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How to Write the University of Chicago Essays 2022-2023

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. 

 

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. 

 

Read this UChicago essay example to inspire your writing and watch our video where we interviewed UChicago students about their essay topics.

 

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 1: Was it a cat I saw? Yo-no-na-ka, ho-ka-ho-ka na-no-yo (Japanese for “the world is a warm place”). Może jutro ta dama da tortu jeżom (Polish for “maybe tomorrow that lady will give a cake to the hedgehogs”). Share a palindrome in any language, and give it a backstory.

– Inspired by Leah Beach, Class of 2026, Lib Gray SB ’12, and Agnes Mazur AB ‘09

 

Option 2: What advice would a wisdom tooth have?

–Inspired by Melody Dias, Class of 2025

 

Option 3: You are on an expedition to found a colony on Mars, when from a nearby crater, a group of Martians suddenly emerges. They seem eager to communicate, but they’re the impatient kind and demand you represent the human race in one song, image, memory, proof, or other idea. What do you share with them to show that humanity is worth their time?

—Inspired by Alexander Hastings, Class of 2023, and Olivia Okun-Dubitsky, Class of 2026

 

Option 4: UChicago has been affiliated with over 90 Nobel laureates. But, why should economics, physics, and peace get all the glory? You are tasked with creating a new category for the Nobel Prize. Explain what it would be, why you chose your specific category, and the criteria necessary to achieve this accomplishment.

—Inspired by Isabel Alvarez, Class of 2026

 

Option 5: Genghis Khan with an F1 racecar. George Washington with a SuperSoaker. Emperor Nero with a toaster. Leonardo da Vinci with a Furby. If you could give any historical figure any piece of technology, who and what would it be, and why do you think they’d work so well together?

-Inspired by Braden Hajer, Class of 2025

 

Option 6: 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 (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.

 

Prompt 2, Option 1

 

Was it a cat I saw? Yo-no-na-ka, ho-ka-ho-ka na-no-yo (Japanese for “the world is a warm place”). Może jutro ta dama da tortu jeżom (Polish for “maybe tomorrow that lady will give a cake to the hedgehogs”). Share a palindrome in any language, and give it a backstory.

 

– Inspired by Leah Beach, Class of 2026, Lib Gray SB ’12, and Agnes Mazur AB ‘09

 

If you love linguistics and creative writing, this is a good choice for you. You have the freedom to pick any palindrome—a word or phase that says the same thing when read forward and back—and get as creative as you like. If you speak another language or have a unique cultural background, picking a palindrome in that language would be a great way to tie in your background.

 

Let’s look at a few examples of how you can turn a phrase into a story:

 

Draw, O coward!

 

Bring a moment from one of your extracurricular activities to life: Little beads of sweat rolled down from my temple to my chin, carrying the stage makeup caked on my face with them. My sweaty palms fumbled by my side to grab my plastic prop sword. My scene partner’s words fell on deaf ears as my director’s voice coursed through my head. Don’t forget to hit the O, she would say. My brain lagged behind the rest of my body. Before I could process what had happened, my sword was tightly gripped in my outstretched hand and my booming voice declared “Draw, O coward!”

 

Si Nummi immunis (Latin for “Give me my fee, and I warrant you free”)

 

Discuss a social issue you deeply care about: In the DA’s office, interns don’t do much—I was your standard coffee-getter and errand-runner. The one exception: looking at bail records. Every day, I could peek at who posted bail and for how much. While I originally approached it with a child-like curiosity, it quickly became disheartening. Looking at record after record of affluent offenders who paid their fee and went about their days made my heart ache for those who couldn’t afford bail, through no fault of their own. Every morning, on my trip to the coffee shop, a little voice in my head kept telling me: Nothing will change unless you take action.

 

दामाद (Dāmād, Hindi for “son in law”)

 

Tell a story of your family: No one dares to get in between a mother and her daughter. Especially my nani and mom. So, the day my dad marched up to my nani’s door and declared he was going to marry her daughter didn’t go as anticipated to say the least. “You will never be my dāmād. She is too good for you.” Was it his goofy smile or his naan baking skills that finally won her over? Whatever it was, he carries the title of dāmād as a badge of honor now.

 

Prompt 2, Option 2

 

What advice would a wisdom tooth have?

 

–Inspired by Melody Dias, Class of 2025

 

This is the shortest option of the bunch, making it one of the most open-ended prompts. You can interpret this question from several different angles, and here are some potential ideas:

 

The play on words angle

 

Wisdom teeth are named as such because they erupt later in life, when you typically have more wisdom. Your wisdom teeth might advise you that this is true, and you could share the life lessons you’ve learned as you’ve grown older, opening each paragraph with an age and an anecdote.

 

The foodie angle 

 

If you’re a big foodie or chef, your wisdom teeth might advise you on their favorite dishes they’ve seen/chewed. You could share those dishes and the stories behind them. For example, maybe all your favorite recipes are gathered from cooking with others, and you could share the story of how your family hosted an exchange student from Portugal and how they taught you to make pastéis de nata, and how your grandmother taught you how to make her pierogies while sharing life advice with you.

 

The “stuck inside” angle

 

Many people’s wisdom teeth never see the light of day and remain impacted in their gums. This could be a segue into telling a story of how you stayed engaged when quarantined or stuck indoors during a rainy day. For example, maybe you picked up sewing during the pandemic because you couldn’t go outside and now you make historical period gowns. Your wisdom teeth might advise you that sometimes boredom or idleness can help you find new inspiration.

 

The relevancy angle

 

While wisdom teeth aren’t very useful in the modern world, It’s believed that they helped our prehistoric ancestors quite a bit. Back then, humans needed to grind raw meat, nuts, and leaves, so these extra molars made it easier to break down food. Beyond that, dental hygiene probably wasn’t the best, so humans may have lost adult teeth, which the wisdom teeth would then replace. 

 

If you like fiction writing, you could imagine wisdom teeth in a room with other things that were once relevant, but are now obsolete, such as floppy disks, dinosaurs, sundials, etc. What would they say to each other? What are they all doing together?

 

The medical angle

 

Wisdom teeth are actually not routinely removed in countries outside of the US. As a result, some people interpret the industry as a ploy to make money from unsuspecting patients. If you’re going into the medical or dental field, you could use this prompt as a chance to comment on the state of medicine and why you feel healthcare needs to be reformed. 

 

Some argue that removing wisdom teeth still reduces the chances of complications down the line, while others think the surgery is riskier than leaving the wisdom teeth in. You could use this debate as a chance to share a time you did a cost-benefit analysis on an area of your life, such as the time you were deciding whether to work at a brand-new local jewelry shop that paid less but had more opportunities for growth, or to work at a grocery chain.

 

Prompt 2, Option 3

 

You are on an expedition to found a colony on Mars, when from a nearby crater, a group of Martians suddenly emerges. They seem eager to communicate, but they’re the impatient kind and demand you represent the human race in one song, image, memory, proof, or other idea. What do you share with them to show that humanity is worth their time?

 

—Inspired by Alexander Hastings, Class of 2023, and Olivia Okun-Dubitsky, Class of 2026

 

Like all the others, this prompt is another way to showcase your creativity, but it also gives you the opportunity to reveal what you value. If you love art and history, you could show the Martians Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. If you’re an avid music fan, maybe you want to teach the aliens the iconic Thriller dance. Inexplicably fascinated by science? Show your new friends the benefits of penicillin. 

 

What’s important about this essay is not what you pick, but how you demonstrate its importance. Forget about writing a college application essay for a minute; you are tasked with saving the entire human race. That’s a lot of pressure. Anyone could show the Martians a picture of the pyramids of Egypt, but it’s all in the story you tell that will make them appreciate this is the greatest accomplishment of humans and the true test of their capabilities.

 

Let’s take the example of the student who writes about penicillin. What they shouldn’t do is write “I would show the Martians penicillin because it was one of the biggest medical advancements that allowed for humanity to conquer infections that used to be deadly, allowing people to live longer and healthier lives.” While what they wrote is true, it reveals nothing about them. The item you choose will undoubtedly be important to not just humanity, but you, so your response needs to establish a personal connection.

 

So what should this student do? They could start their essay by telling a story of how they plan to find a sick Martian suffering from an infection and will inject them with penicillin to show the aliens its magical healing properties. Then, this student should go into what penicillin means to them. Did they volunteer at a hospital where they witnessed people recover from infections that could be deadly because of this medicine? Maybe penicillin saved their life and allowed them to pursue their research that could be the next scientific breakthrough. 

 

You can get creative and playful with the story you tell about the item you chose, but if you go with this option, you’ll want to spend more of your essay focused on how that choice made a difference, not just for humanity, but in your life. 

 

Prompt 2, Option 4

 

UChicago has been affiliated with over 90 Nobel laureates. But, why should economics, physics, and peace get all the glory? You are tasked with creating a new category for the Nobel Prize. Explain what it would be, why you chose your specific category, and the criteria necessary to achieve this accomplishment.

 

—Inspired by Isabel Alvarez, Class of 2026

 

The Nobel Prize is awarded to those who have “conferred the greatest benefit to mankind” in the categories of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace. Through this prompt, UChicago wants to know what matters to you, and they want to see your analytical and creative side shine through your selection process.

 

You can take a more straightforward angle or a more unconventional one with this prompt. A straightforward angle would involve selecting a “serious” category that fits neatly into the existing ones, such as Sustainability, Education, Technology, or Music. 

 

The unconventional angle would mean coming up with, well, something more unusual. Maybe you think there should be a Nobel Prize in Cooking, Hiking, Crocheting, or Speed Reading.

 

The category itself doesn’t matter as much as your connection to it, as you’ll need to explain why you chose it. Make sure your essay touches on both the personal significance of the category as well as its implications for mankind. For example, maybe you chose cooking because it’s soothing for you as a home chef, but it also has the power to improve the mood of those eating the meal. Food has also brought people from different backgrounds and cultures together throughout millenia. 

 

Continuing this cooking example, your selection criteria could involve a competition where cooks from around the world are asked to create dishes in three categories: one from their own culture, one from another culture, and a meal for ten that costs no more than $1/plate. This competition would highlight the cultural aspects of cooking, but also raise awareness of food insecurity and the challenge of creating nutritious meals at a low cost.

 

In addition to the criteria you need to receive the accolade, you could include examples of previous winners or people you would like to nominate for the prize.

 

UChicago prides itself on the accomplishments of its alumni, but the school gives every student the opportunity to excel within their own right. They want you to be a future Nobel Prize winner, so if you don’t feel like you fit into the traditional categories, here’s your chance to show them how you will succeed and change the world for the better.

 

Prompt 2, Option 5

 

Genghis Khan with an F1 racecar. George Washington with a SuperSoaker. Emperor Nero with a toaster. Leonardo da Vinci with a Furby. If you could give any historical figure any piece of technology, who and what would it be, and why do you think they’d work so well together?

 

-Inspired by Braden Hajer, Class of 2025

There’s three important things your response to this prompt needs to incorporate: what wacky pairing you choose, what their interaction would look like, and why the world absolutely needs to witness this combo.

 

Let’s take a look at a sample pairing a student might choose:

 

Who and What?

 

While you could choose any random figure and item, this essay will be most successful if you choose either someone or something that has personal significance to you (although it will be strongest if both your person and technology relate to you!). So for example, if a student loves graphic design, they might choose to give Walt Disney an iPad and Apple Pencil. 

 

This might not be the wackiest combo they could choose, but notice how both relate to the student and their passion. Growing up on Disney animation was what prompted this student to start doodling when they were younger, which eventually led to an interest in graphic design. Their iPad is their sketchbook, home to thousands of designs that they can create at their fingertips. This student wants to see what their inspirational figure would do with the piece of technology they cherish the most.

 

How do they interact?

 

This is where you can infuse more creativity into your essay. What will separate an okay response from a good or great one is how well you can show the interaction between these two unlikely players. Using the example of Walt Disney, this student could describe some of the tools they have used and apply it to a drawing of Mickey Mouse. Maybe they think Disney would have made a new movie every week if he had that advanced technology at his fingertips and the student shares the concept behind his latest character design. 

 

Whatever you choose to do, the interaction of a historical figure with modern technology would be ridiculous and hilarious. If you’ve taken anything away from UChicago based on their prompts, it should be the value they place on creativity, so don’t throw away this opportunity to inject some creativity into your response.

 

Why should we care?

 

The last thing you’ll want to make sure of in your essay is to pull back from the absurdity of the moment and reflect on why this odd combination is important. Even if it only has a deeper significance to you, we still want to know why you chose this pairing over every other.

 

Our student would probably elaborate on what Disney animation meant to them growing up at this point in the essay. They might explain that if they were influenced by the stories and visuals Walt Disney created, they can only imagine how many more kids all over the world would have had the same experience if he was able to use modern technology to develop his projects. 

 

You don’t have to follow this exact model in your response, but keep these different aspects of the prompt in mind as you write. As long as you can tell an engaging story of the item and historical figure interacting, and find a personal connection, you can really pick any person and item.

 

Prompt 2, 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!

 

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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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.