This year’s Uncommon Application essay questions

One of the U of C’s most beloved institutions—if you could call it that—is the Uncommon Applicati

By Alec Brandon

One of the U of C’s most beloved institutions—if you could call it that—is the Uncommon Application’s essay questions. It is a perfect representation of the University’s aims and the student body’s intellectual curiosity and quirkiness (nerdiness to most).On top of that, it is an attack on the perverse priorities of many college admissions departments.Anyways, I am not sure how long these have been up, but next years essay questions are online:

Essay Option 1: “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” — Miles Davis (1926-91)Essay Option 2: In his book Having Everything Right: Essays of Place, Kim Stafford describes the Kwakiutl tribe of British Columbia assigning place-names based on the natural characteristics of a location, the events that took place there, or the feelings that the site instilled. “Where Salmon Gather,” “Sound of Dripping Water,” and “Where Dzo’noq!wa Cried Out Oh,” were among the names the Kwakiutl people assigned to their surroundings. He’lade, translating to “Place Having Everything Right,” was of particular meaning, as it was the name universally given to exceptional locations. What is your he’lade?Essay Option 3: You are hosting a brunch of historical, literally, or other disreputable persons (think: Mad Hatter’s Tea Party). What is your menu? Who are your guests? In answering this question, imagine a scenario: We want some exposition, serious or silly, we would accept some dialogue, and we are willing to trust you to respond in such a way that your brain power, your imagination, your sense of taste, and your capacity to tell a story reveal something true about you.Essay Option 4: The Cartesian coordinate system is a popular method of representing real numbers and is the bane of eighth graders everywhere. Since its introduction by Descartes in 1637, this means of visually characterizing mathematical values has swept the globe, earning a significant role in branches of mathematics such as algebra, geometry, and calculus. Describe yourself as a point or series of points on this axial arrangement. If you are a function, what are you? In which quadrants do you lie? Are x and y enough for you, or do you warrant some love from the z-axis? Be sure to include your domain, range, derivative, and asymptotes, should any apply. You possibilities are positively and negatively unbounded.

Option four is awesome—pure UChicago. Options one and two look interesting too. Option three is pretty disappointing. It seems like a slight deviation from the standard, “If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would they be and why.” Maybe it is just an effort to entice UPenn early decision-douche bag-preprofessionals to apply—if so, that’s too bad. At least they encourage people to be weird about it, though.I have to admit though, when I applied, I definitely took the cop-out essay (the food essay, essay #1, from 2004-05 in the link above). I definitely regret it, but I was extremely risk-averse because the decision was so important. Lucky for me, the admissions people were crazy enough to let me in.