Uchicago Essay Tips
So, how do you feel about Wednesdays?
I’m betting that’s not a question you get asked frequently. It is, however, a past application essay question for the University of Chicago—one of many we’ve amassed in the years we’ve asked “uncommon” questions. Much like your feelings on Wednesdays, we bet you aren’t also often asked about your Ph, your thoughts on odd numbers, or why you’re here and not somewhere else. And, hint: that’s kind of why we’re asking you.
Every year the University of Chicago asks five “uncommon” questions as part of our application supplement. Rather than giving you the same old “what did you do on your summer vacation”-style prompt, we ask our students and alumni to suggest questions they’d like to pose to prospective students, and then consider the over 500 suggestions we get each year among a group of admissions officers before choosing our “final five”. This is how we wound up with this year’s questions, ranging from things like “What’s so odd about odd numbers?” to a quote from an art installation on campus, “Why are you here and not somewhere else?”
We ask you these questions not because we want to fool you, or make you squirm, or hurt your brain. We ask you these questions precisely because we love, love, love seeing where your brain goes when you’re asked a question you’ve never thought about before before. These are the kinds of intellectual encounters you’ll have on our campus every day; it’s rare that a professor will ask you to explain how your loss in the big sports game affected you, but very common for someone to ask you a question you’ve never encountered, and to see how you work with it. The question might be about Plato, or muons, or the work of a beat poet from the South Side in the 1960s instead of about your thoughts on odd numbers—but the ways you’ll be thinking are the same even if not on the same topic, and this, precisely, is why we ask you to try it out as part of your application.
So how, exactly, do you respond to such an open-ended question? This is, of course, also open-ended. We want you to use this as a time to be creative, to take a prompt and run with it in the way that you think represents what’s going on in your brain best. There are some things we suggest avoiding, and many many things that are totally up for doing. We think our questions are pretty neat, and would love to see what you do with one of them, so we don’t suggest re-using an essay from class, another school, or from your common/universal app personal statement for this essay. We also hope to see students taking this beyond simply factual information about them; a resume is not an essay, so there’s no need to pack all of your achievements and accomplishments in to narrative form. While we welcome fun explorations of new topics, sometimes we do see students who come up with some kind of “schtick” they think helps them stand out (case in point: an essay written entirely backwards, or an acrostic poem). Know that we’re most impressed and influenced by the content, thoughts, and skill contained in your writing rather than tricky tricks, so try not to conflate crazy style with skill—make your essay about the ideas first even if you’d like to explore them in a new way. Some students feel compelled to write about an experience they’ve had or an idea they’re passionate about, and that can be a great choice if you feel the urge. But know that we can often learn a lot about you with how and what you choose to write about even if you’re not writing about yourself, so if you’d like to take this as a time to explore something beyond your own personal experiences, go for it! We read everything and are tickled by lots, and always welcome students who think a little bit outside of the box. So if you’re sitting there thinking “Man, I wish I could write my essay like a critical analysis/book report on Skymall Magazine” (note: this has happened, and the student was admitted) but are shying away because Skymall Magazine isn’t covered in that pulpy book your mom bought you about writing college essays—write about Skymall Magazine! A UChicago supplement essay that responds to our question with a topic you see as interesting and compelling (that is, of course, well thought through and edited reasonably) will shine out much more than following a standard “college essay” format. Don’t be afraid to stretch your mind and have a little fun. That’s what we do here.
And, as a final note: we don’t require your essays to be in a standard 5-paragraph essay format, although we do hope they’ll have words in them (it’s totally fine, although not required at all, to add a visual or musical or any-other-ical accompaniment to your writing, but know we’re also looking at your writing skill here, so we do hope you’ll write something). Some students write personal narratives, some write what could be considered more traditional essay style works, some write short stories, some write something completely different. We ask simply that your essay is somewhere in the realm of 500-650 words, or about 1-2 pages single or double spaced (and we’re flexible—don’t take this as license to write a 14-page tome, but know that we won’t stop reading at 651 words if you need an extra verb).
Any questions? You can always feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Chicago is one of the most competitive U.S. universities known for its economics, statistics and mathematics undergraduate programs. But for college applicants, the school is probably best known for its out-of-the-box, creative supplemental essay prompts.
To apply to UChicago, students must submit an additional supplemental essay – what’s referred to as the Extended Essay. UChicago releases 5 new essay prompts inspired by their students every year, along with a set of past prompts applicants can choose from.
While students are encouraged to be creative, how creative can you (or should you) be? For those interested in applying to UChicago, here are a few examples of essays that worked:
Prompt from 2016-2017 season:
Vestigiality refers to genetically determined structures or attributes that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function, but have been retained during the process of evolution. In humans, for instance, the appendix is thought to be a vestigial structure. Describe something vestigial (real or imagined) and provide an explanation for its existence. —Inspired by Tiffany Kim, Class of 2020
University of Chicago ‘21
“People often ask me if I’m scared that I’ll go deaf in the other ear, too. The thought echos in my head sometimes, and it’s certainly an ear-y thought, but I’m not too worried. In some ways, losing a part of my hearing has made the world louder. Instead of focusing on what I lost, I began to appreciate what I always had. Every moment—whether it be the off-tune singing of my little brother in the shower, or the melodious chords from my ukulele—is something to note.”
Prompt from 2015-2016 season:
Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story. — Inspired by Drew Donaldson, Class of 2016
University of Chicago ‘20
“The ball flies to Scottie Pippen, he pulls up, but the shot bounces out. The crowd goes silent. But Rodman grabs the rebound, hooks it to Jordan who scores a three pointer. Everyone in the stadium goes wild, except one man: Napoléon Bonaparte. “All according to plan” he whispers to himself.
Little does the public know, Napoleon instructed his stars to keep the game close. In reality his superstars could have won easily. But he needs to attract national attention for the next part of his plan.
As a child Napoleon obsessed over pop culture. He couldn’t believe the power celebrities held in society; people would trust them with their children, beliefs, and even their spending. After Reagan’s election, he strived to tap into this power. Napoleon would conquer America.”
Prompt from 2014-2015 season:
A neon installation by the artist Jeppe Hein in UChicago’s Charles M. Harper Center asks this question for us: “Why are you here and not somewhere else?” — Inspired by Erin Hart, Class of 2016.
University of Chicago ‘19
“I am here because I can’t be in two places at once. That’s definitely a law of physics or some kind of science I don’t know much about, but that’s the short answer to why I’m not somewhere else, or lots of other places. To know why I’m here, on Earth, in America, in California, in Berkeley, at my house sitting on my favorite worn leather couch, with light from three windows making it hard to see my laptop screen, is a longer story.”
Prompt from 2014-2015 season:
In French, there is no difference between “conscience” and “consciousness”. [...] All of these require explanation in order to properly communicate their meaning, and are, to varying degrees, untranslatable. Choose a word, tell us what it means, and then explain why it cannot (or should not) be translated from its original language. — Inspired by Emily Driscoll, Class of 2018
University of Chicago ‘19
“Raising the issue of translatable versus untranslatable words is futile; new words should enter a language because of a cultural need to express a specific idea, not just because they can be translated from other languages. Terminology is always a function of development: when a new concept – be it tangible or intangible – enters a society, the language evolves and adapts so that its speakers can discuss the new topic.”
Prompt from 2014-2015 season:
What’s so odd about odd numbers? — Inspired by Mario Rosasco, Class of 2009.
University of Chicago ‘19
“Why was Six Afraid of Seven?
In the beginning there was zero, and then there was One. Zero and One ruled the universe with undisputed power; together they formed the perfect union. Perfection diminished when One began to feel superior to Zero, and departed his company to rule alone. He quickly discovered the powers of addition, and created Two. Two was to be his new companion, to help oppress the rest of the numerical universe. One began training Two in the dark magic he had discovered. However, Two found One to be a little unhinged, and he sensed a certain instability.”
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About The Author
Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.