November 1, 2002

Applying restraint

The University of Chicago has often backed up its claim of drawing a "self-selecting applicant pool" by offering unusual application essay questions; this year has been no exception. "How do you feel about Wednesday?" is the latest in the University's series.

The Maroon appreciates the spirit of the question "How do you feel about Wednesdays?" The prompt allows applicants an opportunity to show off some unconventional analytic skills. Presumably someone who can formulate an intelligent answer to an open-ended question about Wednesdays can formulate an intelligent response to nearly any question.

Just the same, we cannot help but wonder if there isn't another question that would do this same thing, perhaps with a little more accuracy. "Who's the most insignificant vice president?" "What single-name La Liga striker is the greatest?" "Tell us how you would avoid making Andrew Fastow's mistakes?" All of these would be a bit more to the point.

A reasoned consideration indicates that the question in question is probably acceptable, and the fact that it passed muster in the eyes of the admissions department speaks well to its value as a prompt. Our complaint is less with the merits of the prompt per se and more in how the question reflects upon the University of Chicago. The "Uncommon Application" is, in a very real sense, the first portrayal of the University that many prospective students see. A question such as "how do you feel about Wednesdays?" might seem trivial or flippant to students. Some might dismiss it as kitschy or ill-conceived; such an insignificant topic may confirm, in the minds of applicants, the stereotype that the essay is at best a tiebreaker in the admissions process. By using a different question, the University could gather the same information about its applicants without risking alienating some viable ones.

We support the uncommon application in the spirit of a self-selecting applicant pool, but the admissions office should do some selecting too.