From Plato to…Play-Doh

After just having seen a story on TV news about college essays, and the “strikingly original” questions being asked of applicants, I opened my University of Chicago magazine and saw Laura Demanski’s article on the essay questions asked by the admissions office for the Class of 2016.

The most popular question of the six offered for applicants’ compositions was the question that asked the candidates to trace a path from Plato to Play-Doh.  Hmmm…

When I think back to my under-graduate and MBA essays, they were far more mundane: life resume, why I wanted to attend this program, what I thought I’d get out of the experience, and other boring drivel.  Today, college hopefuls are asked to be creative.  What a great idea!

As MBA candidates have asked me over the years what I got out of my business training at the U. of Chicago, I quickly tell them that the program, the professors, the other students and the environment taught me critical thinking.

Didn’t I get a toolbox of formulas to map The Random Walk of the stock market, approaches to modeling Conjoint Analysis and access to more university Nobel Prize winners than could be printed on the front of a maroon and gold t-shirt?  Yes, I received all this and more, but learning how to think critically and creatively, then develop business strategy, was by far the most valuable.

How does a university teach someone to be a critical thinker?  How does the admissions office identify those applicants most likely to benefit from that type of educational system?

I think these essays pose stretch questions–ones that require left and right-brained thinking.  Not only does the answer need to be original, but trace a path (in this particular question) from Plato (Point A) to Play-Doh (Point B).  The answer needs to stand out among competition and engage the audience.  Sounds just like marketing to me!

What could be better preparation for life than learning how to think about problems?  The break-neck speed of change going on in the world today, particularly in business, mandates that we all hone our thinking skills, rather than specific tools that seem to be quickly outmoded.

For Ms. Demanski’s article, she posed this question to a few alumni as well.  As part of his answer, James Read, a political science professor at St. John’s University had this to say:

“…Among the ingredients of Play-Doh is a small quantity of salt.  Plato, too, should sometimes be taken with a grain of salt…”

For the full article or to challenge your own creative juices on these questions, link to “Admit One,” published in The Core, January-February 2012 issue of the College Magazine of the The University of Chicago.

If you want more on the Plato-Play-Doh connection,  see the video application from what might be a budding filmmaker, titled: What Does Play-Doh Have to do with Plato?



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