NEWS

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November 1, 2002

Reactions mixed to U of C applications

By Isaac Wolf

Maroon News Staff

Do you know how you feel about Wednesday?

Hundreds of applicants to the College do. Making final edits and slipping their application packets into the mailbox for the November 1 early acceptance deadline, prospective students ruminated and wrote about one of the College's five novel essay topics, including "How do you feel about Wednesday?"

While an increasing number of colleges have augmented applicant pools by switching to the common application—currently 230 schools accept the standard form—the University's persistence in demanding essays about unconventional topics slims the applicant pool and sends a clear message about Chicago.

Students recently admitted to the College wrote the College's imaginative essay topics, which have become such a staple that the application is now called the "Uncommon Application." They include questions asking applicants to tell a story one tells others; for a description of a half-way point in life; for an exploration of a parallel universe through the perspective of someone else; and for the positing and answering of an untraditional and uncommon question of one's own.

"It's all about Wednesday," said Andre Phillips, Associate Director of Admissions. "As I've talked to students over the past weeks, I really have found this to be the most chosen question. What's especially intriguing is thinking about and finding out how students can find their voice in responding to this question."

Phillips believes what sets the College's essay topics apart from those of other schools is that they are especially thought-provoking, and therefore provide the admissions panel with a better glimpse of a candidate.

"Our essay questions are a reflection of this school: it's very self-selecting," he said. "[They] also represent our unique approach to education. Does that essay response show the student to fit in here as a free—thinker?"

The Uncommon Application, however, rubs some applicants the wrong way.

One prospective student, a senior at a Washington D.C.-area high school, said the essay questions were the deciding factor in not applying to the College.

"I didn't like the general attitude of the questions," he said. "I got the feel of pseudo-intellectualism. Although it wasn't the only factor, it was a bit of a push over the edge."

Other factors that affected his decision included the College's location and atmosphere.

"I'm looking for a serious campus, [but] not one that is so concentrated on purely academic pursuits," the senior said. "My impression was that this school was especially concentrated on academic pursuits."

He was especially turned off by the essay about Wednesday. "I was disenchanted with the style of the question," he continued. "It seems pretentious to expect a full essay from that question. Although it seemed like a clever idea, it came out as not very thought-provoking."

But Antonia House, an early applicant here and senior at Hunter College High School in New York City, found the University of Chicago essays to be more creative than those of other schools. To her, the fact that the questions were particularly focused made it easier to craft an original response.

"Even though it's more structured, it gave me more room to put down who I am," House said while waiting in the admissions office for an interview. She said she prefers Chicago's essays to Yale's two mandatory essay questions, which are to describe a meaningful interest and to write another personal essay.

House is confident in her essay about Wednesday. In it, she writes first about how she enjoyed the symmetry of the week as a young girl, and then about her weekly competitive soccer practices, which also fell on the fourth day of the week.

"College essays are just one of those things that have to come to you," she said. "I'm not too stressed. The problem will be if I get into more than one school. Then I'll really be in trouble—I'll have to decide where I want to go."