College application essay questions can be weird. Students’ answers? They can be weirder. Some people have a way of turning the simplest questions into unexpected essay answers. That’s called creativity. In most cases, it works.
Admission essays should never be boring. To make it impressive, you have to think of an unusual answer to the question hundreds of other students are answering. Let’s go through few weird admission essays that worked, shall we?
Benjamin’s 20 Questions Essay
At its official website, Johns Hopkins University published the top 5 admissions essays from the class of 2012. The one that’s featured first is also the weirdest one. Benjamin answers unusual questions, such as these:
- Is it bigger than a breadbox?
- Does it strive to learn?
- Is it driven?
- Does it think deeply?
All answers are yes, along a brief explanation of the answer. He is talking about himself as the it—a student with versatile interests and strong determination to grow. The admission committee? Impressed.
Josh Mahoney’s Essay about Football… And Law
This essay is featured at the website of University of Chicago Law School. At first, it seems pretty standard: Josh is talking about a passion – football. Then you wonder: wait, isn’t this an application essay for law school? What’s with the football?
Well, Josh writes about his injury; the moment that pushed him towards exploring other aspects of life. His intellect, mainly. Finally, we see why he decided to apply to law school. He connects college football, passions, weaknesses, and solutions into a single decision: entering law school to become a stronger person.
Although the essay seems disoriented and irrelevant at first, you can’t stop reading it. It’s one of the rare cases when a too long introduction to the point does work.
Joseph Poirier’s Common App Personal Essay
“When problems arise, I solve them using copper fittings.”
That’s how this essay starts. Joseph explains his fascination with copper during childhood. Then, he talks about his failures. Then, he returned to his primal interest: copper. Failures and copper, failures and copper… is that what this essay is all about? No. Somewhere along the way, you realize it’s about learning to grow from failure.
Although it’s an unusual personal statement, to say the least, it worked for the admissions board at Tufts University. In fact, it’s featured at the website as one of the best ones.
Ahmad Ashraf’s Application Essay for Connecticut College
“Mum, I’m gay.”
That’s how the essay starts. It’s bold. It’s weirdly brave. Also, what’s with the mum? What’s informal language doing in an admissions essay?
This essay defies rules. It’s exactly why it works.
Nathaniel Colburn’s Essay about the Homeless Lady
This one is featured at the website of Hamilton College. When you’re asked to write a personal story about a defining moment, the last thought of your mind is the memory of a homeless person. Well, that’s exactly what Nathaniel thought of.
A homeless person changed his point of view. He explained that moment beautifully in this application essay.
Ahmed’s #BlackLivesMatter Essay
This has to be the weirdest one. Ziad Ahmed got into Stanford with an application essay that wasn’t an essay at all. He said he didn’t think he’d be admitted to Stanford. It looks like he wasn’t even trying. To the prompt What matters to you, and why? Ahmed wrote nothing but the hashtag, 100 times.
It worked. For Stanford!
Brenden’s Essay that Got Him into Yale, Columbia, MIT, and University of Virginia
Wow! Is it possible to get into so many first-class universities with a single essay? It’s almost impossible, but Brenden Rodriquez did it. What’s the essay about? Music and math.
The sentences are long. The paragraphs are long. The entire essay goes against the simplicity tips you get from any writing guide. That’s why it’s unusual. The difference is that this student can write long sentences. Although the essay has chunky paragraphs, the reader’s attention is not lost. Plus, he talks about math being present in music. And football. How cool is that?
Before you start the process of creating an admissions essay, you should first read some successful examples. What did you notice about the ones we featured above? They were weird, weren’t they? Being unusual works sometimes. It’s always good to be brave. However, you have to find the good weird way to write the admissions essay.
Most people don't know that the college admissions experience offers students and parents many opportunities for having a little fun. Reading about different schools in college guidebooks such as The Fiske Guide and Colleges That Change Lives can be very entertaining (as well as useful). Having a look at colleges at the likes of www.unigo.com and www.thecollegeprowler.com is a kick. Visiting colleges can be a totally enjoyable experience for budding college applicants, parents and, sometimes, younger siblings. Even writing a college essay can be fun.
"What?" you say, "Writing an essay is fun? Get real!" Okay, many students find answering essay questions the worst part of the application process. But if you write about something you care about and dare to be yourself, or perhaps use a bit of irony or "tongue in cheek," you might just end up having a good time.
Let's Have Some Fun Right Now
Over the years, Stanford University has asked applicants to answer some variation of a "Letter to your future roommate" essay question, e.g., "Virtually all of Stanford's undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate -- and us -- know you better."
Here is what one bushy-tailed student wrote:
TO MY FUTURE ROOMMATE:
IF YOU HAVE EVER--
l. Kidnapped your best friend at 3:00 a.m. with a bunch of buddies and taken him/her for an emergency milkshake run?
2. Made snow angels in the nude on the school ski trip when it's 0 degrees outside?
3. Told tourists that if they "pee in the ocean," they'll attract great white sharks?
4. Re-enacted Monty Python and the Holy Grail in its entirety before your history class?
5. Taken apart your broken MP3 because you are sure that you can fix it?
6. In the middle of the summer, dressed up in all of your ski clothes, gone to the nearest 7-Eleven to buy ice blocks and joined your friends to slide down the nearest grassy hill, all the while complaining how cold it is?
l. Memorized the first half of Whitman's Song of Myself, because there was nothing better to do?
2. Spent three days arguing with your friends about the socio-political ramifications of the word "Chick?"
3. Stayed up until 5:00 a.m. because the conclusion of your English paper just wasn't right?
4. Received a parking ticket because you had to respond to a piece of racist graffiti in a public bathroom?
5. Spent the entire day at a cafe re-reading a book by your favorite author?
6. When you were a second grader, explained to a classmate's mother why you thought screaming at her kid was inappropriate while she threatened to spank you for being so insolent--
THEN WE'RE GOING TO GET ALONG JUST FINE!
So if this isn't fun, I don't know what is. But there's more to it than you might think.
Application essays should allow people reading them know who you are by what you say.
What does this essay say about the student?
The Different "Messages" In The Essay
First and most obviously, the writer has a great sense of humor. College admissions readers love when you put smiles on their faces. Second, it says he's fun loving (the milkshake run) and also refreshingly audacious in his own twisted way (telling tourists that if they pee in the ocean, they'll attract great white sharks). Third, the student is curious (took apart his MP3). Admissions people look for inquisitiveness, resourcefulness, and students who are dying to learn. Fourth, he's a reader (his reference to Whitman's Song of Myself and re-reading a favorite book). Reading is a big deal in college. Fifth, he's a hard worker and wants to do things "better than very good" (making sure the conclusion of an English paper was just right). Sixth, he has a sense of social responsibility (responded to a piece of racist graffiti) and is also willing to stand up for other people (confronting his friend's mother about screaming at her kid). Finally, most people would think that the student is pretty smart. As you read it, what messages did you get?
Oh, yeah: The kid got into Stanford.
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