Some classic questions from previous years…
Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story.
—Inspired by Drew Donaldson, AB'16
Alice falls down the rabbit hole. Milo drives through the tollbooth. Dorothy is swept up in the tornado. Neo takes the red pill. Don’t tell us about another world you’ve imagined, heard about, or created. Rather, tell us about its portal. Sure, some people think of the University of Chicago as a portal to their future, but please choose another portal to write about.
—Inspired by Raphael Hallerman, Class of 2020
What's so odd about odd numbers?
–Inspired by Mario Rosasco, AB'09
Vestigiality refers to genetically determined structures or attributes that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function, but have been retained during the process of evolution. In humans, for instance, the appendix is thought to be a vestigial structure. Describe something vestigial (real or imagined) and provide an explanation for its existence.
—Inspired by Tiffany Kim, Class of 2020
In French, there is no difference between "conscience" and "consciousness." In Japanese, there is a word that specifically refers to the splittable wooden chopsticks you get at restaurants. The German word “fremdschämen” encapsulates the feeling you get when you’re embarrassed on behalf of someone else. All of these require explanation in order to properly communicate their meaning, and are, to varying degrees, untranslatable. Choose a word, tell us what it means, and then explain why it cannot (or should not) be translated from its original language.
– Inspired by Emily Driscoll, Class of 2018
Little pigs, French hens, a family of bears. Blind mice, musketeers, the Fates. Parts of an atom, laws of thought, a guideline for composition. Omne trium perfectum? Create your own group of threes, and describe why and how they fit together.
– Inspired by Zilin Cui, Class of 2018
The mantis shrimp can perceive both polarized light and multispectral images; they have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. Human eyes have color receptors for three colors (red, green, and blue); the mantis shrimp has receptors for sixteen types of color, enabling them to see a spectrum far beyond the capacity of the human brain. Seriously, how cool is the mantis shrimp: mantisshrimp.uchicago.edu What might they be able to see that we cannot? What are we missing?
–Inspired by Tess Moran, AB'16
How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics, linguistics, and philosophy.
–Inspired by Florence Chan, AB'15
The ball is in your court—a penny for your thoughts, but say it, don’t spray it. So long as you don’t bite off more than you can chew, beat around the bush, or cut corners, writing this essay should be a piece of cake. Create your own idiom, and tell us its origin—you know, the whole nine yards. PS: A picture is worth a thousand words.
—Inspired by April Bell, Class of 2017, and Maya Shaked, Class of 2018 (It takes two to tango.)
"A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies." –Oscar Wilde. Othello and Iago. Dorothy and the Wicked Witch. Autobots and Decepticons. History and art are full of heroes and their enemies. Tell us about the relationship between you and your arch-nemesis (either real or imagined).
–Inspired by Martin Krzywy, AB'16.
Heisenberg claims that you cannot know both the position and momentum of an electron with total certainty. Choose two other concepts that cannot be known simultaneously and discuss the implications. (Do not consider yourself limited to the field of physics).
–Inspired by Doran Bennett, BS'07
Susan Sontag, AB'51, wrote that "[s]ilence remains, inescapably, a form of speech." Write about an issue or a situation when you remained silent, and explain how silence may speak in ways that you did or did not intend. The Aesthetics of Silence, 1967.
"…I [was] eager to escape backward again, to be off to invent a past for the present." –The Rose Rabbi by Daniel Stern
1. Something that is offered, presented, or given as a gift.
Let's stick with this definition. Unusual presents, accidental presents, metaphorical presents, re-gifted presents, etc. — pick any present you have ever received and invent a past for it.
—Inspired by Jennifer Qin, AB'16
So where is Waldo, really?
–Inspired by Robin Ye, AB'16
–Inspired by Benjamin Nuzzo, an admitted student from Eton College, UK
Dog and Cat. Coffee and Tea. Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. Everyone knows there are two types of people in the world. What are they?
–Inspired by an alumna of the Class of 2006
How did you get caught? (Or not caught, as the case may be.)
–Proposed by Kelly Kennedy, AB'10
Chicago author Nelson Algren said, "A writer does well if in his whole life he can tell the story of one street." Chicagoans, but not just Chicagoans, have always found something instructive, and pleasing, and profound in the stories of their block, of Main Street, of Highway 61, of a farm lane, of the Celestial Highway. Tell us the story of a street, path, road—real or imagined or metaphorical.
UChicago professor W. J. T. Mitchell entitled his 2005 book What Do Pictures Want? Describe a picture, and explore what it wants.
–Inspired by Anna Andel
"Don't play what's there, play what's not there."—Miles Davis (1926–91)
–Inspired by Jack Reeves
University of Chicago alumna and renowned author/critic Susan Sontag said, "The only interesting answers are those that destroy the questions." We all have heard serious questions, absurd questions, and seriously absurd questions, some of which cannot be answered without obliterating the very question. Destroy a question with your answer.
–Inspired by Aleksandra Ciric
"Mind that does not stick."
–Zen Master Shoitsu (1202–80)
Superstring theory has revolutionized speculation about the physical world by suggesting that strings play a pivotal role in the universe. Strings, however, always have explained or enriched our lives, from Theseus's escape route from the Labyrinth, to kittens playing with balls of yarn, to the single hair that held the sword above Damocles, to the Old Norse tradition that one's life is a thread woven into a tapestry of fate, to the beautiful sounds of the finely tuned string of a violin, to the children's game of cat's cradle, to the concept of stringing someone along. Use the power of string to explain the biggest or the smallest phenomenon.
–Inspired by Adam Sobolweski
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.
–Inspired by Katherine Gold
People often think of language as a connector, something that brings people together by helping them share experiences, feelings, ideas, etc. We, however, are interested in how language sets people apart. Start with the peculiarities of your own personal language—the voice you use when speaking most intimately to yourself, the vocabulary that spills out when you're startled, or special phrases and gestures that no one else seems to use or even understand—and tell us how your language makes you unique. You may want to think about subtle riffs or idiosyncrasies based on cadence, rhythm, rhyme, or (mis)pronunciation.
–Inspired by Kimberly Traube
What’s the toughest decision you made today?
What’s the toughest decision you made this year?
What’s the toughest decision you ever made?
What have you forgotten?
If you were guaranteed the answer to one question, what would it be?
What’s it like being you right now?
What makes you nostalgic?
If you had two hours left on earth what would you do?
What’s the most beautiful word in the world?
Who makes you laugh more than anyone?
What did your father teach you?
What did your mother teach you?
What’s the best gift you’ve ever given?
Best gift you ever received?
How many times a day do you look in the mirror?
What do you bring most to a friendship?
If 100 people in your age group were selected randomly, how many do you think they’d find leading a happier life than you?
What is or was your best subject in school?
What activity do you do that makes you feel most like yourself?
What makes you feel supported?
Whom do you secretly admire?
What time of the day do you feel the most energetic and what do you usually do in those moments?
What’s something you never leave home without?
What’s a recurring dream you have?
What makes you feel safe?
What’s the best thing that ever happened to you?
What do you want people to say about you once you’re gone?
What’s the coolest thing about science?
What’s the best money you ever spent?
What’s a bad habit you have?
What are you grateful for?
Whom are you envious of?
What’s an image you’ll never forget?
Describe a near-death experience.
If you had a clone, what would you have the clone do?
What’s your idea of Heaven?
What’s your idea Hell?
When did you know?
What can you do better?
When are you most yourself?
What superpower would you most like to have?
If you were granted three wishes, what would you do with the second wish?
What is your actual superpower?
If you won 100 million dollars, what would you buy first?
What's the best sound in the world?
What’s perfect about your life?
What song do you sing only when you’re alone and what memory does it bring back?
Describe a moment you were so embarrassed you wanted to disappear.
How many times a day do you think about money?
Who has been the biggest influence on you in your relationship to money?
What's one thing you're certain of?
Describe one of your colossal failures.
What makes you cringe?
What does your inner voice tell you?
What crime have you considered committing?
What's great about your mom?
What’s great about your dad?
Which day would you gladly re-live?
What are you awesome at?
What do you want people you meet for the first time to think about you?
When were you most afraid?
What are you terrible at but love to do anyway?
What weapon would you carry during the Zombie Apocalypse?
Which of your five senses would you keep if you could only keep one?
What’s something you love to make?
What do you cook better than anyone?
What do you wish you’d invented?
What would you like to invent?
Out of 100 random people, where would you rank yourself in terms of your intelligence?
Where do you want to be right now?
If you could be someone else for a day who would it be and why?
What makes you feel powerful?
What’s the meanest thing you’ve ever said?
What’s the meanest thing someone has ever said to you?
What three words would you have on your grave stone?
What’s your first thought when you wake up?
What’s one thing you wake up to in the middle of the night worrying about?
If you could tell someone something anonymously, what would it be?
Whom would you like to forgive and forget?
If you could get rid of one of your responsibilities today, what would it be?
What type of person angers you the most?
What is your greatest strength?
What is your worst weakness?
How do you show your love for others?
Why are you here in this room right now?
When is a time you forgave someone or were forgiven for something?
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made?
What are you hiding?
What’s your unanswerable question--the question you seem to always be asking yourself?
What are you ashamed of?
What is stopping you?
What’s a secret you have?
How do you secretly manipulate people to get your way?
When was the last time you apologized?
What is the biggest lie you tell yourself?
What’s the moment you left childhood behind?
What's missing from your life?
Do you believe in a higher power?
What are you ready to let go of?
What are you not saying right now?