Inspirational Sample Essay for University of Chicago

University of Chicago is known for its quirky, creative essay questions, clearly meant to inspire young writers as well as their older, more-seasoned readers. This is one essay question that undoubtedly leaves the applicant with a wide pool of subjects to choose from, but seeks to tap a student's own wellspring, un-motivated by parental/academic demands. This student not only demonstrates his myriad strengths and accomplishments in a down-to-earth way, but he also conveys something much deeper about himself through his discussion of a personally meaningful project that he took on. Enjoy!

In Sunday in the Park With George, Stephen Sondheim wrote: “Work is what you do for others, liebchen. Art is what you do for yourself.” Write about an instance where you did something purely for your own edification.

"I don't do much, dance or sing… I don't do very much of anything," sang Lindsay, a theatrically spurned senior soprano, in parody of the Cabaret number "I Don't Care Much." I laughed along with the other seldom-seen-onstage Kit Kat Club dancers; we'd just finished singing backup on "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" and it was as good a way as any to kill the time before our reentrance for the finale. Little German Boy #3, also known as Zack, turned to me, "Kind of reminds you of A Chorus Line."

"Not really. Maybe Noises Off?" I replied.

"It sort of has that meta [title of show] thing going…"

"Wait," I said. "There’ve been shows about whorehouses (Tenderloin), a Malthusian apocalypse where people pay to pee (Urinetown), and a homicidal barber (Sweeney Todd), but no one's written a show about the ensemble?"

A moment of silence.

"One of us is going to learn to play the piano."

For the remainder of the Cabaret performances, Zack and I stayed late so we could use the rehearsal piano to pluck out phrases whose discordant reverberations sent us into paroxysms of glee. A flurry of activity ensued. We bandied lyrics like birdies in badminton and planned plot lines as we passed from Biology to English. By the end of ninth grade, Ensemble had six characters, just as many half-written songs, and thirteen-odd pages of book. Shaking hands, we vowed to spend every free moment working on it the following year.

But freedom's a tricky term to apply to a chronically interested teen, and Ensemble was soon competing for my time with THAT (The Hunter Aspiring Thespians) Magazine for which I was then a staff writer, features editor, and business manager; the China American Psychoanalytic Alliance, for which I was training instructors; the Hunter Bike Team, for which I was both riding and fundraising; Capoeira Club, whose midday rodas were as exhausting as they were cathartic; and my newest brainchild, PROUST (Pretentious Readers Ostensibly Understanding Searching for Time) Club, established to lead bold bibliophiles down Swann’s perilous and pleasurable way. There weren't enough hours in the day. And so at the end of tenth grade, Ensemble stood at nine characters, four finished and five unpolished songs, and twenty-one pages of increasingly complex book.

Summer came and summer went and the show's prospects grew bleaker, but in the middle of another—this time only mildly menacing—New York winter, I looked up from a sheet of polar equations and found that I'd drawn the same rose curve four times. The tune I'd been humming had traded primacy with the math, and soon my page was filled with the lyrics to the a cappella number that would ultimately be titled "The Rent." I realized that as relative as time was, it would never distort of its own accord to allow me the space to do the myriad things I so desperately wanted to do. No, if you really love something, you've got to squeeze those seconds from meals and madeleines and meditative moments with the Times.

Zack and I set a date. In three months, we conjured or codified eleven songs, wrote thirty-three pages of book, and found a pianist to transcribe our vocal accompaniments. And on February 18, 2012, in the basement of Advent Lutheran Church on 93rd and Broadway we recorded the last phrase of "Don't See My Show"—the song inspired by Lindsay's parody, tossed off more than two years earlier.

 Ensemble is now a musical of two acts, nine characters, fifteen songs, fifty-four pages, and twenty-eight months of my life. I don't know if it's the best work I've ever produced but it's the thing I'm most proud of because it was done apart from any parental or academic or extracurricular mandate—done purely for the love of the thing itself, and because it showed me what can be created from a delicate spark when it is nurtured among friends.

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Essay on a Personal Value

Personal values are qualities that represent your priorities and highest motivations. Asking about personal values allows colleges to gain insight into the traits that students hold dear. This student wrote the essay below when colleges asked him to describe one of his personal values. He also used it in modified form to address such essay topics as adversity, personal trait/identity, community, diversity, social issue, and greatest accomplishment, among others. The key is to interpret the questions creatively and apply them to your own personal characteristics.

Grapes, box scores, and musical fugues – not a list of things commonly associated with one another but, in my life, these items are forever linked.

One day, as I was sitting in my highchair, pretending to be king of all babies perched on my throne, my parents decided to interrupt my fantasy for a meal. A bowl of voluptuous grapes was placed before me. "How many grapes are there, Joshie?" my mom asked. "Ten!" When she took three away, I counted seven. And with that, my passion for numbers took its alpha step into what would become a lifelong pursuit of numerical wisdom, a love I have always referred to as The Grapes Of Math.

The eminent physicist Richard Feynman once remarked that, in order to do multiplication, all one needs is to know how to count. I proved this concept a few years later. My dad, recognizing my early proficiency for addition and subtraction, and my early passion for all things athletic, decided to test my knack for multiplication with batting averages and box scores in the New York Times.

Perhaps the only other activity in my life that conjures up such passion for me is music. From the age of three, I sang the concluding prayers at my synagogue. Congregants would tell me what a beautiful voice I had, but I never believed them. As I got older, my confidence as a singer began to grow and I joined a small choral group in fourth grade. Unfortunately, by fifth grade, my voice experienced that inevitable adolescent mutiny and I became embarrassed to continue in the chorus.

Last year, several juniors at my school performed at Fugue Night to an audience of peers and parents. I composed a fugue and helped perform another. Our music teacher, who happened also to be the chorus director, heard me sing and told me that I had an amazing ear and great voice. At her urging, I auditioned for chorus, and, with her support, I became one of 15 students chosen for the school’s prestigious chamber choir.

Just as my “grapes of math” have aged, so too has my passion for math. As I have learned more, math has become more exquisite and flavorful to me. Similarly, musical tastes change with age, and my musical development has seen me evolve from a carefree singer, to an insecure one, to a skilled one, to an educational one. For a while, music represented a suppression of a love, for which I struggled internally with self-doubt. But it always remained inside me; a true passion, after all, cannot be kept silent for long.