College Application Essays That Worked For Uchicago

To calm the waters, a Chicago admissions representative on Tuesday posted a response telling students not to worry if their essays were similar. “We sent out the essay to lighten the mood, but it seems that it might have backfired a bit,” the posting said, adding that the dean, James G. Nondorf, had asked to “pass on a sincere apology if it did not hit the mark.”

In response to a reporter’s question, Dean Nondorf, who is in his first year at Chicago, said in an e-mail message that the reaction his office received had been overwhelmingly positive and that he thought the essay reflected “the sort of clever, creative spirit that tends to thrive at UChicago.”

“Our general message in sharing it with prospective students,” he wrote, “was that they shouldn’t stress out about essay writing.”

The student who wrote the essay, identified only as Rohan, gave permission for his essay to be distributed, the admissions office said. And although the early action program under which he was admitted is nonbinding, he has indicated that he plans to attend Chicago in the fall.

The University of Chicago has long prided itself on the unusual essays it requires from applicants, and for many years, it resisted the trend to join the Common Application, which handles online applications for hundreds of colleges and universities. Until the current freshman class, applicants used what Chicago called the Uncommon Application, which included an array of quirky and thoughtful essay prompts, many of which came from current students.

Applicants are still required to write an essay responding to one of five unusual prompts. The first one this year is “How did you get caught? Or not caught, as the case may be.” Applicants also must do the standard Common Application essay and the “Why Chicago” essay that elicited Rohan’s essay: how Chicago would “satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community and future?”

In his essay, Rohan objected to the “why.”

“Your cup overfloweth with academic genius, pour a little on me,” he wrote. “You’re legendary for it, they all told me it would never work out between us, but I had hope. I had so much hope; I replied to your adorable letters and put up with your puns.

“I knew going into it that you would be an expensive one to keep around, I accounted for all that; I understand someone of your caliber and taste. And now you inquire as to my wishes? They’re simple, accept me for who I am! Why can’t you just love and not ask why? Not ask about my assets or my past?”

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The University of Chicago has long been renowned for its 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.

To begin working on your UChicago supplement visit, getstarted.uchicago.edu, the Coalition Application, or the Common Application.

2017-18 UChicago Supplement:

Required Question:

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.

Extended Essay Questions:

(Required; Choose one)

Essay Option 1.

“The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” – Joseph Joubert

Sometimes, people talk a lot about popular subjects to assure ‘victory’ in conversation or understanding, and leave behind topics of less popularity, but great personal or intellectual importance. What do you think is important but under-discussed?

-Anonymous Suggestion

Essay Option 2.

Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your new intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History... a full list of unmodified majors ready for your editor’s eye is available here: https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/academics/majors-minors.

-Inspired by Josh Kaufman, Class of 2018

Essay Option 3.

Earth. Fire. Wind. Water. Heart! Captain Planet supposes that the world is made up of these five elements. We’re familiar with the previously-noted set and with actual elements like hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, but select and explain another small group of things (say, under five) that you believe compose our world.

-Inspired by Dani Plung, Class of 2017

Essay Option 4.

The late New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham once said "Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you could do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization." Tell us about your “armor.”

-Inspired by Adam Berger, Class of 2020

Essay Option 5.

Fans of the movie Sharknado say that they enjoy it because “it’s so bad, it’s good.” Certain automobile owners prefer classic cars because they “have more character.” And recently, vinyl record sales have skyrocketed because it is perceived that they have a warmer, fuller sound. Discuss something that you love not in spite of but rather due to its quirks or imperfections.

-Inspired by Alex Serbanescu, Class of 2021

Essay Option 6.

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.

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