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How to Write the University of Chicago Supplemental Essays

Updated for 2023-2024

In this year's supplemental essay prompts, UChicago first requires students to describe how UChicago will fulfill their academic needs and goals. The university then supplies students with multiple potential prompts for an extended essay—sometimes called the "uncommon essay." The key to a standout UChicago essay is creativity—here's what you need to know to craft a standout supplement!

Question 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. (250-500 words)



UChicago’s first supplemental essay is a classic “why this college” prompt that can be separated into three components: learning, future, and community.

Responding to the “learning” question requires laying out your intended major (or couple of majors) that you hope to pursue, along with specific class offerings, research opportunities, immersion experiences, internships, etc. for that major or related program.

The “community” component can be addressed by discussing an extracurricular or club offered at the college (called RSOs at UChicago) that you would like to get involved in. This can also add depth to your “learning” response if the organization is related to your intended major. Additionally, discussing UChicago’s size, location, history, and/or educational philosophy—the unofficial motto “Life of the Mind” emphasizes intellectual inquiry simply for the sake of learning—can be an excellent way to showcase how you picture yourself as a member of the UChicago community.

For the final “future” component of this essay, clearly lay out your current plan for your future pursuits and how you hope to achieve your goals by the time you graduate from the University of Chicago. How will the opportunities you pursue and the community you build impact your plan for post-college life?



I’ve stared up at the night sky through my prized Orion Spaceprobe Reflector telescope all over the United States—from the deserts of Arizona to the highest points of California’s many national parks. I’ve captured detailed photographs of Saturn’s rings and carefully coordinated, award-winning time lapse shots. I’ve gone on journeys through dense forests and down unmarked dirt roads to achieve the ultimate stargazing experience. But standing in my school’s parking lot, reveling in observing the Harvest Moon with my classmates, I realized there’s nothing I want more than to share my passion with my peers.  

The University of Chicago offers unparalleled astronomy and astrophysics opportunities—but just as importantly, it presents an incredible community possible to share in that experience. I’ll be the first in line to take hands-on classes like “Observational Techniques in Astrophysics” and the two-part “Field Course in Astronomy and Astrophysics” that will provide the rare chance to use the university’s array of powerful research telescopes and publish scientific papers in collaboration with my classmates. Meanwhile, classes focused on the theoretical side of astronomy and astrophysics like “From Fossils to Fermi’s Paradox” will allow me to geek out over the universe’s greatest questions with fellow self-proclaimed hardcore space nerds. I’m equally interested in connecting with professors, and (if possible) I’d be eager to assist in any way with Professor Jacob Bean’s work identifying potentially habitable exoplanets.

Perhaps most exciting of all, the Paris Astronomy Program offers the opportunity to combine astrophysics with my other academic passion—French. Communication between international labs and scientists from different countries is a major component of modern science, and this program offers an immersive component to my intended minor in French. Envisioning the conversations I’ll have seated at Parisian cafes and touring through famous labs and museums ignites my imagination and excitement. While I understand that the Paris Astronomy Program is generally oriented towards astrophysics minors, I believe taking advantage of this opportunity as early as possible in my college experience will build a foundation for my specific education in both astrophysics and French in the same way that the Core creates the a structural baseline for my general education at UChicago. 

While much of the UChicago community and opportunities I’ve pointed to take place inside the classroom, I’m equally looking forward to everything that happens outside of the campus’ gothic buildings. Visiting my friend currently living in the “South” dorm has made me especially excited for the experience of living on campus and forming relationships with other residents in my dorm. From the house-specific dining table with Harry Potter-esque banners hanging over them to the inter-house broomball battle, I was able to witness firsthand the O Week scavenger hunt throughout the dorm—the experience provided me with a built in community that will be waiting for me the moment I step on campus. However, I don’t plan to let this community make me complacent in my social life. Joining RSOs like the Outdoor Adventure Club and Ryerson Astronomical Society will allow me to continue my passions for intense hiking and casual stargazing while connecting me with other students on campus who are equally excited about those activities! 

From my perspective, there’s no desire for learning, community, or my future that UChicago does not satisfy. While others might make claims about the school where “Fun Goes to Die,” I can hardly wait to get started! 

Question 2: Extended Essay (Required; Choose one). 650 words max

Exponents and square roots, pencils and erasers, beta decay and electron capture. Name two things that undo each other and explain why both are necessary. – Inspired by Emmett Cho, Class of 2027
“Where have all the flowers gone?” – Pete Seeger. Pick a question from a song title or lyric and give it your best answer. – Inspired by Ryan Murphy, AB’21
“Vlog,” “Labradoodle,” and “Fauxmage.” Language is filled with portmanteaus. Create a new portmanteau and explain why those two things are a “patch” (perfect match). – Inspired by Garrett Chalfin, Class of 2027
A jellyfish is not a fish. Cat burglars don’t burgle cats. Rhode Island is not an island. Write an essay about some other misnomer, and either come up with and defend a new name for it or explain why its inaccurate name should be kept.
Despite their origins in the Gupta Empire of India or Ancient Egypt, games like chess or bowling remain widely enjoyed today. What modern game do you believe will withstand the test of time, and why? – Inspired by Adam Heiba, Class of 2027
There are unwritten rules that everyone follows or has heard at least once in their life. But of course, some rules should be broken or updated. What is an unwritten rule that you wish didn’t exist? (Our custom is to have five new prompts each year, but this year we decided to break with tradition. Enjoy!) – Inspired by Maryam Abdella, Class of 2026
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!


UChicago’s “extended essay” is also occasionally referred to by its old name: “The Uncommon Essay.” When writing this essay, you should aim to break away from traditional essay formats and take creative control to showcase both your writing ability and unique perspective. Get creative with your responses: humor, interesting structuring, and unique writing motifs will go a long way towards impressing the admissions officers.

Each of the prompts may seem almost nonsensical at first, but start by writing down your initial ideas for approaching each of the options. If you’re brainstorming for any one of these prompts and one idea jumps out at you—go with it!

The trick to these essays is responding in a way that feels natural to you, don’t try to get too smart and outthink yourself. Try crafting the direction of your essay as it goes rather than trying to plan your essay perfectly before you start writing, as this method will allow you to better showcase your thought process. If none of the essay prompts inspire you, take advantage of Option 7 and look over past prompts until you find one that speaks to you. Don’t write off any idea as stupid, and try to keep your phone or a notepad near you as you think over the prompts—inspiration can strike at the strangest of times!

Finally, stick with the obvious theme of the essay, but don’t try to overdo it. Make sure you find a creative way to fully answer any questions posed by the prompt while also including some insight into yourself or your background. For instance, a unique response to Essay Option #3 might reflect on how portmanteaus are part of a larger trend to characterize new ideas by combining them with something familiar—but trying to combine two separate essays and calling that a portmanteau could result in a confusing and ideologically diluted essay. Likewise, Essay Option #6 requires coming up with an unwritten rule you disagree with, but your argument should also reveal something about you or your way of thinking (e.g. if you’re deeply passionate about human and animal rights, discussing your opposition to the practice of documentary staff not helping those they film—and perhaps how you break this rule when filming content for a conservationist group you volunteer with—would both answer the prompt and tell admissions officers a bit about one of your activities and how your mind works).

As an example to offer a bit of guidance: for the classic prompt “Find x,” the admissions officers do not want to see a sheet filled with math problems. However, if you use math as a writing motif by which you compare using substitution to find x with comparing activities to find what you’re passionate about… you might just have a perfect essay idea on your hands!



Essay Option 5
Despite their origins in the Gupta Empire of India or Ancient Egypt, games like chess or bowling remain widely enjoyed today. What modern game do you believe will withstand the test of time, and why?
– Inspired by Adam Heiba, Class of 2027

Humans might be the dominant species on our planet, but we’re rarely the best athletes from a physical perspective. Famed Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt would be left in the dust by a cheetah. The legendary Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor would be bowled over if an NFL team suddenly employed a silverback gorilla as a running back. Even Michael Phelps, the winner of twenty-three Olympic medals for his swimming prowess, was left floundering when he raced against a shark—or at least a CGI projection of one! 

However, mankind did not come to rule the planet through our intellect and endurance alone. We had a secret weapon no other species has mastered—throwing projectiles. Sure, a chimpanzee can manage a halfhearted toss, but it wasn’t until Homo Erectus came to walk this Earth that any creature had the combination of unique anatomical traits necessary to truly master the art of the throw. Over millennia, we Homo Sapiens have developed countless modern sports that rely heavily on this ability: baseball, football, and basketball just to name a few. Of the many activities humans have created to show off the pinpoint accuracy of our throws, one game truly represents the culmination of millions of years of human evolution: darts. 

I believe that darts will be played for centuries to come. There are countless ways to play darts: Cricket, 301, Legs—but the specific game mode is irrelevant to the longevity of the activity. Simply put, the game of darts offers the best blend of compactness and complexity required to light up the neurons in our brain that have been pre-wired with a desire to throw objects accurately. Carnivals and theme parks have taken countless dollars by understanding this aspect of human nature, but darts offers a way to scratch that itch without the high cost and space requirements of classic carnival games like Ring Toss, Can Knock Down, or Balloon Darts. Not to mention, the odds aren’t stacked against us in darts! 

I can accept that not everyone might believe that darts is a “modern” game, as the game was officially created with the invention of the dart board all the way back in 1896. However, in the face of games that have existed for thousands of years, like chess, a game that’s not even as old as the first car is modern in my book. Additionally, for anyone who’d like to argue that the game of darts was created in medieval times when soldiers started throwing knives at tree trunk cross sections, I’d posit that a game is only as old as its rules. If hunting wooly mammoths with spears isn’t playing darts, neither is chucking knives at trees. Every human throw leading up to the creation of darts was simply the creative process, but the game of darts itself is the final masterpiece!

Though it will undoubtedly stand the test of time, darts will not look the same forever. Modern boards offer magnetic darts and electronic boards to prevent the potential collateral damage darts entail. Perhaps in the future, game designers will advance the game of darts through virtual reality or haptic feedback gloves so people can walk right in front of the game without fear. But wherever space is limited and people want to be entertained, darts will follow. Even if the next century’s version of darts is unrecognizable in everything but the dartboard (which could be a hologram or a projection at that point), the spread of darts through future bars and basements is as certain as its initial proliferation through English pubs.

Admittedly, even the most patient parents might want to put a stop to the next generation of dart throwers when they inevitably find the small holes in the basement wall made by errant darts from their kids’ attempts to improve their accuracy. However, they can rest assured that millions of years of evolution have led up to us all throwing those darts at that dartboard. With that kind of history on our side, we should all be able to hit that bullseye consistently before too long… right?