How to Write the University of Chicago Application Essays 2018-2019
Nestled in the Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park, the University of Chicago has a rich legacy and is known internationally for its dedication to education and research. The campus has produced the most Nobel Laureates of any college in the United States, and is second only to the University of Cambridge. Its students enjoy lectures from world-class professors while also being able to enjoy the diverse social scene of its home city Chicago.
Aside from the undergrad and graduate curriculums however, UChicago is also famous for its unique supplemental essays. These quirky and out-of-the-box supplements have long been a rite of passage for students of the college and many think back to their essays fondly as a unique piece of writing in their portfolio.
Due to the open-ended nature of the essay prompts, it’s very easy for students to feel lost when they are attempting their first draft. Fortunately, we have come up with a comprehensive breakdown of the prompts for the 2018-2019 application cycle so read on to see how you can get started with your essays!
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How to Write the University of Chicago Application Essays
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.
Like most schools, UChicago’s “Why School” essay serves as a way of separating the applicants who are genuinely attracted to the school and its resources from those who have interests elsewhere.
The prompt does not provide a word limit, so in this case we recommend that your essay ranges from 650-750 words. This may sound like a lot to write, but it actually provides you more space to really dig into the reasons for why you are applying. Unlike schools with a shorter word requirement, you can use the space to touch on all aspects of the university (e.g. from its academics to research opportunities to student life) instead of writing only about the top one or two things that draw you.
Use this opportunity to reveal all of your different interests—both academic and non-academic—as the university really supports the idea of students who are diverse in their passions and have the drive to incorporate them into their college career. It’s not a surprise to find a break dancer who is also doing research in infinitesimal calculus or a chemistry major working on an independent journalism project.
One way you can approach this essay is by dividing your “reasons” into four categories: academics, research/internship opportunities, extracurriculars, and campus life. For each of these categories, find one or two points to talk about. Make sure to be as specific as you can, and always connect each point you mention back to how it relates to you.
For example, saying something like “UChicago has great academic programs” is not as effective as saying “The spirit of innovative problem solving which led to the world’s first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction matches my own desire to make great strides in the field of physics.”
While topics pertaining to academics and research opportunities can be easily found through a comprehensive search on the university’s website, it may be helpful to speak to students of the university pertaining to the latter two categories. To get you started, we have talked with CollegeVine consultants who are currently attending UChicago and compiled a few reasons why they love the student life on campus. This is not a comprehensive list, so if you have another reason that resonates more with you, definitely use it!
Reason 1: UChicago has many long-standing traditions such as Scav (which previously held the world record for being the largest scavenger hunt in the world up until 2017), Humans v. Zombies, and Kuvia (a week-long event where houses on campus participate in early morning exercises) all of which are hosted by its many clubs. This means that students can not only participate in traditions that have spanned across generations of students, but also be part of the planning process from their first day on campus.
Reason 2: Clubs get a lot of support from the school, and new clubs are given platforms to grow. This means that you will always be able to find people who share similar interests as you.
Reason 3: UChicago’s social activism clubs are very involved with the issues affecting the South Side of Chicago. They are helping to shed light and turn the narrative on a neighborhood that is often misunderstood and misrepresented in the broader eyes of the nation. This means that students are committed not only to their studies, but also to utilizing what they have learned in order to make an impact on the world.
Reason 4: The housing system on campus is very detailed and clearly has the intention of forming smaller communities and helping first years assimilate into college life. Rather than having students randomly assigned to a dorm, the college takes great care in matching each student to a specific dorm on campus that would reflect their personality and interest. Additionally, the RH and RAs are all trained to create a warm, family-like environment.
For more unique things about UChicago, check out our collection from last year.
The second UChigaco essay prompt asks you to choose from one of six prompts and write an extended essay.
Essay Option 1: In 2015, the city of Melbourne, Australia created a “tree-mail” service, in which all of the trees in the city received an email address so that residents could report any tree-related issues. As an unexpected result, people began to email their favorite trees sweet and occasionally humorous letters. Imagine this has been expanded to any object (tree or otherwise) in the world, and share with us the letter you’d send to your favorite.
Here you are essentially given the perfect opportunity to share any story you want—from a childhood anecdote to a career-related experience—as long as you use an object of some sort as your vehicle. For example, if you want to relay a story about how your interest in marine biology started, you could write a letter to the first boat that you stepped foot in and use that as a jumping point for your academic interest.
Similarly, if you want to talk more about your desire to be a historian of medieval England folklore, you can write a letter to Excalibur and talk about how despite a great deal of public interest, there is still limited knowledge on the origins of many stories.
If you have absolutely no idea what you could possibly write about, then you can consider going through some sentimental objects and finding inspiration as you go through your forgotten stuff. In the materialistic world of today, the items that we choose to keep with us reveal a lot about who we are as people and what we value.
For example, if you find an old doll in the attic, don’t dismiss it or try to force the doll to be part of a philosophical piece. Instead, think back to your memories with the doll and why you still have it. If you find something interesting in your reflection, then start to brainstorm around it. Don’t be afraid of writing something that seems mundane. Sometimes, the best, most genuine essays come from the simple items in daily life.
Essay Option 2: You’re on a voyage in the thirteenth century, sailing across the tempestuous seas. What if, suddenly, you fell off the edge of the Earth?
This prompt is really about exploration and discovery. Students interested in history, philosophy, science, or even creative writing may really resonate with it (though they are by no means the only ones who can and should write on this prompt!). You are asked to imagine a situation that is completely foreign, and to weave a story of what comes next.
Though there is no one way to write any of these prompts, the easiest way to answer the prompt may be through a short story. You may want to answer questions such as:
- How did you you fall off the Earth in the first place?
- What was the fall like?
- Where did you end up?
- What is your next course of action?
- If you were able to somehow return, what would you want to tell to the rest of the human race?
The great thing about the UChicago supplements is that they allow you to be unconventional. While you may be used to writing supplemental essays that focuses on you or explicitly showing a characteristic of yours, that is not the case with UChicago essays. Of course, anything you decide to write will be a reflection of you, but if you are someone who prefers not to make yourself the center of your writing, then this prompt is perfect for that. You are placed in a non-realistic situation, so you have the freedom to explore either a different universe or to talk about how you approach obstacles in a very abstract setting. The choice of focus is for you to decide!
Essay Option 3: The word floccinaucinihilipilification is the act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant or of having no value. It originated in the mid-18th century from the Latin words “floccus,” “naucum,” “nihilum,” and “pilus”—all words meaning “of little use.” Coin your own word using parts from any language you choose, tell us its meaning, and describe the plausible (if only to you) scenarios in which it would be most appropriately used.
If you are multilingual, then this could be a great option for you! If there is a word or expression in another language that isn’t translatable in English, then this is a great opportunity to try and make that connection. You may want to touch on the role of diversity and culture in your life, or the power of words in building bridges between people.
That being said, you don’t have to be multilingual to hold this sentiment. You can choose to make up a word from scratch that describes a feeling or situation you were in, and get as specific and creative as you want. For example, you may want to create a word for that specific pain of stepping on a lego or the feeling of satisfaction when you bite into a warm cookie straight out of the oven.
After you’ve created the word however, be sure to include the significance of the word to you. What is is about stepping on legos that is so memorable? Maybe you enjoyed building worlds out of legos as a kid and now you want to build a world through your writing? And perhaps the joy of eating a cookie was significant because it is a fond memory you have of your grandmother who passed away due to cancer and now you want to become a doctor so that you can help save others. Whatever your motivation behind creating the word, try to use it to show the admissions committee something new about yourself.
Essay Option 4: Lost your keys? Alohomora. Noisy roommate? Quietus. Feel the need to shatter windows for some reason? Finestra. Create your own spell, charm, jinx, or other means for magical mayhem. How is it enacted? Is there an incantation? Does it involve a potion or other magical object? If so, what’s in it or what is it? What does it do?
This prompt may remind you of the previous prompt in many ways. Both are asking you to invent a new word, but the difference lies in the reason. For the previous prompt, the word you came up with had more of a reflective nature whereas this essay allows you the ability to look to the future. What is an issue that you would like to solve? It can be a big or small problem, or not even confined to the real world at all. For example, what mundane task would you like a spell to take care of? What unexplored place would you like to travel to? After deciding on the “issue”, the next step is to decide how you can call upon the spell and what its effects are.
Here, you should just have fun and get a bit silly even. If you want to create a spell to wake up earlier, then maybe you will need to drink a potion the night before that causes your body to levitate out of bed and be dunked in a bath of cold water. Maybe you want to create a spell so that you can help do the dishes without having to wash them yourself. Why is this a spell that you are interested in and is there a catchy rhyme that you can make to invoke the action?
Essay Option 5: Imagine you’ve struck a deal with the Dean of Admissions himself, Dean Nondorf. It goes as follows: you’re guaranteed admission to the University of Chicago regardless of any circumstances that arise. This bond is grounded on the condition that you’ll obtain a blank, 8.5 x 11 piece of paper, and draw, write, sketch, shade, stencil, paint etc., anything and everything you want on it; your only limitations will be the boundaries of both sides on the single page. Now the catch… your submission, for the rest of your life, will always be the first thing anyone you meet for the first time will see. Whether it’s at a job interview, a blind date, arrival at your first Humanities class, before you even say, “hey,” they’ll already have seen your page, and formulated that first impression. Show us your page. What’s on it, and why? If your piece is largely or exclusively visual, please make sure to share a creator’s accompanying statement of at least 300 words, which we will happily allow to be on its own, separate page.
(PS: This is a creative thought experiment, and selecting this essay prompt does not guarantee your admission to UChicago.)
If you are a more visual person, then this prompt would fit you well. Whatever “visual” means to you, whether it’s an actual piece of art or it’s a page full of formulas and diagrams, you are the director. Even though the prompt states that this page will essentially serve as the reader (or viewer’s) first impression of you, it’s actually not that different from any of the other essays.
That being said, there are still some things that you want to keep in mind. If you are including limited amounts of writing on the page, then you must have a very clear idea of what you want to portray to others. Though a picture is worth a thousand words, it is also open to much greater interpretation. It’s very important to have a theme in mind before you embark on this essay and to constantly check back with that vision to make sure that you are on topic.
Remember that visual can be a mashup of different mediums and techniques (i.e. a diagram with accompanying equations or a picture made up of newspaper clippings), so use whatever material you feel would be most useful for conveying your point. For example, if you are a curious person to a fault and constantly find yourself getting distracted by new ideas, then maybe you can include a picture of your brain with a flowchart showing the movement of your thoughts and all the different directions that it goes. Some further prompts to think about for ideas are: what story do you want to tell people? What is the most central part of your personality or identity?
Essay Option 6: In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose your own question or choose one of our past prompts. 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.
This prompt is offered every year, and it can be difficult to handle as it opens up the floodgates to even more possibilities. Still, it doesn’t hurt to take a look at previous prompts, especially since some are pretty well-known and you may have already answered them in some capacity in other writing pieces. You can check out our advice from last year for more ideas.
This essay poses a lot of risk, but if done well, it can also bring great reward. In general, UChicago is interested in seeing how your mind works and what gets you excited. Thus, if there is a topic that you are greatly fascinated by or an idea that you want to pursue, don’t be afraid to give it a try. As an example, a current student at the university decided to “write” on the prompt that asked for an essay inspired by the large tubs of mustard at Costco. Instead of turning in a traditional paper, this student conducted an experiment with the mustard and handed in a lab report of their findings.
If however, you are using this prompt to write a more academic focused essay, be sure to avoid a lot of field jargon and explain your concepts clearly. The counselors reading your essay will generally have a good foundation in most of the academic subjects and know basics, but that doesn’t mean that they will want to comb through dense academic terms.
It’s true that the UChicago supplements require quite a bit of thought, and that can definitely be overwhelming. However, more supplements also means that you have more chances to show UChicago how amazing you are and all the unique things that would make you a great addition to their campus.
We hope that this guide has been helpful to get you started on your writing, but don’t be afraid to look for essays of applicants who have successfully been admitted to UChicago either. While you can’t and shouldn’t use their ideas directly, it will show you the kinds of profiles that really speak to the admissions officers. Best of luck from the CollegeVine team!
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