College Essay Writing In The Summer

by Todd Weaver on August 13, 2014


The Summer respite for high school seniors is nearly over in New England. In some parts of the country, high school seniors are already back at their desks, working hard on their AP and Honors courses.

Before senior year gets too crazy though, college – bound students should tackle the (sometimes dreaded!) college essay.

The Common Application is now “live” and ready to go.

The essay prompts have not changed from last year’s application. This has allowed many students to start the “brainstorming” process over the summer months. Summer is a great time to start contemplating the way the student will put their “voice” onto paper to show the colleges who they really are – when applications begin to come together in the Fall.

As a way to stir the pot, we have the following post from the University of Chicago. Consider what highly selective colleges expect students to write about and use the material to start coming up with your own plan for your own essay.

Every year, the University of Chicago breaks away from the traditional college essay mold and asks our applicants to consider topics that are a little… uncommon. In past years, we’ve asked to hear your favorite joke, your thoughts on Wednesdays, or your best attempt to pinpoint Waldo’s whereabouts. These unconventional prompts are a chance to show your creative intellect and explore an unusual topic in a surprising and profound way – wherever your imagination leads you.

And now, here is a sneak peek at this year’s exciting, interesting, and inspiring essay questions – weeks before our supplement is released. So: drumroll, please! The 2014-2015 University of Chicago essay questions are:

1. What’s so odd about odd numbers? Inspired by Mario Rosasco, Class of 2009.

2. 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, an incoming student in the Class of 2018

3. 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, an incoming student in the Class of 2018

4. Were pH an expression of personality, what would be your pH and why? (Feel free to respond acidly! Do not be neutral, for that is base!) Inspired by Joshua Harris, Class of 2016

5. A neon installation by the artist Jeppe Hein in UChicago’s Charles M. Harper Center asks this question for us: “Why are you here and not somewhere else?” (There are many potential values of “here”, but we already know you’re “here” to apply to the University of Chicago; pick any “here” besides that one). Inspired by Erin Hart, Class of 2016.

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.

If you want to get a head start on your application – before you get bogged down with school work and the exciting ride that is senior year of high school – UChicago Accounts will open in mid-June, where you will be able to submit your UChicago supplement early if you’d like to! To offer more flexibility and freedom in the application process this year, you have a choice to apply to UChicago using either the Universal Application or the Common Application. The Universal Application will be available starting July 1st and the Common Application will be available August 1st. So while you’ve got time (and a clear head), take a deep breath, relax, and explore the questions – perhaps one will strike a chord with you!

Enjoy your summer vacation and best wishes for the coming year.


Grace Chapin

Senior Assistant Director of Admissions The University of Chicago|Office of College Admissions

1101 E. 58th Street • Chicago, IL 60637

Telephone: 773-702-8650 • Fax: 773-702-4199 © 2014 University of Chicago


To learn more about the importance of the college essay, consider taking a spin through the College Search Game Plan Membership site.



Sophomore Slump? Don’t Let It Happen To You!

by Todd Weaver on June 4, 2014

University in the Fall

College CampusWhile most think of “1984” as a George Orwell book, or a Van Halen album, to me it was my Sophomore year in high school. I was focused on acquiring the points needed for my varsity sports jacket through soccer, hockey, and tennis team.

Music was my hobby, along with amateur HAM radio (call sign N1CBN). I was selected to sing at the All State and All New England Music Festivals. Grades were mediocre except for science and history classes, which I really enjoyed.

I ended up being “sent” to summer school, to learn how to study better, so that I could then apply myself and get into a good college… something every struggling sophomore hears, right?

What I didn’t know was what college was really all about.

College was just an illusion, a dream of the unknown. What are colleges looking for in an applicant (which you will be in about a year and a half!)? For most colleges, it will be a combination of the following:

  • GPA (academic core)
  • Rigor of courses taken (difficulty level)
  • Test Scores (SAT and/or ACT)
  • Class Rank
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • College Application Essays
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Interviews/portfolios

Now that you are wrapping up your Sophomore year, take the time to make sure you are on target to have those bullet points covered by the time you graduate high school.

This is the time to bear down and work hard in school, volunteering, sports, music, etc. – work hard at things you are passionate about. And try to find time to read.

The number one skill that students need is the ability to handle complex reading. Here’s a blog post on that very subject. Most high schools don’t allow a great deal of reading time – that is to say, reading for pleasure.

In order to become well prepared for the rigor of college, students in high school should read, read, and then read some more.

Standardized Testing

Consider taking some diagnostic standardized tests. Yes, you’ll take the PSAT in October of Junior year (which is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test so don’t slack off thinking it’s “just a practice test” for the SAT!).

Perhaps you should consider taking an ACT diagnostic test to see if you might just perform better on that test than on the SAT. Yes, they are different tests, for different types of learners.

All colleges accept either the ACT OR the SAT so don’t worry that you might be taking the “wrong” test for admissions consideration.

Through our relationship with Applerouth Test Prep, students working with Strategies for College can take a free diagnostic ACT test. Just contact them at and let them know you are working with us, and they’ll set you up for the free diagnostic.

For the Fall of 2014, the ACT will be offered in September, October, and December. Consider these potential “practice” dates for the ACT as you do not need to send in any scores during those test dates.

The SAT dates are not yet confirmed, but your focus should be on the PSAT in October, with a plan to take real ACT and SAT exams in the Spring of Junior year.



Student Loan Interest Rates Set for 2014-2015

May 20, 2014

Tweet Tweet For students taking on loans during the 2014-15 academic year, please note the information below as it pertains to your loan interest rates. Direct Loan Interest Rates for 2014-2015 On Tuesday, May 7, 2014, the Treasury Department held a 10-year Treasury note auction that resulted in a high yield of 2.612%.  The chart […]

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