Michelle Foley 9 min read 12th Grade, College Application Tips

The Ultimate Guide to Applying to the University of Chicago

Housed in famed Chicago, Illinois, the University of Chicago is a 130-year-old powerhouse for intellectual excellence and eccentricity. Campus culture strongly encourages academic debate and learning for the sake of learning, so “the life of the mind” is a phrase oft-repeated amongst students. 

 

The private research university has an undergraduate enrollment of over 6,000 students, all operating under a quarter-based system. Of all applicants to the Class of 2024, only 6.2% were accepted, making UChicago the seventh-most selective college in the United States. Intense as the competition may seem, gaining a spot in this years’ class may be made all the more possible through reading our Ultimate Guide.

 

Average Stats of Accepted University of Chicago Students

 

It comes as little surprise that a school known for nerdiness prizes academic excellence; the middle 50% SAT score range for the Class of 2024 at UChicago was 1510-1560, and 1518 was the overall average score. Meanwhile, the average ACT score was 34, with the middle 50% being 34-35. A staggering 99% of students were in the top 10% of their class.

 

Remember that universities interpret your achievements, academic and otherwise, within the context of your environment. This is likely why the vast majority of admitted students were in the top decile of their senior class; regardless of their standardized testing scores, admits thrived within their respective communities.

 

Though many accepted students submitted anywhere between a median score (by UChicago standards at that!) to a perfect one, please remember that stats are not everything. 1020 SATs and 20 ACTs also made it to the admit pile. 

 

While your stats may not likely make or break your admissions status, having solid ones will at least hold your admission officers’ interest. Lower numbers will hurt you, with some exception given to underrepresented minorities, legacies, and recruited athletes.

 

Though your standardized testing score is not a complete measure of your academic aptitude, many universities will treat it as such if you choose to submit it. They’re calculated into your Academic Index, a number universities create based on your test scores, GPA, and class ranking to evaluate your overall academic aptitude.

 

Many universities this year have gone test-optional due to the coronavirus pandemic, but perhaps more uniquely, UChicago made that shift in 2018 to increase its accessibility to low-income and first-generation students. There’ll be no negative judgement on UChicago’s end if you either opt out or cannot submit your scores.

 

If you do choose to submit them in the 2020-2021 cycle, we generally recommend doing so only if your SAT score falls within 60 points of the 25th percentile score, or if your ACT score falls within three points of the 25th percentile score. This is because superscores are lower this cycle, and having a score close to the 25th percentile can strengthen your application.

 

While UChicago doesn’t report the GPA of its accepted class, it’s important to know yours for the application process (we can also probably safely assume it’s an A average). If you don’t know yours, you can find it using our free GPA calculator.

 

UChicago’s College Application Process

 

Application Overview

 

UChicago accepts both the Coalition Application and the Common Application without preference given to either platform. 

 

There’s an application fee of $75, but you can get that waived if you’re applying for need-based financial aid. 

 

Deadlines

 

Early Decision 1 and Early Action: November 2

Early Decision 2: January 4

Regular Decision: January 4

 

All applications will be due 11:59 p.m. at your local time. You must submit all of the documents required for an application on time to be considered for admission, in addition to the fee or fee waiver.

 

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). If you need help deciding on an application timeline, see our post on EA vs. ED vs. REA.

 

The board of admissions elected not to release specific data for the 2019-2020 admissions cycle aside from its overall 6.2% acceptance rate, but it can be assumed that the acceptance rate for ED 1 and ED 2 students is substantially higher, as legally committing to attend a school bolsters the institution’s yield rate. 

 

UChicago likely favors their ED applicants because of their strong demonstrated interest, but please keep in mind that a higher ED acceptance rate does not necessarily mean that ED applicants “have it easier” or are held to a lower standard. The ED pool is comprised of some of UChicago’s most motivated, committed, and organized applicants. When you ED to UChicago, you’re competing against the students who want to be there the most!

 

Application Components

 

  • School Report Required
  • Mid Year Report Required
  • Final Report Required
  • Teacher Evaluation(s): 2 Required, 1 Optional. UChicago’s admissions website states, “Pick the teachers who know you best; they don’t need to be in subjects related to your intended major.”
  • Other Evaluation(s): 0 Required, 3 Optional
  • Supplemental Materials (Optional): Students with special academic or artistic interests may submit excerpts or entireties of their work: one to two minutes of recorded work, two to three artwork prints, a paragraph to a page of creative writing, or a research abstract. The University also allows for an Alternative Project, a multimedia work of art, poetry, photo, and film meant to introduce oneself to the UChicago world in a way that a typical essay cannot.
  • Video Introduction (Optional): Recorded interview alternative meant to showcase the students’ genuine, natural self. We will get into the specifics of the video introduction in a bit!

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Supplemental Essays

 

Applicants may respond to one of seven possible essay prompts within one or two pages. All creative and thought-provoking, these questions are mostly modeled after ones posed by past and present students. For this piece, UChicago admissions suggests a word count of about 650.

 

Additionally, applicants must answer a second, “Why UChicago”-type essay. There is no explicitly stated word limit, but we and adcoms mutually recommend keeping your piece somewhere between 250-500 words.

 

“We’re only human and cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention indefinitely,” states UChicago’s admissions site (though they do promise to read through your entire essay). “The ideas in your writing matter more than the exact number of words you use!”

 

Question 1 (Required; choose one)

 

Choose one of the seven extended essay options and upload a one- or two-page response. Please include the prompt at the top of the page.

 

Essay Option One:

Who does Sally sell her seashells to? How much wood can a woodchuck really chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Pick a favorite tongue twister (either originally in English or translated from another language) and consider a resolution to its conundrum using the method of your choice. Math, philosophy, linguistics… it’s all up to you (or your woodchuck).
—Inspired by Blessing Nnate, Class of 2024

 

Essay Option Two:

What can actually be divided by zero?
—Inspired by Mai Vu, Class of 2024

 

Essay Option Three:

The seven liberal arts in antiquity consisted of the Quadrivium – astronomy, mathematics, geometry, and music, and the Trivium – rhetoric, grammar, and logic. Describe your own take on the Quadrivium or the Trivium. What do you think it is essential for everyone to know?
—Inspired by Peter Wang, Class of 2022


Essay Option Four:

Subway maps, evolutionary trees, Lewis diagrams. Each of these schematics tells the relationships and stories of their component parts. Reimagine a map, diagram, or chart. If your work is largely or exclusively visual, please include a cartographer’s key of at least 300 words to help us best understand your creation.
—Inspired by Maximilian Site, Class of 2020

 

Essay Option Five:
“Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” – Eleanor Roosevelt. Misattribute a famous quote and explore the implications of doing so.
—Inspired by Chris Davey, AB ’13

 

Essay Option Six:

Engineer George de Mestral got frustrated with burrs stuck to his dog’s fur and applied the same mechanic to create Velcro. Scientist Percy Lebaron Spencer found a melted chocolate bar in his magnetron lab and discovered microwave cooking. Dye-works owner Jean Baptiste Jolly found his tablecloth clean after a kerosene lamp was knocked over on it, consequently shaping the future of dry cleaning. Describe a creative or interesting solution, and then find the problem that it solves.
—Inspired by Steve Berkowitz, AB ’19, and Neeharika Venuturupalli, Class of 2024

 

Essay Option Seven:

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.

 

Question 2 (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 UChicago prompts are fun, but they are quite a bit to tackle. If you’d like a more complete understanding of how to approach them and what adcoms are looking for, you can check out our comprehensive guide to writing the UChicago essays and our thorough breakdown of a UChicago essay by a real applicant.

 

Already have drafts of your essays? You can get free essay feedback from other students using our Peer Essay Review tool.

 

The Video Introduction

 

The previously-mentioned Video Introduction is truly optional, and students who choose not to create one will not be punished for doing so. Still, it’s a fantastic way to showcase demonstrated interest.

 

Serving as a replacement for the now-discontinued alumni/current student interview, this video is just another opportunity for the admissions committee to get to know you better. It should be under two minutes, and they aren’t expecting Hollywood video quality, flawless editing, or a rigid script. Still, we recommend speaking clearly and confidently, using bright natural lighting, and limiting additional, distracting background noise. 

 

The video should be authentic and created in your true voice; remember, it’s just another opportunity for them to get to know you!

 

When Will You Hear Back?

 

There are no promised notification dates, but EA/ED 1 applications should expect to hear back sometime in mid-December, ED 2 applicants in mid-February, and Regular Decision applicants in late March.

 

All Early Action and Regular decision applicants must either commit or withdraw their application to UChicago by May 1, while all Early Decision applicants automatically commit to the college upon acceptance. Though the ED agreement is binding, some exceptions are made for special cases: for example, if a student were to receive an insufficient aid package, they would have to provide proof of their financial situation to withdraw their application without penalty.

 

UChicago Financial Aid

 

Financial Aid Generosity

 

UChicago’s tuition sticker price is $57,642, and room and board is $17,004. The addition of student life, book, and personal fees ring up a year’s worth of an elite college education to a whopping total of $80,277.

 

If this appears (understandably) beyond your family’s budget, don’t despair; 40% of students receive need-based financial aid, and UChicago’s average aid package is $55,458. 

 

How to Apply for Financial Aid

 

If you’re applying for aid, you’ll need:

 

Financial aid priority deadlines—that is, the day by which you will be given “priority” to receive your financial aid package before May 1—are as follows:

 

Early Decision 1 and Early Action: November 15

Early Decision 2: January 15

Regular Decision: February 15

Transfer: April 15

 

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.

 

Like many other top schools, the University of Chicago has pledged to meet all demonstrated financial need with no loan expectation. In essence, they promise to make up the difference between your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) and the total cost of room and board. Under UChicago’s Empower initiative, families making under $125,000 with typical assets will receive free tuition, and those making under $65,000 with typical assets will receive full coverage of their room and board as well. 

 

UChicago practices need-blind admissions, meaning ability to pay won’t be factored into your decision, and is no-loan for students meeting certain financial criteria, meaning that generous financial aid is given to qualifying students to facilitate their ability to graduate college with no loans.

 

The University offers merit scholarships to select admits. Scholarships may be awarded on the basis of exceptional academic achievement—through the National Merit Finalist or National Hispanic Recognition Program, for example—leadership, community contributions, or extracurricular achievement. Given without consideration of financial need, these awards tend to be between $5,000 to $10,000, or take the form as funding for summer opportunities.

 

 For example, first-generation college students receive a $20,000 scholarship over four years and a guaranteed paid internship for their first summer. Children of Chicago public school educators and police and firefighters are eligible for specific scholarships as well (note that none of these require a specific application process except for the Police and Fire Scholarship).

 

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.

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

It’s difficult to determine your true chance at the University of Chicago, but you can check out our chancing calculator for a clearer picture. Our complex algorithm will take your demographics, academics, and extracurriculars into account and give you specific tips for improving your profile.

 

For a comprehensive, statistical breakdown of this university, check out our UChicago profile page! It holds all of the granular information you’ll need when deciding whether to apply or attend—everything from weather to demographic breakdowns.

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Michelle Foley
Essay Breakdown Writer at CollegeVine
Short bio
Michelle Foley is currently taking a gap year before starting at Yale College in Fall '21, where she is considering majoring in Art, English, or Cognitive Studies while earning her Spanish certificate. In her free time, she likes to paint, run, and read!