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Michael Miller

University of Chicago (UChicago) Supplemental Essays Guide: 2021-2022

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Not sure how to approach the UChicago essay prompts? With tips from one of our Admissions Experts, CollegeAdvisor.com’s UChicago supplement essay guide will show you exactly how to write engaging UChicago essay responses and maximize your chances for admission. If you need help answering the UChicago essay prompts, create your free account or schedule a free consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.

UChicago Essay Guide Quick Facts:

  • UChicago's acceptance rate is 7%—U.S. News ranks the University of Chicago (otherwise known as UChicago) as a “most selective” school.
  • To maximize your admissions odds, we recommend answering all UChicago essay prompts thoroughly and thoughtfully.

Does UChicago have Supplemental Essays?

Yes! In addition to the main essay prompt that you’ll encounter in the Common App or Coalition App, you’ll also have to answer several UChicago essay prompts. The UChicago essay prompts are notorious for their unique nature and play a major role in admissions.

Need some help writing your Common App essay? Get excellent tips from our Common App essay guide.

What are UChicago’s Supplemental Essays?

The UChicago supplement essay prompts for 2021-2022 are on the Common App site, but you can also visit the main UChicago site for a full list of application requirements, including the UChicago essay prompts. Be sure to pay attention to the UChicago essay word limit, which we’ll address for each prompt below.

How Many Essays Are Required for UChicago?

There are two school-specific UChicago supplemental essay prompts in the 2021-2022 Common App. Both of the UChicago essay prompts are required for all applicants.

How Do You Write UChicago Essays?

We have provided the UChicago essay prompts for 2021-2022 below. You’ll find a breakdown of how to approach each of the UChicago essays as well as tips for creating an application narrative that will stand out in admissions.

The UChicago essay prompts are famously unique. If you're wondering how to approach them, check out our UChicago supplemental essay examples on the CollegeAdvisor Blog. Our UChicago essay examples will help you approach these strange prompts with confidence.

Let’s hop in!

UChicago Essay Prompts – 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. (no word limit)

This UChicago supplement essay prompt falls in line with many of the “Why this school?” supplemental essays you’ll likely encounter. To cultivate a class of students who embody UChicago's goals and values, Admissions Officers want to make sure that you have thought through the reasons why UChicago is the best place for you. To give you the space to answer this question as best you can, there’s no UChicago essay word limit for this prompt. Your answers to the UChicago essay prompts should showcase the specific academic and extracurricular reasons why you belong at UChicago.

Set your goals

First, ask yourself what your goals are for college, both academically and personally.

In terms of academics, why do you want to pursue your specific major? What classes, research opportunities, and other academic resources can UChicago provide you that will fulfill your academic desires? Then, think about what you want to accomplish after you graduate. Do you have other areas of academic interest that UChicago is able to support? How do you want to combine your academic interests to create a cohesive and unique educational experience? All of these questions can help you craft a strong UChicago essay.

In relation to your personal goals, what kind of communities do you want to join as a college student? Are there certain extracurriculars or types of activities in which you’d like to participate? What do you want to accomplish in your extracurriculars or through other communities that UChicago will offer? How do you want to use your college experience to grow as an individual?

Be specific

Then, conduct some research using the UChicago website and any other resources available to you. This way, you will be able to make your UChicago essay as specific and personal as possible.

The operative word in this UChicago supplement essay prompt is specificity! As you research and write, consider the specific resources and opportunities that UChicago can offer you in helping you to create your college experience. If you can substitute “UChicago” with any other college and the essay still makes sense, then it is not specific enough for a UChicago essay!

Let’s revisit the UChicago supplemental essay examples for this particular prompt. In the first of the UChicago essay examples, the author begins the essay with a reference to a campus visit, which shows demonstrated interest in the university, and sets the tone by recounting a classroom conversation that made an impression on them.

Author 1:

When I visited UChicago, a friend invited me to step into her Comparative Literature class: Monstrosity and the Monstrous.

In this piece, notice the specificity. The best UChicago essay examples, like this one, don’t just mention a class but tell you which class they visited, and/or are excited about. In fact, successful UChicago essay examples like this one read like a highlight reel of the university—the student is showcasing all of the research and first-hand experience they’ve had with the university’s classes, professors, and traditions.

Author 1:

Now, it’s surreal to imagine taking “The Economics of Crime” from someone as renowned as Professor Levitt (I’ve been a fan since reading Freakonomics) and staying after class to clarify the finer points of the latest Freakonomics podcast (I particularly enjoyed “Speak Softly and Carry Big Data,” on using data analysis to perfect foreign policy decisions).

In the second of the UChicago essay examples for this prompt, the author doesn’t specifically mention any classes, like in the first of the referenced UChicago supplemental essay examples. Instead, the author uses a random conversation had while visiting UChicago’s campus to draw a bigger point about interdisciplinary studies and how they hope to find community at UChicago.

Author 2:

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of visiting UChicago’s campus. What I found was exactly what I’d hoped for: an absurdly specific and drawn-out debate over which poem was better, The Iliad, or The Odyssey.

In both of the UChicago supplemental essay examples, the authors demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the campus and are able to list specific places, classes, and traditions that they’re interested in. Also, both UChicago supplemental essay examples avoid mentioning things like the prestige and reputation of the university.

Fortunately, we have two examples for this UChicago essay prompt. Make sure to read both UChicago supplemental essay examples. These UChicago supplemental essay examples are unique and yet each captures the essence of what the prompt is asking.  You’ll also find insight from our experts on what made these UChicago supplemental essay examples truly great.

UChicago Essay Prompts Key Questions:

  • First, does your draft clearly communicate your academic and personal goals?
  • Next, do your goals relate to the learning, community, and future you’d like to use your college experience to find?
  • Finally, have you shown how you can take advantage of specific UChicago resources to reach those goals?

UChicago Essay Prompts – Question 2 (Required):

While the first UChicago essay is fairly traditional, the second UChicago supplement essay—the "extended essay"— is a bit stranger. As far as college essays go, this UChicago essay is famous in the world of college applications for perhaps being the most creative prompt that students will encounter. Here are the UChicago essay prompts:

Choose one of the six extended essay options and upload a one- or two-page response. Please include the prompt at the top of the page.
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)
2. What’s so easy about pie? (Inspired by Arjun Kalia, Class of 2025)
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)
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)
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. (Inspired by Ori Brian, AB’19)
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. Please upload your response here. (no word limit)

To begin, you'll notice that there is no UChicago essay word limit. Instead, you’ll answer each prompt with a one or two page response. With this in mind, you can write without fear of a UChicago essay word limit. In other words, take as much time and space as you need. Now, it’s time to think a little bit outside of the box!

These UChicago essay prompts might leave you feeling uncertain—and that's okay! Once again, if you're looking for inspiration, check out our UChicago supplemental essay examples. These UChicago essay examples can help you better understand what admissions officers look for in evaluating students. However, there is no magic formula. On the contrary, admissions officers are looking for genuine/unique answers that get at the spirit of these prompts.

In other words, admissions officers want to use this UChicago supplement essay to determine whether you can think creatively. Consider this, they’re giving you a unique opportunity to demonstrate a side of you that few schools attempt to see. In addition to the first five suggestions, UChicago gives you the option of posing your own mind-bending riddle to respond to or using one of their own from the past. For a list of past UChicago essay examples, you can head to their website.

Having difficulty deciding where to start with this UChicago supplemental essay? You might begin with a writing exercise! To begin, pick three or four of the UChicago essay prompts that you connect with most and set a timer. Then, write about each topic for no more than 10-15 minutes. When you finished, did you find yourself wanting to keep writing about one of the UChicago essay prompts? If so, that’s your prompt!

For inspiration, check out some of the UChicago supplemental essay examples for prior prompts. While these UChicago essay examples won’t match the prompts above, you can get an idea of how students approached odd essay prompts. You’ll also notice that without a UChicago essay word limit, one author’s essay is only approx. 700 while the other essay is a little over 1000. This goes back to the word of caution on the UChicago essay word limit—don’t feel the need to fill your essay with superfluous language to hit a specific word count. Instead, make sure your draft is complete and that your ideas are fully fleshed out. For reference, see how the authors did this in the UChicago supplemental essay examples provided.

No matter what UChicago essay prompt you select, the most important thing is that you reveal something personal about yourself, your interests, or your accomplishments.

When reimagining the material composition of a celestial object, a student might explore what would happen if the Milky Way was made up of actual milk and how that might support, and/or disrupt the movement of the objects in our galaxy. On the other hand, a student athlete might consider how the delicious dairy product has shaped their experiences as an athlete looking to maximize the amount of calcium in their bones.

Thinking about the “What’s so easy about pie” UChicago essay prompt? Consider whether you want to an answer this literally or figuratively. For example, you can write about your love of baking and experimenting with different flavors of pie other types of pastries. Then, use your baking knowledge to delve into how chemistry and biology affect the food we eat and vice versa.

For the UChicago essay prompt about a subject that repeats itself, maybe an applicant who really loves music could explore the finite number of notes on the scale and how they repeat continuously in different octaves. That might lead that student to write about how they explore different keys, tones, and genres when writing original songs.

As the UChicago essay prompt implies, the possibilities are quite literally endless! If you haven’t already, read over some of our UChicago supplemental essay examples for more inspiration.

UChicago Essay Prompts Key Questions:

  • Have you selected a prompt and a topic that you feel you can identify with?
  • Do you answer the question at hand in a creative, yet logically coherent, way, revealing something about your thinking?
  • Does your response reveal something about you, your personality, or values, or your accomplishments?

How Long are the UChicago Essay Prompts?

Technically, there is no UChicago essay word limit. The Common App requests that applicants upload files with their responses to the UChicago essay prompts. So, while all essays (no matter the school) should be drafted outside of the Common App, the UChicago supplement essay responses must be written, revised, edited, and finalized in an outside document.

Without a UChicago essay word limit, your UChicago essays could theoretically be as long as you want. However, admissions officers don’t have the time, energy, or motivation to read essays ranging several pages when they have to evaluate thousands of applications! Therefore, you’ll want to keep each UChicago essay short-ish and sweet. While there's no formal UChicago essay word limit, we recommend that your responses range from about 500–750 words (or about 1–2 double-spaced pages) each. This unofficial UChicago essay word limit will make your UChicago essays a similar length to your Common App essay. That way, you have the room to infuse your personality and creativity into each without going overboard.

What Does UChicago Look for in its Essays?

The UChicago essay prompts are meant to reveal who you are as a student, a thinker, and ultimately a person. In fact, UChicago is know for their creative essay prompts. Take a look at some UChicago supplemental essay examples with commentary from a former admissions officer on why they worked!

Admissions Officers want to know who you are and how you can contribute to their academic and extracurricular community. They want to know that you have the motivation, skills, and ingenuity to thrive in a rigorous, yet extremely rewarding, academic environment. As you saw in the UChicago essay examples, the school is looking for students who are interested in attending for reasons beyond prestige and ranking.  Moreover, the best UChicago supplemental essay examples show specificity in their knowledge of the school. For example, our UChicago prompt author not only wanted to study economics, but they wanted to take “The Economics of Crime” from Professor Levitt. Leveraging your knowledge of the university is very impressive to admissions officers.

The UChicago essay prompts ask you who you are at your core; they urge you to “simply be yourself and write in your own voice.” For a greater understanding of what this looks like and how it relates to the UChicago essay prompts, visit their main application page.

Does UChicago Care About Essays?

Absolutely! In fact, UChicago cares a lot! In recent years, UChicago has received more than 30,000 applications and generally accepts just over 2,500. Because UChicago is a top-tier school, the vast majority of applicants will have stellar GPAs, standardized testing scores, and extracurricular activities. Therefore, Admissions Officers use the UChicago supplement essay responses to understand who their applicants are and how they will fit into the UChicago community. This means that the UChicago essays form a key part of your application!

UChicago Essay Prompts – Final Thoughts

Crafting your answers to the UChicago essay prompts can seem difficult, but don’t let them stop you from applying! Instead, use your UChicago supplement essay answers as a way to demonstrate to Admissions Officers all you have to offer. Essays have great power; even if your academics aren’t exactly where you’d like them to be, an incredibly well-written UChicago supplement essay can push your application through. Use this guide to create a strategy to write solid UChicago essay prompts, and remember to check out our UChicago essay examples if you need more assistance. Happy writing!


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This 2021-2022 essay guide on UChicago was written by Senior Advisor Michael Miller. For more CollegeAdvisor.com resources on UChicago, click here. Want help crafting your UChicago supplement essay answers? Create your free account or schedule a free consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.

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