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How to Answer the University of Chicago Supplemental Essay Prompts 2019-2020

OCT 20, 2019 • 12 min read

It's that time of the year—and no, we don't just mean back to school! Colleges have started releasing their admissions prompts for the coming admissions cycle. If the University of Chicago is your dream school, look no further than this guide on how to ace those supplements.

With acceptance rates for the university dropping each year, it's imperative your essays are well strategized to better stand out in a competitive pool of applicants.

UChicago asks for two essays: for the first, you'll answer the single given prompt. For the second, you get to pick one prompt among many. Your approach to these essays should differ, so let's break down how to get the most out of each.

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Questions 1: 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.

This essay is your first chance to demonstrate why UChicago is the perfect school for you. It may be tempting to search up all the most impressive faculty and programs to gush about, but this won’t get you far. Put deep thought about the specific aspects of UChicago that appeal to you, and how the unique facets of the school fit your interests and wants. Sincerity and humility are key!

Here are some tips to help you get started.

Tip #1: Be specific.

For instance, let's say you're interested in UChicago's premier economics program—you've taken the AP courses, done econ-related extracurriculars, and you want that interest to guide your college experience. Do your research on the way the Economics program works at UChicago, any professors whose research you might be interested in, and any student organizations that work in econ. Then, try to imagine how your own experience would grow with those resources.

Tip #2: It's not just about school.

UChicago will receive your grades separately, so set aside your GPA for now. You're not just a student in college—you'll be a roommate, a study partner, a gym buddy. UChicago has a reputation for attracting hard workers, but also prides itself on a diverse mix of student cultures. Adding that layer of depth when you've only got 250 words is challenging, but if you're stuck between describing yet another detail about your studies and one about an extraordinary experience you had, go with the latter.

Tip #3: Stay humble.

It's always a good idea to keep in mind not just how you'll take advantage of UChicago's opportunities, but how your contributions will benefit others if you attend. Listing your accomplishments might sound like a good way to show your worth, but keep in mind that you're joining thousands of other hopefuls from many different walks of life. If you were lucky enough to have wonderful experiences, you should focus on how they changed your sense of self rather than just listing positive outcomes.

Tip #4: Stay positive!

An absolute no-no here is bashing other schools. If you want to talk about the UChicago's first-year "Core Experience," with its focus on interdisciplinary texts, don't write negatively about other universities' lack of those courses! You can build up UChicago's remarkable offerings without speaking negatively of other institutions.

Question 2 (required): The University of Chicago has long been renowned for our provocative essay questions. We think of them as an opportunity for students to tell us about themselves, their tastes, and their ambitions. They can be approached with utter seriousness, complete fancy, or something in between.

Each year we email newly admitted and current College students and ask them for essay topics. We receive several hundred responses, many of which are eloquent, intriguing, or downright wacky.

As you can see from the attributions, the questions below were inspired by submissions from UChicago students and alumni.

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Choose one of the following prompts and respond in a maximum of 2 pages.

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

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

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”)

Essay Option 4: “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” – Jessamyn West

—Inspired by Elizabeth Mansfield, Class of 2020

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

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

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Learn How Max Gained Admission to UChicago

Clearly, the UChicago essay is a bit out there. Try to have fun with this essay; the committee clearly wants to convey a sense of playfulness, hoping that it will allow them to better understand their applicants’ personalities.

Tip #1: Remember your purpose.

Ultimately, you want your essays to show the admissions officers a facet of your personality that they want to see at UChicago in the fall. So while you should feel free to write freely, the creativity of prompts means it's all too easy to deviate from the prompt. So if the prompt asks you to write a letter, tell a story, or argue a point of view, make sure you're doing that, even as your imagination runs wild.

Tip #2: Get someone (or three) to proofread.

There is no quicker essay-killer than a bad typo during the good part. This advice should apply to anything you write, but is especially crucial for this type of essay because you're likely not sticking to a standard paragraph format. Writing dialogue, or switching tenses in a story, or even keeping your tone and vocabulary standard is extra work to watch out for. Pick people who know you and your voice. Blow up the font size to check for spacing and spelling errors. Finally, break down each paragraph into one-sentence summaries, and check that the flow of the essay moves smoothly.

Tip #3: If you choose to write on your own prompt, keep the scope narrow.

The "choose your own prompt" option is always a temptation—and sometimes, an excellent choice! When thinking about what to write, though, it can be hard to keep the bigger goal in mind. Refer to Tip #1, above: your purpose is to display your writing abilities on a specific topic while showing Admissions a bit of your personality.

Tip #4: Admissions officers are human beings too.

UChicago's fun prompts highlight a critical aspect of all college admission essays: no formula will guarantee you entry, or even predict your college experience. It's not the answer to those prompts that's important so much as how you express your thoughts. So don't write what you think UChicago wants to hear—if you're not confident in your humor, rely on something like persuasion instead. If you are excited about a contentious topic, write with the same balance and respect you'd use when talking to a human being.

For more support with your application process check out our admission support service.

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