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
More and more people are thinking about the environmental issues and ecological condition of Earth nowadays. Why has this problem become so relevant? What should we do to save our future? In my opinion, people have understood that their irresponsibility causes harm to the natural environment. Our planet suffers from numerous problems, which have been caused by the results of the excessive anthropogenic activity. The entire planet suffers from pollution, global warming, deforestation, extinction of biological species, etc. These problems are extremely relevant and require rapid and intensive solutions. It is possible to defeat these problems if the entire humanity changes its approach towards nature, natural resources and the value of nature for its wellbeing. In simple words, people should go green to save Earth.
Why should we take efforts now in order to save Earth in future? Very few people understand that it is important to change their lifestyle now in order to see the results of these changes in a few decades. Doubtless, you will not grow a big forest in a year. You can plant a small tree but it will grow to its proper height only in ten or fifteen years. To my mind, this activity resembles investment into a small firm. In a few years, the firm develops into a big company, which will provide you with the solid profit. Consequently, it is not right to say that the idea of going green is useless. When you do not see the results of your activity now, it does not mean that you will not see them in ten years.
Furthermore, we must not be selfish. It is important to think about the wellbeing of our children and grandchildren. We are responsible for the natural environment and problems, which will become the burden for our children. I know that many people do not care about the condition of Earth after their death. They say that it is the headache of our future generations. I suppose, it is the main problem. People do not care about future and they do not appreciate what they have. This approach is caused by greediness and consumerism. People want more money and material values in order to satisfy their needs. They are ready to exhaust the world they live in. They cut down forests, kill animals, birds and fish and pollute rivers, lakes, seas and oceans. They care about their profit and nothing more. No wonder, people open new and new plants, factories and power stations, which cause harm to the natural environment but provide them with money. It looks ridiculous when people are ready to destroy forests and pollute rivers in order to gain profit. People do not appreciate fresh air and water, though they cannot survive a minute without them. They are ready to live in the unhealthy, terribly-looking and polluted environment in order to receive more money. Finally, they will have to pay for their treatment at a hospital, because they breathe in polluted air and consume contaminated food and water.
How can we save our planet from the results of our harmful activity? To begin with, we should reduce pollution, because it the cause of numerous problems. We must not litter in the street, parks and forests. We should recycle wastes in order to save our priceless natural recourses. We should use public transport more frequently, because it does not release numerous harmful gases, which cause greenhouse effect and global warming. Next, entrepreneurs should use special filters at plants, factories and power stations in order to reduce the amount of poisonous emissions into the air and water. Then, people should stop cutting down forests, because they are the lungs of Earth. Moreover, every forest is a home for thousands of animals, birds and insects, which improve the balance of ecosystems.
In conclusion, our unwise and extensive activity causes harm to the natural environment. We lose priceless natural resources, fresh air, water, forests, animals, birds, fish, insects, etc. People should change their lifestyle rapidly in order to stop deforestation, global warming, pollution and other problems, which can destroy the life on the planet. We ought to go green in order to save the life of future generations.
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