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And They’re Off: College Essay Season Has Begun

In Applying to the University of Chicago, Cornell University Application Essay, Dartmouth Supplemental Essay, Ivy League Application Essays, University of Chicago Application Essay, University of Southern California Supplemental Essay, University of Wisconisn, Yale Application Essay 2018-2019 on July 6, 2018 at 12:28 am

Some of the major super-selective colleges and a range of other solid schools have already released their essay prompts for 2018-2019, and the Common Application and Coalition portals have had their prompts out for months, which means it’s time to get started on those college essays.

(Momentary pause for sinking feeling and/or butterflies).

Not ready to write?  Then how about some sorting?

I do encourage my clients to get writing by giving one of the Common Application prompts a go, but if you are stuck and can’t get that started, or you already have a draft for a main essay like the Common or Coalition Apps well on its way, the next thing you need to do is have a look at a range of target-school essay prompts and start doing some categorizing.

After all, you are likely to apply to ten colleges, in some cases twenty, and one way to save a lot of work is to compare essay prompts, looking for ways to overlap essays and, when possible, to reuse essays.

Yes, essay polygamy is the name of the game if you are doing more than five or six apps, which most of you are, and in this case, polygamy is totally legal.    (Just don’t forget to change the college names if/when you do reuse an essay, by doing search all for the last college’s name and changing it to the current college.  Telling Brown they are your one and only in an essay that you are reusing from Princeton, and in which you forget to swap Princeton out for Brown . . . yes, that is usually a deal breaker.  Think it cannot happen?  Listen to Rick Clark, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Georgia Tech . . . by clicking here.  It will take a few 2.5 minutes to get to Rick himself, and a couple of minutes to get to those who don’t proofread . . . ) .

How the University of Chicago Essay Prompt is Like (Almost) Everybody Else’s Including Yale, Northwestern, Indiana, Tulane, Cornell, Etc, Et Al.

To kick off our research on essays, let’s start with a place that prides itself on its weirdness, at least when it comes to application essays:  The University of Chicago.

Sure, for U Chicago this year, you have many options: you can write an alternate universe/speculative essay in which you are onboard a 13th-Century ship that suddenly sails off the edge of the world, or you can write an essay in which you consider the world from the point of view of a Mantis Shrimp, but the opening question for Chicago, which all applicants must respond to is this:

Question 1 (Required)

How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago.

Despite Chicago’s well-cultivated reputation for nonconformity, their Question 1 actually conforms pretty well to  prompts used at hundreds of universities, including, so far this year,  Yale, Dartmouth, Northwestern, U-Texas Austin, Tulane, Wisconsin-Madison and Indiana.  Some ask for an essay on this in longer form, some want a shorter response in the 100 to 250-word range, but this kind of prompt shows up pretty often–call it the “Why Us” question, or the “What are You Planning To Do Here” question, and whether it says this or not, this “Tell Us What You Want to Study Here and What You Want To Do With That Knowledge”  is always a two-part question.

One part is about you.  The other part is about the university.  Many applicants forget that, and either talk at length about themselves, showing no due diligence in researching the college itself, or they talk about the college without showing how they fit in–no school needs you to give it a research paper on itself, and no school that asks what they can offer you wants to hear only about you.

What to do?

Use that wonderful tool of the modern age, the search engine.   That’s Google, to most of you, but even more than Google, it is the web site not just of the university in question, it is also the sites of each school and program within that university in which you might have an interest, and on down into what various departments are within each school, any associated labs, research arms, then on again into what is posted by individual professors, blogs, research projects and so on (nearly) ad infinitum.

What a question like this asks is what you want to learn and what you want to do with what you learn.  Yes, that’s a lot to ask of somebody who, as I write this, has not even started the last year of high school yet, but that’s the point.  And the best place to start on this kind of essay is to pick an important target school, dig in via the internet, dig more, then consider yourself.

After you have done this once, and written an essay, you will have what I call boilerplate–in this case, language about yourself and your interests that relates to the areas you researched in the essay–that you can reuse in other essays, and you will also have some specific reference points about the university.

Exactly what the balance should be between talking about yourself and talking about the university is a variable that depends on you and the exact wording of the prompt, but I usually find that this kind of essay has slightly more to quite a bit more about the student–but the references to and descriptions of the college are all the more important for being limited to some extent.

For  a simple reason:  showing that you know about them shows a degree of seriousness about the school.  To put it in more human terms, you know a lot about the face of your beloved.

Examples of Researching a University for the “What’s Your Major” or “What Makes You a Good Fit” Essay

So let’s start with an excerpt of an essay edit for an elite school, with my editing comments and some specific references-this is still in rough draft form, but you can already see how we are trying to cite specific detail on the school and drop some names:

I hope to  interact with professors who have a passion for research and chemistry, such as Geoffrey Coates, whose research on catalysts includes new, biodegradable polymers, that might be used in biomedical devices—bringing my interests in surgery and chemistry together. Or, and Peng Chen, who has been applying single-molecule microscopy in a variety of fascinating ways, with applications that may range from  solar power to medicine, the kind of thing that makes me wonder about powering medical implants with solar technology, hmm, a solar shirt that recharges a heart implant . . . my mind is on fire with ideas.

This section of the essay followed the introductory portion of the essay, where the writer reviewed her own life and interests, and how they developed and grew, until we reach a point where we pivot to specific things going on at that specific university.  The app reader learns a bit more about you in general, but you also provide some bona fides by showing–or appearing to show–that you know a lot about the school.

Talk about your Demonstrated Interest:  You, too, can click to see what Geoffrey Coates is up to, here:  Coates Research.  For Peng Chen, you would have to find his main page, here–Chen Research–do some reading, and click through two more layers to find out how his work relates to solar energy, here:  Chen Solar.  It’s the kind of reading and clicking that gets you to these details that will convince your app reader that you are serious about their school.

Yes, all of this may be just to name-drop twice in a single paragraph in a single application essay.  But in an application game that is all about nuance and margins, paying attention to the details makes a lot of the difference.  And that rough-draft, above, became a final draft that helped this particular student get admitted to that Ivy-League university.  Not only that, some people I have worked with have, in fact, found their mission in life as they did this kind of research.

Researching the University of Southern California Supplemental Essays and Responses

Sounds like a lot of work, and it is, which is why you want to start working on college essays early because, yes, they are actually research essays, in their own way.  But let’s look at one more example, in which we just start clicking:  U.S.C., and specifically the Viterbi School of Engineering.  I am skipping U Chicago for the moment because I plan to revisit them again, in a separate post.  You might want to follow my blog to get notice when I do.

So how to research an app essay for a potential engineering student at U.S.C.: Let’s say you just have an interest in engineering, but it is not, at sixteen or seventeen years of age, completely in focus.  That’s okay.  This exercise itself may help you get a focus, and if not, well, fake it ’til you make it.

So let’s start with the main page for Viterbi, which you can go ahead and click on, then have a look around, clicking and reading on whatever interests you, here:  Viterbi Main.

Possibly you will find some stuff that interests you right away, in which case, click away. But in the case of my next example, knowing some of my client’s interests, I was able to suggest going to this page to  search for manmade retina–I will have a specific link to a specific page below, but just type in ‘manmade retina’ here to see what happens:

Search: Manmade Retina

Here is where this student settled in to do some reading:  Artificial Retina.

And here is how some of those references appear in a mid-stage essay draft on why this student wanted to go to U.S.C. and specifically the Viterbi School:

When I flew out from Georgia to visit  USC last May, I loved the campus and diverse disciplines, like the school of gerontology an unusual but absorbing subject for a young engineer who hopes to reverse the effects of aging–but the research being done at Viterbi particularly fascinated me. I will pursue experiences like learning under a former NASA employee and in an internship with real world applications.  From perfecting the 3-D printing process using the MIP-SL technique to creating a manmade retina, Viterbi is at the forefront of innovation, which is exactly where I want to be in my own future.

This is part of an essay that was part of a successful application package for ‘S.C.  The essay as a whole is just under the 250-word limit, and it begins on a personal note about how the applicants engineering interests started with a model rocket, then to a self-built telescope, then after the illness of a relative, the focus turned to more terrestrial concerns, which you can see manifested in that paragraph, above.  In the essay as a whole, you have fewer than 100 words that reference truly specific information about the Viterbi School, but those words have impact because of their specificity and the way they fit into the context established by the personal focus of the introduction.  Returning to my earlier point, the best essays of this sort offer insight into you, the applicant, and show that you have knowledge of, and insight into, the university–even if you just got it last night off the internet.  Good internet research is good material for an essay.

Where to go from here?  If you are interested in engineering at U.S.C., let’s just continue with that example.  You are looking for specific areas of interest to you, and if you are not sure, see what does draw your interest, and your purpose is to get just a few examples and references to drop into your essay.  Of course if you do happen to stumble upon your true mission in life–this does happen–as you click around, super.  Don’t forget to mention my blog for getting you started when you collect your Nobel.

So let’s start by looking at the About page for Viterbi, and be sure to scroll down to see what lies below the banner and P.R. stuff at the top of the page:  About Viterbi. Read and click on anything interesting.

Next, be sure to visit the Research and Innovation page, which also gives you a handy breakdown of divisions within the School of Engineering: Research and Innovation at Viterbi.  Notice how you can use this to get an overview, as I just mentioned, but also to chase specific and intriguing ideas and areas–take a look, for example, at Research Centers.  And maybe you had a biology or earth science teacher who introduced you to Climate Change, but maybe you turned aside, because, well, how depressing, not to mention Tech pays way better and an education at U.S.C. is expensive, (Or maybe not; more on that in another post, soon), but then you see this, while clicking on the Research Centers:  Arid Climates and Water Research Center.  And then within that, you keep clicking until you find a page on the people involved, like this:  Watercenter About.

Then you click on a specific professor for the heck of it and find robots: Nora Ayanian. Then you start to think about what the heck robots have to do with water, which takes you back to their research page, which talks about robotics for monitoring water and suddenly you see where to go with your engineering career.

Or maybe not, but you’ve got some specific stuff to reference for your application essay.  At the least.

So there you go.  Notice what attracts you as you do some research, and start coming up with some language about things you’ve done and what inspires you to start the essay.  Then get to where you name-drop learning from people like Assistant Professor Nora Ayanian, whose robots are probing the changing chemistry of the oceans even as I write these lines . . .

Good luck, and come back soon for more posts on this year’s application essays, data, and the scene as a whole.

 

 

They’re Baaack: The University of Chicago Application Essay Prompts for 2017-2018

In Applying to the University of Chicago, Chicago Typo Essay, Essay on Joubert, Uncategorized, University of Chicago Application Essay, University of Chicago Application Essay Example, University of Chicago Application Essay Prompt Two, University of Chicago Under-Discussed Topic Essay on June 26, 2017 at 11:43 pm

And this year, the essay prompts from U Chicago, a.k.a. “The Place Fun Goes to Die” are a little more lightweight and also more personal than in previous years.  Overall, this year’s U Chicago prompts are more about a quirky personal response than deep philosophy–though you can always find something deeper, or at least interesting to say with these prompts, with a little extra thought.  

And if you wanted to take a risk while writing an essay, this is the place:  Chicago pretty much begs you to take risks, wake up the app reader, show a little originality.   So be anything but boring.  

To show what I mean, we will now take a look at the first two of the University of Chicago Extended Essay Prompts for the 2017-2018 application season: 

Extended Essay Questions:

(Required; Choose one)

Essay Option 1.

“The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” – Joseph Joubert

Sometimes, people talk a lot about popular subjects to assure ‘victory’ in conversation or understanding, and leave behind topics of less popularity, but great personal or intellectual importance. What do you think is important but under-discussed?

-Anonymous Suggestion

 

So let’s look into the background of  this prompt before we look at an example of how to write about it:  it is based on the relatively obscure Enlightenment French author, Joseph Joubert, and it seems aimed at our present national moment of mutual incomprehension:   What, you have never heard of Joubert?  Neither has 99% of the populace.

He actually is quite the dead white guy, a man who wrote aphorisms that read like the best haiku.   But he was also a writer who never actually wrote that book he was going to write; instead he wrote many aphorisms and short descriptions that distilled the essence of this or that,  as he hung out and engaged in witty conversation in the great salons of Paris and pretty much “enjoyed the journey.”   The journey over the destination is a cliché, of course, but if you read some of his stuff, like his Pensées, you will see what I mean.  Not that you need to read Joubert much to write this prompt . . . but it could help.  For example, this–  

A hard intellect is a hammer that can do nothing
but crush. Hardness of intellect is sometimes no less
harmful and hateful than hardness of heart.

Or this:

Some persons there are who, intellectually, are
reasonable enough, but whose life is quite irrational ;
and there are, on the other hand, those whose life is
rational and whose minds are devoid of reason.

The last one sounds like a pretty good sociological take on America today, no?

For those of you acquainted with Montaigne, Joubert is  what Montaigne claimed to be–a free explorer of whatever was on his mind.  Here is what his most recent translator into English, Paul Auster had to say about Joubert, in part:  

Neither a poet nor a novelist, neither a philosopher nor an essayist, Joubert was a man of letters without portfolio whose work consists of a vast series of notebooks in which he wrote down his thoughts every day for more than forty years. All the entries are dated, but the notebooks cannot be construed as a traditional diary, since there are scarcely any personal remarks in it. Nor was Joubert a writer of maxims in the classical French manner. He was something far more oblique and challenging, a writer who spent his whole life preparing himself for a work that never came to be written, a writer of the highest rank who paradoxically never produced a book.”

So take all that together, and you have some sense of the spirit of the question posed by Anonymous here; while you can pretty much riff off of a U Chicago question in any way that you can invent, they do offer some prompts that seem to have a political or cultural slant, and this is one of them, a prompt for a polarized age of argument in which most of use are having trouble understanding the other side (Qualification: Understanding does not mean agreeing, and I believe that the conflict in the U.S.A. is over real values . . . and will have a real impact on lives).

 If you like the prompt, but nothing is coming immediately to mind, a public e-text of Joubert’s Pensées is available in jumbled form here:  Pensees.  Just scroll down past all the documentation and introductory material to get right to it.  You might find an idea by going to the source.  Note that this does not mean you have to use the quote in your essay–that can be its own cliché–the idea may work well put into your own words.

Another way to look for topics that are not discussed enough is  to look at some topics that are almost certainly discussed too much, at least in kind of blind arguments that Joubert deplored :   politics, race, climate change, Trump (Trump is as much a sociological and psychological as he is political, so I give him a separate category. So true).  

Does that mean you cannot and should not write about any of these for this prompt?  Well, no.  Surely there is some aspect of these that is overlooked, or more to the point, surely most of our conversations about these things are clichéd, and clichéd in that deepest sense of using clichés to avoid dealing with the truth?   Take Trump.  I see him as an excellent example of the outcome of Winner-Take-All . . . parenting.  And I am not talking about Trump’s kids; I am talking about Fred Trump here.  Think of Donald Trump as a boy, and you have a different kind of discussion.  Maybe even some empathy–which does not mean agreement, by the way. 

Let me sum up our lesson on the U Chicago essays so far:  If  there is a background (like Joubert), it is better to know about it; it may not be useful, but you may be missing the point of the prompt if you know nothing about the background.  Not that being clueless will necessarily hurt, as a clever non sequitur can also be a winner.  But still, I would want to be choosing to write my essay as a kind of alternate-universe response that uses the opening quote as a way to go somewhere totally unconnected; I would not want to be doing that by accident.  

And now, more briefly, a typo prompt for number 2:

Essay Option 2.

Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your new intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History… a full list of unmodified majors ready for your editor’s eye is available here: https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/academics/majors-minors.

So the obvious place to start would be with your actual interest area–take me; I would have been looking at things like Comparative Literature; hmmm . . .

Comparative Bitterature?  The knowledge and Study of all things bitter, from the best espresso sourced from a tribe of failed hipsters who now populate a long-lost South American coffee plantation, producing the deepest, darkest bitterest espresso ever known to man;  to the bitter  souls of internet trolls or the sense of defeat experienced by ex-presidential candidates. 

Notice that   in changing the majors via a typo, you are, in fact, inventing your own major, so you do not have to actually look at any subject you are interested in.  Look for the words you can change in interesting ways–and that is the obvious intention of this prompt:  to test your spirit of invention.  

I will leave it at that, other than to add that I would conclude my essay on Comparative Bitterature by explaining the purpose of my created major:  Comparative Biterature aims to reacquaint the cotton-candy culture of my own country, the U. S. of A, with the benefits of the bitter, which my tai chi master taught me  when he said, as I stayed down in a full horse-stance squat, “You must eat bitter before you appreciate sweet.  Which is why you will hold build up enough strength to hold that horse stance for 15 minutes before I teach you the next form . . .  Ouch.

Start creating some typos; I will be back in the next week or so for another post on this year’s U Chicago prompts.   

 

The University of Chicago Supplements for 2016-2017: A Quick Sample on Vestigiality

In Applying to the University of Chicago, Brainstorming a College Application Essay, Uncategorized, University of Chicago Application Essay, University of Chicago Application Essay Example, University of Chicago Essay Prompts, University of Chicago Essay Prompts for 2016-2017, Vestigiality Essay on October 21, 2016 at 11:28 pm

Greetings U Chicago Want-To-Be’s. Welcome to a look at the University of Chicago application essays for 2016-2017. Our topic today:

Essay Option 5.

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

So there are plenty of vestigial artifacts in the world.  Take the internal combustion engine for example, or pull back to look at how we generate energy, and you will realize that we haven’t made all that many changes since James Watt perfected the steam engine in the 18th Century.  Seriously:  what is a nuclear reactor but a giant tea kettle?  So looking at technologies we really should be replacing is one way to go at this prompt.

On the other hand, I would point out  that our ideas about vestigiality are often  wrongheaded.  Do we not call many things useless because maybe we just don’t get it?  A short history of science shows that–and the most up to date science suggests that even your appendix still has a reason to be. (More on that in a moment.)

To me this question says more about our idea that the latest and greatest is always the best than it does about the usefulness of our appendix. So to turn this prompt against itself, which is often the best way to approach a UChi prompt, I would use the question  to explore how we define vestigiality. Most interesting of all is how each age has all the answers until the next age comes along to mock it, failing simultaneously to recognize its own blindness about other things.

Tiffany Kim may be a member of the class of 2020, which means that she graduated from high school with the latest and greatest that an uber-achieving youth could learn in AP Biology,  but her question is pretty 20th Century when it comes to her example:  the appendix. Those of us keeping the pulse of the newest and best in science learned recently that the appendix does indeed retain an important function, to wit: it appears that it is a refuge for all the good bacteria we need when our guts get disrupted and flushed by illnesses (think Montezuma’s revenge). It is to your body as a country estate was to somebody in early Renaissance Italy who retreated and closed the gates to wait out the plague, after which they would safely go out into the world again.  One pictures bacteria telling stories and engaging in libertine pursuits while they wait out whatever ailment is purging one’s guts.  (That’s a Decameron allusion, for those who want to know).

To justify my claims,  I quote one of only many sources for the new view on the appendix, here: Dartmouth says au contraire on the appendix. Of course,  we can lose the appendix and go on, though armed with modern science we might want to grab some probiotics any time we have an intestinal bug, but we can lose a lot of things it would be better to have and go on. Like our legs. I don’t find any of my body parts vestigial, even using my tailbone when I sit.

So much for vestigiality.  That’s your first lesson on how to look at a U Chi prompt from another point of view.

On the Other Hand

On he other hand, keep the idea of the prompt; instead of arguing that vestigiality itself is outdated, you could look at many contemporary and seemingly cutting-edge ideas as out-of-date.  In particular I think of all those ideas that are memes bouncing around in everyday speech, used by people who want to seem techno-hip and tres moderne.  Let’s face it:  once a cutting-edge idea filters out into the world of talking heads, you know it’s already a cliche.  In keeping with that spirit, let me offer my own short list of  cutting-edge pop-tech concepts that are already vestigial ideas:

Humans uploading their brains into computers to live forever

While I deeply admire the thought experiments about this concept from science fiction writers, (check out Solar Lottery by Philip K Dick, in which a man’s consciousness becomes trapped in a rapidly decaying robot-and that’s just a subplot), I think that the current guru peddling this idea, Ray Kurzweil, has painted himself into a corner, philsophically speaking, because he views the brain itself as a kind of computational device, which it isn’t. It produces its results in a way that relates only to computers in certain outcomes, but the processes are not alike:  No one’s and zero’s are being manipulated in circuits in the brain, and the brain in fact has no circuits.  We are using and analogy or a metaphor when we say the brain has circuits.

Before even wondering what a human being’s memories would be as data stored in a computer (hint:  not human memories)  Just ask these questions to check on how silly this idea is:  What does it mean to have a human mind without a human body, anyway? And when computers do “think” will it look anything like what we do? (No).  Can a computer can think about sex, hamburgers, how to catch the perfect break on a wave and wonder why its ankle itches? Does a computer fear death?  Does it like kittens?  Does a computer  have any emotions or need them? And conversely, is human thought in any way separable from emotion? (Last one has an easy answer:  Nope. ) That’s just a short list. For more reading, start here: Your Brain is not a Computer and vice-versa.) The real deal here is that people like Kurzweil and Peter Thiel fear death and are in the midst of creating their own techno-religion in which really smart rich guys can buy eternal life while they meanwhile tinker with how to construct AI systems that would not so much replace us as render us redundant.

The Humanities Don’t Matter

Speaking of A.I., when the robots take all our jobs, the only thing left for humans will be the humanities. And appreciating beauty and food and sex and looking at the stars and telling stories and painting. Oh, wait, that all is or is tied into the humanities. Poetry, anyone?

Tech will save us

It is necessary but not sufficient. Tech has changed many industries, but the fundamental social arrangments are still the same, and its the social agreements, like money, how it is made and who controls it that are the real deal.  Even with 24-7 online connectivity, the United States is still a capitalistic, commerce-driven representative democracy that provides most of the electricity keeping the internet real by burning fossil fuel, with all the externalities that comes with, like climate change and ocean acidification.  We are all connected all the time, but look at something like food:  even with drone delivery of food boxes, you’d still be dealing with a largely centralized  industrialized agricultural system with farmers or corporate farms shipping product to markets largely through middlemen, while  all those personalized, home-centered high-tech hydroponic wallgardens are pretty much what my old Italian neighbors used to have in their backyard (but used les energy to grow the stuff in the garden, which was in the ground, soaking up free solar energy from above, no constant water pumping needed).  Also notice how any technology with the power to transform and redeem also has the power to destroy. So you could say it’s all about politics and activism, supplemented by tech, kids.

A supplemental vestigial idea is that all these transformative technologies are totally powerful and totally safe, simultaneously. For an amusing example of this, consult any interview in which Craig Ventner, he of human genome fame, talks about Frankenstein and by doing so shows that he has never read the book,  while he explains  how his bacteria will save the world by creating diesel fuel that recycles carbon out of the atmosphere.  Of course it is not actually getting rid of any carbon, and it’s not doing anything about the energy inefficiency of having most of us in 1-2 ton vehicles that waste most of the energy that drives them, but at least it feels like some smart guy is going to save us.  To which I add one more thing:  Whole lotta water needed for that project, Craig.  Whole. Lotta. Water. And land.

 

That college is unnecessary for smart kids

Seriously?  It is totally fascinating to me to see all these Silicon-Libertarians who went to elite schools trashing college.  Take Peter Thiel and his foundation and fellowship.   Thiel has two Stanford degrees but advocates against college for smart kids and to promote  his idea has created his own little tech incubator on the cheap via his foundation.  Yes, that is what it looks like to me.  Gather the smartest kids you can interested enough to apply and go through the process, get them to present an idea they want to develop, and then give a small number of them money and support.  That’s a tech incubator, right?  Or is it the Ivy League?

And of course any tech incubator will have some slice of the pie that is baked in it.   That Thiel foundation does not look so altruistic anymore, does it? As a comparison with the Ivy League, the admit rate for the Thiel Foundation’s first Thiel Fellowship class was 6%.  Not a good admit rate, a bit better than  Harvard and Princeton, but not by much.  Of course,  the kids who got in get 100 grand and access to all kinds of Silicon Valley mentoring and venture capital, but so far they do stuff like make caffeine spray and marginal apps.  It’s probably a good experience for these kids, but it’s a totally skewed take on not going to college–how many people does Thiel want to hand 110k and mentoring to?  How many can shape a life without formal training?

If you want an unbiased and one-stop place to see if college is worth it in the terms most people [Especially those aging hipsters who all went to elite colleges hanging out with young hackers whom they tell not to go to college—Hmm, I really need a word for old parasites feeding on idealistic young tech kids–Tech vampires?  Sugar mommas and daddies?  Somebody help me out here]. Have a look here for more: College and Income from People You Can Trust [The Pew Center].

So that’s a few ideas, and the kind of thinking that you need to show in a U Chi essay.  Your mantra:  Don’t follow the herd.

And here’s my final tip: make your own list then start clicking to find ideas for you to build a case in your essay for U Chicago.

All the best until my next post on, um,  I’ll get back to you on that. OR get in touch and let me know what you need a post on—I follow the wisdom of the crowd for some new topics. Vote early and vote often . . .at wordguild@gmail.com.

Also contact me for editing assistance. ASAP actually, as sometime before Thanksgiving my calendar will likely be booked through January 1 (though the occasional spot will open up even then when a client misses a deadline).

 

 

University of Chicago Essay Prompts for 2015-2016: Crazy and Crazier

In Applying to the University of Chicago, College Application Essay, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, Mantis Shrimp Essay Prompt, Sapir-Whorf, University of Chicago, University of Chicago Essay Prompts 2015-2016 on July 10, 2015 at 1:21 pm

Or not.  I like U Chi’s  approach to essays and appreciate the challenge they throw down, and even if their prompts are sometimes pretentiously self aware of cleverness more than they are truly clever, they do open a window of fresh air into the stale halls of the college application essay.  If you need some help with getting into the spirit of things, just chant, “U Chi is to the application essay as Stanford is to the marching band.

One thing you can count on with Chicago is some latitude–the off-the-wall essay is more welcome here than anywhere else–but keep in mind that the usual warnings about being a whiner or offensive still apply. You are still writing to a human audience, and you still need to consider their response to you. And hey, even the Stanford marching band, where “anything goes,”  has discovered that not everything does go.  Same goes for the U Chicago essay.  You still need to use some judgment about how you look on paper.  And conduct some due diligence investigations before you write, otherwise known as research.  More about that below.

Directly below I splice in the U Chicago essay prompts, to save you opening multiple windows–under the prompts, I will begin discussing how to address some of them, including that wonderful new option of choosing an essay prompt from past years to write about.  Here are the prompts, followed by Part I of my analysis:

2015-16 UChicago Supplement:

Question 1 (Required):

How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago.

Question 2 (Optional):

Share with us a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music, musicians, performers, paintings, artists, blogs, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed, or add a category of your own.

Extended Essay Questions:

(Required; Choose one)

Essay Option 1.

Orange is the new black, fifty’s the new thirty, comedy is the new rock ‘n’ roll, ____ is the new ____. What’s in, what’s out, and why is it being replaced?
—Inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015

Essay Option 2.

“I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” –Maxine Hong Kingston. What paradoxes do you live with?
—Inspired by Danna Shen, Class of 2019

Essay Option 3.

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, Class of 2016

Essay Option 4.

“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” –Paul Gauguin. What is your “art”? Is it plagiarism or revolution?
—Inspired by Kaitlyn Shen, Class of 2018.

Essay Option 5.

Rerhceseras say it’s siltl plisbsoe to raed txet wtih olny the frist and lsat ltteres in palce. This is beaucse the hamun mnid can fnid oderr in dorsdier. Give us your best example of finding order in disorder. (For your reader’s sake, please use full sentences with conventional spelling).
—Also inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015. Payton is extra-inspirational this year!

Essay Option 6.

In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose a question of your own. If your prompt is original and thoughtful, then you should have little trouble writing a great essay. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun.

Essay Option 7.

In the spirit of historically adventurous inquiry, to celebrate the University of Chicago’s 125th anniversary, please feel free to select from any of our past essay questions.

College App Jungle Advice and Analysis on the U Chicago Prompts for 2015-2016 Part I

Things not to do in the U Chicago essay:

No true confessions of your darkest thoughts/fears/desires

No whining

No begging

No plagiarism

No (obvious) bragging

Remember:  they do not really know you. There will not be any body language for them to see, no nudge-nudge, wink, wink to convey that you are kidding; they won’t see you outside of the data and activities reported and the essays that you send–as with all college applications, you are a kind of holograph arising from a few screens of words and numbers.  So “honesty” and “being yourself” are hedged terms, even here, and even here you are crafting a self to present to an application reader.  Just ask this:  which of your selves would you let into college?   And then show that self, with maybe a shot of extra zany thrown in.

Things to consider doing:

Research.   You may not end up actually including any new information learned from research in your essay, and in fact your essay should not read like some plodding and serious piece of research, but doing some research helps frame things and may give you some ideas on how to be creatively weird (instead of factually correct and/or boring).  Doing research is always advice I give for the Chicago prompts, which inevitably have some kind of scientific or intellectual background, even when they intentionally warp it, and this is  especially true this year, because Chicago is taking us into the Wayback machine with their last essay option, above, which I repeat here:

Option 7: In the spirit of historically adventurous inquiry, to celebrate the University of Chicago’s 125th anniversary, please feel free to select from any of our past essay questions.

When you click on the past essay questions, you will see that the first option they offer from their past questions is option 2 from last year, what I call the Sapir-Whorf question.  I wrote extensively about this prompt last year, so if you like it, give my commentary a  read before you dive in:  Writing About Option 2 from 2014: Sapir-Whorf.

See what I mean about framing things through research?  This was such a meaty question that I wrote a second post on it, in which I gave more specific suggestions for responding:  Sapir-Whorf Part II.

This example shows why I like the UChi prompts—-yes, you could simply due a non sequitur riff on the question without knowing anything at all, but knowing something helps a lot.

I would also point out that even the non sequitur in comedy depends on knowing what the sequitur is–in other words, if you do not know what is right or customary, you do not know when the comedian is intentionally getting it wrong.  In most cases, comedy appeals to what is broadly known or accepted, as when Steve Martin does a riff on Side Effects.   (Am I dating myself by name dropping this master of nuvo-Dada?  Probably)

So keep in mind, wiseguys and humorists:  Knowing up from down is important if you want to make down into up.

I have written about a number of other interesting prompts from U Chicago in the past, so in keeping with this post’s emphasis on research, you might look at those while you are waiting for my next post on this year’s U Chicago essay prompts:

The Heisenberg Prompt

The Mantis Shrimp Prompt

I think that is enough due diligence for now.  Stay tuned for my next post on U Chicago, and let me know if you need editing–three rounds of editing on single U Chicago essay starts at $160, ready to submit if you follow my editing.  Serious inquiries only, lest your e-mail be converted to processed, canned pork product.  Until next time,

Cheers.

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