From their application, the following question:
A young student has twenty-four 6” x 6” beautifully decorated, ceramic squares, which were given to her by her grandfather who made them when he himself was a young student. The young woman wishes to arrange the tiles on her floor in such a way as to cover as large a circular area as possible. How should she arrange the tiles to accomplish this? (Note that the tiles will not form a circle themselves, but must completely cover the circular area.) Write a two to four page essay explaining in detail the reasoning by which you arrived at your proposed arrangement and why it is a good one. You may include a description of some of your “first guesses,” as well as diagrams showing your arrangements and the equations used to justify your claims. (Diagrams and equations may be hand drawn.) We are interested in your reasoning and your ability to communicate that reasoning rather than a “correct” answer.
Applicants are asked to either answer this question or to critically analyze a passage from Aristotle which is given in the application. In addition, they are also asked the more "personal" question that basically boils down to "why do you want to come to our school?"
But I think this is an interesting concept, that they're asking people to answer a question like this on a college application. It says something about the sort of person they're looking for. I applied to some good, but conventional, colleges and I don't recall being asked anything like this.
Compare, for example, the application at my current institution, Penn, which asks (p. 12) for answers to the standard "why do you want to come here?" question and one of the following:
6a. You have just completed your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217.
6b. First experiences can be defining. Cite a first experience that you have had and explain its impact on you.
6c. Recall an occasion when you took a risk that you now know was the right thing to do.
(I wanted to put MIT's questions as well -- that's where I went for undergrad -- but their application can't be downloaded outside of admissions season.)
I explicitly ask you not to answer the Simon's Rock question -- this blog does well enough on Google that someone filling out the application could easily find the question,and if they found answers to it that would essentially defeat the purpose.