What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How to Write the University of Chicago Essays 2023-2024

The University of Chicago is famous for its unconventional supplemental essay prompts, and this year is no exception. While there is one traditional prompt that asks you to write about your interest in UChicago, the star of your essay package will be your response to one of seven incredibly outside-the-box prompts (with the seventh being a choose your own adventure).


Because the brainstorming you’ve done for all your other college essays is unlikely to help much here, you want to make sure you leave yourself extra time to really give these prompts the attention they require. One thing you’ll quickly realize is there’s no way to “brute force” your answer—you just need to be patient and let your ideas develop.


In this post, we’ll break down each prompt for you, so that, while you’ll still have to harness your own creativity, you can be confident in your overall approach.


Read these UChicago essay examples to inspire your writing.


Before You Begin Writing 


The University of Chicago’s prompts are famous (infamous? both?) for being different, quirky, and sometimes downright weird. Have you ever seen the word cheese or pie in a college essay prompt before? I’m guessing not. But don’t get discouraged or overwhelmed—the weirdness of the UChicago prompts makes them ripe with opportunity to explore your passions, interests, and personal oddities. 


You know that subject you avoid in casual conversation, because it turns you into a gushing ball of enthusiasm that could talk for hours? UChicago wants to hear about it. Whether it’s feminist literature of Southeast Asia, modern perception of African art, or your job at Colonial Williamsburg, UChicago has happily passed you the mic. 


While your creative opportunity has few bounds, there are some key strategies to conquering the UChicago essays. Keep this checklist of things in mind as you write: 


Unconventional topics often require unconventional styles. 


UChicago essays should definitely be viewed as a piece of creative writing, rather than a dry analysis. When you are in college, you will be asked to write thesis-driven essays, but that’s not what the UChicago essays are asking for. You need to have a clear focus, but you should be comfortable disrupting the familiar rhythms of essay prose. This can mean vivid (and I mean vivid) imagery, addressing the reader directly, sentence fragments, CAPS, lists, and anything else! Toss in some wild jargon from your field, phrases from another language, anything you’ve got—as long as you explain them. You should try to be imaginative, engaging, and colorful while maintaining an authentic voice and staying focused with your subject matter.


Communicate who you are as an academic.


The point of your essay is still to tell admissions officers about yourself. Give them an image of how you will perform in and contribute to an academic environment. You can’t just gush about your topic—you have to prove that you can engage with it at a highly intellectual level. Explain research protocol, cite specific books you’ve read, mention your AP and IB classes, or give examples of how you’ve collaborated with others to produce results. 


UChicago admissions don’t want a student who says “I love physics”; they want a student who says “I love physics so much that I stayed up until 4 am reading Cosmos by Carl Sagan, and I use meatballs to diagram the moons of Jupiter to my friends, and I took Calc III because I plan on studying mechanical engineering with a focus on aerospace materials.” Be detailed about your studies; be explicit in your interests. 


Marry yourself to your topic.


Be sure to include the first person; you are the main character here, not whatever subject you’re writing about. The subject is an avenue to tell admissions officers about you. You aren’t trying to get your latest film, your famous lasagna, or your community service project into the university—you are trying to get in. Don’t be afraid to center yourself. How do these objects from your past illuminate facets of your personality? What do your interests say about you?


And, as always, answer the prompt!


Print out the prompt, circle key words, hang it on your mirror. Read it, then read it again, and again. Sit with the prompt, get some (probably crazy!) ideas, then repeat the process! Many UChicago prompts are dense in their weirdness. Some of them take time to even understand. Many prompts will reveal themselves to you in your everyday life (after you’ve read them over and over again). Some of them just take deep thought. The key is to keep thinking and focus on what the prompt is asking. You’ve got this!


All the UChicago Essay Prompts


Prompt 1: (Required)


How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago.


Prompt 2: Extended Essay (Required; Choose one)


Option A: Exponents and square roots, pencils and erasers, beta decay and electron capture. Name two things that undo each other and explain why both are necessary. —Inspired by Emmett Cho, Class of 2027 


Option B: “Where have all the flowers gone?” – Pete Seeger. Pick a question from a song title or lyric and give it your best answer. —Inspired by Ryan Murphy, AB’21 


Option C: “Vlog,” “Labradoodle,” and “Fauxmage.” Language is filled with portmanteaus. Create a new portmanteau and explain why those two things are a “patch” (perfect match). —Inspired by Garrett Chalfin, Class of 2027 


Option D: A jellyfish is not a fish. Cat burglars don’t burgle cats. Rhode Island is not an island. Write an essay about some other misnomer, and either come up with and defend a new name for it or explain why its inaccurate name should be kept. —Inspired by Sonia Chang, Class of 2025, and Mirabella Blair, Class of 2027


Option E: Despite their origins in the Gupta Empire of India or Ancient Egypt, games like chess or bowling remain widely enjoyed today. What modern game do you believe will withstand the test of time, and why? —Inspired by Adam Heiba, Class of 2027 


Option F: There are unwritten rules that everyone follows or has heard at least once in their life. But of course, some rules should be broken or updated. What is an unwritten rule that you wish didn’t exist? (Our custom is to have five new prompts each year, but this year we decided to break with tradition. Enjoy!) —Inspired by Maryam Abdella, Class of 2026 


Option G: And, as always… the classic choose your own adventure option! In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, choose one of our past prompts (or create a question of your own). Be original, creative, thought provoking. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun!

Prompt 1

How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago.

The pressure’s on to be unique here, since EVERY SINGLE APPLICANT to UChicago will be answering this required question. Here’s what you need to do:


Provide a tangible connection to UChicago. 


This is composed of specific elements of the university that appeal to you, and UChicago’s website is a great place to delve into these. Be sure to be “particular,” as they stipulate, and give them the “specificity” they’re asking for. Examples include research opportunities at Argonne Labs, the marketing classes in the Business School, or an internship offered through the Creative Writing program. 


Don’t write about UChicago’s general attributes, like fame, prestige, or “intellectual rigor.” And please don’t try to be clever and refute the old canard that UChicago is the place “Where Fun Goes to Die.” Application readers have seen this hundreds, if not thousands of times. And besides, why talk about a tired UChicago stereotype when you can talk about something cool? 


Describe your intangible connection as well. 


How is UChicago a place that aligns with your values, dreams, and goals? How do you vibe with it? For example, if I wanted to write about the Creative Writing internship, I would state explicitly how it draws me in: 


I want to attend a college that values the innovative nature of indie comics publishing as much as I do. So, I’m impressed by UChicago’s commitment to providing internships in comics writing through Bult Publishing and The Artifice magazine. One of my goals as a writer is to gain firsthand experience in comics publishing, specifically small houses, and the Creative Writing program at UChicago hits the mark, resoundingly.


Engage with faculty and students, if possible. 


This is a perfect place to talk about specific interactions, like sitting in on an inspiring seminar during a campus visit, hearing a professor speak, or seeing how UChicago has prepared a friend for his career. 


However, always be sure to tie these experiences into your own goals and interests! For example, don’t just name-drop a certain Professor Smith. Instead, take the opportunity to find a personal connection to Smith’s research and how great UChicago is for supporting people like her. Your format should be


        Program/Individual/Major – UChicago’s Values – My values


If you want to learn more about a specific professor or their subject, don’t be afraid to politely email them or contact their department. Many love to talk about their work and their interests, or would love to put you in touch with current students. This will better inform you about the school and give you a great edge for this prompt. And, more importantly, you’ll probably get great advice for your higher education journey. Note: the earlier you prepare for this, the better!


It’s worth noting that there is no recommended essay length, but sticking to around 500 words should do the trick. It’s long enough to share the reasons you’ll thrive at UChicago, but not too long that the admissions officers will start to get bored.


Prompt 2: Extended Essay (Required, Choose One)


Choose one of the six extended essay options and upload a one- or two-page response. Please include the prompt at the top of the page.


Prompt 2, Option A

Exponents and square roots, pencils and erasers, beta decay and electron capture. Name two things that undo each other and explain why both are necessary. —Inspired by Emmett Cho, Class of 2027

Brainstorming Your Topic


You’ll notice with UChicago’s prompts that, while unusual, they are usually quite specific in what they want you to write about. The challenge is that the category is likely not something you’ve ever spent much time thinking about, so figuring out what you want to write about will take a lot more effort than, for example, explaining what a particular extracurricular activity has meant to you.


Here, one thing you have going for you is that the examples UChicago provides of “undoers” cover a pretty wide range of things. You can write about a sophisticated pair, like beta decay and electron capture, but you can also write about something as familiar as pencils and erasers.


Because of this flexibility, a good place to start your brainstorming is by thinking of some of your interests, and then trying to identify a pair of undoers related to that interest. For example, maybe you’ve always really enjoyed doing your hair and makeup. A curler and a straightener would absolutely work as a topic for this prompt. Alternatively, if you’re interested in anatomy, you could write about systole and diastole, the contraction and relaxation of the heart.


If this approach isn’t getting you anywhere, zoom further out, and think about everyday activities and objects, to see if that sparks an idea. For example, maybe you’re wandering around your house, and see your mother’s old sewing kit, which inspires you to write about scissors and thread. Or perhaps you’re thinking about your commute to school, and you realize drive and reverse would work.


Remember that the whole point is to be creative. Don’t worry about what UChicago admissions officers “want” to see, because honestly, they aren’t trying to angle you in a certain direction. If they were, they wouldn’t give you a prompt that was so difficult to brainstorm for. So if something comes to your mind that you feel excited about, run with that—don’t get in your own way by asking yourself if it’s “good enough.” As long as you’re inspired, the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.”


Tips for Writing Your Essay


The goal of your brainstorming process is to pick “two things that undo each other.” Once you have them, you can move on to drafting your actual essay, where your goal is addressing the second half of this prompt: “explain[ing] why both are necessary.”


Although UChicago doesn’t say it outright, the key to a strong response is reading the word “necessary” through a philosophical lens. UChicago doesn’t want you to literally explain why a car needs to have both drive and reverse. That approach would lead to an overly academic-feeling, dry essay, as it’s obvious why a car needs to be able to move forwards and backwards, and remember, the point of this essay is to show off your creativity.


Rather than being literal, you want to think of how you can use your undoers to make a deeper point about how you see the world. UChicago may choose unusual packaging, but this is still a college essay, so the point is ultimately to teach admissions officers something about yourself, so that they can better envision you as a member of their campus community.


Obviously, there’s no one right way to do that, but a good place to start is by thinking of how you might connect your undoers to a story from your own life. Again, this is still a college essay, and relying on specific examples (and using descriptive writing to flesh out those examples) will make your response much more engaging to read.


For example, maybe you focus your essay on a road trip your family took when you were little, and talk about how, without reverse, you would never be able to return to the places you visited where you made such fond memories, but without drive, you wouldn’t be able to continue exploring new destinations. 


You could even get more creative than that, if you’re feeling so inspired, as UChicago sets no rules for how you need to structure your response. So, to run with a different example from the “Brainstorming” section, maybe you talk about how when the heart contracts and sends blood circulating through the body is when you feel connected to the world, and can better understand the great writers of history like Shakespeare, Lao Tzu, and Ovid. When the heart relaxes, on the other hand, is when you retreat into your own thoughts, and wonder about how you can leave your own mark on this tiny planet spinning through the blackness of space.


Your approach will likely look completely different from both of these examples, but hopefully they at least help get your gears turning by giving you some general thoughts about how you might set up the “this and that” dynamic. 


Mistakes to Avoid


Pretty much the only thing we’d encourage you not to do is write about one of the pairs of undoers UChicago lists in the prompt. You may be tempted to, either because you genuinely feel a connection to one of them, or because you’re just suffering from terrible writer’s block and can’t think of anything else.


Remember, though, that the point here is creativity, so using an example UChicago came up with for you will be a letdown for admissions officers. Plus, as with any college essay, you want your response to set you apart from other applicants, and there will likely be a good number of other students who end up settling for one of the examples provided.


If you really are completely stuck, we have good news for you—there are six other prompts you can choose from here! While still unusual, of course, hopefully you’ll feel more of a kinship with one of them than you do with this one.


Prompt 2, Option B

“Where have all the flowers gone?” – Pete Seeger. Pick a question from a song title or lyric and give it your best answer. —Inspired by Ryan Murphy, AB’21

Brainstorming Your Topic


If music is a big part of your life, either because you play an instrument or sing yourself, or because you are a fan of a certain style of music or even a particular artist, you may feel immediately drawn to this prompt. Maybe you even already have a line in mind that you want to focus your essay on.


However, you can also write a strong response to this prompt even if you have no musical experience whatsoever. The lyric or song title is just the leaping off point for the essay—the points you make can be totally unrelated to music. The only thing to be aware of is that, if you have a more limited musical background, brainstorming may take a little longer, as you’ll have to do more work to think of possibilities.


Regardless of your experience with music, or lack thereof, once you decide that you’re responding to this prompt the best place to start your brainstorming is with artists or songs you already enjoy listening to. Even though, as noted above, the lyric/title is just your starting point, the beginning of your essay will be much more engaging if you already have some sort of connection to it. Genuineness is one of the biggest things admissions officers are looking for in evaluating essays, and that’s a quality that’s impossible to fake. If you just google “famous songs with questions in the title,” your essay may start off feeling dry or impersonal.


Instead, open up your Spotify “On Repeat” playlist, and see if any of the songs there have a question in the title or the lyrics. If none of them do, turn to some of your old favorites, and scan those.


Ideally, the song you choose will already reflect something about you, both because that personal connection will, as noted above, make your essay more engaging to read, and, just as importantly, because it’ll make it more fun for you to write. Here are some examples of how your brainstorming process could go, to hopefully help get your own gears turning:


  • Your parents always insisted on playing the oldies radio station when driving you to school, so you pick the line “Will the farmer push the pen, will the writer pull the plow?” from Elton John’s “Lady What’s Tomorrow.” 


  • You’re a huge Taylor Swift fan, so you decide to write about her cryptic line “Do you really want to know where I was April 29th?” from the song “High Infidelity.” 


  • You have a niche artist you really like, like the Swedish singer Isak Danielson, and so you choose the line “Wouldn’t you say there’s a light in the darkest moment?” from his song “Always.”

Keep in mind that literally every song is available to you, so don’t be afraid of picking a lyric that may seem silly or “out there.” For UChicago, the more unconventional your response, the better. So, if you loved the Barbie movie, you can absolutely write your essay about the line “Is it my destiny to live and die a life of blonde fragility?” from Ryan Gosling’s climactic performance of “I’m Just Ken.”


Also keep in mind that you don’t have to go with the first question you find. In fact, we would suggest not doing that, unless that question really speaks to you. You want to be sure that the question you choose can support a pretty lengthy response to it.


To ensure your question works, we would encourage you to keep a list of possibilities, and once you have 5-10, think more deeply about each one, and how you would structure an essay responding to it. Whichever one makes you feel most excited/inspired is likely your golden ticket.


Tips for Writing Your Essay


The number one thing to focus on in writing your actual essay is answering your question in a way that teaches UChicago admissions officers something about you. While, like with all of these prompts, creativity is a strength, this isn’t your journal, nor is it a philosophical treatise. It’s a piece of reflective writing that will hopefully help you gain acceptance to an excellent university.


To ensure your answer to the question is not merely interesting, but also contains information about your personality, think about connections between your own life and the line you’ve selected. These connections can be on the abstract side, so long as you’re confident in your writing abilities, as you’ll need to be able to explain them in a way that your readers will be able to understand. 


If you’re not sure you’ll be able to do that, we recommend sticking to more straightforward connections, as a simple essay that your reader can follow is much better than a complicated one that they can’t. To give you a general idea of how you can relate your own life to your song title/lyric, here are some examples of both simple and more complex connections you could make to the sample lyrics listed in the “Brainstorming” section above:


Simple Connections:


  • You like to write, and you also like to garden, so you write an essay about how people are complicated, and can have a wide range of seemingly dissimilar skills and interests


  • April 29th is your grandfather’s birthday, so you decide to write about all the wonderful celebrations you’ve had on this date when visiting him at his home in Maine


  • You write about how your favorite part of any holiday is the light-up decorations on people’s houses, as they provide light even during the darkest parts of the year, and describe some of the best decorations you’ve ever seen


  • You have very delicate blonde hair, and finding the right shampoo has been a lifelong odyssey, so you decide to describe some of the most humorous moments in that saga


Complex Connections:


  • You write a satirical piece about a writer and farmer swapping jobs for a day, and their frustrations as they try to learn new skills, and use these characters’ interactions to flesh out some of your own opinions about the world


  • April 29th is 4/29 numerically, and 29-4 is 25, while 29+4 is 33, so you write about where you see yourself being at these ages


  • You love physics, so you take “darkest moment” literally, and write about black holes, from which, famously, not even light can escape, and write a fairy tale, incorporating moments from your own life, about a photon being chased across a fictional kingdom by a massive, evil black hole


  • You write about the fragile “blonde” things you observe in your daily life, like a fallen yellow leaf in autumn, a delicate piece of honeycomb, and winter sunlight glinting on freshly fallen snow, and what you can learn from these things


As you can see from these examples, whether you go with a simple or complex connection, your approach can be either serious or more on the playful side. While neither is automatically better than the other, we do encourage you to have the courage to at least try something a little more lighthearted. College applications are by their nature mostly pretty dry affairs, and mixing up your tone can do a lot to liven things up and help admissions officers stay engaged. 


That being said, it’s crucial that your response feels natural and cohesive, so if the only ideas coming to your mind are more along the lines of the classic, reflective college essay structure, that’s completely fine. As noted above, the strength of your essay is determined by how much it teaches your reader about you, not by the particulars of topic, structure, or any other “nuts and bolts” detail.


Mistakes to Avoid


The only real rule when selecting a song title or lyric is one that applies to every college essay: don’t choose one that includes profanity, or that references sex, alcohol, or other “adult” topics. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying that kind of song in your free time, remember that applying to college is a formal process, so you want to come across as respectful and professional.


In terms of writing your actual essay, you want to be sure that you actually answer the question you’ve selected, even if you do so in an unconventional way—that is the whole point of the prompt, after all. So long as you follow our general brainstorming blueprint, and use your question as a narrow lens to scan your memories and experiences, you shouldn’t have issues with your ideas coming untethered from the question. But still take care that it doesn’t happen accidentally. 


For example, say you write all about your grandfather’s birthday celebrations, but forget to mention what date his birthday is. That’s only one missing line in a one- or two-page essay, but without it, UChicago admissions officers will have no idea what’s going on. So, make sure that somewhere, ideally early in the essay, you clearly and obviously connect the question to your broader ideas and experiences.


Prompt 2, Option C

“Vlog,” “Labradoodle,” and “Fauxmage.” Language is filled with portmanteaus. Create a new portmanteau and explain why those two things are a “patch” (perfect match). —Inspired by Garrett Chalfin, Class of 2027


Brainstorming Your Topic


When you start thinking about possible portmanteaus, your initial thought may be to begin with more examples of existing ones, like “brunch” or “spork.” We would encourage you, however, to shy away from this instinct. Your job here is to create a new portmanteau, and if you start combing through lists of existing ones, you may have trouble getting those out of your head.


Instead, as we’ve recommended in the “Brainstorming” sections of the previous prompts, turn to your own interests and experiences. Like the other prompts, this should still be an essay about you, and you’ll have a hard time with that if you’re combining two words that you have no personal connection to.


Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. Even if you look at the well-known examples given, there’s no real reason that, for example, cross-breeding a labrador and a poodle would necessarily result in an extremely popular new breed. Now, labradors and poodles are both kinds of dogs, so there was a pre-existing connection between these two things. But as you come up with your own portmanteau, keep in mind that the two things you combine don’t have to be obviously related. Unlike the examples given, this word probably won’t ever be used by anyone else, so the “patch” only needs to make sense to you.


For example, maybe one of your favorite memories is when a blizzard canceled school, but you and your soccer teammates met up at practice time anyways, and played “snoccer” for two hours. Snow and soccer are not obviously related—quite the opposite, in fact, as sports games are sometimes canceled because of snow. But because of your personal connection to the topic, this portmanteau will undoubtedly be able to support a strong essay.


Or maybe you are most content when knitting with your cat sleeping in your lap, and you decide to explore this feeling of comfort with the new portmanteau “knitten.” Or, to give an example of two more obviously related things, maybe apples and cinnamon is your all-time favorite flavor combination, so you decide it needs an official name, “applemon.”


Tips for Writing Your Essay


In your actual response, your job is to follow the prompt, and explain why you see the two things you’re combining as a perfect match. As we’ve already touched on in the “Brainstorming” section above, your explanation should draw on your own personal experiences. UChicago admissions officers don’t want an academic essay on the chemical reactions that make apples and cinnamon such a satisfying flavor combination. 


Rather, they want to hear about how your life was changed the first time your grandma made you apple and cinnamon doughnuts, and how, since then, your mission in life has been to combine the two flavors in as many different forms as possible—not just baked goods, but also cider, jam, even stuffing for your family Thanksgiving turkey every year since 2018. 


With this kind of approach, your readers don’t just learn that you’re obsessed with these two flavors, but also that you’re creative, resourceful, and dedicated to tradition. The key isn’t to explain why these two things must be connected, but rather what you personally seeing this connection reflects about your personality as a whole.


If you’re having a hard time answering that question, take a step back from the actual portmanteau you’ve selected, and think of some of the qualities that make you who you are and aren’t already captured in your common app essay, or UChicago’s first supplement. Maybe it’s your sense of adventure. Maybe it’s your appreciation for melancholy things. Maybe it’s your love of animals. Whatever it is, see if you can use your portmanteau as a spotlight to shine light on this aspect of your personality.


Mistakes to Avoid


There aren’t any major pitfalls you need to be on the lookout for with this prompt. One slightly subtler thing you ideally want to avoid is creating a portmanteau that reads clunkily. Notice that the real-life examples UChicago gives, and the ones we’ve generated, flow off the tongue. “Socsnow,” on the other hand, unlike “snoccer,” does not.


If you have two things you’re absolutely dying to combine, but can’t think of a sophisticated way to do it linguistically, that’s okay—it’s not a true emergency if the portmanteau reads a little awkwardly, so long as the essay itself is strong. But, since the whole point of the UChicago essays is to test just how creative you can be, ideally you’ll be able to come up with a word that sounds like something people would actually say.


Prompt 2, Option D

A jellyfish is not a fish. Cat burglars don’t burgle cats. Rhode Island is not an island. Write an essay about some other misnomer, and either come up with and defend a new name for it or explain why its inaccurate name should be kept. —Inspired by Sonia Chang, Class of 2025, and Mirabella Blair, Class of 2027

Brainstorming Your Topic


While you of course will still ultimately want to connect your misnomer to your own interests and personality, this is a prompt where using introspection to brainstorm may not make the most sense, as it’s possible that you just don’t have an obvious personal connection to anything that has been poorly named.


Instead, think more broadly about your life and the world around you—current events, pop culture, things your friends and family talk about a lot, and so on. Think deeply about the terms you hear thrown around on a daily basis, and if they actually make literal sense. Odds are, you’ll eventually stumble into a word or expression that doesn’t.


For an example you may have thought of before, the NFL season has just started, so maybe you decide to write your essay on the strangeness of calling American football “football” even  though feet are a relatively minor part of the game. For a more unusual example, maybe you notice a container of Gorilla Glue sitting on your counter after a home repair project, and realize that, as far as you know, gorillas are in no way involved in the making of Gorilla Glue.


As you can hopefully see from these examples, and from UChicago’s given above, there are more of these misnomers scattered throughout the language we use every day than you might originally think. That’s why we encourage you to brainstorm by just sitting and thinking about the words you hear often—there’s no need to open the dictionary. Hopefully, you’ll be surprised how many you think of on your own that just don’t make much sense.


Tips for Writing Your Essay


While this should still be a personal, reflective essay, the structure may be more similar to your academic essays, since you’re going to be picking a stance (should the inaccurate name be kept or replaced) and defending it. So, like in an academic essay, you might start off by talking about why your misnomer doesn’t make sense, and then focus each of your paragraphs on a different reason why it should be kept or replaced.


However, unlike in an academic essay, the evidence you give for your position should be based on your own life experiences, not on research or a particular scholar’s position on the matter. You don’t want to explain that football players contact the ball with their foot on only 5% of plays, and so the name should be changed, nor do you want to dig up Gorilla Glue’s mission statement to justify why their name is actually a good one.


Rather, your goal is to use your position on this incredibly niche discussion to make broader points about who you are and how you see the world. To do that, you want to connect your ideas about this particular misnomer to formative moments and experiences from your own life.


For example, maybe you argue for the validity of the name Gorilla Glue by discussing your belief that the natural world is more powerful than any human achievement ever could be, a belief which you have developed as a result of numerous camping, backpacking, kayaking, and rock climbing trips throughout your youth.


Alternatively, you could argue against the name by talking about learning English as a second language, and how the challenging process of becoming bilingual taught you the importance of being precise with the words we use. You could then propose a new name, which may be less snappy, but is more literal: The Glue For When Every Other Fails.


If you do argue against replacing the inaccurate name, don’t be afraid to have some fun with your new idea, and even include some humor, along the lines of the suggestion above. Maybe you can also connect your new name to one of your personal experiences, like the time you and your brother accidentally broke a vase and only Gorilla Glue was able to help you stick it back together before your parents got home. If you wrap up your essay with a name that’s too literal, or present that name in a dry, unexciting way, the ending may fall a little flat compared to the rest of your essay.


Mistakes to Avoid


UChicago already notes this in the prompt, but, along the same lines as a point we made with Option A, don’t write about one of the examples they give. The whole point of these prompts is showcasing your creativity, which you can’t do if you don’t even come up with your own topic.


On a separate note, you generally don’t want to get political in your discussion of the misnomer you pick. For example, maybe you’re inspired to write about how, in contemporary American politics, the term “Republican” does not align with what it used to mean in antiquity. That is a discussion worth having, but not in your college essay. While higher education does lean much further left than society as a whole, you have no way of knowing the political beliefs of your particular admissions officer. So, it’s best to avoid the risk of writing an essay that happens to go directly against one of their core beliefs.


Prompt 2, Option E

Despite their origins in the Gupta Empire of India or Ancient Egypt, games like chess or bowling remain widely enjoyed today. What modern game do you believe will withstand the test of time, and why? —Inspired by Adam Heiba, Class of 2027

Brainstorming Your Topic


The key to coming up with a strong topic is to define “game” broadly. Chess and bowling have almost nothing in common, other than the element of competition. So, while your mind may immediately go to something popular like football or basketball, we encourage you to spend a little more time brainstorming, to see if you can come up with something more creative.


As a quick aside, however, if a well-known game or sport is one of your true passions, then you should absolutely write your essay about it. If you’re part of six different fantasy football leagues and co-author a football blog with your older brother, don’t overthink this one. Ultimately, genuine passion and excitement is even more important than creativity, as the very best college essays are the ones that sparkle with the student’s enthusiasm.


If nothing immediately comes to mind, though, that’s okay! Refer back to our original advice, of thinking broadly. And, as always, try to think of games that you have some sort of personal connection to, to ensure your essay will be informative and engaging for UChicago admissions officers.


For example, maybe you think back on all the fond memories you have of spending hours playing Monopoly with your neighborhood friends. Or maybe you think about your family’s vacations to the beach every summer, and about cornhole’s consistent presence in the cool early mornings, hot afternoons, and calm evenings around a bonfire. 


Notice that, to repeat our first point, Monopoly and cornhole are completely different activities, so even if your initial reaction to this prompt is “I don’t like board games, though” or “I don’t like sports, though,” don’t rule it out as an option right off the bat (no pun intended).


One last word of advice, which you probably don’t even need at this point for UChicago’s prompts: don’t be afraid to think way outside the box. Maybe you’re one of the founding members of your local beach korfball team. UChicago admissions officers have probably never heard of korfball, which is like basketball but with no dribbling, no backboards, and fully co-ed teams. But they will assuredly love learning about the game, and why you think it will outlast others that are far more popular today.


Tips for Writing Your Essay


As we just highlighted at the end of the previous section, remember that this prompt isn’t just “Write about a game.” Rather, your discussion of the game you choose needs to address the question of why you believe it will endure for thousands of years into the future, like chess and bowling. And, as always, although the question is somewhat academic in nature, your response should be grounded in your own personality and experiences, to show your reader what your opinion on this particular topic says about your potential as a UChicago student.


To illustrate the contrast between an “academic” response and the more personal tone you should be shooting for, compare these two potential approaches:


Approach 1: Explaining your belief in the enduring power of Monopoly by discussing how the game’s hundreds of different variations, focusing on everything from Star Wars to mountaineering, have allowed it to attain worldwide popularity and reliability.


Approach 2: Explaining how, although you haven’t played Monopoly with your neighborhood friends in years, the game played a big part in forming a strong foundation for your friendship, which lasts to this day, and you think it will continue to do the same for others far into the future.


Hopefully, the difference here is clear. The first one, while informative, doesn’t teach us anything about your own experiences, beliefs, or overall personality. The second one, on the other hand, shows that you are a loyal friend, have an appreciation for the universality of certain human experiences, and are somewhat nostalgic. Those tangible attributes will allow UChicago admissions officers to get a clear sense of how your values align with theirs, and how you would fit into their campus community more broadly.


Mistakes to Avoid


Particularly if you fall into the category of someone who immediately has a game you truly love come to mind, make sure you stop for a second and ask yourself if you already wrote your common app essay about that topic. If the answer is yes, unfortunately you’ll need to pick a different game here, as the point of college essays is to teach admissions officers something that isn’t already captured elsewhere in your application. You’re already working with limited space, so don’t voluntarily limit yourself even further by repeating yourself.


Another word of caution is that, if you pick a highly unusual game like korfball, don’t spend too much time explaining the rules. You’re not a coach—you’re an applicant to UChicago. So, you don’t want to spend three paragraphs explaining niche penalties and strategies to avoid drawing them, as that won’t help UChicago admissions officers envision what you’d contribute to their campus community. 


Of course, you do have the freedom to be as creative as you want with your response. So, you could effectively structure your essay around the rules of korfball by, for example, focusing each paragraph on a different rule and connecting the idea behind that rule to an experience from your own life. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is that the essay doesn’t become all about korfball. Like with any college essay, regardless of your topic, ultimately this needs to be an essay about you.


Prompt 2, Option F

There are unwritten rules that everyone follows or has heard at least once in their life. But of course, some rules should be broken or updated. What is an unwritten rule that you wish didn’t exist? (Our custom is to have five new prompts each year, but this year we decided to break with tradition. Enjoy!) —Inspired by Maryam Abdella, Class of 2026

Brainstorming Your Topic


This topic may initially seem a little trickier to brainstorm for, since UChicago doesn’t provide you with any concrete examples of the “unwritten rules” they’re talking about. But, along the same lines as much of our advice in the previous “Brainstorming” sections, if you take a step back and let your mind wander a little, you’ll likely find that you’re able to come up with plenty of unwritten rules you find annoying.


A good place to start is thinking back to your childhood. Was there something you often got yelled at for, but didn’t understand why? Maybe you used to put your elbows on the dinner table. Or you never entirely got why your mom was so insistent that your socks had to match.


You can also think about pet peeves you have today, of course. For example, maybe you hate the “driver picks the music” rule, because your music taste is different from everyone else’s in your friend group. Or you could write about a niche unwritten rules imposed by your parents, teachers, coaches, or friends. Maybe your parents insist that the dog eats after you do, but you always feel terrible watching her beg during meals. Or your lacrosse coach won’t let anyone drink Gatorade that’s not one of your school colors.


As you’re probably sick of hearing by now, you also want to make sure that you have a strong enough personal connection to this rule to write a pretty long essay about it. So, as you’re coming up with possibilities, ask yourself why you don’t like this rule. “Because I don’t” won’t make for a very exciting response. 


What will keep admissions officers engaged is a link between your dislike of this rule and your personality, interests, goals for college, and so on. So you’ll want to be sure that link is there before you decide on this prompt as the one you’re responding to.


Tips for Writing Your Essay


As always, once you sit down to actually start writing, the key is to make your essay about the link between this unwritten rule and yourself, not about the unwritten rule itself. And, also like with the other prompts, you want to be creative in how you flesh out that link.


For example, in explaining your dislike of your coach’s Gatorade rule, maybe you talk about how your school colors are maroon and gold, but your favorite color is purple, and you love the color so much that it’s become a fundamental aspect of your personality, so it almost physically pains you that you can’t drink purple Gatorade. You could then talk about several of the purple things you love most, and why they’re important to you, like Taylor Swift’s Speak Now, which is your favorite album, the Baltimore Ravens, who are your favorite football team, and Ursula, who is your favorite Disney villain.


Alternatively, you could talk about some of the conversations you’ve had with strangers after they notice your mismatched socks, and how to you, that shows that, while unwritten rules are supposed to enforce some order in a chaotic world, the real foundation of life-human connection—can only be found outside those rules.


Hopefully, these two examples help illustrate that you don’t have to take a “serious” approach to this prompt. As we noted in our breakdown of Option B, writing a more lighthearted response can feel risky, but in reality breaking up the overall formality of your application can be a great way to set yourself apart from other applicants who have taken a more conventional approach. 


That being said, if you’re not confident you’ll be able to make it work, don’t stress. The most important thing with any college essay is that it authentically reflects who you are, and that won’t happen if you’re forcing anything or overextending yourself. Our only point is that, if you do instinctively see an unusual path leading from this prompt, don’t be afraid to take it 🙂


Mistakes to Avoid


Keep in mind that a college essay is not the same thing as a lunchtime conversation with your friends. So, make sure that, in discussing why this particular unwritten rule irritates you, you don’t accidentally rub someone who doesn’t know you the wrong way.


For example, maybe you think it’s silly that the chef is supposed to serve themselves last, even though they’re the one who cooked the food. This position has merit—you’d likely find plenty of people on the street who agree with you. But if you frame your response around the belief that you should be the first one to enjoy the fruits of your labor, you may come across as callous or even selfish.


Instead, try to structure your opinion around positive traits, ones that UChicago admissions officers will be looking for in their incoming freshman class. For example, you could talk about how you don’t like this unwritten rule because it sets the chef apart from everyone else, which goes against your belief that food and mealtimes should be a place for people to be equal and connect. So, maybe the chef shouldn’t necessarily be served first, but being served last all the time feels counterproductive.


Prompt 2, Option G

And, as always… the classic choose your own adventure option! In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, choose one of our past prompts (or create a question of your own). Be original, creative, thought provoking. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun!

Again, this prompt is, on the surface, granting you a lot of leeway. UChicago even ends it with an exclamation point! But you should always remember: they expect a disciplined, thorough, rigorous essay. Don’t let your sense of fun and frolic drown out your serious intellectual ideas.


Pick a prompt that inspires you to write, and connects with your academic interests. If a prompt jumps out at you, and you’re immediately filled with ideas, it’s probably a good fit. Just take it slowly, jot your thoughts down, and get to work. 


Involve your personal connection to that prompt. If you’re not answering any of the 6 prompts UChicago has issued this year, the onus is on you to prove that you and the archival prompt you’ve picked are a match made in heaven. This means having a lot of knowledge and personal investment in your subject matter, and an angle/perspective totally unique to you. 


If making your own question, remember this: YOUR QUESTION IS YOUR HOOK. So make sure it’s not a question that could be found on a standard-issue application, like “When did I overcome a challenge?” or “What’s a place that feels like home?” These prompts are everywhere. They won’t get the job done, and they won’t make an unforgettable first impression. But “Why did I lock myself in the basement and watch The Bee Movie for eighteen hours?” That’s a different story. 


If you look at past UChicago prompts, they tend to be fond of certain things: numbered lists, fairy tales, common phrases, and items of pop culture that can be re-contextualized. They also like hearing your answers to famous questions, and you might have a unique answer to “Et tu, Brute?” or “Do you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain?” Just remember that the novelty of the question, while the hook of your essay, is not its substance. If your biography and scholarly interests don’t involve pina coladas, or rain, you might just have to pick a different question to answer – as wonderful as that eternal question is.


Final Tips


UChicago essays take a lot of time and thought—but don’t overthink it. The university wants to hear what you have to say, in its full form. That’s why they give you a page limit, and not a word limit—no last minute cutting! Fully develop your ideas in a way that feels natural. If a paragraph needs to be a little thicker, or if you need to include a longer quote from your favorite author, don’t worry about it. These essays can be fun to write and extremely effective.


You can look up lots of examples of essays online, but try not to get intimidated. It’s the nature of the UChicago essays to encourage everyone to showcase their expertise—which is exactly what you should try to do! You may read sample essays and think, “Wow. I’ve never spent a month in Arizona digging up fossils. How can I ever compete?” Try to reframe the essays as a Giant Celebration of everyone’s achievements and interests not a Competition.


If you’ve written your UChicago essay and are looking for feedback, you might want to check out our free peer essay review and paid expert essay review. Since the UChicago essay prompts are weird, it’s important to get an extra set of eyes on them to make sure they are clear and engaging! You can also improve your own writing skills by editing other students’ essays.

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