How to Write the University of Chicago Essays 2021-2022

UChicago is a rigorous, top-tier research university located in beautiful Hyde Park, Chicago. It’s famed for its outstanding academic programs, neo-gothic architecture, and prestigious school of economics. If you’re interested in delving deep into theory, bookishness, and the most hardcore of academic materials, UChicago might be just right for you. In 2021, the school’s acceptance rate was 6%, so give your essays everything you’ve got. They need to be your best. 

 

You can complete your UChicago application through the Coalition Application or Common Application. The essay questions for this season are on the UChicago website, and listed below. The first question, which boils down to “Why UChicago?,” is required yearly. The second question, a one-to-two page essay, is also required, but applicants can choose from a menagerie of exciting prompts that offer boundless opportunities for creativity and reflection. 

 

Want to know your chances at UChicago before getting started? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

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)

 

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.

 

Essay Option 1

 

What if the moon were made of cheese? Or Neptune made of soap? Pick a celestial object, reimagine its material composition, and explore the implications. Feel free to explore the realms of physics, philosophy, fantasy…the sky is the limit!

— Inspired by Tate Flicker, Class of 2025

 

Essay Option 2

 

What’s so easy about pie?

— Inspired by Arjun Kalia, Class of 2025

 

Essay Option 3

 

In Homer’s Iliad, Helen had a “face that launched a thousand ships.” A millihelen, then, measures the beauty needed to launch one ship. The Sagan unit is used to denote any large quantity (in place of “billions and billions”). A New York Minute measures the period of time between a traffic light turning green and the cab behind you honking. Invent a new unit of measurement. How is it derived? How is it used? What are its equivalents?

— Inspired by Carina Kane, Class of 2024, and Ishaan Goel, Class of 2025

 

Essay Option 4

 

“There is no such thing as a new idea” – Mark Twain. Are any pieces of art, literature, philosophy, or technology truly original, or just a different combination of old ideas? Pick something, anything (besides yourself), and explain why it is, or is not, original.

—Inspired by Haina Lu, Class of 2022

 

Essay Option 5

 

It’s said that history repeats itself. But what about other disciplines? Choose another field (chemistry, philosophy, etc.) and explain how it repeats itself. Explain how it repeats itself.

—Inspired by Ori Brian, AB’19

 

Essay Option 6

In the spirit of adventurous inquiry (and with the encouragement of one of our current students!) 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 (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.

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.

 

Option 1: Celestial Composition

 

What if the moon were made of cheese? Or Neptune made of soap? Pick a celestial object, reimagine its material composition, and explore the implications. Feel free to explore the realms of physics, philosophy, fantasy…the sky is the limit!

— Inspired by Tate Flicker, Class of 2025

 

Of course, the first option is weird. This is probably a question that you don’t think a lot about, no matter how interested you are in astronomy or material composition. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start thinking about it now! Whether you are interested in physics and astronomy or literature and anthropology, there are ways to make this prompt great.

 

This prompt is multifaceted and can feel a bit overwhelming—there are tons of celestial objects and even more materials out there. If you’re feeling unsure where to start, work backwards! Figure out the topic you want to explore, then pick your celestial object and its composition.

 

Step One: Finding a Focus

 

What do you care about? What do you want to talk about? Some categories could include:

 

  • Social – economic inequality, social justice issues, climate change, immigration
  • Political – nationalism, trade, fair wages, taxation
  • Cultural – homelands, language barriers, appropriation
  • Scientific – research, resources, ideas
  • Artistic – resources, inspiration, a healthy environment
  • Personal – your hobbies, interests, and communities

 

Don’t pick your argument yet—just your topic. Remember that, depending on your celestial object and material composition, your implications may end up being good, bad, neither or both. Avoid boxing yourself in. 

 

Step Two: Piecing Together Your Answer

 

This part is a bit of a puzzle, and when your idea comes to you, you might have an ‘aha’ moment. Start by thinking about what materials would affect your topic. Would access to the material make your topic better or worse? 

 

With regards to the celestial object you choose, would everyone have access? Does the location of the celestial object matter? What about the size of the object? Is your material something that is affected by scarcity or abundance? 

 

Questions like these (with various objects and materials) are going to be very helpful when picking your final argument:

 

  • Would a particular group flee to Uranus if it were made of saffron?
  • How would politics about the moon be affected if it were made of flesh-eating bacteria?
  • How would economics be affected if shooting stars were made of gold?
  • If Pluto were made of acrylic paint, would the artists who use acrylic paint be able to get there?
  • Would the Sun being made of lavender inspire creativity or conflict or harmony?
  • How would different cultures feel if Mimas were made of pork?

 

Let’s walk through some fleshed out examples:

 

Society

 

The moon is made of toxins, but it’s the only place in the solar system we can access. A student with strong beliefs about capital punishment could imagine a cruel dystopia where corrupt politicians send criminals to the moon to see what happens, while simultaneously continuing capital punishment. This essay could explore the student’s opinions on the criminal justice system, while showing off their prose skills. The student could also write in a creative editorial style on the same topic.

 

Arts

 

Maybe you are an artist who gets overwhelmed with anxiety about existing in a capitalist society without a “stable” career path. You could write about the implications of Pluto being made of a rare art supply. You could imagine a world where young artists band together and take advantage of capitalism until they can make enough money to go to Pluto and form an arts colony. Or maybe you’d want to go in the opposite direction—a story where the government creates a cutthroat program to determine which artists go to Pluto and chaos ensues.

 

Personal Life

 

If the smell of green chiles from your mother’s homemade enchiladas is the only thing that brings you joy on the worst days of your life, you might have fun writing a creative essay about how you would change your career path to astronomy if the moon were made of green chiles. You could explore the personal implications of the moon being made of green chiles, while commenting on your cultural background and what you value.

 

Remember to include all aspects of the prompt—a celestial object, a material composition, and implications—in your final answer.

 

Option 2: Pie

 

What’s so easy about pie?

— Inspired by Arjun Kalia, Class of 2025

 

The weirdest of the weird and the shortest of your options: what is so easy about pie? Responding to this prompt requires a hefty amount of creativity, but also requires discipline and organization. Even after you figure out what you want to say (what angle you want to approach the prompt from), you will have to put time and energy into making sure that your essay turns out cohesive, focused, and clearer than the prompt itself.

 

Writing this essay without going crazy involves brainstorming, outlining, and articulating what you are trying to say effectively. Your thoughts making sense in your own mind isn’t enough! They have to make sense to an outsider. They have to be articulated just right.

 

Some ideas for how to answer this cryptic question include:

 

The pie as an object

 

This approach involves thinking about what ‘easy’ means and thinking about the qualities and characteristics of pie. You would be treating pie as a metaphor—as an example of ease—and then, reflecting on the idea of ease altogether. 

 

Definitions of ‘easy’ include:

 

  • Achieved without great effort
  • Free from worries or problems
  • Lacking anxiety or awkwardness (“talking to them was easy”)
  • Having no defence, vulnerable (“an easy target”)
  • Calm and relaxed (“take it easy”)
  • Pleasant (“easy on the __”)

 

Does pie exemplify one of these definitions? How, or why not? Sitting with these definitions is a great way to start your brainstorming process.

 

The act of pie-making

 

Instead of thinking of pie as an object, try thinking of pie as an act. If you happen to be a pie connoisseur, tell us about it. Do you cook pies often? Does it relieve your stress? Why? What is so easy about your pie-making pass time? Does your affinity for pie-making tell us something about you or your past?

 

Because pie-making isn’t the most common of hobbies, this approach can be expanded to other passions regarding general creation. What is it about creating that is so easy for creators? What do you create? You could reflect on the pleasant feeling of watching disparate components coming together in harmony. You could reflect on the idea that following instructions (recipes!) for creation is easier (ask yourself, is it better?). Make sure to keep in mind that the word ‘pie’ is at the center of this prompt—even if you talk about something else, you’ve got to bring it back to pie.

 

Pie, the word itself

 

If you’re a philology nut, try thinking about the word ‘pie’. It’s three letters–that’s pretty simple. What’s its backstory? Why do we call pie, pie? What defines a pie? Maybe you want to explore the historical usage of the word pie. How have most people come to know the word pie? What about the fact that ‘pie’ is part of other words (e.g. magpie) and other phrases (e.g. pie in the sky)? This approach could also work for students obsessed with linguistics or phonetics!

 

The phrase ‘it’s easy as pie’

 

What are the specific origins of ‘easy as pie’? You can trace the phrase’s history in a dictionary, but you can also consider when you first heard this phrase—Were you playing sports? Were you baking pie? Was someone encouraging you in a social endeavor? How did hearing the slang phrase ‘it’s easy as pie’ make you feel? Did it calm your nerves or complicate your feelings? Did it make things easier?

 

Pie as an avenue for exploring culture

 

Does pie mean something different to you than it does to others reading this prompt? Using pie as an avenue to discuss culture allows you to simultaneously tell admissions officers about your identity and show them your capacity for critical thought. Does pie exist in your culture? How central is pie to your culture? Who teaches young kids to make pie? Do you picture the same thing that the average American pictures when you hear the word ‘pie’? What makes your culture’s pie different from the pie of other cultures?

 

In addition to the object itself, you could explore the translation of the word ‘pie’ or the phrase ‘easy as pie’ to/from your native tongue. Does its meaning gain some nuance when translated? Tell us about it—this prompt can be a great opportunity for cultural exploration!

 

The counterargument

 

What if you disagree? What if you think pie is difficult, problematic, awkward, protected, uptight, or unpleasant (words that counter each of its definitions)? You can write about that, too! If you choose to “play Devil’s Advocate,” make sure your explanation is thorough and unique. You don’t want to seem like you are disagreeing, just to disagree.

 

While these are some approaches to this prompt, think of others for yourself. Stretch your mind. This prompt gives you a place to embrace your critical thinking skills and show off your capacity for deep thought, on a seemingly mundane topic. That being said, be wary of losing focus. The college essay is still a place to tell admissions officers about you. Make sure to communicate your interests and personality. You will also likely be showing admissions officers your mindset/worldview and how you approach complex topics. You want your reader thinking “Wow, this person is fascinating. I could talk to them about anything and get something out of it.”

 

Option 3: Measuring Marvels

 

In Homer’s Iliad, Helen had a “face that launched a thousand ships.” A millihelen, then, measures the beauty needed to launch one ship. The Sagan unit is used to denote any large quantity (in place of “billions and billions”). A New York Minute measures the period of time between a traffic light turning green and the cab behind you honking. Invent a new unit of measurement. How is it derived? How is it used? What are its equivalents?

—Inspired by Carina Kane, Class of 2024, and Ishaan Goel, Class of 2025

 

The UChicago inventing prompt has so much creative potential. While many of the other prompts ask you to pick or explain, here you get to invent. If you are big on ideation and imagination, this just might be the prompt for you! This prompt is also great if you have something specific you wish you could have talked about in your application but never saw the opportunity. There’s a Sagan-sized number of opportunities!

 

In the prompt alone, we get a sampling of the different ways this can go. There are academic examples—with literature and mathematics represented—but there is also notably a cultural example with the New York Minute. 

 

Writing about the New York Minute (which you can’t do because it’s in the prompt) would be a great idea for a student who feels deeply connected to New York. They could explore what they do during that minute—what they think. Is a New York Minute enough time to change the radio station? Is it enough time to put on mascara when you are running late for work? This could be an opportunity to explore what it means to be a New Yorker, what knowledge is exclusive to New Yorkers. Maybe the New York Minute changes throughout the day and is used as a measure of how the general New York temperament varies between morning, noon, and night. Maybe it’s different in different boroughs and measures an area’s friendliness. A New York applicant could use this prompt to tell me why a New York Minute matters and tell me how it relates to their story.

 

Because this prompt can go wherever you take it, start by thinking about what you want to tell admissions officers about yourself. Is your application lacking information about your cultural upbringing? Do you want to focus on that? Has a specific hobby been fundamental to you growing up? Does your passion for a certain extracurricular activity speak to your values? Decide which direction you want to go in and what you want to say about yourself, then start inventing.

 

Some examples:

 

Family Life

 

The HandymanHour—the amount of time each weekend that your stockbroker dad spends fixing things around the house (that don’t need to be fixed) because his coping skill is taking care of others. When the stock market is down, The HandyManHour goes up! When finances are good, it’s close to 0. There’s a function that relates the nation’s economy to The HandymanHour—but it’s a bit complex. You got your constant desire to take care of others from your dad. Lately you’ve been braiding your mom’s hair when life is hard, but the algorithm for The HairdresserHour isn’t quite perfected yet.

 

Extracurriculars

 

The BCDelay—the amount of time it takes the Brentwood Committee Student Council to start a meeting. A combination of 1) the amount of gossip your faculty advisor has to tell the librarian each week 2) the number of times the LA city bus had to make unexpected stops and 3) how long you are willing to wait, hoping more students show up. It is directly proportional to your frustration level on Tuesday night. You like to think that it is equivalent to the amount of frustration the president of the Mock Trial team has (but really, you think it’s more!)

 

Option 4: Creations and Combinations

 

“There is no such thing as a new idea” – Mark Twain. Are any pieces of art, literature, philosophy, or technology truly original, or just a different combination of old ideas? Pick something, anything (besides yourself), and explain why it is, or is not, original.

—Inspired by Haina Lu, Class of 2022

 

This prompt is more flexible than some of UChicago’s ‘weirder’ prompts because it can be taken in a number of different directions—some creative, others logical. No matter what direction you go, when writing for UChicago, focus on making your essay stand out!

 

When deciding what ‘thing’ to write about, consider your future field of study and your individual interests. This is a great prompt to geek out about what you love—to show your abnormal passion for Venetian glass blowing (because, when your family visited Italy, you totally did your research), arthropods (if you were one of those kids who loved bugs), or FPGAs (is each circuit original?). 

 

Your avenue for geeking out is your explanation of whether or not your thing is original. What does ‘original’ mean to you? What could ‘original’ mean? Never done before? Never done like this before? Does the ‘original’ label only exist if something is later reproduced? How does time relate? In the Bible, Ecclesiastes says “Pride is the origin of all sin.” There are, of course, other sins that aren’t a direct replication of pride, but pride came first. Does ‘original’ always mean the same thing? Don’t be afraid to stretch this prompt—UChicago likes stretching.

 

Keep the various interpretations of the word ‘original’ on your mind as you brainstorm. Sit with the idea of originality for a while, then start looking around. Are you reading about the human reproductive system in biology? Notice your automatic reaction—is it original? When you visit your local art museum, can you identify some pieces of art as originals and others as being inspired by previous works? What about your mom’s casserole recipe, adapted over the years from your great grandma’s recipe, but your mom was the first to add pepperoncinis? Heck, you could convince me either way on that one! Regardless of how you approach this prompt, it is key to be thoughtful and clear in your argument.

 

Option 5: On Repeat

 

It’s said that history repeats itself. But what about other disciplines? Choose another field (chemistry, philosophy, etc.) and explain how it repeats itself. Explain how it repeats itself.

—Inspired by Ori Brian, AB’19

 

With this prompt, you’ve got two options—discuss a field that interests you or the field you are going into. We recommend that you discuss the field you are going into and emphasize the parts of the field that interest you. Use this prompt to show that you are prepared to study Literature or Psychology or Computer Science or Political Science—show them you’ve done your research!

 

If the idea of discussing ‘chemistry’ or ‘philosophy’ feels big and overwhelming (which is completely understandable), consider identifying an example of repetition within your field and using that example to demonstrate your argument. This will likely also help your essay to feel focused and digestible!

 

While you want to show UChicago that you’ve done your research, you don’t want to write them a research paper. Find a creative way to explain your ideas.

 

An English major might want to highlight one of the themes that has been central to literature through the ages. This could be a Biblical theme, a mythological reference, or an idea about human nature. On the other hand, you could explore the repetition of a certain genre, point of view, trope, or style of writing. Your ideas could be presented as a diary of books you’ve read or as letters. Or, you quote texts from different time periods that show their similarities, then discuss your citations.

 

If you wanted to discuss the repetition of the science fiction idea that as technology grows, humanity decreases, you could start with some epigraphs like:

 

1909 — And in time”—his voice rose—“there will come a generation that has got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a generation absolutely colourless (EM Forster, The Machine Stops)

1973 — All smiles have become archaic (Ursula K. Le Guin, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas)

 

Then, you could use your own words to explore the significance of these repeating themes in science fiction and dystopian (which, so often, overlap). In your exploration, you might want to tie in modern references (for this example, WALL-E and Smart House would probably work) to show that you don’t just learn ideas in school, you see their applications in your life.

 

There are plenty of other ways to use unique structures in your writing—you could include a math proof or write a letter-style narrative. Toy around with different organizations and figure out what works for you!

 

A final point to remember: you want to include some reflection when writing this prompt. This can be integrated throughout your writing or be isolated to a specific section of your writing, depending on your structure and style. The prompt asks you to “Explain how it repeats itself”—and that’s not just asking about the mechanics. Get into the details. Why does your discipline repeat itself? Are there certain societal and cultural factors that facilitate or force its repetition? Or is it just natural? Does repetition scare you or excite you? Tell us something more. Tell us about you—how you think, who you are, your views on change, your fear of being a copycat, the safety you feel knowing that everything will work out because it always has before. Is that why repetition happens—because people want to feel safe? If not, why? How?

 

For example, with our previous topic of dystopian fiction themes, the angle from which you approach your reflection would help readers understand you. Are you drawn to science fiction because a technological future scares you? Or does it excite you? More generally, are these themes repeated in literature because they scare people? Or excite them? If people throughout history (as seen through literature going back to 1909) are scared of technology taking over, why does it still feel like technology is taking over? These are the kinds of questions you want to explore through your answer—while simultaneously referencing your field and your life.

 

Option 6: Grab Bag

 

In the spirit of adventurous inquiry (and with the encouragement of one of our current students!) 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 create a free CollegeVine account and explore our resources. Students have free access to peer review services, which means other students can read your weird essays and make sure they are clear and engaging! We also offer free essay guides and other resources. We’re here to help you put your best foot forward and feel prepared throughout this application season.


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Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.

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