How to Write the University of Chicago Essays 2019-2020

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The University of Chicago, located in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, is known for the rigorous academic experience it offers its students. In 2019, the University of Chicago tied for 3rd on US News’ Best Colleges Rankings. This high ranking reflects UChicago’s excellent academic programs, faculty, resources, and reputation—but these factors also make admission to UChicago highly competitive. In the 2018-2019 cycle, UChicago accepted only 5.9% of applicants. UChicago admissions also stands out for another reason: the UChicago supplement is known for its quirky and challenging prompts. Read on to learn how to tackle these essays! 

 

An Overview of the Prompts 

In total, you’ll need to answer two essay prompts on your UChicago supplement. 

 

  • The first prompt, which all applicants must answer, asks how the University of Chicago fits your academic and community needs, as well as your future plans. The “suggested” length for this response is 500 words.

 

  • The second essay that you’ll need to write is far more open-ended. The “suggested” length is 650 words, and you can choose from six prompts, all of which are highly unconventional. Each prompt is inspired by current UChicago students or recent graduates. You can also choose to answer any of UChicago’s old prompts instead.  

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 (500 words suggested).

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 interests. Additionally, the RH and RAs are all trained to create a warm, family-like environment.

 

2) Required: One of 6 options (650 words suggested):

 

We’ve now arrived at UChicago’s well-known and off-the-wall essay prompts. So what’s the deal with these prompts? First and foremost, remember that UChicago’s goal is to challenge applicants and gain unique insight into how they think–and into their personalities and senses of humor! These prompts are designed to discourage formulaic or generic responses; the only way to ace these prompts is to think creatively.

 

Though all of the prompts UChicago puts out each year (and the ones from previous years, which are also options for you to answer) are unique, there are a few features that many of the prompts share. The prompts often ask applicants to reflect on, explain, add to, or elaborate on a phrase or idea. Often, this idea or phrase can seem silly on the surface, but these superficially absurd themes link to deeper questions and values. Indeed, the most compelling responses to these prompts often strike a balance between seriousness and playfulness, showing off both an applicant’s lighter and more reflective sides.  

 

These prompts can seem intimidating. But remember, this challenge is also an opportunity! UChicago gives its applicants a chance to let their whimsical sides shine through. Embrace this essay as a rare opportunity to have some fun while you show who you are and how you think.  

 

UChicago’s “seventh prompt” also offers insight into the motivation behind their infamous essay questions. This note, which invites students to make up their own question or to respond to previous years’ prompts, reads: 

 

“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!” 

 

Here, the UChicago admissions committee is basically telling you what they are looking for from applicants in these essays. As you consider which prompt to answer, you should also ask yourself which of these prompts will best enable you to embody the “adventurous inquiry” that UChicago encourages. 

 

Choosing a Prompt 

 

The first step to take advantage of this opportunity is to pick a prompt to answer. For some applicants, one of UChicago’s zany prompts will immediately stand out as exciting and intriguing. If one of the prompts has really caught your attention, you’re in luck! However, other applicants struggle to choose a prompt that best fits their unique perspective and experiences. If this sounds like you, ask yourself these questions:

 

  1. Which prompt would I most enjoy writing a response to? Which prompt would I most enjoy reading a response to? 
  2. Which prompt will allow me to incorporate and display my knowledge or passion in my response? 
  3. Which prompt provides the best opportunity for me to show my values and way of thinking? 
  4. What dimensions of my personality are missing from, or underrepresented, in my application? Which prompt might allow me to showcase these traits? 

 

Even after mulling over these questions, you might still be unsure which prompt to answer. That’s OK! Read on to hear our breakdown of each of this year’s six prompts; reading the ins and outs of these options will help you to further assess which prompt is the best vehicle to convey your character, values, and perspective. 

 

Essay Option 1

Cats have nine lives, Pac-Man has 3 lives, and radioactive isotopes have half-lives. How many lives does something else—conceptual or actual—have, and why?

—Inspired by Kedrick Shin, Class of 2019

Understanding the prompt

 

The first sentence of the prompt plays on different sayings and facts about lives. By listing an old saying, a fact about a video game, and physics property, this prompt invites you to think creatively about the concept of “lives.” The prompt’s first sentence combines disparate statements about lives using the same format: “X has Y lives”; the second sentence of the prompt invites you to add your own item to this list. 

 

Though coming up with a “something else” is one of the major challenges of this prompt, the challenge won’t be over once you’ve picked your topic. In an essay like this, the “why” is almost as important as the “what.” You’ll likely be able to explain how many lives “something else” has in one or two hundred words; this will leave you with almost a whole essay to explain “why” your item of choice has a certain number of lives. 

 

This setupa fairly simple, though creative question, and then a lot of space to explain your responseis perfect for writers and thinkers who want to display both the wittiness and depth of their thought. Effectively explaining why something has a certain number of lives will require well-structured thinking and writing, as well as careful reasoning. 

 

Conceptualizing your answer 

 

Your first step in answering this prompt will likely be to pick “something else” that has lives to focus on. Before you begin in-depth brainstorming, consider these guidelines:

 

  • Do not pick several things to focus on–this prompt asks about “something else,” which indicates that you should build your essay around one particular concept or item and its lives. 

 

  • Avoid writing about something identical or very similar to the items already listed in the prompt; if you write about another video game or about a specific radioactive isotope, your essay will likely seem unoriginal to the admissions committee. 

 

  • Consider how the “something else” that you choose to write about fits in with the rest of your application. You don’t have to choose something that is obviously connected to your interests or activities (for example, if you play tennis, you don’t have to write about the half life of a tennis racquet). However, you should think about how your topic of choice will fit into the larger picture of who you are.

 

With this in mind, let’s consider examples of stronger and weaker approaches:

 

Example 1: A student who has struggled with her faith might write an essay about how “humans have only one life.” The student might describe in detail how she grappled with her religious upbringing and with the question of whether or not there is an afterlife. Drawing on theology, as well as on her own experiences and moral views, the writer might argue that she now believes that it is important to live her life in the present, as if it is her only life. 

 

This topic’s strength is its obvious personal resonance and depth; its weakness is that it could easily become very heavy or philosophical. To balance this out, a strong execution of a prompt like this would include some lighter or more humorous examples, as well as vivid, detailed memories from the applicant’s life. 

 

Example 2: A student who is a long-time runner and artist could write an essay about how running shoes have four lives. The writer could explain how they wear their running shoes for track practices and meets first; then, when the support begins to wear out, they wear those same shoes for gym workouts and day-to-day walking; when the shoes get more worn out, they wear them for their part-time job mowing lawns, where the shoes quickly get even dirtier and more beat-up; finally, the student repurposes the rubber from the shoe’s soles for art projects. 

 

This response could be strong because of its highly personal nature; it uses a single object’s “lives” to also paint a picture of the applicant’s different interests and experiences. Moreover, the applicant could also create a powerful illustration about their belief in creatively reusing and repurposing objects. At the same time, this kind of approach is a good fit for UChicago’s unconventional and slightly irreverent essay philosophy. 

 

Example 3: An applicant who is really into cultural commentary and sociology could write an essay on a certain clothing style that has come back into fashion three times. This essay could weave together pop culture knowledge, insightful social critique, and funny personal anecdotes to explain why certain styles have so many lives and what this says about our society.

 

This approach could turn this prompt into a great vehicle for an applicant to display their knowledge of the social sciences and their ability to offer insightful analysis of seemingly superficial phenomena. The ability to thoroughly and engagingly contemplate even mundane phenomena is an impressive one, and an essay the demonstrates this skill could land well with the admissions committee. 

 

Example 4: A student who has worked for three summers at a forest ecological reserve could write their essay about the four lives of butterflies (egg, larva, pupa, butterfly). This essay would go beyond a mere factual description of the butterfly life cycle, and could instead explain what this life cycle has taught them about human life, our ecosystems, and processes of transformation.  

 

A topic like this one, like the previous example, offers an opportunity for the applicant to display their specific knowledge of a particular subject area. Nature-writing is a storied sub-discipline of creative writing, and if the applicant is able to create compelling, vivid descriptions of natureinterspersed with insightful personal reflectionsthis essay could effectively communicate the applicant’s passion for biology, writing skills, and broader worldview.

 

As you brainstorm topics for your own essay, ask yourself these questions:

 

  • What things or people seem to return in different forms throughout my life?
  • What elements of our culture seem to recur or transform over time? 
  • What other objects or beings do people talk about colloquially as having multiple “lives”? 
  • Have you ever felt that you or someone you know is starting a new life? 
  • How do you define “life,” or differentiate one life from the next? 

 

Essay Option 2

If there’s a limited amount of matter in the universe, how can Olive Garden (along with other restaurants and their concepts of food infinity) offer truly unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks? Explain this using any method of analysis you wish—physics, biology, economics, history, theology… the options, as you can tell, are endless.

—Inspired by Yoonseo Lee, Class of 2023

Understanding the prompt

 

This prompt’s absurd yet logical premisethe physical impossibility of Olive Garden’s unlimited breadsticksinvites applicants to throw away traditional reasoning and truly take this prompt wherever they desire. Despite this freedom, the prompt’s setup is also a constraint; your essay will ultimately need to have something to do with finitude, infinity, and breadsticks. 

 

By asking applicants to use a “method of analysis,” the prompt hints that students should take a scientific, or pseudo-scientific, approach to answering this question. At the same time, the vast range of disciplines that the prompt lists (and their further note that the options are “endless!”) leaves plenty of space for applicants to answer this question from their own perspectives. 

 

Before writing, take a step back from the prompt itself and remember that this is, like the first prompt, an opportunity. In this case, though, it’s an opportunity to either show off your knowledge of a given area, or show off your off-the-wall creative thinking. No matter what, this prompt offers you a unique chance to demonstrate how you thinkand, potentially, to show your sense of humor. 

 

As you dive into planning your response, keep these points in mind: 

 

  • This prompt asks you to “explain” how Olive Garden offers “truly unlimited” items. This means that it is not asking you whether or not Olive Garden really offers unlimited items; the prompt stipulates that unlimited items are offered, then asks you to explain how this can be. 

 

  • Note that the prompt asks you to use a “method of analysis.” This language invites you to bring an academic spirit of thoroughness and rigour to your essay. Though non-systematic approaches could work, this prompt is inviting you to marshall the tools of research to respond to this question, so keep this in mind as you draft your response. 

 

  • Don’t take this prompt too seriously; this question has an inherently absurd and ironic edge to it. Even if you decide to offer a very technical and “serious” response, keep in mind that your response will likely be read by the admissions committee as at least partly ironic. 

 

Conceptualizing your answer 

 

With this in mind, let’s consider how you can approach this prompt. Though there are obviously many (if not infinite!) ways to respond, most approaches that you could consider will fall into one of two categories. 

 

One approach is to focus on using your existing knowledge to answer this prompt in a fairly serious, fact-based way. If you have deep knowledge of any of the disciplines mentioned in the prompt (or of other disciplines that you think are relevant), you can construct a compelling response that demonstrates that proficiency. 

 

What would this look like? Consider these examples: 

 

Example 1: A student who has knowledge of world food systems and of mathematics might do some research into the location and typical business volume of Olive Gardens across the US. Then this student could write up a few equations to demonstrate that it is virtually impossible for Olive Garden to run out of soup, salad, or breadsticks on a given night. They could conclude that Olive Garden is able to promise unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks based on the practical reality, not on a theoretical one. 

 

This response’s efficacy would hinge on careful research and clear, impressive mathematics; it would work well for a student who seeks to demonstrate their systematic, rational, and thorough approach to answering questions, big and small. 

 

Example 2: A student who is knowledgeable about business and psychology could approach this prompt through the lens of those fields. This applicant could dive into the history of “free” or “unlimited” marketing schemes, explaining how these sorts of offers developed as a business strategy, and how customers respond to this kind of marketing. Ultimately, the writer might conclude that Olive Garden’s breadsticks, salad, and soup are not unlimited, but because of the fallibility of human intelligence and the expertise of advertising and manipulation, Olive Garden can make whatever claims they want.

 

This response could be effective and engaging because it would blend dry, witty cultural commentary and genuinely impressive academic knowledge. This approach could tie strongly into the application of a student whose other application materials demonstrate an interest in psychology, politics, economics, cultural criticism, or even humor or satire. 

 

If you do not have knowledge of relevant disciplines, you can embrace the absurdity and take a more creative approach to this prompt. This could mean:

 

  • Re-telling the story of the big bang to explain why the laws of physics that apply to the rest of the universe do not apply to Olive Garden.
  • Analyzing Olive Garden’s cooking process to explain how they circumnavigate the laws of physics. 
  • Creating a short fairytale or myth that explains how Olive Garden’s staff can be sure that they will never run out of these resources.

 

Essay Option 3

A hot dog might be a sandwich, and cereal might be a soup, but is a __ a __?

—Inspired by Arya Muralidharan, Class of 2021 (and dozens of others who, this year and in past years, have submitted the question “Is a hot dog a sandwich,” to which we reply, “maybe”)

Understanding the prompt

 

This prompt offers you a blank slate to consider how one thing relates to another. Perhaps you have overheardor been part of!a discussion about whether a hotdog is a sandwich during a family barbecue or during a summer afternoon with friends. During these kinds of debates, people on both sides often have very strong intuitions about what should or should not be classified in a given category. This prompt gives you the chance to leverage the never-fading debatability of these kinds of questions to show what kind of classification debates interest you. 

 

The beauty of this prompt is that a strong writer and thinker could turn almost any response into a compelling essay. Even two obviously related terms (“Is water wet?”) could delight or inspire the admissions committee if handled in the right way. Like all the UChicago prompts, the key here is not only what you write about, but what you do with the 650 words you’re given.

 

With that said, it’s a good idea not to make this essay more challenging than it needs to be. To avoid sabotaging yourself, consider these tips as you choose a topic; these will help you pick a topic that has strong potential to demonstrate who you are and how you think. 

 

Conceptualizing your answer 

 

Because of the fill-in-the-blank structure of the prompt, your brainstorming should aim to come up with two items, one for each blank. The words in the prompt’s examples have the following conceptual relationship: the first word is a specific object (a food) and the second item is a more general kind of food. The relationship between the two words is that the first one “might be” classifiable as something that fits into the second category. As you think about what words to pick, keep in mind this template for how the two words relate.

 

Before you start brainstorming or writing, remember this:

 

  • This prompt is not asking to answer the questions: “Is a hot dog a sandwich?” or “Is cereal a soup?” The prompt has already answered these questions (“maybe!”). Like most of UChicago’s prompts, this prompt wants you to take a basic kind of question and go beyond it. This essay should be about two things that you want to discuss, compare, or relate to one anothernot either of the examples given in the first two clauses of the prompt.

 

  • Avoid picking a topic that you think is “impressive” but that doesn’t really connect clearly with your interests, personality, or passions. 

 

  • At the same time, don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone; if you’re a social sciences nerd who hasn’t had space to include your love of particle physics in your application, this might be a great place to showcase that under-represented side of your interests. 

 

With these tips in mind, let’s consider different approaches you could take that maintain the basic conceptual structure of the prompt. To do so, let’s go through some examples:

 

Example 1: “Is a tomato a fruit?” This essay could open with vivid descriptions of the role that tomatoes play in the writer’s family’s cuisineand around the world. Then, the writer could shift to describe how science views tomatoes (which are, indeed, technically a fruit). Using this contrast, the applicant could discuss the gap between cultural norms around how a food is consumed (savory versus sweet uses, for example) and the scientific definition of “fruit.” 

 

This example has strong potential. This is because it is similar to the other two items in the original prompt; it is (1) also about food and (2) taps into a popular debate. However, it offers a twist on the structure of the prompt’s first two clauses because there is a “scientific answer” to the question. This response would not be interesting if the writer simply answered: “Yes, a tomato is a fruit because scientific categorization says so.” However, by highlighting personal experiences and cultural practicesand how they diverge from science’s definitionsthe writer could create a strong essay that demonstrates how they think about food, culture, science, and social norms. 

 

Example 2: Another student could ask: “Is a human being an animal?” Using their knowledge of the relationships between different species and ecosystems, this writer could first offer witty comparisons between the lifestyle of human beings and other animals. Then the writer could transition to focus on the vast ecosystem impact that human beings have in comparison to the minimal impact of animals. The writer could conclude in the same way that the admissions committee does: with “maybe” as the answer. 

 

This approach has good potential because it could allow the applicant to demonstrate their knowledge of environmental and ecosystem dynamics while maintaining a witty and engaging tone. Furthermore, because of the focus on how human beings impact the world around them, the applicant could also demonstrate their broader views and values.

 

The two examples above follow the same structure as the prompt’s first two items: they involve asking whether one thing fits into a broader category. Because we’re dealing with UChicago’s prompts, which are famous for pushing applicants toward unexpected and creative answers, you might be wondering whether you canor shouldconsider throwing away this basic conceptual structure. The short answer is yes. A really clever or interesting idea that doesn’t fit into the “is a hot dog a sandwich” conceptual relationship could be effective, though perhaps a bit risky.

 

However, a poorly executed response that picks two random words and inserts them into the “is a _ a _” schema will likely fall flat for the admissions committee. If you are tempted to take this prompt in a totally unexpected direction, read these words of caution before you begin writing:

 

  • Generally speaking, using this structure to ask a seemingly random question (for example “is red an angry color?”) is a risky strategy. UChicago wants its applicants to take risks, but they also want thoughtful, well-written responses; if it seems like you’ve chosen a topic just to be “different,” your essay might come across as impersonal and pandering, rather than as a deep and powerful reflection of who you are and how you think. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule; an applicant could successfully execute the “Is red an angry color?” example by writing an amazing essay about optics and how the human brain processes color.

 

  • Using this structure to write about a topic that you’re passionate aboutbut that doesn’t really fit the structuremight also not be the best idea. Questions like “Is a peaceful world an achievable goal?” or “Is a gun an item that should be regulated?” could set your application back. Why? Well, these examples push the boundaries of the original prompt, both stylistically and conceptually; to some admissions officers, it might seem obvious that the applicant is heavy-handedly using the prompt to fit their own agenda, rather than finding an elegant and clever way to respond within the “Is a _ a _?” structure.

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Essay Option 4

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” – Jessamyn West

—Inspired by Elizabeth Mansfield, Class of 2020

Understanding the prompt

 

This is a classic minimalist prompt; the admissions committee gives you a six-word quote from Jessamyn West, an American novelist and short story writer, along with 650 words to respond to or reflect on the quote. If you’re a literature or film enthusiast, future English major, or creative writer, this prompt might be a natural fit for you; it provides an opportunity to discuss what creative or fictional art means to you. 

 

So, what does this quote actually mean? Essentially, West’s quote is saying that fiction has value because it can expose truths that are hidden in everyday life. This could mean basic or practical truths (for example, truths about people’s living conditions or even about scientific facts) or it could mean more conceptual truths (for example, truths about right and wrong). 

 

There is no one way to respond to a prompt like this, but below we’ll go through some basic strategies for approaching this prompt and organizing your thoughts. First, though, let’s discuss some basic parameters:

 

  • Make sure that your response addresses the relationship between fiction, truth and realitythese ideas are at the core of the quote, so they should be at the core of your essay, too! 

 

  • Make sure that your response reveals something about you; this is not the place to write a short academic essay on the life and work of Jessamyn West or to write a purely philosophical treatise about the nature of reality. 

 

  • Think about the role your response will play in your application as a whole. Ideally, this essay should add depth and complexity to the admissions committee’s understanding of you. Avoid conveying information about your passions, motivations, or worldview that is already clear from other essays; if your Common App essay is about what writing fiction means to you, avoid just reiterating the points you made there. At the same time, avoid giving a response that seems totally discontinuous with the rest of your application; If you describe yourself as a fact-obsessed scientist elsewhere, it might not be a good idea to do a 180 here and claim that you think fiction contains more truth than science.

 

  • Remember that you don’t have to agree with the quote; you can also respond with an argument or examples that qualify (“This is true of good fiction, but not of all fiction…”) or critique West’s quote (“I disagree with her quote because…”). 

 

Conceptualizing your answer 

 

If you’ve picked this prompt, you likely have something to say about fiction, reality, and truthbut you might not begin with a carefully-reasoned argument to defend your opinion. To effectively answer this prompt, you’ll need to come up with a creative, clear, compelling strategy to argue for, or illustrate your own view, on West’s quote. 

 

How can you do this? Here are a few ideas for broad strategies that you can consider:

 

A personal approach. Does this question speak to your life and experience? If so, don’t be afraid to answer this question through the lens of your own experience. 

 

Example 1: A student could write about how Harry Potter, though fiction, exposes universal truths about power, discrimination, and the efficacy of collective action that are often hard to see in day-to-day life. This applicant could briefly describe a few specific moments or scenarios from the books, explaining how these correspond to specific real-world situations where the “truth” might be hard to see. The writer could also focus on how this scenario influenced their own actions or view of the world. 

 

A historical approach. If you’re a history buff, you might be aware of historical examples of art that revealed truth. Another strong, focused strategy could be to pick one particular example from history and discuss what it shows (in your opinion) about West’s quote; to ensure that this essay is personal, you could also describe how this example inspires or informs your view of fiction, truth, and reality.

 

Example 2: A student could write about a specific artist who used their work to subvert an oppressive regime. After briefly describing this artist and their work, the applicant could shift to explaining what truth this art exposed, and how or why “reality” obscured this truth. To make the essay more personal, the writer could write about their personal link to this art. 

 

A creative approach. If you yourself are a creative writer, this prompt could become a canvas for you to display your own abilities. This could mean incorporating poetry or prose into your response, or even creating a whole short story in response to the prompt.

 

Example 3: Rather than writing an expository piece about why this quote is or is not true, you could use your own creative writing to show how fiction can expose truths that reality conceals. One way to do this might be to write a short piece of fiction that depicts something that is not often seen in reality. This can be a risky strategy, since your essay will likely not include a clear statement of your position on West’s quote; if you choose this approach, be sure to have trusted teachers, advisors, or peers read your essay to ensure that it is compelling and fits the prompt.

 

Writing your essay 

 

The ideas above are intended to help jumpstart your brainstorming for this prompt. However, the potential directions that your essay could take are almost infinite! 

 

As you write, remember that the prompt does not define “fiction,” “truth,” or “reality.” It’s up to you to decide how to interpret these terms. What matters most is showing the admissions committee that you have thought deeply and carefully about this quoteand, more broadly, about fiction, truth, and reality. 

 

Furthermore, be sure that you are consistent in your term usage throughout your essay. If you define truth at the start of your essay as “verifiable scientific facts,” and then later you write about truth more abstractly (for example, about moral or religious truths), your essay may feel inconsistent or confusing. 

 

Essay Option 5

UChicago has international campus centers around the world, but we don’t have any interplanetary, interstellar, or interdimensional campuses… yet! Propose a spot in time or space, in this or any universe, for a new UChicago campus. What types of courses would be taught at this site? What cultural experiences await students who study there?

—Inspired by Peter Jasperse, Class of 2022

Understanding the prompt

 

This prompt is quite different from the others in that it is far more specific and directive; it invites you to imagine and propose a very specific “alternative reality.” If you’re a student who is passionate about being part of a certain kind of learning community or who is excited by utopian ideas that push the limits of human ingenuity, this prompt might be a good fit for you. 

 

Let’s take a moment now to list the different parts of the prompt that you need to address in your essay:

 

  • Propose a spot in time or space, in this or any universe, for a new UChicago campus.

 

The first step of an effective response will be picking a time or space for your imaginary UChicago campus. Don’t be afraid to get specific. Strong, creative writing requires imaginative scene-setting; this will likely be true of this essay, too!

 

  • What types of courses would be taught at this site?

 

This part of the prompt implies that UChicago’s academic curriculum might vary based on the school’s new campus location. Essentially, this prompt is inviting you to consider how the location of a school might influence not only its culture and atmosphere, but also its academic curriculum. 

 

  • What cultural experiences await students who study there?

 

This question might be easier for many students than the previous question; high schoolers often think about how a college’s setting will influence their experience on its campus; now, you just need to apply your imagination to your proposed new UChicago campus!  

 

Conceptualizing your answer 

 

First, let’s start with a word of caution. When you’re invited to imagine an alternative reality, it can be tempting to go overboard and throw in every ideal characteristic that you can imagine. 

 

Example 1: Imagine an essay that proposes that UChicago establish a new campus on the moon, with a full spa and swimming pool facility, inter-galactic exchange students and amazing, space-inspired cuisine. The essay could go into immense detail about these resources and all the different space-oriented courses that the campus will offer.

 

Why this approach is weak: Though writing an essay on this moon campus could be a lot of fun, it might not convey that much information about you, since you’ll likely get caught up in describing the out-of-this-world, over-the-top campus. A response like this is more likely to read like a description of your dream vacation than as an insightful discussion of your dream education.

 

To avoid this kind of less-than-insightful response, take a step back and think about your educational and community values and priorities. Consider these questions:

 

  • What is it that attracts me to UChicago in the first place? How could these values grow in a different setting?
  • What do I believe is the purpose of college education? How does a school’s setting interact with or contribute to this purpose?
  • What connections or insights do I think humanity needs to gain? How could a strategically-oriented UChicago campus help us gain these insights?

 

Once you’ve thought through these questions, pick a location that will allow you to highlight how your proposed UChicago 2.0 campus would realize your vision for higher education. In the end, this could turn out to be moon campus after all! Consider this tweaked version of Example 1:

 

Example 2: A student who cares deeply about climate change and who thinks that human beings need to carefully and ethically explore the possibility of living on planets or moons beyond earth could write a compelling essay proposing a moon campus. They could explain how this campus could both help humanity adjust to and learn about life beyond earth, and also give students a deeper appreciation for life on earth. This essay could even play with the fantastical possibility of alien exchange students, in the context of promoting cross-cultural understanding and sensitivity as human beings expand to new intergalactic territory.

 

This response would have some clearly science-fictional elements, but would not read as a purely superficial and fun proposal to have a dream vacation campus on the moon. By grounding the essay in the applicant’s beliefs about planetary destruction and the need for an ethical approach to space colonization, the applicant could successfully blend fantastical space speculation and meaningful, cohesive insight into their views on the matter. 

 

Strong responses can also be more practicaldon’t let the prompt’s focus on “interplanetary, interstellar, or interdimensional campuses” force you towards a completely fantastical response. If there is a place on earth that you’re excited about, feel free to keep your essay firmly grounded on earth. Or, if you’re fascinated by a particular period in history, you could situate your proposed campus somewhere in the past. Consider these examples:

 

Example 3: Imagine an applicant who is passionate about international relations and cross-cultural understanding as well as marine biology. This applicant could write an essay proposing that UChicago build a floating campus that can move around the world. This campus could aim to provide students with an intercultural education, offering courses specific to the locations where the campus will dock each semester. The writer could also propose that the new campus’s STEM programs can offer research courses that involve diving and collecting specimens from specific ocean regions that the campus passes through. This sort of response could be highly creative, but also relatively realistic.

 

Example 4: An applicant who believes that many contemporary problems arise because human beings have not studied and learned from society’s past mistakes could use this premise as the motivation for an interdimensional campus. This proposed campus could essentially exist in limbo, offering courses across time and space to allow students to study history in real-time. The campus could also offer extracurricular and cultural activities across time and space, to expose students to the past foundations of modern cultures and beliefs. This essay could be centered around a few specific examples of courses or extracurriculars that the campus would offer, which would keep it from being too abstract. 

 

As you brainstorm and begin drafting your essay, your overall goal should be to balance creativity with deeper insight into your own values. The intentionally absurd and fantastical wording of the prompt is an invitation to create a proposal that bendsor goes beyondthe laws of physics or logic. However, no matter what laws you’re bending, be sure that your own educational dreams and priorities shine through. 

Essay Option 6

“Don’t be afraid to pick past prompts! I liked some of the ones from previous years more than those made newly available for my year. Also, don’t worry about the ‘correct’ way to interpret a question. If there exists a correct way to interpret the prompt I chose, it certainly was not my answer.”

—Matthew Lohrs, Class of 2023

Understanding the prompt

 

This prompt is, essentially, not a promptlike the “seventh prompt” that we discussed in our general overview of this essay, this prompt serves as a reminder of the spirit and philosophy behind UChicago’s famously unconventional supplemental essay.

 

This prompt’s reminder that there is no one “correct: interpretation is also a timely reminder for us, as we near the end of this post. This post should get your creative juices flowing; it can help you see prompts from different angles, and also can help you relate your own knowledge, experiences, and beliefs to these prompts. However, aside from writing a response that might be taken as xenophobic, racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted or insensitive, there is no “wrong answer” to these prompts. The only way to give an “incorrect” response is to create an essay that is poorly written, not carefully thought-out, or that does not offer an insightful peak at who you are or what you stand for. 

 

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