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University of Chicago Application Essay

Ohanian comment: An applicant to the University of Chicago was required to answer the questions listed below. It is remotely possible to imagine some young people, recipients of an elite education, having fun exploring such questions. It is not possible to imagine students drilled on a curriculum of test prep being able to cope.

Although the questions below are off the wall, they can make us pause. We can use these questions as occasion to reflect on whether today's classrooms encourage students to think divergently, to make unusual associations, to engage with offbeat ideas.

That said, these questions are off the wall.

From the University of Chicago Application

One of the nicest things about life, as Luciano Pavarotti once said, "is the way me must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating." Pavarotti, in all of his well-fed wisdom, suggests that eating and meals are a separate kind of activity--often a break from the work and play of life. Yet food and meals sustain our lives in many ways every day. Tell us about an ordinary food or meal that may seem mundane to the rest of the world but holds special meaning for you. Think about how the food is prepared, package, or served and by whom. Do you eat it in a distinctive manner? At a special time? In a certain place or with select company? Most importantly, explain how this everyday food sustains or satisfies you in a way that another food or meal could not.


If you could balance on a tightrope, over what landscape would you walk?(no net)


Albert Einstein once said, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." Propose your own original theory to explain one of the sixteen mysteries below. Your theory does not need to be testable or even probable; however,it should provide some laws, principles, and/or causes to explain the facts, phenomena, or existence of one of these mysteries. You can make your theory artistic, scientific, conspiracy-driven, quantum, fanciful, or otherwise ingenious--but be sure it is your own and gives us an impression of how you think about the world:

1. Love;
2. Crop Circles;
3. Time Travel;
4. Numbers;
5. Non-Dairy Creamer;
6. The Platypus;
7. Language;
8. Mona Lisa's Smile;
9. Sleep and Dreams;
10. The Beginning of Everything;
11. The End of Everything;
12. The College Rankings in U. S News and World Report;
13. Gray;
14. Art;
15. The Roanoke Colony;
16. Consciousness


Samples of essay questions asked by colleges and universities in 2002-03 applications:

University of Pennsylvania:
You have just completed your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217.

Bennington College:
Design an experiment that attempts to determine whether toads can hear.

— University of Chicago



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