Ready Or Not, Here They Come

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ready or not, here they come. College essay prompts that is. As a professional writer these prompts make me want to start pecking away at the keyboard. Nothing like a good challenge, even if you aren’t applying for university admission, is what I say. It’s interesting to see just how creative the college admissions folks can get. This year they seem to have outdone themselves. Let’s look at a couple of the recently released essay prompts for the University of Chicago. The first prompt will prove to be engaging and enlightening for the reader, but it could also be—dare I say it—entertaining to write. Here goes: Winston Churchill believed “a joke is a very serious thing.” From Off-Off Campus’s improvisations to the Shady Dealer humor magazine to the renowned Latke-Hamantash debate, we take humor very seriously here at The University of Chicago . . . Tell us your favorite joke and try to explain the joke without ruining it.

Without ruining it? Oh, my. What type of warning is that to a prospective college student who may already be a bit nervous about the application process? Are you laughing yet? I don’t know about you, but I’ve ruined many jokes by forgetting those all-important punch lines, especially with a large audience staring me in the face. But if you look carefully at the question, the focus isn’t on the joke itself; it’s on your choice of a joke and your interpretation of it. The real question here: “tell us about yourself.” Oh, and the question of whether you can write. If you think about it, much can be gleaned about your personality from what you find humorous. What does the joke you choose to highlight in your essay say about you and your view of the world? That’s what they really want to know. In fact, you have a million jokes to choose from with knock-knock jokes alone. Why did that particular joke speak to you?

Yet another essay option from The University of Chicago focuses on a quote from Don DeLillo: “This is what history consists of. It’s the sum total of all the things they aren’t telling us.” And your mission, if you choose to accept it, will be to tell the reader the following: What is history, who are “they,” and what aren’t they telling us? Wow, sounds like a conspiracy novel in the making. Of course, once again, the real question is “tell us about yourself.” Hint: They don’t want a rant about politics or governmental secrets. Although that might be tempting, given recent news headlines. Consider waxing philosophically on this one. What is it that we should know and why? Call up that creative intellect.

In short, there will be essay prompts that make you nervous. Overwhelmed. Frustrated. Perhaps, if you love writing, you’ll be so excited at the prospects that you won’t be able to choose just one. Wouldn’t that be a good problem to have? Regardless of how you feel about your dream university’s prompts, you eventually have to dive in, stir things up, and see what evolves. Go ahead, tell them about yourself.

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