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MAR 11, 2020 • 8 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
-Inspired by Kedrick Shin, Class of 2019
—Inspired by Yoonseo Lee, Class of 2023
—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”)
—Inspired by Elizabeth Mansfield, Class of 2020
—Inspired by Peter Jasperse, Class of 2022
—Matthew Lohrs, Class of 2023
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.