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:

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.

In addition to the creative essay prompts below, 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.

Question 2: Extended Essay (Required; Choose one)

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

The University of Chicago wants inspired and creative thinkers! Be original and have fun with this topic, but not at the expense of a serious answer that demonstrates your intellectual curiosity. Your answer should demonstrate, perhaps, your interest in astronomy or materials science. Or maybe you want to study philosophy in college and, with this question, you can explore your passion for philosophy by describing a fictional society on a celestial object.

However you decide to answer the question, you’ll want to have strong and clear writing and a point of view; a bit of humor would surely be welcome by the admissions committee.

Essay Option 2

What’s so easy about pie? —Inspired by Arjun Kalia, Class of 2025

We all know the expression “it’s as easy as pie.” But the U of C student asks a good question: What is so easy about pie? This is a fun chance to explore that question. Perhaps you want to study linguistics in college. If so, dive into the linguistic history of that expression. Or maybe you want to major in anthropology and study food and culture – this essay is a great place to showcase that interest as well.

But you can also take a non-academic approach: Talk about your passion for baking or raising money at a bake sale for a cause that is close to your heart. Or maybe you can describe your extended family by describing the several types of pie you all enjoy each Thanksgiving. Whatever your approach, the admissions committee wants to get to know you. How do you think? What are you like? What is your background? What will you bring to the campus?

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

This can be a very fun essay for you to write! The challenge, though, is to come up with a new unit of measurement. The measurement you invent needs to say a lot about who you are. With the examples given, you might be interested in Greek mythology or Classics, astrophysics or urban studies, respectively. The point is, the actual measurement you choose need not matter; what is important is that you reveal something about yourself – your interests, your home environment, your hobbies – to the admissions committee.

And once you’ve invented a measurement, don’t forget to give some (fictional) details to answer the sub-questions asked: How is it derived? How is it used? What are its equivalents? Your response to this essay prompt will certainly reveal your creative side.

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

This can be a very challenging essay to write, but keep in mind that there is no right or wrong answer.

No matter what you write about, answer these questions first. What does it mean to you? Why is it important to you? Why did you choose to write about X? That alone will reveal a lot about you! But then be sure to answer the real question being asked: Why is it original (or not original)? If it’s new technology, maybe it’s a chance for you to show off how or why it is new – but also be sure to give credit to the predecessors of that technology. If it’s an original piece of art or literature, perhaps it truly is unique – explain why! – or maybe it paid homage to an earlier work of art or literature.

In the end, admissions officers always want to know about who you are, how you think and how you articulate your ideas.

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

Reveal more about yourself to the admissions committee, but consider adding an element of fun and whimsy – after all, the essay prompt itself does just that. The discipline you choose for this prompt almost certainly should reflect what you likely will major in at Chicago, though that is not required. As always, be sure to follow directions: In this case, explain how the discipline you choose repeats itself, and what you mean by this.

Perhaps that means looking at a discipline from both a modern and historical perspective. Maybe a recent discovery in, say, chemistry or economics was based on discoveries from a century ago. Or maybe you’ve studied a foreign language week after week, month after month, to master the grammar, structure and vocabulary. Maybe you took a trip to study this language in a foreign country, or used online tutors consistently over a long time. Regardless, be sure to explain why you’ve chosen this academic discipline and what it means to you, and why it repeats itself, and why it repeats itself.

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!

“Take a little risk, and have fun.” You’ve likely been writing several essays about an activity that you’ve taken part in, a specific program that you want to attend, or other topics that are more serious. Take this chance to think outside of the box and write something memorable and creative. Imagine a group of admissions officers sitting around a table reading hundreds of applications – what experience or aspect of your personality can you draw on to make the officer reading your essay look up and tell their colleagues about you? Don’t forget to write the question that you’re answering at the top of the essay.

About the author
Cecilia Yan

Cecilia earned a BA from University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and an MS from Boston University, where she focused her studies on public relations and marketing. Cecilia oversees graduate programs: business development, partnerships, marketing and counselors. She also works with China partnerships. Originally from China, Cecilia is a native Mandarin speaker.

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