Tufts University Asks Applicants: "What Does YOLO Mean to You?"

July 15, 2013

When Canadian rapper Drake wrote a song featuring slang acronym YOLO (you only live once), it ignited a full-blown trend. The sentiment -- life is short, live for today -- is not novel, but seemed to resonate with a whole new generation of young people: #YOLO quickly became a popular Twitter hashtag, and t-shirts bearing the acronym made their way into department stores. Now a prestigious university is inviting applicants to discuss what the acronym means to them in their admissions essays, perhaps giving credence to the notion that YOLO is not only another teen slang term but a meaningful world view.

The Huffington Post reported that Tufts University has added the slang term #YOLO (hashtag included) to one of this year's admissions essay prompts. The prompt suggests YOLO is a modern expression of Ancient Rome's "carpe diem," or RENT playwright Jonathan Larson's "no day but today!" Now Tufts wants to know, "What does #YOLO mean to you?"

"Oh yes, we did," Lee Coffin, dean of Undergraduate Admissions, wrote in a Tufts University blog post discussing this year's prompts. "Quakers, Virginia Woolf, nerds, an ancient Roman, Drake, a principle of physics and the Red Sox (at least by inference) all wiggled their way into one of our essay questions."

The YOLO prompt has generated a lot of press, even on an application featuring a number of quirky questions and references, including an invitation for applicants to "celebrate (their) nerdy side." Unusual questions might be considered a Tufts trademark: The Huffington Post reported that in 2009, the University asked applicants, quite simply, "Are we alone?" Still, a Tufts spokesperson suggested in an emailed statement that this year's YOLO prompt is anything but a joke.

"The spirit of the question is actually quite serious as it asks students to consider a concept that people -- from Roman philosopher of antiquity Horace to contemporary Grammy Award-winning Canadian rapper Drake -- have been thinking about for thousands of years," the Tufts statement indicated, according to The Boston Globe. "Deceptively simple subjects can yield eloquent essays and important insights."

Not everyone sees the prompt in such a positive light. In a column for The Atlantic Wire, Alexander Nazaryan called the question "an obvious instance of pandering," suggesting that Tufts is trying to maintain its cool school image, unlike "those fusty Ivy League colleges."

The Boston Globe noted that though some of Tufts' questions may seem "silly or lighthearted," however, the school's application process is "nothing to scoff at." Just this year, as other colleges are fretting over declining admissions, Tufts posted a new record low acceptance rate of 18.7 percent.

Coffin's blog post explained that Tufts' essay prompts are simply designed to get applicants' "writing juices flowing." The questions are not an attempt to make it "harder" to apply to Tufts but a way of encouraging students to think outside the box.

Compiled by Aimee Hosler


"Let's Get This Party Started," admissions.tufts.edu, July 11, 2013, Lee Coffin

"Tufts asks applicants: what does YOLO mean to you?" boston.com, July 12, 2013, Katherine Landergan

"Tufts' 'YOLO' Essay Question Asks College Applicants To Explain Phrase's Personal Significance," huffingtonpost.com, July 12, 2013, Tyler Kingkade

"Write About YOLO, Get Into Tufts," theatlanticwire.com, July 12, 2013, Alexander Nazaryan

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