Colleges across America have finally gotten with the program and realized what's really relevant in admissions decisions. It isn't frivolities like applicants' personal heroes or views on the world's problems — no, it's their favorite amusement park rides.

Several universities have revamped their application essays to include questions more closely resembling the stuff they ask Demi Lovato in Tiger Beat than the questions you might one day be asked in a job interview. Brandeis is now asking its prospective students, "Imagine you have to wear a costume for a year of your life. What would you pick and why?" while Columbia wants you to tell them what the best movie of all time is. The University of Maryland would like to know your "favorite thing about last Tuesday" (a day noted for its crazy happenstances), and Emory asks you to explain how your favorite amusement park ride reflects your approach to life. Several of these prompts, like Columbia's film one, also confine the responses to twenty-five words or less, which begs the question: How are students supposed to detail the glorious intricacies of Point Break without at least a paragraph?

Even more innovative is Dayton University's move to make scholarships into a social media popularity contest. Applicants have the option of submitting a video essay response to the question, "What does it mean to be a servant leader?" this year, and those who receive the most votes on Facebook will become finalists for a $40,000 scholarship over four years.

Really, I'm just bitter these questions weren't around when I was applying to colleges, because I would've killed the University of Chicago's prompt, "What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato?"

Commentarium (8 Comments)

Dec 10 11 - 8:23pm

Sorry, but can we learn how to use the phrase "begs the question" properly, please?

Dec 10 11 - 10:39pm

They are. The fallacious assumption is that people will be able to use appropriate levels of detail in 25 words.

Dec 10 11 - 9:16pm

MIT's been doing that for decades. I remember one of the alternative essays when I applied was, "What is your favorite cartoon character and why?" (I didn't pick it because the answer was, "Bugs Bunny, because he's so smart and funny, he can be a dick to everyone and get away with it." I didn't think that answer would help my effort to get admitted.)

Dec 11 11 - 1:36am

So have the University of Chicago and Columbia. It's charming. It's part of the school's methods of self-selection. "Does the question "What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato?" sound tiresome or like an interesting thought exercise?" could easily be rephrased as "Am I the kind of person who will enjoy the University of Chicago?" And encouraging prospectives to write a non-dry, non-rote essay helps them to demonstrate that they can write persuasively, critically, clearly and engagingly. The writer of this article sounds very small-minded.

Although the facebook popularity contest does sound like an awful idea.

Dec 11 11 - 12:18pm

1. If you have ever spent an afternoon reading a hundred essays on "What Leadership Means," then you know why admissions offices are doing this. Even the best applicants default to banality when they get the feeling that they are being asked to jump through standard hoops.

2. No. That is really not a proper use of "begs the question." A tipoff: the phrase is follwed by a colon and then an actual goddam (albeit cutesy) question, which is what dear Kristin must have thought was "begged."

Dec 11 11 - 1:07pm

Should have been "raises the question"...

Dec 12 11 - 12:46am

"What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato?"

Why the Western philosophy bias? Why not "What does hubba-bubba have to do with Buddha?"

Dec 12 11 - 12:46pm

It was one example; maybe Buddha was in the next one.