UChicago Supplemental Essay Example: Breakdown + Analysis
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 8% 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 one of UChicago’s former supplemental essay prompts and what admissions officers are looking for. Then, we’ll share an essay from a real applicant, analyzing what they did well, and what they could’ve improved.
UChicago Supplemental Essay Prompt
Note that this prompt is not for the current 2020-2021 cycle. However, you may still choose to respond to it, as UChicago gives the option of responding to past prompts.
Yup, this essay prompt is a doozy. It’s zany, unusual, and altogether quirky, and that’s the University of Chicago for you!
While students there will truthfully tell you that there’s no unified culture to this one-of-a-kind school, there is no denying the average admission’s officer’s desire to admit a certain type of student, one perfectly suited to fit in on campus. After all, the vast majority of undergraduates were admitted through the Early Decision cycle, making one of UChicago’s core features its self-selectiveness.
So what exactly is this school looking for? There’s no way of knowing for certain, but it’s become clear through years of admissions cycles that they value spontaneity, intellectual depth, and an ability to think outside of the box.
Above all, stay authentic and be wary of straying too far from your original voice in order to “fit” what you feel the admissions officers want. Healthy risk-taking is great, but avoid pandering by trying too hard to be “different.” You’re much better off showing a deep reflection upon who you truly are.
When writing for UChicago, you’d be hard-pressed to find a truly off-limits topic. While writing, stay authentic and play to your unique strengths. If you’re stronger at narrative writing, you could start off with an engaging anecdote. If you’re particularly insightful and prone to analysis, an introspective, self-reflective piece works just as well.
Be sure to showcase your potential to contribute to campus, your intellectual interests, and your writing skills.
Many successful UChicago essays, including the one we will break down today, follow a near-stream-of-consciousness format, following the student’s journey from one outlandish thought to another. So consider starting off with a freewriting-based brainstorming session. Look at every altered course title and think of the words, phrases, ideas or puns that you associate with each one. If you find yourself increasingly interested in one topic, spending more time thinking about it than others, then you’ve likely found your match!
Sit down with an open mind, jotting down every thought that comes to you. Record yourself talking about the prompt with a friend or even just yourself, and play some music or get some exercise to get your blood pumping and creative juices flowing.
It can be hard, but try to have fun with this essay! These prompts are strange and outlandish for a reason. If you relax, your thoughts will flow more naturally, which is crucial for an essay which requires you demonstrate how you think.
UChicago Essay Example
Let’s take a look at this fantastic UChicago essay which accomplishes all of the above and more with wit and grace:
Breaking Down This UChicago Essay Example
This essay draws its strength from its demonstrated intellectual vitality, cleverly-incorporated real-world references, and humor.
To get into the specifics, let’s break it down, paragraph by paragraph:
When I shared the video of my 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.
Right off the bat, this author establishes a personal connection between his lived experiences and his chosen fictional major: Gastrophysics. Of course, this anecdote is largely hyperbolic; we highly doubt this applicant’s friends actually dropped him or worried for his mental well-being. But the humor of this situation is engaging nonetheless, hooking the reader in and encouraging them to read further.
A major in Gastrophysics at U Chicago 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?”
Here, the applicant cleverly entertains the idea of a major in Gastrophysics through an extended pattern of puns, pulling us into a vivid universe that replaces the Big Bang with the Big Pang, light years with bite years, and even particles with farticles.
Secondly, he demonstrates intellectual vitality in diving into the interconnected fields of Physics and Gastronomy while drawing parallels to Astrology and Biology. This serves as the perfect segue into this essay’s later stages, in which he delves into these interests further.
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.
The last sentence is particularly strong. Here, the student takes an opportunity to include a bit of a “Why this College” element by naming a real-life UChicago professor involved with the Departments of Astronomy and Astrophysics. This establishes his genuine interest in Astrophysics, specifically at UChicago, and demonstrates a close fit with the school.
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.
Ah, farticles! Risky topic, but a creative one. Here, our student delves into his interest in the research opportunities available at UChicago and continues to profess his love for astrophysics, all while maintaining vivid, engaging language. The writing style is simultaneously playful and mad-scientist-esque. Truly “geeking out” about your interests is a fantastic move!
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.
Here, the student delves into even more intellectual interests by incorporating the fields of environmental and data science, showing a willingness and ability to appreciate a wide range of academic offerings available at UChicago. This is especially useful given how deeply UChicago values authentic nerdiness across a wide range of topics. This essay likely scored this applicant an extra point or two in his Intellectual Vitality category.
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!
The essay finishes off with yet another reference to UChicago’s real-world course offerings. They really do have a spring study-abroad program to study Astronomy in France which is built to create an enriching understanding of both Astrophysics and European culture in its students.
My stomach rumbles now, so I am going out to try out new food – hopefully it will be in Chicago a few months later.
Here are three key reasons why this essay works:
1. Clever unconventionality. This piece is a pun gold mine while seamlessly interweaving some real “Why this College” elements, referencing a real professor, a legit study-abroad program, and more.
2. Intellectual vitality. This student draws connections between a fictional major and his real-life intellectual interests. He speaks about said interests with true enthusiasm.
3. A gimmick—extended punniness—that isn’t too gimmicky. The puns and jokes are entertaining, yes, but they don’t carry this essay. There’s little superficial quirkiness or posturing to impress here.
Instead, the applicant uses puns as a vessel for demonstrating the genuine depth of his intellectual passions. He shows an interest in UChicago which extends far beyond zany application prompts and into its real-life course offerings.
A mere extended joke would make for a superficial essay, but this student took his topic to its needed depths. We encourage you to do the same.
If you’d like a deeper understanding of how to approach this prompt or any of UChicago’s seven other potential topics, check out our breakdown of how to write the UChicago essays.
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