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Jackie Burrell

Apps Angst & Quirky College Admissions Essays

By December 26, 2012

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"So where is Waldo, really?" "Celebrate your nerdy side." And, "A package arrives at your door. After seeing the contents you know it's going to be the best day of your life. What's inside and how do you spend your day?" What the heck?

If you guessed that those are three college admissions essay prompts, then you're either a genius - or you have a recent college applicant or soon-to-be rising senior at home. An increasing number of universities have begun asking their applicants to write quirky essays or film video essays that capture their personalities or display outside-the-box thinking. The University of Chicago (home to the Waldo question) has long been known for its oddball prompts. Now it has been joined by Caltech, Wake Forest, Tufts (the nerdy question) and Brandeis (the front porch package).

Having watched my four kids write a truly daunting number of college apps essays, I'm conflicted about the cleverness factor here. I want to applaud anything creative but honestly, the process is tough enough and the writing load heavy enough without making a kid second guess himself about Waldo's location and what U of Chicago staffers might possibly want to hear. And the truth of the matter is that Waldo is probably standing over his red-and-white-striped offspring, hollering at him or her to finish that blasted college app. Although I'd like to think that in that parallel universe, the essay question is, "Why do millions of people care where you are?"

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