2 Great UChicago Essay Examples
UChicago is famous—or shall we say infamous—for their highly-quirky essay prompts. In previous years, students have been tasked with mind-boggling questions like “Find X,” or “A hot dog might be a sandwich, and cereal might be a soup, but is a __ a __?”
These essays may seem silly, but they invite students to share their personalities and perspectives as fully as they wish. UChicago is looking for creative thinkers, and these essays help them distinguish the “kind” of applicant they want. After all, most applicants will have stellar grades and test scores, so these essays are your chance to stand out and beat the odds of the very low acceptance rate.
UChicago requires two essays—one that is a typical “Why This College?” prompt, and the other, your choice among seven zany prompts. The seventh option actually allows you to make your own prompt, or pick one from previous years.
In this post, we’ll go over some strong UChicago essay examples from real applicants and share what they did well and what could be improved.
Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized.
Read our UChicago essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.
Essay Example #1
Prompt: “There is no such thing as a new idea” – Mark Twain. Are any pieces of art, literature, philosophy, or technology truly original, or just a different combination of old ideas? Pick something, anything (besides yourself), and explain why it is, or is not, original.
As I entered the bare-walled room, I could see the sky was painted blue through the tinted windows. It was my first day in my new high school where I’d have to spend the next two years. I wanted to make new friends.
I started walking towards a boy, introduced myself and exchanged pleasantries. After a few minutes of conversation, the topic of music came up and I introduced him to my love for the iconic classical ambient hit ‘Clair de Lune’. He put on my headphones, the song started playing, and he was amazed by the music’s ethereal, mellow, and serene chords. Or so I thought.
You know that awkward feeling when you show a funny video to your friends and nobody laughs? It was equivalent to that.
As days passed, I started noticing everyone was only listening to the loud pounds of the bass, the buzz saw synths, the crispy hi-hats, and every other element found in Electronic Dance Music, also known as EDM. Realizing that people in my school didn’t like Clair de Lune because they were emotionally invested in only the EDM genre, I had an idea– “What if I create an EDM remix of Clair de Lune to reach out to the audience of both genres?”
I tried to understand what the composer was trying to express through his composition and attempted to create an impression of the classical piece. The main challenge was to add musical elements from relatively two of the most unconventional music genres– Classical and EDM. Incorporating the rich and sometimes heart-wrenching chord structure of Clair de Lune to the multiple layers of EDM saw synths, I adjusted the volume of my instruments to the intensities with which the notes needed to be played and panned the sound in different directions to set the appropriate ambiance.
A few weeks later, I uploaded my work to the various Discord music servers that I am a part of with shaky hands. Nervous of what people might interpret my work to be, I awaited the replies I would receive. The server was filled with users from North America, and since I was in India, I realized that most people weren’t active at midnight when I uploaded my mix. I called it a night and went to sleep. When I woke up, my inbox was flooded with a mix of appreciations and suggestions. The users from the server really liked my idea and it went on to become a weekly competition where everyone would try to incorporate multiple genres into one song. I also made my classmates listen to the mix and later made friends who were interested in music production.
Music has constantly been transcending and bridging different identities cross-culturally through the fusion of genres. The key lies in capturing the emotions and the structure linked to the song, but most importantly, working to understand diverse cultures.
This raises a critical question– are the genres we listen to now truly unique on their own or just a complex amalgam of countless genres throughout history? The answer is that it depends on how experienced an artist is at the art of impression. Honoring instead of degrading, studying instead of skimming, crediting instead of plagiarizing, and transforming instead of imitating will lead an artist to a remix instead of a rip-off. As an artist keeps repeating this process, they’ll make unique decisions– maybe they’ll add an inimitable form of reverb on the synth or include a cymbal crash in their alien music structure. Regardless, those small changes and preferences– in the long run– will amount to a magnitude of alteration in style and develop a completely new identity for an artist. This is when the art practically becomes original while bearing into itself countless unoriginal remixes and impressions of different songs, artists, and genres.
What This Essay Did Well
This essay is a great example of taking a prompt that seemingly has nothing to do with the student on the surface and turning it into an exposé of the student’s personality and interests. The point of every college essay is to reveal who you are, so even when the prompt asks for something unrelated like a piece of art or technology, the ability to tie that back to you is key.
The reader is taken on a journey from seeing the defeat this student felt when no one liked their music taste, to their determination to produce a remix, to the success and positive impact caused by their creativity. Having a well-defined beginning, middle, and end creates a good pace and makes it easy to follow.
Another positive aspect of this essay is the way the student describes music and their process. When you write about your hobbies or interests in an essay, your passion, as well as your expertise, should shine through. The reader can clearly tell this student cares about musical motifs and sound mixing through their description of classical and EDM music, but they also demonstrate their knowledge in this area by explaining the steps they took to produce a remix.
What Could Be Improved
While this student did a great job of turning this prompt into a story about themselves, a definitive answer to the prompt fell through the cracks. After an entire essay focused on them, the student generalized in the last paragraph in an attempt to answer the prompt. The result was an essay that ended on a good note, but didn’t leave the reader with a final impression of the student.
To make sure the ending was as strong as other parts of the essay and that there was a concrete answer to the prompt, this student should have tied the lessons they learned through their experience into their perspective on originality.
For example, they could have decided there’s no such thing as originality because even when they were developing their remix they relied on known aspects of music to recreate genres. On the flip side, they could have concluded that of course there are new ideas because even though they had influences, the comments on the Discord server said they had created something no one had ever seen before.
It’s okay to take a stance in a prompt like this one. You aren’t being evaluated on whether you picked the “right” answer because there is no right answer. The important part is to connect the answer back to the rest of the essay, and thus emphasize how the answer relates to you.
Essay Example #2
Prompt: Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your new intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History… a full list of unmodified majors ready for your editor’s eye is available here. —Inspired by Josh Kaufman, AB’18
When I shared the video of me eating fried insects in Thailand, my friends were seriously offended. Some stopped talking to me, while the rest thought I had lost my mind and recommended me the names of a few psychologists.
A major in Gastrophysics at UChicago is not for the faint hearted. You have to have a stomach for it! I do hope I am accepted to it as it is the only University in the U.S. with this unique major. My passion for trying unique food such as fish eye has made me want to understand the complexities of how it affects our digestive system. I understand that Gastrophysics started with a big pang of food, which quickly expanded to famish. Bite years are used to measure the amount of food ingested. I look forward to asking, “How many bite years can the stomach hold?” and “How do different enzymes react with the farticles?”
Gastrophysics truly unravels the physics of food. At UChicago I will understand the intricacies of what time to eat, how to eat and how food will be digested. Do we need to take antiparticle acid if we feel acidity is becoming a matter of concern? At what angle should the mouth be, for the best possible tasting experience? When I tried crocodile meat, I found that at a 0 degree tilt, it tasted like fish and chicken at the same time. But the same tasted more like fish at a negative angle and like chicken at a positive angle. I want to unravel these mysteries in a class by Professor Daniel Holz in gravitational gastrophysics, understanding the unseen strong and weak forces at play which attract food to our stomachs.
I find that Gastrophysics is also important for fastronomy. I want to learn the physics of fasting. How should we fast? Hubble bubble is a good chewing gum; an appetite suppressant in case you feel pangs of hunger. I have read how the UChicago Fastronauts are stepping up to test uncharted territories. Intermittent fasting is a new method being researched, and UChicago offers the opportunity for furthering this research. Which is better: fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8, or fasting for 24 hours twice a week? It is just one of the problems that UChicago offers a chance to solve.
I can also study the new branch it offers that uses farticle physics. It is the science of tracking farticles and how they interact with each other and chemicals in the stomach space. It could give rise to supernovae explosions, turning people into gas giants. It would also teach about the best ways to expel gas and clean the system and prevent stomach space expansion.
I want to take Fluid dynamics 101, another important course in Gastrophysics; teaching about the importance of water and other fluids in the body, and the most important question: what happens if you try to drink superfluids?
I hope to do interdisciplinary courses with observational gastrophysicists and work with environmental science majors to track how much methane is given by the human and animal gastrointestinal tract in the atmosphere and how much it contributes to the global climate change. I believe, with the help of courses in date science, they have been able to keep a track of how much methane is entering each day, and they found that during Dec 24-Jan 3 period, a spike in the methane and ethane levels could be seen. Accordingly, algorithms are being programmed to predict the changes all year round. I would love to use my strong mathematical background to explore these algorithms.
These courses are specially designed by the distinguished faculty of UChicago. Doing interdisciplinary research in collaboration with biological science students to determine what aliens may eat, with fart historians to know more about the intestinal structure of medieval Italians, Japanese, Chinese, Swedish and French people to better their lives is what I look forward to. The Paris study abroad program is an immersion course into fastronomy, where I will have the opportunity to test my self-control with all the amazing French food and desserts around!
My stomach rumbles now, so I am going out to try out new food – hopefully it will be in Chicago a few months later.
What the Essay Did Well
This is a fun essay! This student’s voice is present and their goofy personality is especially evident. Not only did they change the name of their major, but this student incorporated word play throughout the essay to showcase their imagination. Phrases like “the big pang of food”, “bite years”, “fastronauts”, and “farticle physics” keep the tone lighthearted and amusing.
Beyond the humor and creativity that makes the reader chuckle—always a great way to stand out—this student still manages to incorporate aspects of their real intended major that fascinate them. While it might take a little extra connecting the dots to get from gastrophysic to astrophysics courses, the reader still understands what this student wants to study at UChicago and how they might use this knowledge.
While this essay definitely takes some risks, it’s safe to say that they paid off. They are able to delve into their love for astrophysics all while maintaining vivid, engaging language. The writing style is simultaneously playful and mad-scientist-esque. Truly “geeking out” about their interests makes for a great essay.
What Could Be Improved
Even extremely creative essays like this one can always be made stronger. In this case, it would have been nice to get more background on what drew this student to astrophysics (not gastrophysics). We get a sense for their love of trying new foods, but the essay is lacking an explanation that relates to astrophysics.
Obviously, in an essay about gastrophysics, astrophysics would be out of place. But given this student’s level of creativity, they could have found a punny way to tie their interest in space into the essay. It doesn’t need to be too extensive, but since this effectively serves as UChicago’s “Why This Major?” essay, a strong essay should include more background on why the student wants to pursue their actual major (not the fake one).
Where to Get Your UChicago Essays Edited
Do you want feedback on your UChicago essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!