The Ultimate Guide to Applying to the University of Chicago

Do you know how to improve your profile for college applications?

See how your profile ranks among thousands of other students using CollegeVine. Calculate your chances at your dream schools and learn what areas you need to improve right now — it only takes 3 minutes and it's 100% free.

Introducing the University of Chicago

The University of Chicago, known for being highly intellectual and eclectic (“the life of the mind” is a common phrase for many students), is one of the best places to get a liberal arts undergraduate education at a university in the world.


The main campus of the University of Chicago is located in the neighborhood of Hyde Park in the city of Chicago. Hyde Park has a unique culture that incorporates the University – many businesses and restaurants offer discounts for students, and students often volunteer and work within the community. Furthermore, it is located within walking distance of Lake Michigan.


There are also programs designed to help students explore and engage with the rest of the city of Chicago, including a yearly bike tour led through the South Side of Chicago by Professor Mark Hansen and the Dean of the College, John W. Boyer.


Additionally, the University of Chicago has centers around the world, in cities such as Paris, London, Beijing, and Delhi, among others. It conducts research worldwide and, as a result, students have access to resources from around the globe. There are also many opportunities to study abroad. 


The University of Chicago has over 400 registered student organizations, so there is definitely a group for you. And if not, you can always start your own. Additionally, along with 19 NCAA Division III men and women’s varsity sports teams, there are over 500 intramural teams, 39 club sports, and two athletic centers.


Furthermore, there are many UChicago traditions that range from fun and quirky (read the requirements list for Scav, a legendary scavenger hunt held each year that even includes a road trip, here!) to academic (see more on the Core, a central tenet of the University of Chicago education, below). Students pick and choose what they wish to participate in based on what is important and fun to them, but the common thread is learning and discussing ideas.


Want to learn what University of Chicago will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering University of Chicago needs to know.


What is the Core?


Instead of general education requirements, the University of Chicago has the Core. In addition to your major and electives, you must take the Core, a broad range of interdisciplinary courses in many subject areas, including math, the biological and physical sciences, humanities, arts, and the social sciences. That means you will likely spend your first two years focusing primarily on completing the Core requirements.


Why does the University have the Core? As their website explains, “All students have taken the same sorts of classes and read the same kinds of texts, struggling and triumphing over the same sorts of ideas. This gives every student a common vocabulary of ideas and skills, no matter his or her background before coming to the College.” If you like learning a lot about a lot, the University of Chicago will be a good place for you!




There are about 6,000 students enrolled in the College at the University of Chicago. It is on a quarter system, so classes span ten weeks and end with an added week of finals. While there is no minimum GPA or test score requirement to be admitted to the University of Chicago, the profile for the Class of 2019 shows that the middle 50% of ACT scores for admitted students was 32-35 and, for the SAT, 1450-1550. Additionally, out of 30,188 applicants to the Class of 2019, just 2,521 were accepted. Its acceptance rate in 2016 was 7.6%.




Tuition at the University of Chicago is $50,997 for on-campus, off-campus, and commuter students for the 2016-17 academic year. Each student must also pay a student life fee of $1,494. On-campus room and board is $15,093. Further information on costs can be found here.


Financial Aid


Sound like a lot of money? Fortunately, the University of Chicago has many financial aid options and the University pledges to meet 100% of your demonstrated need (in other words, the difference between the total cost of University of Chicago education and the contribution your family can make) through grants, work, and merit-based scholarships with the help of the No Barriers plan. Additionally, all University support is given in grants, meaning they do not need to be paid back.


To get your financial aid, be sure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You should also complete the UChicago Financial Aid Worksheet (available through your UChicago Account). If you have already completed the College Board’s CSS Profile, you can submit that instead of the UChicago worksheet – only one of these documents (UChicago Financial Aid Worksheet OR College Board’s CSS Profile) is required to get financial aid. However, one thing to consider when choosing between the two is the CSS Profile has a fee for submission, whereas the UChicago Financial Aid worksheet is completely free.


You should apply for financial aid as soon as you apply for admission so that you get your aid decision in time for committing to a school – for almost all schools, including UChicago, the date to commit by is May 1.


The required documents you need to submit to apply for financial aid are:

  1. The FAFSA (The University of Chicago school code is 001774.)
  2. The UChicago Financial Aid Worksheet OR College Board’s CSS Profile (explained above)
  3. Your parent or parents’ last-year tax returns (a signed copy of your parents’ 2015 federal income tax return, including all schedules and W-2 forms)


The financial aid priority deadlines for document submission are as follows:

  • Early Decision I and Early Action: by November 1, 2016
  • Early Decision II: by January 15, 2017
  • Regular Decision: by February 15, 2017


“Priority deadline” means that you need to submit your financial aid application by the correct above date if you want “priority” to receive your aid decision before May 1. While you can still submit a financial aid application after the above dates, you are not guaranteed an answer by the time you may need it. The financial aid office reviews each application case-by-case, so it can take a while to receive your aid decision.


Aid is typically administered only to full-time students (students taking no less than three classes totaling 300 credits each quarter), but you may still be eligible as a part-time student. In this situation, it is best to speak directly with the financial aid office.




Regardless of which application you use (Common, Coalition, or Universal – for more information, see below), the deadlines for the 2016-17 application season are as follows:


Early Decision I and Early Action: by November 1, 2016, 11:59pm at your local time

Early Decision II and Regular Notification: by January 1, 2017, 11:59pm at your local time


You must submit all of the documents required for an application (see below, under Types of Applications the University of Chicago Accepts) on time to be considered for admission, in addition to the fee or fee waiver. The application fee for the University of Chicago is $75 and only required for students not applying for need-based financial aid.


Additionally, if you apply Early Decision I or II, you will need to include in your application an agreement that you make the binding commitment to attend the University of Chicago if you are accepted (when you fill out your application and select “Early Decision,” these forms will come up – for help with Early Decision logistics, read this CollegeVine guide!).


Notification Dates


While the University of Chicago does not promise a set decision release date, you can expect to hear back for Early Action and Early Decision I applications in mid-December. Early Decision II application decisions come out in mid-February and Regular Decision results are released in late March.


If you apply Early Action or Regular Decision, you must commit to the University of Chicago or withdraw your application by May 1, 2017. If you apply Early Decision I or II, you will be committed if you are accepted.


Types of Applications the University of Chicago Accepts


The University of Chicago accepts three different types of applications: the Common Application, the Coalition Application, and the Universal Application. The admissions committees treat all three applications equally, so you should choose the best platform for you.


And, if you know you definitely want to apply to the University of Chicago but are not yet sure which application you will use, you can always start your UChicago Supplement (and even submit it!) through a UChicago account before picking your application.


Which one is best for you?


The Common Application needs to be filled out only once before being sent to all (or most) of the schools you are applying to. Additionally, you can submit your UChicago Supplemental Essays through the Common App (or through your UChicago Account). You can find a user’s guide to the Common Application on the CollegeVine blog here.


The Coalition Application is an application designed to make the college application process more accessible. In addition to the supplemental essays for UChicago, the Coalition App allows students to submit a universal personal statement. The University of Chicago allows applicants to submit something you have “previously written or created that addresses one of the prompts.” These prompts include:

  • Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  • Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenge and rewards of making your contribution.
  • Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
  • What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice or a graded course paper from 11th or 12th grade including instructor comments.


They also consider graded papers of up to five pages, if they include instructor comments. If you have more questions about the Coalition Application, you can read the CollegeVine guide here.


The Universal Application, like the Common Application, must only be filled out once before it can be sent to any Universal Application school. Students can also edit their essays after submission. If you use the Universal Application, you will have to submit your UChicago Supplement through your UChicago Account.


No matter which application you choose, a complete University of Chicago application includes seven things:

  1. One of the three applications (Common, Coalition, or Universal)
  2. The UChicago Supplement
  3. Your high school transcript
  4. A secondary school report
  5. Standardized test scores (SAT or ACT)
  6. Two teacher recommendations
  7. The application fee (if you are applying for need-based financial aid, there is no application fee)


Note that transcripts, test scores, secondary school reports, and recommendations are “considered official only if they come directly from your school, teachers, counselors, or other recommenders.” If you, the applicant, submit any of these materials, they will not count towards your application. (You can read more here.)


University of Chicago Supplemental Essays


The University of Chicago Supplement calls for an essay, along with space for an optional prompt, and then a third “extended” essay. In total, you will be writing two to three essays for the UChicago Supplement.


The essay prompts for the 2016-17 applications are as follows:


Question 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.


Question 2 (Optional):

Share with us a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music, musicians, performers, paintings, artists, blogs, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed, or add a category of your own.


Extended Essay Questions (Required; choose one):


Essay Option 1:

What is square one, and can you actually go back to it?

—Inspired by Maya Shaked, Class of 2018


Essay Option 2:

Once, renowned physicist Werner Heisenberg said: “There is a fundamental error in separating the parts from the whole, the mistake of atomizing what should not be atomized. Unity and complementarity constitute reality.” Whether it’s Georges Seurat’s pointillism in “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, quantum physics, or any other field of your choosing, when can the parts be separated from the whole and when can they not?

—Inspired by Ender Sahin, Class of 2020


Essay Option 3:

The ball is in your court—a penny for your thoughts, but say it, don’t spray it. So long as you don’t bite off more than you can chew, beat around the bush, or cut corners, writing this essay should be a piece of cake. Create your own idiom, and tell us its origin—you know, the whole nine yards. PS: A picture is worth a thousand words.

—Inspired by April Bell, Class of 2017, and Maya Shaked, Class of 2018 (It takes two to tango.)


Essay Option 4:

Alice falls down the rabbit hole. Milo drives through the tollbooth. Dorothy is swept up in the tornado. Neo takes the red pill. Don’t tell us about another world you’ve imagined, heard about, or created. Rather, tell us about its portal. Sure, some people think of the University of Chicago as a portal to their future, but please choose another portal to write about.

—Inspired by Raphael Hallerman, Class of 2020


Essay Option 5:

Vestigiality refers to genetically determined structures or attributes that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function, but have been retained during the process of evolution. In humans, for instance, the appendix is thought to be a vestigial structure. Describe something vestigial (real or imagined) and provide an explanation for its existence.

—Inspired by Tiffany Kim, Class of 2020


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.

For specific help on the University of Chicago 2016-17 supplemental essays, check out this guide here.


Interview Process


Interviews are optional for the University of Chicago, but CollegeVine always recommends the interview as an opportunity to enhance your application. In your interview, you will be asked about yourself – both as a student and as a member of your community – and the interviewer will share with you a little bit about their experiences at the University of Chicago. Make sure to come with your own questions about the University of Chicago. 


The University of Chicago allows you to schedule one of two types of interviews: either an on-campus interview with a fourth year student in the College OR an interview with a University of Chicago graduate near you. So, even if you cannot visit the campus, you can still schedule an interview. Both types of interviews are treated equally in the admissions process.


On-Campus Interviews

On-campus interviews must be scheduled by you. It is important to schedule your interview well in advance of any deadlines, so admissions committees can consider your interview when evaluating your application. For EA and ED I, you must have your interview by late November. For ED II, you must have your interview by late January, and for Regular Decision, by late February. Note that once you have had an on-campus interview, you cannot have an alumni interview off-campus.


Additionally, you can see and read about the student interviewers here!


Alumni Interviews

Alumni interviews are conducted off-campus in an area near you. To request an alumni interview, you should check “Interested in an Off-Campus Alumni Interview” in the “Forms” section at the bottom of your UChicago Account page. If you have had an on-campus interview, you will not be able to have an alumni interview. Once you indicate your interest, you may be contacted to schedule an interview. Because of the availability of alumni in your area, however, you are not guaranteed an interview, but it is always worth requesting. If you are not able to have an interview, you will not be penalized in the admissions process.


And finally…

Have fun with your application! The University of Chicago is a serious place, but it thrives on curiosity and a desire to ask all sorts of questions, especially the unexpected ones. Show admissions officers that you are a thinker and that learning is a way of life for you – and that it makes things more interesting, not dull. Enjoy your application and let it make you think. That is what college is about, after all!


Curious about your chances of acceptance to UChicago? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Julia Mearsheimer
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Julia Mearsheimer attends the University of Chicago. She is considering majoring in Philosophy, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, or Political Science, but remains undecided. In addition to writing, she enjoys listening to Nina Simone and baking bread.