7 Surprising College Application Essay Prompts

With the 2019-2020 application season winding down, here are seven surprising and thought-provoking college application essay or short answer prompts (in random order):

  1. “What is the most compelling thing you have ever read, and how has it changed you or inspired you to take action now, in the past, or in the future? This could be an entire book, a passage or chapter, a poem, an article, graffiti- anything written.” George Mason University Honors prompt 
  2.  Seattle has a rich musical history and SU students love discovering new Seattle music. Tell us: what five songs would be the soundtrack to your perfect college experience? (two to three sentences for each song is appropriate)” Seattle University prompt
  3.  “At USC Viterbi, we endeavor to engineer a better world for all humanity. This vision goes hand-in-hand with the objectives of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and their 14 Grand Challenges. Engineers and Computer Scientists are challenged to solve these problems in order to improve life on the planet. Learn more about the NAE Grand Challenges at http://engineeringchallenges.org and tell us which challenge is most important to you, and why.” University of Southern California prompt
  4. “There are approximately 171,476 words in the English dictionary. Pick your favorite word and tell us why you picked it.” Brandeis University prompt
  5. What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?” Stanford University prompt
  6. “Who does Sally sell her seashells to? How much wood can a woodchuck really chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Pick a favorite tongue twister (either originally in English or translated from another language) and consider a resolution to its conundrum using the method of your choice. Math, philosophy, linguistics… it’s all up to you (or your woodchuck).—Inspired by Blessing Nnate, Class of 2024” University of Chicago prompt 
  7. Yale’s residential colleges regularly host conversations with guests representing a wide range of experiences and accomplishments. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What question would you ask?” Yale University prompt 

Which of these prompts do you think is the most challenging? The most creative?

What prompt did you encounter that you consider thought-provoking?

 

College planning and COVID-19


Here’s a summary of some college planning activities that have changed because of Coronavirus and how you might respond:

  • SAT and ACT – A number of SAT and ACT test dates have been cancelled. So far, the College Board has added a September 26 test date. Some additional colleges have announced they will be test optional.
  • AP – The scope of both the AP classes and exams have been reduced. There is a new at-home testing option.
  • College visits – Most colleges switched to virtual visits and information sessions. Attend virtual visits and information sessions, communicate with admissions personnel to get your questions answered, look at college videos online, read student feedback on sites like unigo.com and niche.com, read online versions of the college newspaper, talk with current students or recent graduates, and follow the college’s social media to get a better feel for the colleges you are considering. Be looking for changes in college visit policies. Come colleges are planning to switch to in-person campus visits starting in June (many of these will be of one family at a time and limited to outside spaces at their college.
  • Deposit date – Some colleges extended their deposit dates from May 1st, often to June 1st for 2020. The extra time may help students learn more about the college, determine if they can still afford the college, and appeal the financial aid where there has been a significant change in family income and/or assets due to Coronavirus.
  • Summer activities – Summer plans (e.g., jobs, summer classes, volunteer activities, travel) for many high school students have or will be cancelled. Plan meaningful alternate activities. There are a lot of things you can do from home. For instance, you can take a free or low cost online class on Coursera, Udacity or edX, learn a foreign language on Duolingo.com, practice a foreign language in Language Bird’s Chirp Room™ Chat or volunteer from home.
  • Extracurricular activities – Many extracurricular activities have been cancelled this spring and/or will be cancelled in the fall. See if you can move your activity online (e.g., via Zoom) or pursue your passion in an alternate way. You may want to explain extracurricular activity changes that were out-of-your-control in your college applications.
  • Online classes – Many classes have moved online. It is likely that in some areas of the country, high school and/or college classes will be online or hybrid (i.e., partially online and partially in-person) in the Fall.
  • Grading – Many schools are switching from letter or numerical grades to Pass/Fail or Credit/No-credit grades. When you have a choice, consider how this will impact you (e.g., college or grad school admissions or merit aid).
  • Finances – Families may have fewer resources available for college funding because of the loss of job or an illness/death in family. Appeal your financial aid package, if your family’s financial situation changes significantly.


I am working with high school sophomores and juniors on college selection and applications remotely through Skype. Contact me at rana@slosbergcollegesolutions.com to schedule an appointment.

Babson College

Overview – Babson College is a private business college with a focus on entrepreneurship in Wellesley, MA, only 10 minutes from Boston. The college has 2300 undergraduates with an average class size of between 20 and 25 students and no TAs teaching. Classes are capped at 40 students.
Academics – The following makes Babson different:
  • Everyone is involved in entrepreneurship
  • There is a focus on thinking globally (30% of students are international) and innovatively
  •  Students need to be willing to be creative, take risks and be able to fail
  • There is an emphasis hands-on learning.

There are required business and liberal arts classes including rhetoric, quantitative classes and a business foundation in finance, accounting and marketing.
Everyone takes a yearlong foundations of entrepreneurship where they start a company to solve a problem, they pitch an idea to get funding for their idea and launch the business. At the end of the year, students liquidate the business and donate the profits to a local charity.
Students can have 0, 1 or 2 concentrations (like majors at other colleges).
All freshman get a laptop with needed software loaded.
There are no classes on Fridays.
Babson has partnerships with Olin College (which is their next door neighbor) and Wellesley College. Students can take 1 class per year at these 2 other colleges. The three schools also have a shared makerspace.

Study abroad – Over 50% of students have a global abroad experience that is over a break or a semester in length. There is also a yearlong partnership with the London School of Economics.

Post-Graduation – Students can work with the center for career development from day 1. Over 500 employers come to campus to recruit. Most students have at least one internship, although an internship is not required. 99% of graduates are placed in a job or a graduate program.










Housing – 85% of students live on campus all four years. Students can choose to live in a Living and Learning Community or Greek Housing if they like.

Extracurricular activities – There are 22 NCAA Division III athletic teams, as well as intramural and club sports. Babson has Greek life and lots of clubs for students to join (or students can start a new club).

Applying – Students can apply Early Action, Early Decision or Regular Decision. Admissions are holistic with an average SAT score of 1360 or ACT score of 31. All applicant must have pre-Calculus in high school, although Calculus or AP Statistics are encouraged.

Curry College

Curry College is a small, private college in Milton, Massachusetts with about 2100 students. The majority of the students are from Massachusetts. The rest come from 35 states and 21 countries.

Academics – The most popular majors at Curry College are Health Professions, Business, Security and Communication. Curry has a 5-year Bachelors/Masters in Education and a 5-year Bachelors/MBA in Business. The most competitive major at Curry is Nursing. There is also an Honors program.

Learning Differences Program – Curry has a fee-based Learning Differences program called PAL (Program Advancement Learning) for students with language-based learning differences and/or ADHD. This program was established in 1970.

Typically about 20-25% of the freshman class participates in PAL. The PAL program costs about $7000 a year and students typically stay in the PAL program for one or two years. PAL students need to be able to advocate for themselves and they are not segregated in classes or housing. The PAL building includes an assistive technology center and a study lounge.

Over thirty learning specialists work in PAL. Students in PAL are matched with a specific learning specialist for consistency, and that learning specialist is their first year academic advisor. PAL students typically meet with a learning specialist twice a week for one and a quarter hours each time.

PAL students receive an iPad containing assistive technology. There is a full-time assistive technology professional aided by ten students knowledgeable in the use of assistive technology available to help PAL students.

Academic Supports – All Curry students can take advantage of the Writing Center, Speaking Center and Assistive Technology center.

For Fun – About 37% of the student body is involved in NCAA Division III Athletics. Students participate in many clubs and sports activities; they like to watch the hockey and basketball games. There is no Greek life on campus.

A shuttle takes students to Boston, the Legacy Place Shopping Center and the T station. The Orange and Purple line T station is about a mile from campus. There is also a small ski resort in walking distance from campus.

Internships – Some students get internships at Dunkin headquarters about a mile from campus. Students can work at the on-campus day care.

Admissions – Students with a high school GPA of over 3.3 are considered for the Honors Program. There is Honors housing.

There are 105 seats in Nursing each year. Students accepted into the Nursing program must have a GPA over 3.0 and average a 3.5 GPA. Their average SAT score is 1250 and their average ACT score is 24.

Merit aid – Merit aid of $2K – $30K is available.

Dean College

General – I visited Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts as part of the Higher Education Consultants Association Conference in June. Dean has about 1200 undergrads. About 80% of students pursue a Bachelor’s degree and about 20% pursue an Associate’s degree.

The college is in a safe town in walking distance to stores. It is next to the Franklin Library, the oldest public library in the country.

The Dean motto is “Never Give Up” and their mascot is a bulldog.

Majors and Academics – The two most popular majors at Dean are Dance and Arts & Entertainment.

Dance and theater majors make up about one third of the student body with approximately 180 dance majors and 100 theater majors. The school has connections with the Disney Center, The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, the Boston Ballet, and the American College Dance Festival.

Dancers can receive a BA or a BFA. The BA students can study abroad and have more class choices. The Dance BFA can be in either choreography or performance. There is conservatory-style dance training. Students can study ballet, jazz, tap and modern dance. There is a Dance Abroad program in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Dean College is one of the few colleges with a full-time certified and licensed Athletic Trainer for the Dance majors.

The newest major is Biology.

The MAP program is for undecided students; by the end of their first year they select a major.

Classes are small and students make personal connections with faculty and staff, many of whom live on campus.

To ensure students are not surprised with a poor grade at the end of the semester, there is college-wide monitoring for student grades every 3 – 4 weeks. This helps with student retention and graduation rates.

Arch Program for Learning Differences (LD) – The school has the Arch Learning program, a fee-based program available for 200 students with LD. Students with documented LD can participate in this program for one or more years. For this program, the college is looking for motivated students who can self-advocate, have independent living skills (e.g., get up in the morning on their own, take medication on their own, eat healthy food, get out of their dorm room, solve problems without mom or dad, can handle a part-time job) and with the ability to do college level work (i.e., typically with an IQ of 90 or above).

Typically, the most intense support is in the freshman year. For example, freshmen on the program often do three hours of executive function coaching per week. Students in the Arch program take 1 Freshman Arch-designated class in the Fall and 2 Freshmen Arch-designated courses in the Spring taught by LD professionals. The content of these courses is the same as the courses taken by other students; it is not watered down.  They take 2 Arch-designated class in the Sophomore year and 1 Arch-designated seminar in the Junior year and in the Senior year.

Arch students live among all the other students and their classes are all over campus.

93% of Arch students return to Dean for their Sophomore year of college.

Learning Support – The entire school population has the following learning supports at no additional cost: Math Center, Writing Center, peer tutors, faculty tutors, and workshops for students. In addition, students who had an IEP or 504 Plan in high school may be eligible to use the school’s assistive technology at no additional cost.

Internships and After Graduation – Every student does at least one internship. There are more internships available than they Dean has students. The Sports Management major has a relationship with the stadium for the New England Patriots which is only 15 minutes from campus. They also have a relationship with soccer’s New England Revolution, as well as the Red Sox minor league baseball team.

The College indicated that they had a 96% placement rate for their graduates. They have direct admissions to certain graduate schools.

Extracurricular activities – There are performance, academic, athletic, multicultural and community service clubs. Students run the school radio station. Students can act starting in the freshman year; there are two musicals and three plays each year. An orchestra is hired for the musicals. Athletics are in NCAA Division III.

Diversity – Dean is diverse in many ways. Students come from about 40 states and 20 countries. About 35% of students are African-American or Hispanic. There is a large LGBTQ population on campus. 35% of students are athletes. 35% of students have a learning difference.

Renovation – The College is currently renovating the TV and radio station. The Library is scheduled to be renovated next summer. For sustainability, the school is changing all the light bulbs to LEDs.

Applications – Dean accepts the Common App and their own App and they are both free. The college is test optional, but they encourage students to send their scores even if they are low. They also encourage students to submit an essay and a letter of recommendation. Admissions are holistic.

Admission to the Dance major requires an audition.

Financial Aid – All domestic students are considered for merit aid, currently between $10K and $25K. International students qualify for a merit aid although the amounts are lower. There is no required GPA needed to keep your merit aid in future years.

Crossover College – Nearby Curry College is a crossover college which I also visited. I plan to write about Curry College in my next blog post.

Endicott College

General – Endicott College is a private college with about 3400 undergraduate students; 75% of them graduate within 6 years.
Uniqueness – Endicott’s internships make it unique. Students do 3 internships: one 3-week internship typically in January of the freshman year, one 3-week internship typically in January of the sophomore year and one semester long internship typically in the first semester of the senior year. There are variations for nursing, education and athletic training majors. Nursing students do clinicals; education students do pre-practicum and practicum; athletic training students work with the athletic teams. Forty-three per cent of students find their job through their internships. All students do a senior thesis. The school provides a liberal arts core, an academic major, and internships and experiential learning.
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Location – Endicott College is in Beverly, Massachusetts, about 20 minutes by car from Salem and Gloucester and about 45 minutes by car from Boston. The beautiful campus is on the water with three of its own beaches.

History – In 1988, Endicott went from an all-women’s 2-year college to a 4-year institution and in 1990, Endicott went coed. The school has provided internships since 1939.
Housing – There are singles, doubles, triples and quads. Housing is guaranteed all four years. Freshmen have their own housing. Some housing is air conditioned. I stayed overnight in an air-conditioned, sophomore building. My room was a triple with its own bathroom. There was a half kitchen (2 burners, no oven, refrigerator), an elliptical machine, and a pool table in the building.

Study abroad – 36% of students study abroad; Endicott has 28 partner universities worldwide. Financial aid travels with the student.
Extracurricular Activities – Endicott has more than 50 clubs and organization, a TV and radio station, and Division III athletics. 84% of students participate in intramurals.
Home State – 50% of Endicott students are from Massachusetts. 15% are from outside New England. 2% are international and 2% are visiting students.
Majors – Business is the most popular major. Engineering is a relatively new major.
It is hardest to transfer into nursing and interior architecture. Education is a little bit hard to transfer into.
Undecided students would pick liberal studies as their major on their application or would pick their most-likely major, taking 2 or 3 classes in that major and 2 or 3 classes in liberal arts.

Admissions and Financial Aid – Admissions is more difficult for nursing than for the rest of the school. Endicott recomputes high school GPA. Endicott is test-optional except for majors requiring testing (e.g., nursing, education).
The average high school GPA is 3.5 and the average SAT is 1157. The mid-50% GPA is 3.13 – 3.85 and the mid-50% SAT is 1080 – 1230. The acceptance rate is 69%. For nursing, the average high school GPA is 3.88 and the average SAT is 1227. The mid 50% SAT is 1170 – 1270. The acceptance rate is 35%.
The school has Early Decision application deadline of 11/1, with a decision by 12/15. It has an Early Action deadline of 11/1, with a decision of 1/15. The Nursing Priority deadline is 12/15, with a decision by 2/15. The Regular Decision deadline is 2/15, with rolling admissions. There was a 40% increase in applications last year.
Students applying for need-based aid must fill a FAFSA. The CSS Profile is not needed. There are no supplemental financial aid forms.

Lasell College

In the spring, Jessica Snover of Lasell College admissions spoke at a Higher Education Consultants Association meeting in NJ.  Lasell College is a private college offering professionally-oriented degrees, located on 53 acres in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Lasell has 1700 undergrads with 84% of them living on campus.
Academics – Lasell classes are small with 0% having more than 50 students.
Lasell Works is a relatively new program, with 60 freshmen this school year. It is a career-focused, cost-saving program; tuition is reduced each year. Freshmen spend their first year on campus. As sophomores, they live off-campus, take all their classes on-line and work part-time. In their junior and senior year they can live on or off-campus and complete internships and their course work.
NJ students seem drawn to Lasell’s fashion and sports management majors.
Education majors will find that Lasell has a pre-K, Kindergarten and first grade on campus. Students graduate with a Massachusetts education license (which is recognized by NJ).
Biology and Applied Forensic Science are new majors.
All majors, with the exception of Education, can be completed in three years. There are also 5 year Bachelors/Masters program.
In the Honors program, students take four Honors classes and four Honors Components (projects). Students must maintain a 3.5 college GPA to remain in the Honors Program.
Admissions – The application review is holistic. Lasell is test optional except for Education majors who need a minimum of 1070 on the SAT. Lasell students had an average high school GPA of 3.0. Exercise Science, biology, and applied forensic science majors need a minimum GPA of 2.7.
Internships/Jobs – A lot of students intern for TJX, the parent company of TJMAX and Marshalls. New England Sports Network hires some of the Sports Communications majors. A new casino in Boston hired 30 recent graduates.
Extracurricular activities – Lasell is an NCAA Division III school with 17 varsity sports. There are 75 student clubs. Times are blocked out on Tuesdays and Thursdays for club meetings. There is no Greek life. Lasell is a half mile from the T station to Boston.
Support Services – The school has services for learning differences, as well as students on the spectrum. Professional and peer tutors are available.
Merit Aid – Students can receive up to $32K in merit aid based on a formula.
Crossover colleges include Endicott, Curry, and Merrimack.

Siena College


General – Siena College is a Catholic college of about 3100 undergraduates in Loudonville, New York, a suburb of Albany. Most of the buildings are low-rise brick buildings.

An unusual architectural feature is the Grotto (pictured below), modeled after the Lourdes shrine.


Student Body – Most students come from New York City or upstate New York.
Academics – Classes are small with the maximum class size capped at 35 students and no teaching assistants. About a dozen friars teach or advise clubs.
About 39% of students are in the AACSB-accredited business where students can become Bloomberg-certified and have an opportunity to invest a portion of the school’s endowment.
The school has a small, relatively-new nursing program with opportunities to be in a hospital setting starting in the sophomore year. 
There is a BA/MD program with Albany Medical College.
Extracurricular activities – Siena is a NCAA Division I school with men’s basketball and hockey being the most popular spectator sports.
There are over 125 organization, but if you are interested in starting a new club, you can.
While Siena does not have traditional Greek life, it does have one coed national-base business fraternity.
There are a lot of volunteer opportunities at Siena, including a Bonner Service Leaders program.