How to Create Strong Answers for Unusual College Essay Prompts

Discover why creative college essay questions are important and how to make your responses stand out

Most college application essays are variations of the same basic topics—overcoming adversity, why this major, why this college, and the personal statement. That being said, many colleges like to throw in a surprise for their applicants in the form of unusual college essay prompts. 

These creative college essay questions might have limits of 250 words, 100 words, or even 280 characters (the maximum length of a Tweet). While they might not be as long as your other college application essays, they can be just as intimidating. 

How should you respond to unusual college essay prompts? Should you be funny? Or professional? How creative should you get? What are colleges looking for? You’ve got the regular college essay topics covered, but you’re a feeling a little lost with these.

Unusual college essay prompts are certainly surprising, but they don’t have to be stressful. Today I’ll share expert advice on how to approach these essays and short answers. When we’re done, writing your creative college essays will be a breeze!

Why should you care about unusual college essay prompts? 

You might be tempted to take unusual college essay prompts less seriously than more “typical” essay topics. Don’t do it! The answers you give are important. Let’s consider why.

So why do colleges ask creative college essay questions? Well, it makes the application process a bit more fun, for starters. After writing on lots of serious essay topics, it can be a nice break for applicants to create something a bit more fun and imaginative.

Unusual college essay prompts also give admissions officers a chance to know a different side of you. They catch you off guard so you’ll reveal something new and honest about yourself. 

Remember, colleges are trying to get to know the real you. Unusual college essay prompts give them a great chance to do just that.

Now, here’s another good question. Why are creative college essay questions so hard for students to answer? Here are the three main reasons I’ve come across in my experience.

  • Students are more used to writing about big and serious topics in their college essays.
  • It can be hard for students to quickly switch gears between serious and light-hearted topics.
  • Applicants aren’t as comfortable writing about mundane, silly, imaginative, or theoretical things.

But just because answering unusual college essay prompts can be challenging, doesn’t mean you can’t make your responses shine. Trust me, these questions are no cause for alarm.

Examples of unusual college essay prompts

To give you a better idea of the unusual college essay prompts you might encounter in your applications, let’s take a look at a few creative question examples from well-respected colleges.

Emory University

Which book, character, song, or piece of work (fiction or non-fiction) represents you, and why?

Stanford University

Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—get to know you better.

University of Chicago

What if the moon were made of cheese? Or Neptune made of soap? Pick a celestial object, reimagine its material composition, and explore the implications. Feel free to explore the realms of physics, philosophy, fantasy…the sky is the limit!

University of Notre Dame

God and the Good Life is an interdisciplinary course created by the departments of Philosophy and Film, Television, and Theatre that asks students to consider moral questions about what they believe and how they want to live their lives. What do God and a good life mean to you?

University of Southern California

(These are short answer questions.)

  • Describe yourself in three words.
  • What is your favorite snack?
  • Best movie of all time:
  • Dream job:
  • If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
  • Dream trip:
  • What TV show will you binge watch next?
  • Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?
  • Favorite book:
  • If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be?

Villanova University

Generation Z is arguably the most technologically savvy cohort in history. They find answers to questions, discover troves of new music, or even start the next global social movement, all within seconds. How has this seemingly limitless connectivity influenced the person you have become?

Wake Forest University

Explain how a book you’ve read has helped you to understand the world’s complexity.

You might stumble across additional unusual college essay prompts in the applications you submit. Just know that you’re not alone. A lot of students answer creative college essay questions every year and survive it. I promise you will, too.

The dos and don’ts of writing unusual college essay prompts

When you encounter an unusual or creative college essay question, you don’t need to panic. At least, not if you follow this curated list of dos and don’ts. These tips will teach you everything you need to produce authentic, impactful responses.

Do pay attention to the first answers that pop into your head. You don’t necessarily have to use those thoughts, but make note of them. Think a bit more. Write down a few ideas of how to respond, but don’t overthink it. There are no “right” answers to unusual college essay prompts. Your goal is to be true to yourself and display your original thinking.

Don’t share inappropriate details or negative personal qualities. Describing yourself as lazy or anti-social will give off a bad impression. You shouldn’t pretend to be perfect, but you also don’t have to reveal certain parts of yourself to your application readers.

Do reveal new, interesting details about yourself. What are a few personal quirks that all your friends and family know about? Are you in love with loose-leaf tea? Have you watched every British crime drama on Netflix? This is a good time to focus on the little things and paint a more detailed, unique picture of who you are.

Don’t force humor. You shouldn’t try to be funny if it’s not authentic to who you are. You’ll come across as awkward or confusing. However, it is good to take a light-hearted tone when answering creative college essay questions. No need to be ultra-professional sounding here.

Do be creative! If you’re a witty person, run with it. If you’re imaginative, show off your unique imagination. You want to have fun with these unusual college essay prompts. If you’re enjoying yourself while writing these responses, your readers will find reading them enjoyable, too.

Don’t make spelling and grammar mistakes. Even though these are more casual answers, it’s important to proofread and have a second pair of eyes look over them before submitting. Misspelled words and poorly written sentences will indicate that you’re sloppy—not the quality you’re trying to convey in your application!

Don’t stress out. Remember that one weak answer or one wrong sentiment won’t send your application to the trash bin. Be true to who you are. Be confident in yourself and your uniqueness. Let that shine—good things will follow.

Final thoughts about unusual college essay prompts

The college application process can be overwhelming. So it’s important to enjoy these little pockets of fun and creativity when they come. 

When you face unusual college essay prompts, approach them as small gifts. They offer you a chance to reveal how wonderful and interesting you are. If you follow my suggestions on how to answer creative college essay questions, you’ll be sure to put your best foot forward in your applications.

I want to hear from you! What unusual college essay prompts are you being asked to answer? Which ones have you the most stumped? Drop a comment below.

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