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MAR 14, 2020 • 9 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.
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 in this blog we’ll break down how to get the most out of each.
Required, 250 words recommended length
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 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. Choose one of the following prompts and respond in a maximum of 2 pages.
Now we’ll take a look at some examples of past prompts that have been used here.
"In 2015, the city of Melbourne, Australia created a "tree-mail" service, in which all of the trees in the city received an email address so that residents could report any tree-related issues. As an unexpected result, people began to email their favorite trees sweet and occasionally humorous letters. Imagine this has been expanded to any object (tree or otherwise) in the world, and share with us the letter you'd send to your favorite.
-Inspired by Hannah Lu, Class of 2020
You're on a voyage in the thirteenth century, sailing across the tempestuous seas. What if, suddenly, you fell off the edge of the Earth?
-Inspired by Chandani Latey, AB'93
The word floccinaucinihilipilification is the act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant or of having no value. It originated in the mid-18th century from the Latin words "floccus," "naucum," "nihilum," and "pilus"—all words meaning "of little use." Coin your own word using parts from any language you choose, tell us its meaning, and describe the plausible (if only to you) scenarios in which it would be most appropriately used.
-Inspired by Ben Zhang, Class of 2022
Lost your keys? Alohomora. Noisy roommate? Quietus. Feel the need to shatter windows for some reason? Finestra. Create your own spell, charm, jinx, or other means for magical mayhem. How is it enacted? Is there an incantation? Does it involve a potion or other magical object? If so, what's in it or what is it? What does it do?
-Inspired by Emma Sorkin, Class of 2021
Imagine you've struck a deal with the Dean of Admissions himself, Dean Nondorf. It goes as follows: you're guaranteed admission to the University of Chicago regardless of any circumstances that arise. This bond is grounded on the condition that you'll obtain a blank, 8.5 x 11 piece of paper, and draw, write, sketch, shade, stencil, paint etc., anything and everything you want on it; your only limitations will be the boundaries of both sides on the single page. Now the catch… your submission, for the rest of your life, will always be the first thing anyone you meet for the first time will see. Whether it's at a job interview, a blind date, arrival at your first Humanities class, before you even say, "hey", they'll already have seen your page, and formulated that first impression. Show us your page. What's on it, and why? If your piece is largely or exclusively visual, please make sure to share a creator's accompanying statement of at least 300 words, which we will happily allow to be on its own, separate page. PS: This is a creative thought experiment, and selecting this essay prompt does not guarantee your admission to UChicago.
-Inspired by Amandeep Singh Ahluwalia, Class of 2022
*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. (Here's a link to classic questions from previous years)*
Ah, the classic "why UChicago?" essay, and 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 don't just name-drop facts. 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. Then, be honest and straightforward!
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 relevant school subjects, 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 organisations 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. New traditions are the norm! 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: Keep 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.
Of all the top schools, you'll never find greater essay prompts than UChicago's - from mantis shrimp to Grecian philosophy, anything and everything is fair game.
Pay close attention to the length: you've got two whole pages to work with! That makes answering this second supplement particularly fun and challenging, because of all the options available.
Here are some tips to keep in mind no matter what prompt you decide to answer.
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. Ah, 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. So put confines on yourself - that way, you're not asking too much of yourself (or the admissions officers who will read your work).
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.