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How to Write the UChicago Supplemental Essays

The University of Chicago is known for asking difficult supplementary essay questions, but they’re really asking you to answer two questions: “Why do you want to attend this college specifically?” and “Can you show us that you can think creatively?”

Question 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 own wishes and how they relate to UChicago. (Required)

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 unique response to Essay Option #1 might benefit from insight on how palindromes present a lesson about “looking at the same situation from a new perspective” but trying to create an entire essay that can be read the same backwards as it is forward is not an efficient or advised way to show your way of thinking. Likewise, Essay Option #5 not only requires coming up with a technological historical pairing, but also telling a unique story about how this combination would play out. Not only should a compelling story be created, but your combination should also say something about you (e.g. if you’re deeply passionate about astronomy, giving someone like Galileo Galilei access to a high powered camera would both answer the prompt and tell 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

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

Essay Option #2

What advice would a wisdom tooth have?

— Inspired by Melody Dias, Class of 2025

Essay 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

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 category, and the criteria necessary to achieve this accomplishment.

— Inspired by Isabel Alvarez, Class of 2026

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

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.*

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!