How Understanding 'Toy Story' Can Help You Get into College

Three words that could get you accepted to the University of Chicago: make it new.

Ethan Sawyer, Writing for
5-minute read
Episode #473
narrative structure college essay advice

Kinda like the University of Chicago.

In fact, the University of Chicago values uncommon thinking so much that, for years, it spurned the advances of the Common Application, calling its own application the Uncommon Application. And then, in 2012, the University of Chicago relented and joined the other hundreds of schools on the Common Application. #awkward

Weird past University of Chicago prompts:

  • So where is Waldo, really?

  • Find x.

  • Why are odd numbers odd?

  • How do you feel about Wednesday?

So, what does the narrative structure have to do with getting into college?

Well, over the past several years, some of my smartest students have used narrative structure to write amazing essays that helped get them into the University of Chicago in particular. (It’s important to note that it wasn’t only these essays that got them in—they had wonderful GPAs, test scores, and extracurricular resumes. But their essays helped.)

And here’s the thing: they didn’t just use narrative structure.

Oh no. They did something extra.

Because, let’s face it, every story has pretty much been written, right? (Some argue, in fact, that there are only ten basic story plots.)

What did these students do that was special?

They made it new.

What does it mean to “make it new”?

To make something new is to make the usual seem, well, unusual. Or, conversely, to make the unusual seem usual. Like wearing a duct tape dress to prom, for example. Making garlic ice cream. Or telling the story of a family surviving a tornado—from the perspective of the tornado.

Some films that made it new include Moulin Rouge, which was actually Puccini’s opera La Boheme. Or The Lion King, which was basically Hamlet. And the 1993 film Homeward Bound: the Incredible Journey about the talking dogs and cat was actually... well, the 1963 film Homeward Bound: the Incredible Journey.

Musicians who’ve made it new:

Jay Z’s Izzo (H.O.V.A) → Jackson 5’s I Want You Back

Fugee’s Ready or Not → Enya’s Boadicea

Kanye West’s All Falls Down, Jesus Walks, Through the Wire → all rip-offs--and all on the same album. (Fun fact: As of this writing, Kanye has sampled 414 other songs. Source.) 

So how can you make it new?


About the Author

Ethan Sawyer, Writing for Grammar Girl
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