The UChicago supplemental essays might throw you off at first. The questions are strange, quirky, thought-provoking, and definitely daunting. You may not have thought of anything like these questions before, but that's okay! The UChicago supplements are a great chance for you to step back from the typical admissions process, think about something different, and express yourself creatively.
For the UChicago supplement, you'll have to write two essays: one answering a quirky prompt and the second explaining why you want to go to UChicago. I'll explain how to approach each essay below.
I. The Uncommon Essay
When you take a look at the uncommon essay questions, you should laugh. The essays are meant to be fun, creative, quirky, and thought-provoking. Keep in mind the Admissions Office explains:
"We think of them as an opportunity for students to tell us about themselves, their tastes, and their ambitions. They can be approached with utter seriousness, complete fancy, or something in between."
Here are some tips to help you write an original and successful supplemental essay. I've included an example with each tip to show you how I'd approach the prompts.
1. Pick the essay topic that gets you most excited.
You have five essay options or the chance to make your own topic. Unless you have a really creative idea, pick one of the five set prompts. Read through all the essay prompts before picking one. Do any of them strike you immediately as interesting or get you excited and thinking? Eliminate any prompts that don't excite you and then brainstorm how you'd approach the remaining prompts. Pick the essay topic that gets you the most excited to write, think, and creatively make an argument or tell a story.
For example, I'm most excited about approaching Essay #1, because I love dissecting jokes and think I have some great starting ideas for it, so I would choose that prompt.
2. Answer the question.
You're applying to colleges, so you might think you should talk about yourself and your extra-curricular activities, like in a typical personal statement. That won't work here! It seems obvious, but be sure you're answering the essay question!
For example, if I were writing Essay Question #3, I would make sure I've answered all three parts of the question, so ultimately, the admissions officer would have an idea of what I think history is, who "they" are, and what "they" aren't telling us.
3. Tell a coherent story or develop an argument.
The strongest essays will tell a clear story or develop an argument with evidence. The admissions officers will be learning about you by seeing how you construct this argument or how you incorporate characters and language to tell your story. Be detailed and thoughtful about each part of your argument or story.
For example, if I answered Essay Question #4, I might write from the perspective of the mantis shrimp about how he sees the world, or tell the story of a scientist who creates mantis shrimp "goggles" and sees the world for the first time like a shrimp.
4. Sneak in parts about you.
Be sure you answer the question, but... you can (and should) sneak in things that are important to you, too! Use the question as a launching pad to explore parts about yourself that you haven't addressed in your common app or the "Why UChicago" essay in a way that works. When you're brainstorming and outlining your essay, make sure the argument or story reflects something that's important to you or important about you. Remember though, it's more important to make a strong argument with clear thoughts than to write about every sport you've ever played or every place you've traveled.
For example, if I were writing Essay Question #2, I might write about how "I am I and I am my thoughts" and reflect philosophically (maybe include thoughts from philosophers), because I love philosophy (and wanted to study that at UChicago -- and did).
5. Be creative!
There's no wrong answer or incorrect approach for these prompts. Be creative, use descriptive language, and have fun! The goal of the essay is for the admissions officers to see how you think and creatively solve problems. If you're a poet and think an answer works best as a poem, do it! A Platonic dialogue? Why not! But, be sure to be creative in a way that you're comfortable with, so you write the strongest essay possible for you.
For example, I might write Question #5 as a dinner conversation between a chemist, linguist, philosopher, and statistician about how to compare apples and oranges.
II. Why UChicago?
The second supplemental essay should be much easier than the first, but that doesn't mean you can slack off. The admissions officers read hundreds of these essays and they see many of the same responses: The Core! The quirky intellectual vibe! The beautiful campus! Living in a city! Here are some tips for standing out.
1. Really do your research on what makes UChicago unique.
Highlight the reasons you want to go to UChicago that make UChicago uniquely UChicago. Lots of schools, for example, have some liberal arts requirements, but only UChicago offers a huge range within each core requirement. Do your research and then explain why the unique aspects of the college make it your top choice. The college admissions website is a great place to learn more about what makes UChicago special.
2. Find UChicago professors, classes, fields of study, and research that excites you.
Look up the websites for the fields that interest you at UChicago. You can usually find a list of professors, graduate students, upcoming and past classes, and research specialities. You can even take a look at the course catalog to see what's currently being offered for undergraduates and graduates in every field. In your essay, highlight professors' work that excites you or specific classes you'd love to take (not "Intro to..." classes, but workshops like, "I-Thou and the Subject of Psychoanalysis").
3. Show how you would get involved and contribute to UChicago.
UChicago is looking for students who will make the college community even better than it already is. Find UChicago-specific extracurriculars that you're interested in and explain how you would contribute to that group. Is there something you think UChicago is missing? Tell the admissions officers what group you think UChicago should start and how you love that UChicago lets students grow their own on-campus activities (though make sure it really doesn't already exist, because almost everything does!).
4. Mention study abroad programs, travel grants, and research opportunities that interest you.
Research the study abroad programs, travel grants, research opportunities, and other unique programs UChicago offers. If any of these interest you, explain why you think UChicago's flag grants, for example, would help you get a head start on your future research and career goals.
5. Be specific and be sincere!
But really, why UChicago? Because you're quirky, you love to learn, you spend way too much time falling through the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia, you want to learn Econ from the masters, you... Let your sincere feelings about the college shine through!
Any experience or job in your life can make a great essay! This student wrote about interacting with various characters at her job at a drive-thru window and how that helped form portals to other peoples’ worlds outside of her own.
The drive-thru monitor on the wall quietly clicks whenever a person pulls up to the menu screen. It’s so subtle I didn’t notice it my first two months working at Freddy’s, the retro fast-food restaurant looming over Fairfax’s clogged stretch of Route 50. But, after months of giving out greasy burgers, I have become attuned to it. Now, from the cacophony of kitchen clangs I can easily pick out that click which transports me from my world of fry oil into the lives of those waiting in the drive-thru.
A languid male voice drifts into my ear. He orders tenders, with a side of cheese sauce. “How much cheese sauce is in a cup?” he frets, concerned over the associated 80 cent charge. The answer is two ounces, and he is right to worry. It’s a rip-off.
After I answer him, my headset goes quiet for a second. Finally, his voice crackles through.
“Do you sell cheese sauce by the gallon?”
A man orders two steakburgers and two pints of custard.
Minutes later, he reaches my window. I lean out to take his credit card, only to meet the warm tongue of a wizened dog.
The man apologizes: “She just loves your restaurant.”
I look at the dog, her nose stretching out of the car and resting on the window ledge, then look at the order he had given me.
Once I hand him his food, the dog sniffs one of the pints.
“No!” he reprimands. “Only after you eat your dinner.”
He sets a burger between her paws, then speeds away.
I can’t understand the order, but I know that whoever is speaking is from New Jersey. Tommy, pronounced “Tahmee”, apparently has high blood pressure. He orders fries.
“No!” the woman screeches. “No salt!”
They pull up to the window. The man, clad in a Hawaiian shirt, thrusts a crumpled wad of cash in my hand.
The women pushes him back. “Sorry!” she apologizes, “But we’re lost! Never been to Virginia before - we’re trying to find Lynchburg!”
It is 10:45 PM, and Lynchburg is three hours away. We give them an extra side of fries (no salt of course) and directions to a nearby hotel.
For these brief moments, I am part of their lives: in their cars, they are at home. They are surrounded by their trash and listening to their music, dancing with their friends and crying alone, oblivious to the stranger taking their order. On the surface, these people are wildly different; they range from babies clad in Dolphin’s jerseys (“Her first pre-game party!”) to grandmothers out for ladies’ night; college students looking for a cheese sauce fix to parents on a dieting kick (“Chicken sandwich on a lettuce wrap”). But, despite every contrasting characteristic, they all ended up in the same place: my drive-thru, my portal to their worlds.
*Click* It’s a family, squished into a little car. When I hand them their bags, they happily open them and devour the food. The mother asks me for extra napkins, forks, and knives.
“We just moved,” she explains. “And everything is still in boxes.”
I moved a lot as a child, so I know what they’re going through. I give them an entire pack of utensils.
As the car leaves, the kids in the backseat press their faces against the car window and wave. I wave back as the car slowly makes it way toward 50. New to the area, they have yet to adopt the hurried rush that comes with the proximity to DC.
Customers like these help me realize I am not just a passive traveller in this drive-thru - I do not just watch and observe. I laugh and I help and I talk with them, if only for a few moments. They tell me about their lives, and I mention stories from mine. Over my hundreds of hours behind the drive-thru window, thousands of different people have come through, sharing snippets of their diverse lives. All they have in common when they come in is the desire for greasy fast food. However, by the time they leave, they share something else: a nugget of my life.
The drive-thru portal takes me to disparate places; to Lynchburg, to the grocery store to buy cheese sauce, to a new home filled with opportunity and cardboard boxes. It transports me back to my room, where I hug my dog and feed her chicken and treats. It is a portal to the world, hidden in the corner of a fast-food kitchen.
With each click, that door opens. (764)