How To Answer U Chicago's Supplemental Essay Prompts 2022/23

31 OCT 2022

The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois. It has an acceptance rate of around 7%, making it one of the most prestigious and selective schools in the United States. One way in which applicants get to showcase their personality and separate themselves from the other applicants which whom they are competing against is through the U Chicago Supplementary Essays. The essay prompts serve to offer a more holistic view of each applicant to admission officers so as to allow them to make a more informed decision on whether to admit an applicant to the school. This blog serves as a guide as to how one may approach the U Chicago Supplementary Essays.


What are the University of Chicago supplemental essay prompts for 2022/23?

The University of Chicago is known for its unique and unusual supplemental essay prompts. This year wasn’t any different.

Prompt 1 (Required)

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.

Prompt 2: Extended Essay (Required; Choose one)

Option 1

Was it a cat I saw? Yo-no-na-ka, ho-ka-ho-ka na-no-yo (Japanese for “the world is a warm place”). Może jutro ta dama da tortu jeżom (Polish for “maybe tomorrow that lady will give a cake to the hedgehogs”). Share a palindrome in any language, and give it a backstory.
- Inspired by Leah Beach, Class of 2026, Lib Gray SB ’12, and Agnes Mazur AB ‘09

Option 2

What advice would a wisdom tooth have?
–Inspired by Melody Dias, Class of 2025

Option 3

You are on an expedition to found a colony on Mars, when from a nearby crater, a group of Martians suddenly emerges. They seem eager to communicate, but they're the impatient kind and demand you represent the human race in one song, image, memory, proof, or other idea. What do you share with them to show that humanity is worth their time?
—Inspired by Alexander Hastings, Class of 2023, and Olivia Okun-Dubitsky, Class of 2026

Option 4

UChicago has been affiliated with over 90 Nobel laureates. But, why should economics, physics, and peace get all the glory? You are tasked with creating a new category for the Nobel Prize. Explain what it would be, why you chose your specific category, and the criteria necessary to achieve this accomplishment.
—Inspired by Isabel Alvarez, Class of 2026

Option 5

Genghis Khan with an F1 racecar. George Washington with a SuperSoaker. Emperor Nero with a toaster. Leonardo da Vinci with a Furby. If you could give any historical figure any piece of technology, who and what would it be, and why do you think they’d work so well together?
-Inspired by Braden Hajer, Class of 2025

Option 6

And, as always… the classic choose your own adventure option! In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, choose one of our past prompts (or create a question of your own). 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!

Check out more UChicago questions from previous years

How this Economics Student got into UChicago

How to answer Prompt 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 wishes and how they relate to UChicago.

This essay prompt essentially teases students' motivations and reasons for applying to UChicago. However, instead of asking, “Why UChicago?” the admission officers have decided to ask in a more specific manner. Hence, the last you want to do is to offer generic reasons that can be “copied-paste” to any “Why (this school)” question. Instead, it would help if you had researched what academic programs and extra-curriculextracurricularpportunitiesUChicago offers.

You should be able to explain why you have chosen UChicago, backed with adequate research. In doing so, you should also be able to ascertain what kind of learning environment/ community you wish to pursue and contribute to and how UChicago can satisfy your wishes. Through your answer, it is also essential to demonstrate your enthusiasm and show how you would contribute to UChicago.

Helpful Tips for Prompt 1

1. Be specific

For example, let’s say you’re interested in UChicago’s premier economics program. You’ve taken the AP courses, completed econ-related extracurriculars, and you want that interest to guide your college experience. Research how the economics program works at UChicago, any professors whose research you might be interested in, and any student organizations that work in econ. Then, imagine how your experience will grow when you have access to those resources.

2. It’s not just about school

UChicago will receive your grades separately, so set aside your GPA. You’re not just a student in college. You’re a roommate, study partner, and gym buddy. UChicago has a reputation for attracting hard workers and prides itself on diverse student cultures. Adding that layer of depth when you’ve only got 250 words is challenging. If you’re unsure whether to describe another detail about your studies or about an extraordinary experience you had, go with the latter.

3. Stay humble

It’s not just how you’ll take advantage of UChicago’s opportunities but how your contributions will benefit others. Listing your accomplishments might sound like an excellent way to show your worth, but remember you’re joining thousands of other hopefuls from many different walks of life. If you were lucky enough to have beautiful experiences, focus on how they changed your sense of self rather than just listing positive outcomes.

4. Stay positive

Never criticize other schools. If you want to talk about UChicago’s first-year “Core Experience,” with its focus on interdisciplinary texts, don’t write negatively about how other universities lack those courses! You can build up UChicago’s unique offerings without speaking negatively about other institutions.

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How to answer Prompt 2

The University of Chicago is renowned for its provocative essay questions. These questions allow students to tell the school more about themselves, their tastes, and their ambitions. Students approach these questions with absolute seriousness, complete fancy, or something in between.

Each year UChicago asks newly admitted and current college students for essay topics. They receive several hundred responses, many of which are eloquent, intriguing, or downright wacky. The questions below were inspired by submissions from UChicago students and alumni.

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

Essay Option 1

Was it a cat I saw? Yo-no-na-ka, ho-ka-ho-ka na-no-yo (Japanese for “the world is a warm place”). Może jutro ta dama da tortu jeżom (Polish for “maybe tomorrow that lady will give a cake to the hedgehogs”). Share a palindrome in any language, and give it a backstory.
- Inspired by Leah Beach, Class of 2026, Lib Gray SB ’12, and Agnes Mazur AB ‘09

A palindrome is a word, phrase, or sequence that reads the same backward as forwards.” Here is a list of palindromes you can refer to spark some ideas.

The purpose of this prompt is for the admission officers to see how imaginative you can be. The palindrome you eventually choose and give a backstory to will illustrate your personality, cultural experiences, and creativity in a way that your academic grades or your CV cannot do.

Ideally, you should make your story as original and thought-provoking as possible and link the story to yourself or your thoughts or opinions. For example, if you choose the palindrome “Eva, can I stab bats in a cave?”, you may want to think of a story of how humans and animals interact.

It is possible to link this to the current COVID-19 pandemic, where there are theories that wildlife trade and animals such as bats are the sources of the coronavirus. You can then introduce your thoughts/ opinions on the matter. Of course, this is just one way to do this – there is no wrong way per se as long as your answer is engaging, compelling, and can demonstrate certain traits about you (e.g., being intellectually curious). If you wish to make this more personal, you can introduce other aspects of yourself through the story, such as your interests, hobbies, or projects.

Essay Option 2

What advice would a wisdom tooth have?
–Inspired by Melody Dias, Class of 2025

Again, the admission officers are trying to test if you can think outside the box and justify your answer to the best of your ability. As long as you can explain your answer, you’re on the right track, given that the admission officers are not looking for a particular answer but a logical explanation that can demonstrate your values and personality to them.

One way to approach this question is to interpret it literally, in that your wisdom tooth was probably plucked out before college, and the experience was perhaps painful. Hence, what advice would your then wisdom tooth have given to your past self when undergoing painful experiences?

Another way to approach this question is to interpret it figuratively, in that a wisdom tooth represents obsolete events, given that the wisdom tooth eventually becomes obsolete after being plucked out. Hence, what advice can a wisdom tooth give to other things/people who seemingly have become obsolete?

In your essay, it is essential to set out how you interpret this question and then go ahead and give your answer and explain it in a way that shows admission officers that you are capable of reasoning and analytical thinking.

Essay Option 3

You are on an expedition to find a Mars colony when a group of Martians suddenly emerges from a nearby crater. They seem eager to communicate, but they're impatient and demand you represent the human race in one song, image, memory, proof, or another idea. What do you share with them to show that humanity is worth their time?
—Inspired by Alexander Hastings, Class of 2023, and Olivia Okun-Dubitsky, Class of 2026

Essentially, this prompt wants to know your view on humanity. You may want to start by thinking about some art, history, or literature that you find fascinating and that can represent humanity. In choosing what you think is the most exciting thing to represent humanity, consider the values, message, and revelations that that thing conveys. In your answer, you should be able to articulate

  • The thing that you have chosen
  • Why have you chosen it?
  • What it represents on the value of humanity
  • What does it matter

Of course, there are two ways to approach this – one is by representing humanity in a positive manner and the other in a negative manner.

In the first way, you would want to persuade the Martians that humanity is worth their time by “marketing” humanity to them and showing how great it is.

Latterly, you can persuade the Martians that humanity is worth their time by showing some “crisis” of sorts and that urgent action is needed. Through your answer, the admission officers hope to gain insight into your perspective on humanity while also understanding who you are.

Essay Option 4

UChicago has been affiliated with over 90 Nobel laureates. But why should economics, physics, and peace get all the glory? You are tasked with creating a new category for the Nobel Prize. Explain what it would be, why you chose your specific type, and the criteria necessary to achieve this accomplishment.
—Inspired by Isabel Alvarez, Class of 2026

This prompt is very broad and allows students to challenge the standard markers of glory in society. Currently, society seems to value economics, physics, and peace for the Nobel Prize. However, in answering this question, you may want to challenge this societal assumption and how society values one field/industry/issue over others.

You can talk about why other things should be recognized and included as a category for the Nobel Prize. In doing so, you can seize this opportunity to write about your passions, interests, and values.

For example, if you are very interested in baking, you can discuss creating a Nobel Prize category for baking. Let your experiences and values shape how you describe the category and its criteria. Of course, depending on how you frame this question, you can choose to be very serious or light-hearted in your response.

Essay Option 5

Genghis Khan with an F1 racecar. George Washington with a SuperSoaker. Emperor Nero with a toaster. Leonardo da Vinci with a Furby. If you could give any historical figure any piece of technology, who and what would it be, and why do you think they’d work so well together?
-Inspired by Braden Hajer, Class of 2025

This prompt is more academic than the rest because it requires you to show your knowledge of history, politics, culture, and economics.

In brainstorming the historical figure, you should consider which historical figure you admire, how they have impacted the people and community they were in, and what about them resonates with you.

As for the piece of technology you wish to pair with them, think about what technology would be helpful to them, or what technology would have prompted their imagination and possibly changed their decisions, or what they would have done with this technology. This could have specific implications for the people and community they lived in. Be as creative and descriptive in your response!

Essay Option 6

And, as always… the classic choose your adventure option! In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, select one of our past prompts (or create a question of your own). Be original, creative, and thought-provoking. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, a citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun!

If you do not like any of the other prompts, you may engage with this prompt, which essentially gives you free reign to design any prompt or choose any of the past UChicago prompts.

Regardless of your choice, think about what you want to showcase to the admission officer. Essentially, you want to show your thoughts, values, experiences, passions, interests, etc. Hence, when choosing a prompt, you want to select something that allows you to showcase these things about yourself to a certain degree.

If you choose to craft your own prompt, be sure to use the way UChicago craft their other application prompts as a guide – this would mean that you may have to think a little out of the box, which is something that UChicago admission officers are looking out for!

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Helpful Tips for Prompt 2

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. While you should write freely, the creativity of prompts means it’s easy to deviate from the prompt. 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.

2. Get someone (or three) to proofread.

There is no quicker essay-killer than a bad typo during the good part. While this advice applies to anything you write, it is especially crucial for this type of essay since you’re likely not sticking to a standard paragraph format. Writing dialogue, keeping tenses in a story, and even staying consistent in your tone and vocabulary isn’t easy. Pick people who know you and your voice. Increase the font size to check for spacing and spelling errors. Break down each paragraph into one-sentence summaries, and check that the flow of the essay moves smoothly.

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

The “choose your own prompt” option is always a temptation. Sometimes it’s an excellent choice! But it can be hard to keep the bigger goal in mind when deciding what to write. Your purpose is to display your writing abilities on a specific topic while showing admissions a bit of your personality.

4. Admissions officers are human beings too.

UChicago’s fun prompts highlight a critical aspect of all college admission essays: no formula will guarantee entry or even predict your college experience. The answer to the prompts is not as important as how you express your thoughts. Don’t write what you think UChicago wants to hear. If you’re not confident in your humor, rely on 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.

Final Thoughts

The UChicago essays are offbeat and eccentric. Try to have fun with them. The committee wants you to convey a sense of playfulness, hoping these essays will help them better understand your personality.

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