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What are the Most Unusual US College Supplemental Essay Prompts?

AUG 12, 2020 • 19 min read

With the release of universities 2020-21 supplemental essay prompts, we take you through some of the most unusual and bizarre US college supplemental essay prompts of all time, featuring universities such as UChicago, Tufts University and UPenn.

To get into a top US college, you’re going to need more than stellar grades, test scores, common application and extracurricular achievements. You’ll have to demonstrate, in your supplemental essays, that you are the kind of mature, driven, interesting person that would thrive at the particular university. This is much easier said than done - standing out from the crowd with a unique college essay can be very difficult.

However, over the years some colleges have given their applicants a helping hand on this point by providing some really bizarre essay prompts. These warrant truly inventive responses, and let applicants really show off their writing prowess, creativity, and individuality.

Here’s out our list of some of the most creative, unusual and bizarre supplemental essay prompts from all time. How would you have responded to these questions? Check it out below!

Chicago Min

UChicago

Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your new intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History…….

When it comes to asking creative and wacky essay prompts, the University of Chicago is the leader. To come up with the best and most creative prompts, the college takes suggestions and inspiration from their own students, who are allowed to email their ideas annually. If you look on the UChicago website you can even see who submitted each essay prompt.

This prompt was an excellent opportunity for students to show their creativity and humour, as well as their academic interests. The best ideas that we could find online were probably Visual Arms (Visual Arts) and Pig Problems (Big Problems).

Did you know Crimson Students are 4x more likely to gain admission to the University of Chicago? Our expert teams of tutors, mentors and strategists help students build a holistic application strategy, craft that resonate above the competition, boost their extracurricular profile, and much more. Find out more about our Admission Support service.

Tufts University

Kermit the Frog famously lamented, 'It's not easy being green.' Do you agree?

If UChicago is the champ of creative college essay prompts, Tufts might be considered a close second. This prompt is inspired by a Muppets song, whereby Kermit laments how green seems to blend in with so many other ordinary things and how he thus fails to stand out from the crowd. Of course, many students in their essays took this quote in a totally different direction, demonstrating their critical thinking and creativity.

University of Notre Dame

You have 150 words. Take a risk.

Students could have taken this anywhere - so long as what they wrote was risky. There are even reports that some students took the ultimate risk and wrote nothing at all.

UChicago

Have you ever walked through the aisles of a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club and wondered who would buy a jar of mustard a foot and a half tall? We’ve bought it, but it didn’t stop us from wondering about other things, like absurd eating contests, impulse buys, excess, unimagined uses for mustard, storage, preservatives, notions of bigness…and dozens of other ideas both silly and serious. Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard.

Have you ever written an essay about a giant jar of mustard? In 2004 UChicago applicants had their chance, and while there are absurd elements to the prompt, there are many creative and serious directions essays took.

Upenn A

University of Pennsylvania

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

This is an iconic prompt that UPenn asked for about 20 years. It encourages students to consider their story, and to use this to introduce themselves to UPenn. For added realism, many students liked to start their responses in the middle of a sentence.

Did you know Crimson Students are 4x more likely to gain admission to the University of Pennsylvania and other Ivy League Schools? Our expert teams of tutors, mentors and strategists help students build a holistic application strategy, craft that resonate above the competition, boost their extracurricular profile, and much more. Find out more about our Admission Support service.

UChicago

Find x.

The elusive goal of mathematics, but with no context. What is “x”, and how did prospective UChicago students find it? We’re sure the students brought in a novel discussion of a diverse array of mathematical theory, as well as philosophical and personal matters.

Tufts University

The ancient Romans started it when they coined the phrase “Carpe diem.” Jonathan Larson proclaimed “No day but today!” and most recently, Drake explained You Only Live Once (YOLO). Have you ever seized the day? Lived like there was no tomorrow? Or perhaps you plan to shout YOLO while jumping into something in the future. What does #YOLO mean to you?

Back when this prompt was released, Tufts’ #YOLO question caused quite a stir. Lee Coffin, the dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Tufts admitted that the question was inspired by his affinity for pop music and his desire for applicants to have some fun when they introduce themselves to Tufts.

UChicago

Elvis is alive! OK, maybe not, but here in the Office of College Admissions we are persuaded that current 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 Hindenburg, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, lint, J.D. Salinger and wax fruit. Help us get to the bottom of this evil plot by constructing your own theory of how and why five of these items and events are related. Your narrative may take any form you like, but try to keep your theory to under two pages.

If there were any conspiracy theorists applying to UChicago in 1999-2000, they would certainly have been in luck with this prompt. Who would have been the mastermind behind your evil plot?

Usc

University of Southern California

(Short Answer) Hashtag to describe yourself

It is common for college essay prompts to have a few short answer questions to get to know the student. For a few years starting in 2017 USC adopted a unique question, making students describe themselves with a #hashtag as they would on twitter or instagram. But what a difficult task that is - how would you describe yourself with a single hashtag?

Tufts University

It’s been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can cause a typhoon halfway around the world. History is filled with such linchpins – small events or decisions that have huge effects on the future. Make your own change somewhere in history and show us the effects on the world.

This is one for fans of alternative history, perhaps invoking visions of a distorted universe where life as we know it has taken a turn for the better or worse. Again, a challenge for applicants would have been how to say something about themselves and their interests in a creative way.

Wake Forest University

Give us your top ten list.

Many Buzzfeed enthusiasts applying to Wake Forest in 2017-18 would have enjoyed the opportunity to make a top-ten list about anything of their choosing. What topic would you have written about, and what does this say about you?

UChicago

Imagine you’ve struck a deal with the Dean of Admissions himself, Dean Nondorf. It goes as follows: you’re guaranteed admission to the University of Chicago regardless of any circumstances that arise. This bond is grounded on the condition that you’ll obtain a blank, 8.5 x 11 piece of paper, and draw, write, sketch, shade, stencil, paint etc., anything and everything you want on it; your only limitations will be the boundaries of both sides on the single page. Now the catch… your submission, for the rest of your life, will always be the first thing anyone you meet for the first time will see. Whether it’s at a job interview, a blind date, arrival at your first Humanities class, before you even say, “hey,” they’ll already have seen your page, and formulated that first impression. Show us your page. What’s on it, and why? If your piece is largely or exclusively visual, please make sure to share a creator's accompanying statement of at least 300 words, which we will happily allow to be on its own, separate page. PS: This is a creative thought experiment, and selecting this essay prompt does not guarantee your admission to UChicago.

This prompt from UChicago is perhaps the longest and most creative college essay prompt ever. In fact, it didn’t even need to be an essay at all, but could be any written or visual work, so long as it fits on a piece of paper. Great artists would have excelled with this prompt, or even just those who think outside the box.

University Of California Berkeley Min

UC Berkeley

If any of these three inanimate objects could talk, how would your room, computer or car describe you?

Imagine all of the time you’ve spent in your room, at your computer or behind the wheel; these objects might be the only things in the world that know your real identity. This question would have certainly prompted some deep reflection from UC Berkeley Haas School of Business applicants.

Did you know Crimson Students are 4x more likely to gain admission to UC Berkeley and UCLA? Our expert teams of tutors, mentors and strategists help students build a holistic application strategy, craft that resonate above the competition, boost their extracurricular profile, and much more. Find out more about our Admission Support service.

What about 2020 Prompts?

We thought that it would be a good idea to include some of the more creative supplemental essay prompts from this year’s admission cycle (2020-21). We hope that this gets the creative juices flowing and helps you get a good early-start to the essays. Check out the full and updated list of universities who have released their supplemental essay prompts (with links) here.

UChicago

What can actually be divided by zero?

"Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?" - Eleanor Roosevelt. Misattribute a famous quote and explore the implications of doing so.

Emory University

If you could witness a historic event first-hand, what would it be, and why?

Villanova University

What is the truest thing that you know? How did you come to this conclusion?

So, How Do I Write the Essay?

The key piece of advice we give to our students is to start on these essays early. If you are applying to several universities, you will have many different supplemental essays to complete, as well as the common application essay. Many of our students attest that writing all of their essays is by far the most stressful part of the application, and a part of the application that is easy to neglect.

Our other key piece of advice is to make the content of each supplemental essay very specific to the university you are applying to. You need to do your research about what each university looks for in a candidate and show a clear desire to attend that particular university.

As the world’s leading university admissions support company, we at Crimson know how to approach each supplemental essay and maximise your chances of gaining admission to a top university.

If you want to feel confident when submitting your college application essay, get your essay reviewed by us at Crimson. Our experts have assisted students who have gained admission to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge and many other top universities!

Want some help with other elements of the application? Check out Crimson’s holistic admissions support program. We can help you across all areas of the US and UK university application process. We assist you to find your best-fit university, create a personalised roadmap, ace your standardised tests, craft the perfect essays, build candidacy through extracurriculars, and much more.

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