The University of Chicago supplemental essays are notorious for making students think outside of the box with unique questions crafted by current students and alums alike. Read below for advice on answering Chicago’s supplemental essays:
Choose one of the six extended essay options and upload a one- or two- page response.
1. Cats have nine lives, Pac-Man has 3 lives, and radioactive isotopes have half-lives. How many lives does something else—conceptual or actual—have, and why?
—Inspired by Kedrick Shin, Class of 2019
There is no right answer! The essay prompt is very creative, and thus you should feel free to be creative in your reply. Perhaps you’re going to write about an orchid: You watered and cared for an orchid but over time, all the flowers fell off and you thought it was dead. But then the buds and flowers eventually reappeared several months later. The key is not to describe the orchid, but perhaps what the plant means to you, or why you received it, or your awe in its regeneration. (And does that reflect something else about you?)
Or, maybe you’ll choose to write about a friend or family member (or yourself) who was diagnosed with a disease but fought that disease and returned even more healthy. The point in this example is to learn about you, the applicant. What was your relationship with that person and how did you help him or her overcome the disease?
2. If there’s a limited amount of matter in the universe, how can Olive Garden (along with other restaurants and their concepts of food infinity) offer truly unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks? Explain this using any method of analysis you wish—physics, biology, economics, history, theology… the options, as you can tell, are endless.
—Inspired by Yoonseo Lee, Class of 2023
This is your time to show off your knowledge of a certain area of study – or perhaps several areas of study. While you are not committing to a particular major, the admissions committee will get an excellent sense of what academics interest you based on how you write your reply. If you are a STEM person, you probably will want to cite various rules about physics – and how those rules affect you and your daily life. If you might want to study, say, philosophy, then you should take a philosophical approach to this answer. Or take a similar approach from an economics perspective if that is your prospective major.
Have fun with your answer. After all, it is the only college that has an Olive Garden reference in one of its essays! But don’t forget that the college wants to learn more about you, how you think, how you analyze, and how you seek solutions.
3. A hot dog might be a sandwich, and cereal might be a soup, but is a ______ a ______?
—Inspired by Arya Muralidharan, Class of 2021 (and dozens of others who, this year and in past years, have submitted the question “Is a hot dog a sandwich,” to which we reply, “maybe”)
For this essay prompt, you essentially are writing the question and then answering it. You should start by filling in the blanks. Choose carefully, because the blanks you fill in will tell the admissions officers about you – and, of course, the answer you provide also tells about you.
Will you decide to write about politics or literature? Food (as suggested here) or movies? What about religion and philosophy? Or chemistry or gender studies? The topic you choose will reveal perhaps your academic interests, but it could also provide insight into your extracurricular interests as well. More importantly, how you answer the question tells the University of Chicago how you think and how you arrive at an answer.
4. “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” – Jessamyn West
—Inspired by Elizabeth Mansfield, Class of 2020
As with other Chicago essay prompts, there is not exactly a question to answer! Instead, you are given an opportunity to react and reflect upon a statement. What does this statement mean to you? And why did you choose to answer this prompt instead of the others? With regard to fiction (revealing truth), are you going to draw upon theater or literature or television or film? Or maybe you’ll draw upon a lie that someone propagated (that is fiction, after all) and what that lie reveals about the person initiating the lie.
What is the reality that is obscured, and how does this relate to you, the applicant? You’re not just giving a report on why this quote is meaningful; instead, you want to tell more about yourself. Why and how does this statement from Jessamyn West reveal something about you?
5. UChicago has international campus centers around the world, but we don’t have any interplanetary, interstellar, or interdimensional campuses… yet! Propose a spot in time or space, in this or any universe, for a new UChicago campus. What types of courses would be taught at this site? What cultural experiences await students who study there?
—Inspired by Peter Jasperse, Class of 2022
This could be a fun – although difficult – question to answer. (A few other colleges ask a simpler version of this question: If you could teach a class at our college, what would you teach and why?) This particular question allows you to be even more creative, since you are not just describing one class – which presumably lets the readers know what you might want to study in college – but instead describing and essentially creating a new university (branch campus).
First, where and when does this UChicago campus exist? (And why did you choose that time and place?) What sorts of courses would make sense for the location and time chosen? (And why?) Think also about the student experience. If this campus is on Mars or the moon, draw on your knowledge of space and astronomy. If this campus is in Hawaii or a country in Africa, tell U of C why either of these spots might make sense. As with other questions, the point of the essay is to reveal and share more about you – either a place you have traveled to, or would like to travel; or maybe it is a reflection of your interest in other cultures, regions or peoples.
6. “Don’t be afraid to pick past prompts! I liked some of the ones from previous years more than those made newly available for my year. Also, don’t worry about the ‘correct’ way to interpret a question. If there exists a correct way to interpret the prompt I chose, it certainly was not my answer.” —Matthew Lohrs, Class of 2023
Do just that! You can search for essay prompts from the University of Chicago for past years. Just go back one or two or three years to see if any of those prompts excite and interest you. U of C changes its prompts year over year, so maybe there was one that you read as a junior and were excited to answer, but alas, that question is not asked of you this year. Well, now it is!
As Matthew Lohrs writes, there is not a correct way to answer any of these questions. If you read lots of answers in social media (for a given essay or two), don’t be afraid to share your interpretation and your own style for answering the 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.*
In addition to the creative essay prompts above, UChicago also asks you to write a more traditional essay – essentially answering the question: Why the University of Chicago?
You’ll see this essay prompt from many universities’ applications, and it is a fantastic opportunity for you to expound upon why and how the college is a good fit for you. Is it the academics? Be specific. What about the campus, or size, or intellectual vitality? The college doesn’t need to hear about itself (U of C admissions officers work there, and some went there – they know what UChicago is!). Instead, talk about how you will fit in. Are there opportunities in Chicago that excite you, or professors with whom you would like to do research?
This question demonstrates the importance of visiting colleges. You cannot really learn that much from a website, though that is a great place to start. If you can meet with an admissions representative near you – either at a prospect program or at your high school or local college fair – that is a great start. But it’s even better if you can visit campus and take a student-led tour and listen to an admissions officer in an information session. On your visit, you’ll hopefully learn why UChicago is a great match for you.
To get personalized advice on your University of Chicago supplement, please click here.