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Top 10 Tough Essay Questions in College Applications That Stumped Students

Posted on Nov 06, 2018
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The college application essay… That dreaded question about your life’s purpose. Sometimes, it can stump the best writers among us. How do you summarize your life in a 500-word essay? What is it that the Admissions Office really want to know about you? And if you spill out your darkest secrets (yes, we all have them!) will you end up getting rejected by your dream school?

It’s a tightrope walk every student has to manage during their college application process. Most students procrastinate till the last date because they are clueless about how to approach the essay writing. Some seek help by reading up samples of essays of successful candidates. Others call in their friends or family to lend a helping hand. The few who proceed to create their own masterpieces may have written eloquently, but totally miss the point!

Here are 5 tips to writing a great essay for college:

1. Start Early.
There are huge payoffs for the early birds. One, they have enough time to revisit and edit their essays a million times before submission. Two, they can ensure that they submit their application well on time. Three, their essays will not be pockmarked with spelling and grammatical errors. Four, you can lead a stress free life!

2. Create a Skeleton.
Using the questions as your base, create a skeleton of what you would write. Leave the detailing for a later date. Make sure that you have all the points within your framework before actually starting to write. This is akin to creating a rough outline, before painting your masterpiece.

3. Fill In The Details With Great Precision.
Without meandering from the topic, fill in your details. Ensure a rich vocabulary, smooth narrative, and simple statements to make an impact. Don’t go for heavy words, if it is not your style. Cut out the slang, keep the tone neutral, but polite. Stay away from wisecracks too!

4. Edit, Edit, and Edit. Then Edit Once More!
This is the most boring, but crucial part of essay writing. After making your first draft, sleep over it. Come back to the essay with a fresh mind, and review with a critical eye. Yo can even make a checklist of commonly made errors in essay writing, before you start. If you feel that you are prejudiced, get someone to review it for you. The more you edit, the more your essay will shine like a diamond.

5. Hit Submit When You Feel Ready.
It’s tough to do this part. Don’t wait till the eleventh hour to make your submission. Your masterpiece is of no use, if it does not reach the Admissions Department on time. Trust your judgment and go for it.

If you plan to apply for higher studies abroad in the future, and you have ample time on hand to prepare a good essay, read these top 10 tough essay questions asked in college applications in the US.

Top 10 Tough Essay Questions for MBA Degree Applicants in the USA

1. As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program? Harvard University (HBS)

2. What is your immediate post-MBA career goal? What is your long-term post-MBA career goal? University of Chicago (Booth)


3. What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (University of Pennsylvania – Wharton)

4. What matters most to you, and why? (Stanford University (Stanford GSB)

5. Video Essay: Please introduce yourself to your future classmates via a brief 60-second video statement. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Sloan)

6. Kellogg’s purpose is to educate, equip & inspire brave leaders who create lasting value. Tell us about a time you have demonstrated leadership and created lasting value. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? (Northwestern University – Kellogg)

7. Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg? (Northwestern University – Kellogg)

8. Tell us a six-word story that reflects a memorable experience in your life-to-date. Elaborate on why it is meaningful to you. (University of California—Berkeley (Haas)


9. Select one prompt from each group of the three groups below: (University of Michigan—​Ann Arbor (Ross)
• Group 1
 – I want people to know that I:
I made a difference when I:
• Group 2
 – I was humbled when:
I am out of my comfort zone when:
• Group 3
 – I was aware that I am different when:
I find it challenging when people:

Top 10 Tough Essay Questions for Undergrad Applicants in the USA

1. If you could only do one of the activities you have listed in the Activities section of your application, which one would you keep doing? Why? (University of Michigan)

2. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time? University of California

3. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. University of California


4. What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person. (University of Texas)


5. You’ve got a ticket in your hand – Where will you go? What will you do? What will happen when you get there? (University of Texas)


6. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? (Stanford)


7. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? (Stanford)


8. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. (Stanford)

9. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. (Common App)


10. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? (Common App)

Top 10 Tough Essay Questions for Masters Applicants for USA and UK


1. Your objective in pursuing a Master of Human-Computer Interaction, including your career goals and your reasons for applying to Carnegie Mellon’s MHCI program. (Carnegie Mellon University)


2. Your background in human-computer interaction or other fields relevant to your objective. Describe how your academic, industry or commercial experience prepares you for admission to the MHCI program. (Carnegie Mellon University)


3. Please describe your interest in HCI and design, and explain what specific elements of the UW MHCI+D Program make it a good fit for you. How have your prior experiences (at school and in the workplace if applicable) prepared you for this program and this field? How will this program assist you in your longer-term goals? (University Of Washington, Seattle)


4. How have your background and life experiences, including cultural, geographical, financial, educational or other opportunities or challenges, motivated your decision to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Michigan? (University Of Michigan, Ann Arbor)


5. Your Personal Statement should address both of the following questions specifically, with Part (A) constituting at least half of the total length: (Harvard Law School)

a. Briefly describe either an important issue in your field of interest or a current legal problem facing a particular country, region, or the world, and then propose a theoretical framework or a legal analysis or strategy to address this issue.
b. Please tell us something about yourself — in particular, why you wish to pursue an LL.M. degree at Harvard and how doing so connects with what you have done in the past and what you plan to do in the future.

6. Applying for admission to the BCL, MJur, MSc Law and Finance or MSc/MPhil in Criminology and Criminal Justice: ‘statement of purpose,’ as part of your online application. It should explain your motivation for graduate study at Oxford and give details of any relevant academic, research, or practical experience you have. If you have some idea of which BCL/MJur options you wish to take then it is useful to mention this though it won’t weaken your application if you do not as yet have any preferences. (University of Oxford)


7. Your SOP should describe succinctly your reasons for applying to the proposed program at Stanford, your preparation for this field of study, research interests, future career plans, and other aspects of your background and interests. (Stanford University)


8. Why are you applying for this program? What will you do during this degree program? What do you want to do after and how will this help you? (University of California Berkeley)


9. What are your career objectives and what steps are you taking to achieve them? What alternatives are you considering? What geographical region do you hope to work in? (London School of Economics)


10. Please discuss past academic and professional experiences and accomplishments that will help you succeed in the MFin program. Include achievements in finance, math, statistics, and computer science as applicable. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology — MIT)


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