A good story starts with a good beginning. Get us hooked in the first 150 words.

University of Richmond

Tell us about spiders.

Soon-to-be college applicants, what do you think of this approach to the admissions essay? Are you a fan of the challenge or frustrated by the fact that you are expected to impress them with your achievements and extracurricular activities and be witty, too? Share your thoughts in the comments section. And if you're interested in learning more about applying for college and the application essay, check out our College Prep section. While you're there, conduct a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com for a complete list of scholarships that are personalized to you!

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Discuss

Share your thoughts and perhaps thousands of students will benefit from your unique insight on the subject!



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jennifercole07  on  9/7/2015 5:44:39 AM commented:

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efrain  on  5/18/2015 5:00:03 AM commented:

Getting access to best school or college keeps on getting harder as more candidates are requisitioning a few numbers of spaces. By a good quality admission essay you will be able to enhance your opportunities to being admitted to the school or college of your decision.

Angelica T  on  3/16/2015 3:02:10 PM commented:

Creativity is key! I love this idea!!!

Hannah B.  on  3/12/2015 12:54:33 PM commented:

There could definitely be some ups and downs to these kinds of prompts. I like the idea of being creative, my problem is that I really am not that creative of a person. I try but it is definitely not one of my strengths. The speech for the White house and Youtube ones look extremely difficult, I think. Those are the kind of prompts that would discourage me greatly indeed, because I know very little about Youtube and public speaking scares me like little else. I think it is good to have people write outside of the normal, boring, stereotypical prompts, but I think the colleges should still be careful in what kinds of prompts they choose so that they can still apply to many types of people, not only people who are interested in math, science, history, or any single subject.

Hannah B.  on  3/12/2015 12:51:09 PM commented:

There could definitely be some ups and downs to these kinds of prompts. I like the idea of being creative, my problem is that I really am not that creative of a person. I try but it is definitely not one of my strengths. The speech for the White house and Youtube ones look extremely difficult, I think. Those are the kind of prompts that would discourage me greatly indeed, because I know very little about Youtube and public speaking scares me like little else. I think it is good to have people write outside of the normal, boring, stereotypical prompts, but I think the colleges should still be careful in what kinds of prompts they choose so that they can still apply to many types of people, not only people who are interested in math, science, history, or any single subject.

Gabe F.  on  3/11/2015 9:59:11 AM commented:

I've always been frustrated by the idea that numbers get students into college. SAT scores are standardized, which leaves no room for variation in students' learning experiences, and grading standards not only vary from school to school, but from teacher to teacher within a school. Forcing students to write creatively is a great compromise between the need for standardized testing and the variation in learning experiences between different individual students across the country. Aside from the fact that students may hire ghost writers for their application essays, I see little problem using the creative essay prompt as the primary criterion for acceptance. On a side note, when admissions employees read interesting application essays, they take more interest in the applicants, and are more likely to spend more time really studying any given applicant.

Kyle A  on  3/11/2015 8:54:45 AM commented:

This is definitely a good idea. It allows applicants to be creative and show a bit of personality. The "tell us about a time of your childhood" prompts are getting a little old.

Seth W.  on  3/11/2015 7:25:15 AM commented:

This is a bad idea. This type of question will bar some brilliant students from college, simply because they lack a certain type of imagination. I have been in college, have an excellent GPA, and I'm going to change the world, but I would seriously struggle with these prompts.

Mw  on  3/11/2015 2:47:58 AM commented:

Also, I think the college did the right thing. Great reaction and punishment

Katie C.  on  3/7/2015 1:43:08 PM commented:

I am nowhere near needing to be applying for scholarships, but neither of my parents went to college and I just want to be prepared. I love the whole "quirky essay" thing. I would probably be immensely bored with "Explain a time you overcame adversity" and prompts like that. These make me feel a bit more at ease about the whole thing.

Riley S.  on  3/7/2015 1:40:16 PM commented:

Creative prompts allow more personality to be expressed in essays. I think it's a fantastic idea!

Natasha S.  on  3/6/2015 4:23:01 PM commented:

I think this is an awesome idea! That way, people who aren't so keen to writing hard down admission essays (or essays, period) can express what writing talents they do have through these creative questions.

Sheena S.  on  3/5/2015 2:54:48 PM commented:

I think it is a great idea, because it takes a lot of pressure off of writing about something serious. This is a more creative and fun way to express one's personality!

Aaron S.  on  3/5/2015 9:05:32 AM commented:

this seems like a fantastic idea. it forces people to think outside the box, because, i doubt you have 1 million hits on youtube, speak at the white house, and own a spider all in your space time.

Tobias U.  on  3/5/2015 7:43:51 AM commented:

This is a creative and fun way to acomplish a normally stressful task. Not only does it allow for a bit more fun, but it makes it harder for the people taking it to make themselves stand out more so than normal. I think this should be done everywhere.

Megan M.  on  3/5/2015 5:56:31 AM commented:

I honestly love the idea. I think writing these unconventional essays are easier to write than trying to write about yourself on paper. I Found it harder to try and boast about myself on paper because it's something I don't do normally. But the examples listed above for the unconventional essays seem fun and easier to write about than trying to write all about my self and why I think I would be great at their school.

Yasmin AJ  on  3/4/2015 11:13:07 PM commented:

I applied to UNC Chapel Hill and chose "what is one thing every high school student should learn before they graduate" and I wrote about semicolons. Not the literal use but a more personal metaphorical use of them in my time learning to enjoy learning. You can take any prompt, boring and rigid and turn it into something that reflects your personality. Moral of the story, don't let boring prompts force your essay to be boring. Think outside of the box, but in this case think out of the prompt!

Bonnie  on  3/4/2015 9:19:39 PM commented:

I applied to Tufts University and chose that prompt! I had so much fun celebrating the history of the birthday song ;)

Kevin L  on  3/4/2015 5:59:43 PM commented:

In my opinion, the unconventional prompts are ridiculously idiotic. College applications should focue on college; just that. No other entity should contrast to college!

angel s.  on  3/4/2015 4:06:17 PM commented:

i like it. i think students will be more willing to write essays if they are topics like these. these topics make writing essays less of a burden.

Korena Day  on  3/4/2015 11:32:05 AM commented:

i think thats a great idea! i wish they'd have one like that for my college im attending.

Brandon B.  on  3/4/2015 10:57:02 AM commented:

I would actually enjoy doing these types of prompts, especially because it wouldn't be a question people would dread, but something that would make them say, "Huh," and then go off on a tangent. :P

Andrea R  on  3/4/2015 8:46:09 AM commented:

AMAZING! Previous focus on strictly academic GPA type achievement disincentivizes creativity. We need prompts like this to foster the skills and traits that people will need to solve the problems in the world that sent them to school in the first place.

QW  on  3/4/2015 12:24:43 AM commented:

I loved it. I think these are interesting prompts to allow the colleges to understand who I am.

Nicole B.  on  3/3/2015 10:13:59 PM commented:

I think this is a cool idea that colleges/universities are doing unconventional essay ideas. In a way it takes off a lot of stress when you have to sell yourself for a college you want to get into. In a way when you write your college essay technical you are suppose to write your achievements in high school, extracurricular activities, why you deserve to be in the school, and what you have to offer. But now, with these essay ideas you can be creative and imaginative. Plus you can have fun writing them too! :) I just really like this idea. Thumbs up!

Nicole B.  on  3/3/2015 10:13:51 PM commented:

I think this is a cool idea that colleges/universities are doing unconventional essay ideas. In a way it takes off a lot of stress when you have to sell yourself for a college you want to get into. In a way when you write your college essay technical you are suppose to write your achievements in high school, extracurricular activities, why you deserve to be in the school, and what you have to offer. But now, with these essay ideas you can be creative and imaginative. Plus you can have fun writing them too! :) I just really like this idea. Thumbs up!

Sarah F.  on  3/3/2015 9:44:53 PM commented:

A Carroll College (in Helena, Montana) scholarship essay prompt asked me to choose one of the following: (X Y = Z) You are X. What is Y, and who is Z? or Elmo, Bert, and Ernie are fighting over the last cookie. How is Bert able to use his liberal arts education to win the cookie?

Rachel S  on  3/3/2015 7:15:51 PM commented:

I really love it! It's such a good idea to really see the side of the student that a plain old essay won't. Other types of prompts are too rigid and students learn in high school to write what the recipient wants them to write- not how they want to write. This creates stagnant work. But with these prompts the students' creative juices can be set to work and the admissions offices can be offered insight into the students' personalities they wouldn't gain other than through such open ended prompts.

Daniella A.  on  3/3/2015 7:09:20 PM commented:

I believe that it will help the colleges and or univerersities that soon to be freshmen applied to will be able to realize what kind of student you are. We are more than grades!!We inspire, create and work hard in order to achieve her goals:)

Aniya B.  on  3/3/2015 6:11:51 PM commented:

I think it's a good idea because some students are better at thinking on the spot of outlandish topics, rather than remembering their achievements. I feel like it is a good opportunity to explore the creativity of the students as well as what they can bring to the table.

Carolin T.  on  3/3/2015 4:57:22 PM commented:

They're not my cup of tea, but they allow for creativity in this usually rigid process so...kudos to these schools! For UChicago, I stuck with one of the "safer" ones (Why are you here instead of there?) but the one about odd numbers did intrigue me.

Briggs Baltzell  on  3/3/2015 3:57:31 PM commented:

One of the essay prompts for the University of Kansas Honors College was "Blue or green? Defend your choice vigorously."

Guy A.  on  3/3/2015 3:40:40 PM commented:

Heyo, I applied to both the University of Chicago, which is notorious for the out-of-the-box style of college applications, and the University of Richmond which has only now incorporated their spider prompt. For UChicago, I chose the prompt "If you were a pH, what would you be and why?" This prompt encouraged me to respond acidly, which I interpreted as sarcastically. I accomplished this through the use of heavy sass mixed with a background in chemistry/biology to get the point across. For Richmond, however, I decided against the "fun" prompt. One major piece of advice is that it's essential to include your personality in these essays, regardless if they are quirky Also, the people who read these get bored really quickly if they read the same essay about what their school has to offer. Finally, it's a great opportunity to show some of the traits you list in your r?sum?. Best of luck to all you college applicants!

Jenna B.  on  3/3/2015 3:16:59 PM commented:

I applied to University of Chicago this year and my prompt was "If you were a pH, what would you be and why?"

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