College Admissions Essay Questions

College Admissions Essay Topics

As Answered by College Faculty and Staff

(But not Students)

Just for fun, we have decided to collect a bunch of college admissions essay topics and invite answers from people employed at said colleges. If you are a student we don’t want to hear from you; you’ve already gone through this torture and now is the time for revenge. Grab every college professor, dean, and president you can lay your hands on and tell them that you’re dying to hear what they have to say. Tell them that if they do not submit an essay to then you will force them to grade papers by doing homework.

When they finally give in, tell them to go HERE for more information about how to send us their essay.


Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence. Roth, Hill

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you. Oden

Comment on: “At present you need to live the question.” –Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from the German by Joan M. BurnhamZimmer

What has demonstrated the need for diversity to you? Diver

Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence. Krislov, Osgood

Although it may appear to the contrary, we do know that people have a life beyond what they do to get into college. Tell us about an experience you’ve had outside your formal classroom and extracurricular activities that was just plain fun and why. Oxtoby

You have just completed your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217. Gutmann 



Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.

Describe your reasons for applying to (fill in name of institution).

How definite do you consider your academic plans to be? (Scale of 1 to 5)

Who would be on your “dream team” and what would this team do?

Write a letter to your future college roommate.

How do you hope to use your college education?

Tell us something about yourself or your interests that we wouldn’t learn by looking at the rest of your application materials.

“From now on, I’ll connect the dots my own way,” says Calvin in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson ’80. What is “your way” of making sense of things? Are there dots you hope to connect?

If you could, what would you do over?

Write a haiku, limerick, or short poem that best represents you.

How definite do you consider your vocational plans to be? (Scale of 1 to 5)

Where are you from? (Please answer this in any way you’d like—geographically, culturally, artistically, politically, etc.)

“A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.” –Oscar Wilde.> Othello and Iago. Dorothy and the Wicked Witch. Autobots and Decepticons. History and art are full of heroes and their enemies. Tell us about the relationship between you and your arch-nemesis (either real or imagined).

Heisenberg claims that you cannot know both the position and momentum of an electron with total certainty. Choose two other concepts that cannot be known simultaneously and discuss the implications. (Do not consider yourself limited to the field of physics).

Susan Sontag, AB’51, wrote that “[s]ilence remains, inescapably, a form of speech.” Write about an issue or a situation when you remained silent, and explain how silence may speak in ways that you did or did not intend. The Aesthetics of Silence, 1967.

What’s the next great discovery in which you want to play a role?

“…I [was] eager to escape backward again, to be off to invent a past for the present.” –The Rose Rabbi by Daniel Stern. Present: pres•ent: 1. Something that is offered, presented, or given as a gift. Let’s stick with this definition. Unusual presents, accidental presents, metaphorical presents, re-gifted presents, etc.

How do you feel about Wednesday?

What outrages you?

In the year 2050, a movie is being made of your life. Please tell us the name of your movie and briefly summarize the story line.

What is college for?

So where is Waldo, really?

Describe an intellectual experience of the past two years that has given you great

Make a bold prediction about something in the year 2020 that no one else has made a bold prediction about.

Write a short story using one of the following titles: a.) House of Cards, b.)The Poor Sport, c.) Drama at the Prom, d.) Election Night, 2044, e.) The Getaway.

How did you get caught? (Or not caught, as the case may be.)

What have you undertaken or done on your own in the last year or two that has nothing to do with academic work?

Imagine that you have the opportunity to travel back through time. At what point in history would you like to stop and why?

Select a creative work — a novel, a film, a poem, a musical piece, a painting or other work of art — that has influenced the way you view the world and the way you view yourself. Discuss the work and its effect on you.

Are we alone?

What do think has been the most important social or political movement of the twentieth century? Do you share a personal identification with this cause?

If you were to look back on your high school years, what advice would you give to someone beginning their high school career?

Tell us about the neighborhood that you grew up in and how it helped shape you into the kind of person you are today.

It has been said [Andy Warhol] that “in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” Describe your fifteen minutes.

What single adjective do you think would be most frequently used to describe you by those who know you best? Briefly explain.

Create a question we haven’t asked and then provide the answer. (Something to that effect anyway. Dartmouth used this a few years ago. I had a student who posed the following question and wrote a seven-page response: “Write about a time when life threw you a curve and how you handled it.”)

If you were to write a book, on what theme or subject matter would it be based, and why?

What is the best advice you ever received? Why? And did you follow it?

If you were to describe yourself by a quotation, what would the quote be? Explain your answer.

If we could only admit one more student, why should it be you?

What invention would the world be better off without, and why?

If you had the power to change three things in your community or in the world, what would you change and why?

If you had the gift of telepathy, the ability to read other people’s minds, would you use this gift or not? Explain.

Select a technological innovation of this century and discuss its effects on your family, local community or nation.

Tell us about one of the best conversations you’ve had.

Read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Drawing upon personal experience, write a creative, reflective or provocative essay.

Read Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood. Choose one of her observations or ideas and write a creative, reflective or provocative essay.

If you could be a “fly on the wall” to observe any situation — historical, personal, or otherwise — describe what you would choose to observe and why. What would you hope to learn and how would it benefit you?

Tell us about the most embarrassing moment of your life.

Attach a small photograph of something important to you and explain its significance.

Tell us about a conversation you’ve had that changed your perspective or was otherwise meaningful to you.

Sartre said “Hell is other people,” while Streisand sang, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” With whom do you agree?

Tell us how a particular book, play, film, piece of music, dance performance, scientific theory or experiment, or work of art has influenced you. If you choose a novel, film or play, assume we know the plot.

At a crucial point in his career, the African-American writer James Baldwin withdrew to a secluded spot in the Swiss Alps. “There,” he later wrote, “in that absolute alabaster landscape, armed with two Bessie Smith records and a typewriter, I began to try to recreate the life that I had first known as a child and from which I had spent so many years in flight… It was Bessie Smith, through her tone and her cadence, who helped me to dig back to the way I myself must have spoken…and to remember the things I had heard and seen and felt. I had buried them very deep.” Inevitable, certain things—songs, household objects, familiar smells—bring us instantly back to some past moment in our lives. Start an essay by describing one such thing and see where it takes you.

You are on your dream vacation and have just finished shooting a roll of film. As you go to develop the film, the local merchant offers to make a postcard of one of your photos. Describe the photo, why you selected it and write a brief note to your friends back home. (Be sure to include where you are and what you have been doing there.)

Describe how a piece of art, a work of literature, or a dramatic presentation has had a significant impact on your intellectual development and your appreciation of the fine arts.

If you could go back and change one day in your life, what would you change and why?

Discuss how some negative experience (disability, illness, failure) has had a positive influence on your life.

Describe your hometown and how you are a product of this environment.

We seek to admit students who will best succeed in and benefit from an environment where learning and Christian faith are integrated (although a profession of Christian faith is not required for admission). How would enrolling here help you accomplish your educational and personal goals?

Explain how your experiences as a teenager significantly differ from those of your friends. Include comparisons.

If you had a day to spend as you wish, how would you use your time?

What qualities or unique characteristics do you possess that would allow you to contribute to the University community?

The subject of food is never far from our minds here in College Admissions. It is a topic of serious conversation this year on campus, too, with the publication of a book called The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of our Nature, by Leon Kass, M.D., a Chicago faculty member who teaches in the College. The book takes a philosophical look at what food, eating, and table manners have to tell us about our human estate. Compose an essay about a memorable meal you have eaten. We are especially interested in the details: the occasion, your company at this meal, its physical setting, the kinds of foods you ate, or their preparation.

What are the responsibilities of an educated person?

Discuss how your travel experiences have affected you as a student and a citizen of the world.

Describe a personal habit that helps to define you as a person.

Discuss the most important piece of advice you have ever received and explain its effect on your life.

Discuss how a specific place can be used to help illustrate your personality.

Select three adjectives that describe you and explain.

Describe a fictional character. Be sure to point out what you do or do not like about the character and relate these attributes to yourself.

Discuss how something you have read has affected you or changed your mind about something.

Discuss an activity, interest, experience, or achievement in your life (this could be a book, movie, or an activity or experience at work, home, or at school) that has been particularly meaningful for you.

There are many ways to define words like diversity and multi-cultural. However, what defines our culture as much as anything is the food we eat. Please explain how food plays an important part in your family’s culture. Provide examples as to how food defines you, your family, and your ethnicity. Be as specific as possible.

How has your family history, culture, or environment influenced who you are?

Discuss an important personal relationship you have had and explain how it has changed your life.

Pick a story of local, national, or international importance from the front page of any newspaper. Identify your source and give the date the article appeared. Then use your sense of humor, sense of outrage, sense of justice—or just plain good sense—to explain why the story engages your attention.

Modern improvisational comedy originated in Hyde Park on the campus of the University of Chicago with the Compass Players. Some of the Players went on to form the Second City comedy troupe, precursor to the Saturday Night Live show on TV. With this essay option we invite you to test your own improvisational powers by putting together a story, play, or dialogue that meets all of the following requirements: 1. You must begin with the sentence, “Many years later, he remembered his first experience with ice.” 2. All five senses—sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell—have to figure in the plot. 3. You have to mention the University of Chicago, but please, no accounts of erstwhile high school students applying to the University—this is fiction, not autobiography. 4. These items must be included: a new pair of socks, a historical landmark, a spork (the combination of spoon and fork frequently seen among airline flatware), a domesticated animal, and the complete works of William Shakespeare. Have fun, and try to keep your brilliance and wit to three pages max.

Do you believe there’s a generation gap? Describe the differences between your generation and others.

React to a crisis or critical moment in your life at which time thinking as usual was no longer possible. Such a situation may have occurred after the death of a loved one, a drastic move from one part of the country to another, or during a public catastrophe. Do not feel limited by these examples. Describe the event and tell us how it changed your thought process.

Community service can be a valuable part of the college experience. If you were to devote one year of service to a volunteer project, what would it be, and what would you hope to accomplish?

What do you think has been the most important social or political movement of the 20th century? Do you share a personal identification with this cause?

Optimistic futurists envision a world without boundaries; an interdependent global society. Write about your personal impression of this idea.

Select two people who have been role models in your life and describe why.

Please write about a life experience that has influenced your intellectual and personal growth.

How would you describe yourself as a human being? What quality do you like best in yourself and what do you like least? What quality would you most like to see flourish and which would you like to see wither?”

Describe a humorous experience you have had.

If you had to formulate the perfect admissions question, what would it be, and how would you answer it?

History has recorded the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Sexual Revolution. Today we are witnessing a revolution in the way we receive information. What do you think will be the next great revolution, and what will be its impact on you and your society?

Look through old family photos and pull out a few that remind you of important times or significant moments. (Remember that the impact of a moment is what makes it significant. A hike through the woods can sometimes be more significant than a birthday.) Choose one of these “Kodak Moments” to describe and explain its significance to you. Speak about the photograph and your feelings about what you see in it.

Tell us about a person who influenced your life in a significant way.

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

Using a piece of wire, a car window sticker, an egg carton, and any inexpensive hardware store item, create something that would solve a problem. Tell us about your creation, but don’t worry: we won’t require proof that it works.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries to comprehend only a little of this mystery every day.” ~ Albert Einstein. Write about a personal experience or an aspect of the world that has engaged your curiosity or inspired awe in you.)

What historical event of the 1990’s has most influenced your perspective on the world or your approach to life, and how?

What is your favorite quotation and why?

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.


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