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How to Write the UChicago Supplemental Essays

Every year, UChicago asks their current and past students to submit essay prompts for the upcoming application cycle. About 1,000 submissions are received annually–current UChigaco students love submitting prompts because they actually enjoyed writing the supplement when they applied. The admissions committee chooses five of the submitted prompts to use in their application. If none of the current prompts spark any ideas, they also allow applicants to choose from any of the past prompts or, if they want to be even more creative, they can even write their own! The admissions officers offer multiple options because they recognize students have unique interests and experiences.

Unlike other college supplements, there are many different ways to approach these questions. The admissions officers at UChicago want to gain insight into what makes you, you. They want to learn how you adapt and react to new situations using your critical thinking skills. Creativity, flexibility, and exploration are important UChicago values, and the school will use your supplement to determine if you would be a good fit and add to their unique student body. These creative prompts warrant creative answers. You can be sure that your answer to this question will be unique to you. Are you witty? Sarcastic? Inquisitive? However you choose to describe yourself, make sure that comes across in your essay. So, give each prompt some thought, see which inspires an idea, and make sure your personality shines through.

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.

The first supplemental essay asks you to write a classic “why this college” essay. Responding to this question requires laying out your current plan for the future and what you hope to get out of college. Reference a career path and specific major (or couple of majors) that you would like to pursue, and research class offerings for that major or related programs. Additionally, discussing an extracurricular or club (called RSOs at UChicago) offered at the college that you would like to get involved with or continue to pursue can add depth to this response. Finally, 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 close out the essay to showcase how you picture yourself as a member of the UChicago community.

Question 2: Extended Essay (Required: Choose one)

While UChicago might refer to it as the “extended essay” these days, students and alumni will always refer to it 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 way of thinking. 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 6 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. A response to Essay Option #5 might be bolstered by some use of repetition in your writing (such as starting off every paragraph with the same few words) but writing the entire essay twice is not a good use of space given the word limit. Likewise, Essay Option #3 not only requires coming up with a unit of measurement, but also coming up with practical uses and equivalent examples. All of these questions should be answered, but your unit of measurement should also say something about you (e.g. if you’re a surfer, writing about a measurement derived from your wipeouts per wave ratio to determine how long you want to surf both answers the prompt and tells admissions officers a bit about one of your activities and the way you think).

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!

Here are this year’s Uncommon Essay options:

Essay Option 1

What if the moon were made of cheese? Or Neptune made of soap? Pick a celestial object, reimagine its material composition, and explore the implications. Feel free to explore the realms of physics, philosophy, fantasy…the sky is the limit!

—Inspired by Tate Flicker, Class of 2025

Essay Option 2

What’s so easy about pie?

—Inspired by Arjun Kalia, Class of 2025

Essay Option 3

In Homer’s Iliad, Helen had a “face that launched a thousand ships.” A millihelen, then, measures the beauty needed to launch one ship. The Sagan unit is used to denote any large quantity (in place of “billions and billions”). A New York Minute measures the period of time between a traffic light turning green and the cab behind you honking. Invent a new unit of measurement. How is it derived? How is it used? What are its equivalents?

—Inspired by Carina Kane, Class of 2024, and Ishaan Goel, Class of 2025

Essay Option 4

“There is no such thing as a new idea” – Mark Twain. Are any pieces of art, literature, philosophy, or technology truly original, or just a different combination of old ideas? Pick something, anything (besides yourself), and explain why it is, or is not, original.

—Inspired by Haina Lu, Class of 2022

Essay Option 5

It’s said that history repeats itself. But what about other disciplines? Choose another field (chemistry, philosophy, etc.) and explain how it repeats itself. Explain how it repeats itself.

—Inspired by Ori Brian, AB’19

Essay Option 6

In the spirit of adventurous inquiry (and with the encouragement of one of our current students!) 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!