Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Guess the University Behind the Essay Prompt

It's that time of year when high school seniors are applying to colleges. That means writing the dreaded essay to show that they are expressive, creative, unique, or whatever other mysterious traits university admissions directors are looking for this year.

After the jump, one particular essay question that reveals as much about the school as the essays reveal about the applicants.

See if you can guess the school that this prompt comes from.

"Please list three books, along with their authors, that have been particularly meaningful to you. You need not confine yourself to math- or science-related texts."

The second sentence gives the game away. If you guessed the school is the math and science heavyweight Caltech, give yourself 50 bonus points. How many students applying to other schools (other than MIT and a handful of others) would think of even one math- or science-related text in answer to the first sentence in that prompt?

For Caltech applicants, here's my short list of suggested books to read before you answer that question:

  • Flatland by Edwin Abbott (Fable and math book, a great primer to prepare young minds to ponder the universe and prejudice.)

  • Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl (Science meets adventure on the high seas. What more could a boy - or girl - ask for?)

  • The Double Helix by James Watson (The challenge of discovery and the messy, frustrating and exhilarating experiences that happen along the way.)

  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (The start of the environmental movement. How science can change the way we see the world.)

  • Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman! by Richard Feynman (Scientists can be cool. And teach at Caltech, too!)

  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (Think Copernicus and Darwin. Paradigm shifts don't just happen because someone has a good idea.)

  • Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter (How the concepts underlying art and music and mathematics are woven in an eternal braid. With puzzles!)

These math- and science-related books make my own list of books of any category that are particularly meaningful to me. Give yourself fifty points for each one of these that made your own list, too.

If your own list includes "The Origin of Species" by Charles Darwin, "Principia Mathematica" by Isaac Newton, or "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" by Nicolaus Copernicus, deduct fifty points. You're either a liar or a show-off. Or maybe just a student destined to attend Caltech.