For: All periods

Set-Up: 2 different times before, you’ve been given a college admissions essay that you might find in a future application you’ll may write your senior year.

The following are application essays that the University of Chicago asks its high school applicants. Obviously you’ll be able to tell that these are pretty unique questions, thus you can tell that they are seeking only unique/clever students to apply to their school.

Challenge: Pick ONE of the following 3 questions to answer.  Be creative.  Truly — be creative!

Length: 7+ sentences:

The Questions:

Essay Option 1.

The short film Powers of Ten begins with an aerial shot of a couple picnicking in a Chicago park. The camera zooms out ten meters. It then zooms out again, but the degree of the zoom has increased by a power of ten; the camera is now 100 meters away. It continues to 1,000 meters, then 10,000, and so on, traveling through the solar system, the galaxy, and eventually to the edge of the known universe. Here the camera rests, allowing us to examine the vast nothingness of the universe, black void punctuated sparsely by galaxies so far away they appear as small stars. The narrator comments, “This emptiness is normal. The richness of our own neighborhood is the exception.” Then the camera reverses its journey, zooming in to the picnic, and—in negative powers of ten—to the man’s hand, the cells in his hand, the molecules of DNA within, their atoms, and then the nucleus both “so massive and so small” in the “vast inner space” of the atom.

Zoom in and out on a person, place, event, or subject of interest. What becomes clear from far away that you can’t see up close? What intricate structures appear when you move closer? How is the big view related to the small, the emptiness to the richness?

Essay Option 2.

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.

Essay option 3.

Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab (both national laboratories managed by the University of Chicago) have particle accelerators that smash bits of atoms together at very high energies, allowing particles to emerge that are otherwise not part of the everyday world. These odd beasts—Z bosons, pi mesons, strange quarks—populated the universe seconds after the Big Bang, and allow their observers to glimpse the fabric of the universe.

Put two or three ideas or items in a particle accelerator thought experiment. Smash ’em up. What emerges? Let us glimpse the secrets of the universe newly revealed.



  1. If you were to zoom in and out on a particular idea you would be able to see all aspects. The farther you zoom away the more you can see how many other ideas there are and how many ways the idea may succeed or fail. The closer you zoom in, the more that you can see the reasons for constructing the idea, the bits and peices that make up the peice of thought that might help or hurt the cause that the idea is for.

    An example of this is the idea for a Democratic process. The thought for democracy evolved out of many wars and ancient philosophy. If you look at the system in the normal view, you can see that it is , in principle a good system. The farther you zoom out you can see that while it is a good system, it must be handled carfully or it will be crushed by the bias and greed of the regulators. If you zoom out even more then you can see just how much the democratic process benefits people. It goes with the will of the people, thus you don’t have as many wars of succesion, and it also reflects the ideals that the people have. It cuts down on the number of wars (generally) because there is not just one person making policy. If you zoom in on the subject however, you see that Democracy can also have a bloody history because the people judgement was clouded. However if you zoom in farther, you can see that the entire reason that there is democracy is because the people can’t stand a single ruler, that rules for as long as he lives.


    Mr. Long: I have to admit to being really struck impressed by how you approached this. It is not what I expected, but it seems really clever…and if you ever did use such a reply, you’d only need to dig deeper into details and concrete language to pull it off for a real college audience. That being said, nice work!

  2. Option 3.
    Item 1: If there was a mother and a son. Even, though they are poor, the mother sells her soul in order to give her son success in life.
    Item 2: A dictator of a small country with unlimited resources; to the extent of his country’s wealth of course.

    This combination could yield a very talented and brilliant boy who becomes dictator of his own country. Not only does he have nearly limitless resources, but his intelligence and resourcefulness allow him to do nearly anything. This combination of tools and knowing how to use them makes his country a great world power, with him at its head. His rule is absolute, and everyone fears him whether they live in his country or not. He knows he has the ability to gain power now, and he wants to gain all the power to be had. But physical power is not enough; he wants to “go beyond the void”and free his mother’s soul. Even though to conventional thinking this is impossible, he is so brilliant he could actually pull it off. When he has accomplished his goal, however, it is not enough. He wants more; he wants to rule this nether world. The goal to be the most powerful man is not only enough, this man has the ambitions to be the most powerful entity.


    Mr. Long: Needless to say, the choice of subjects to ‘collide’ is the key…and then letting your imagination run. You’ve definitely done that! And clearly it feels connected to what we’ve been discovering with “Lord of the Flies”, too. Thanks for taking a shot at this entry.

  3. First of all, I do not believe in the whole ‘big bang theory’ idea. I believe that god created the earth in seven days, and Adam and Eve where the first to humans on the planet.

    Now I know that the University of Chicago has particle accelerators and it is wonderful that new forms of matter have emerged. But I can not accept that some of these particles that have been created, truly existed in the idea of the big bang occurred.

    By smashing John Mccain’s brain and Barrack Obama’s body, a wonderful president would emerge giving us a glimpse of a perfect universe. We would have the first African American president with the ideas and experiences of a true leader.


    Mr. Long: Wow. Talk about a rapid-fire twist on this prompt; suggests that each element could be further explored (but you definitely have the reader’s attention). I think, however, that an admissions committee would want a ‘tighter’ response showing how each part seamlessly works together. Just a thought.

  4. Student #3 (follow-up)

    Mr Long, I apologize for not tightening up my response. I know my ideas are kind of cut short but this was one of things that if I would have kept going I could have got myself in alot of trouble.

  5. In a world where turmoil and compassion walk hand in hand it is clear that all things and situations in life have at least two sides, everything has depth. This fact applies both to scientific atoms as well as individuals. Every individual has both good characteristics and bad characteristics and that is what makes them human. In the course of a lifetime people realize that there are many different types of individuals in their lives. One such individual is a friend, and if a golden retriever and a stand up comic were placed in a particle accelerator together the perfect friend would be created. This friend may have a mutant like appearance but they would be both loyal and honest. It is well known that dogs are extremely loyal animals who are in love with their owners no matter the treatment they are given and this is known as unconditional love. This unconditional love is key in any relationship with a friend whether they are a family member, a love interest, or just a longtime companion. Unconditional love means that no matter what the friend looks like, what they’ve done or where they are love is always there when they turn to their friend or their golden retriever. And from love comes loyalty, in any friendship loyalty is key because each member of the relationship needs to be absolutely convinced that their friend will be loyal to them no matter what happens. However, there are some negative qualities in a golden retriever that the stand up comic will cancel out. These qualities include the willingness to take orders and the constant smile present on the dog’s face. These qualities are wonderful at some points in a friendship, but friends have to be able to tell the other the hard truth and not just follow whatever they say. This is where the stand up comic qualities completes this paragon. A stand up comic is an intrepid individual who will speak their mind no matter the situation, and a friend has to be able to do this. Whether it is explaining to a friend that their top in unflattering, or telling them that they have done something wrong this is imperative in any friendship. Stand up comics have a way of saying things in a light manner and making situations that would normally be serious fun, and friends need this as well. This combination would be perfect in this chaotic world where everyone needs a good friend to survive stress and hard times. And if an individual can’t find a friend that is this balanced then they should buy a golden retriever and teach it stand up comedy.

  6. Option 2:

    Let’s start this one off by using an example of your average office/cubicle worker, say working in a city.

    Zooming Out:
    As you observe the man in the cubicle looking at his papers, talking on the phone, and typing on the computer all at the same time, it looks like he’s working very hard. But after awhile work is over an he goes out of the office building, into his car, and drives back home to his family.
    Then you zoom out and look at the worker the next day. This time, you see all of the other people working around him working just as hard to make a living for themselves/families. You realize that his cubicle isn’t the only one in the building. There’s hundreds and hundreds of others that are connected to it, and that’s just one floor. There’s other floors in that building that have just as many cubicles/workers as the floor you’re looking at right now.
    You zoom out, yet again, except this time you no longer see the worker anymore. Instead, you see the actual building that he, and all of the other workers reside in surrounded by many other buildings that have as many people as the building you were looking at before.
    You zoom out even more. You can only see a vast expanse of buildings and streets. The buildings that you were once able to look at up close now look microscopic and identical to everything else.
    Zoom out more. The buildings and streets are now gone only to be replaced by a view of the Earth in all its beauty. You realized just how big of a world we’re all living in and there are so many wonderful/interesting things in that world that you will have yet to discover.
    Zoom out again. The world is now only a speck in the Milky Way and we are only one spot in a massive place of stars and possibly other planets.
    Zoom out for the last time. The Milky Way we once saw is now only a small, microscopic spot in a vast array of space occupied by other universes just like ours. You come to the realization of how insignificant our existence is and even if we were to disappear, we’d only be one planet snuffed out of the rest of the millions of billions of others out there.

    Zooming In:

    Zoom in to the worker who is diligently doing his tasks. You can now hear his breathing, his increasing level of stress because of how much work is piling up on his desk. His boss walks over and drops, yet another stack of applications to be filled out by today. The man groans with exhaustion and resumes his labors.
    Zoom in again. You see the man’s skin, how the perspiration forms on it and drips off. You see the wrinkles that have formed on there only due to the passage of time.
    Zoom in more. You see the individual cells that make up the man’s body. How they each perform their own assigned tasks as if they had minds of their own. Their the things that are keeping the man’s body living and functioning.
    Zoom in again. You see what a cell’s nucleus is made out of. Tiny, tiny strands of DNA and RNA. The blueprint of all lifeforms. There’s an infinite amount of possibilities of how they can be arranged and a prodigious amount that is inside every single cell. You realize that no matter what anything looks like on the outside, it is all made of the same things. We are all connected to each other in small, remote ways that will never be able to change.

  7. Essay Option 2

    I am starting to learn to drive now, and I am beginning to realize that so many stories in my life are connected to highways. In Texas, the important roads are the highways, not so much the winding paths or sidewalks, but the highways. In particular, it’s the Interstate, at least 6 lane highways that commands our hearts and our memories. My mom drives me up and down Interstate 20 to and from my school every day. For years, we have been on the highway from 6:50 in the morning to make it to school by 7:45. It’s a long drive, but we use it as a chance to talk and listen to music together. I actually like the drive, especially the drive back home. There are many good eateries, video game stores, and movie theaters on the way back, and my mom is always kind enough to stop and let me or my sister get something. Interstate 35 is another highway I prefer . About four hours on this highway would get us to our cousins. The scenery is quite nice actually. During the spring, we see wild flowers along the highway, thanks to Ladybird Johnson’s beautification program. During the summer, it’s green and cows are roaming. From Thanksgiving and Christmas, someone has put up Christmas lights for several miles and it’s a treat we enjoy every year. There are many convenient resting places that we know also, so we are always comfortable. On the way back home, though, we usually never stop because my sister and I can’t wait to see our house. The roads are great, especially those Interstate highways, mainly because it brings us back home, our sanctuary.

  8. Option 3

    Really interesting how science has led us to these particle accelerators. But you said put ideas in one and smash it up correct? Your mind, in a way is a particle accelerator, if the general thought is to take the good and bad of ideas and come out with a neutral idea that satisfies both sides. It’s like taking 2 opposite things, putting them together to find a neutral area that agrees with both of them. Sadly enough democracy doesn’t work that way because we human beings are too stubborn. Just like certain things that are combine. Even if you combine them, they refuse to mix, like a water and cooking oil. Put them in a bottle, shake it up, and they are still separated. I honestly think that it’s interesting to have a particle accelerator smash things together, but what can you combine that wouldn’t just separate or wouldn’t be constantly unstable.

  9. I would accelerate a chicken into a pig into a cow. Creating the best meat ever concieved. This meat would have the characteristics of all three. It would be salty and crunchy like bacon while retaining the juicy tenderness of a steak. The chicken’s cost-effectiveness would carry over onto this new meat. Farms would only need to raise one kind of livestock. It’s abundance would make it the thriftiest means of feeding yourself. It wold be sold on every street corner. It would eat anything like a pig, only not as much (like a chicken). I would be the creator of this new foodsource making me the ruler of the Cowchickenpig industry. Being the ruler of the most widely spread industry in the world would let me buy a spot in the government of wherever i want. This would Set me up with an alley to become ruler of said government and eventually the world. I would name this “New” world Cowchickenpig (after the invention that led to my success).

  10. I think there are many things you could do with a particle accelerator. You could use it for scientific reasons. One thing, you could speed up the protons and make new elements. These elements could end up being very useful. It could also be used for random things. Like, combining something with the taste of a donut but the nutrition off a banana. These are just a few of the uses.

  11. This is quite disturbing. Wow. I didn’t know I could be this creepy.

    Where I live, no one thinks about. Its one of those places that you really don’t like, mainly because it’s not what you call homely, really. We have streets much like your world, but smaller; way smaller. I was one of nine siblings. Yes, I know, quite a big family. I was the second to eldest, always have been. Here on Apple Road is where I lived my whole life, and now where my body rests. I remember growing up, and first discovering one of you.

    I always took walks with Adam, the oldest. The days was cool and bright, making it a refreshing journey. We always walked on our street in front of the big, grey slates that were all in order. My mother called them ‘skyscrapers,’ like what you have. I always found them to be intimidating and somewhat frightening. But I grew accustomed to them, along with greeting neighbors and occasionally stopping to talk to the more favorable ones on our walks. I remember Alice. She was the main reason my brother and I took walks. She lived down the street over there. She was, and still is, quite beautiful. We would meet here there for our walks. We would go on and on; somehow Apple Road would last forever; no matter how long or far we walked, there would still be dirt to walk on.

    One day, we walked on our usual path, hardly containing our joy of Alice’s lovely self. It was a different day outside, a little bit darker; but nothing like today.

    She wasn’t there. We questioned her mother who was taking in the clothes that she hung on one of those big, grey slates. Alice never left her house without us. Her mother was unhappy with something; we could never find out with what. She said she walked down that street. Adam and I looked at the street, and then at each other. We had never been there before. And I have never been back.

    Adam moved first. I them followed likewise. We walked down that street, cautious, with scared faces. Like I said, this was the first time I went down a different path, and definitely the last. The slates in the ground were different with one round dark circle at the bottom on each. The neighbors there did not sit outside like we did. They looked out their windows; all of them stared in fear. I don’t know how far we walked, but it was far. In the fading sunset over the slates, we saw her silhouette. That pure figure was looking up. We followed her gaze to find one of you. They were towering down over us. I know they hadn’t acknowledged us; they were so involved in staring at the slate right by Alice. Adam or I did not know what to do. We had already gotten out of our comfort zone enough by leaving Apple Road. Of course now, I am done with comfort zones, I somehow feel nothing, no fear, no happiness. But at the time, we could do nothing more than stand and stare at this creature, this being, this potential threat to our satisfied lives. The tall figure moved a step. To fast for us, we were crushed. Suddenly, I didn’t feel constrained in repetition or fear. But I did not feel alive. I stood up, my brother down at my side. Alice in front of us, still. I felt cold but free. I drew away from her deep, seductive eyes. I could not face it.

    Turning on to the familiar Apple Road, I moved without steps. Looking at that beauty’s house, her mother still looked wroth. I think I nodded, but said nothing. I must have been moving fast. I was suddenly standing by the slate behind the house. I then turned and looked down. I viewed my brother, Adam and Alice laying there as if they were still on that street; and then I saw me. My siblings were walking towards them, tears in their eyes. Then my mother came behind them. I hid behind the slate, hoping they wouldn’t see me. I stood observing them, and observing my body laying, disturbed somehow. Finally the ceremony finished. My family left as they came, and I was still there.

    Till this day, they don’t see me. I come back every once in a while, checking on my status in the ground. I am contained, but my soul is not. My heart will forever remain in that place called Apple Road.

  12. Option 2:

    This street was named Merbell Lane and you could say was one of those streets that never ends. This particular street is in a small unfamiliar town but people from around the world come to this one street due to its beauty at every season. This street is lined with trees, every other tree is a fruit tree and the others are red tips and other trees that turn colors in autumn. In the spring, the newly budding leaves appear and the smell of winter is long gone. The street is booming with neighborhood picnics and the children riding their bikes up and down the street. Even in the winter the street is beautiful, every neighbor gets in the Christmas spirit and has “Who has the best Christmas lights?”. If you were to go to this magical and almost unreal street you would catch me sitting on the roof of my house reading and noticing all the happy faces amongst me. I would then take the long journey all the way down Merbell Lane.

    *Merbell Lane is fictional and represents the path that every human takes in their lifetime, this path just happens to be the ideal one that every person tries to take.

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