University of Chicago 2017-18 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide
The Requirements: 2 essays of 1-2 pages each
Supplemental Essay Type(s):Why, Oddball
This is it, the infamous U Chicago supplemental application. These quirky prompts have been a rite of passage for generations of applicants. So before you dive in, just remember that if they could do it, so can you! Your goal in writing your Chicago extended essay should be the same as ever: to reveal something new to admissions. It might even help to have a few ideas in mind before reading through your options. These prompts are so specific and strange that, in the end, the key is just to follow your instincts. What speaks to you right away? What inspires you?
Respond to the required essay and choose one of the six extended essay options and upload a one- or two-page response.
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.
Think of this run-of-the-mill why essay as the overture to your magnum opus (i.e. the Extended Essay). Chicago wants you to cover all the bases – “learning, community, and future” – so as with any why essay, you’d best buckle down and do your homework. The more specific details you can incorporate into your essay, the more sincere and personal it will feel (and be!). Explore both academic and extracurricular opportunities. How will you pursue your interest in oceanography? With a major in biology and a semester in Australia? What research opportunities will you pursue? Will joining the club crew team help you feel more connected to aquatic life despite your midwest location? One thing you won’t find on the school website, though, is that third piece, that “future” thing. Think about where you’d like to be five or ten years from now – your career or the impact you’d like to have or even just a geographic location. How will a U Chicago education help you get there? How will your scholarly and social pursuits help you grow? Show admissions how U Chicago is the bridge between the person you are and the person you hope to be.
Extended Essay Questions: (Required; Choose one)
Before you read these questions, remember that you only have to pick one. So brace yourself and follow your gut. We’re going in.
Essay Option 1.
“The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” – Joseph Joubert
Sometimes, people talk a lot about popular subjects to assure ‘victory’ in conversation or understanding, and leave behind topics of less popularity, but great personal or intellectual importance. What do you think is important but under-discussed? -Anonymous Suggestion
The rambling setup for this prompt disguises the simplicity of its essential question: what matters to you? In more specific terms, what is deeply important to you, but hard to talk about with others? Maybe your fascination with cicadas has taught you a thing or two about global warming, but friends and family are grossed out by insects and afraid to face the changes taking place in their immediate environment. Or perhaps you think it’s time to end the stigma surrounding mental illness by talking about it openly. You could also confronta less dire, but equally unsettling truth, like the fact that people knew what Sia looked like before she started wearing that wig. Whatever you choose should be a matter of personal importance. Show admissions what you’re willing to commit to in the face of skepticism or disapproval.
Essay Option 2.
Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your new intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History… a full list of unmodified majors ready for your editor’s eye is available here: https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/academics/majors-minors. -Inspired by Josh Kaufman, Class of 2018
Are you a portmanteau wizard or a pun queen? This could be the word-playful prompt of your dreams. And honestly, what else do we even say? We don’t want to take the fun out of inventing your own bizarre major! Keep in mind that you don’t have to limit yourself to just the (actual) majors that interest you, but you do have to have to honor the limits of the prompt! You’re only allowed one typo. So what’ll it be? Egonomics? Bib Problems? Herstory? Classical Studies: Green and Roman Studies? Commit to whatever you choose and create a deep course of study: what are the names of the classes you would take, the texts you hope to read, the typical career path for alums? Tackling this prompt requires wit, creativity, and a quirky sense of humor – all qualities the university prides itself on. Do you have them?
Essay Option 3.
Earth. Fire. Wind. Water. Heart! Captain Planet supposes that the world is made up of these five elements. We’re familiar with the previously-noted set and with actual elements like hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, but select and explain another small group of things (say, under five) that you believe compose our world. -Inspired by Dani Plung, Class of 2017
Think of this as the kooky cousin to Common App prompt #1, which asks you to describe some aspect of your background. This prompt is asking to see the world through your eyes and to catch a glimpse of the experiences that have informed your perspective. What crucial experiences have composed your sense of the world? What elements compose your day to day life? Maybe growing up in a family that cooked all the time has taught you to interpret your environment based on flavor, and your world is composed of a swirling combination of salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. Or perhaps you believe that more intangible things, like kindness and concern, make life on earth possible. Maybe your love of geometry and photography has you seeing the world in obtuse, acute, and straight angles. Whatever your paradigm, make sure to explain where it comes from. What people or experiences have taught you to see the world in this unique way?
Essay Option 4.
The late New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham once said “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you could do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization.” Tell us about your “armor.” -Inspired by Adam Berger, Class of 2020
In other words, what do you want the world to see (or not see) when it looks at you? How do you present yourself? Maybe you don’t leave the house without pulling on your chunky black combat boots as they seem to tell the world that you’re not the man or woman to mess with. Perhaps you wear the old locket your late grandmother gave to you everyday and it gives you the strength to face your fears throughout the day. Don’t feel limited though – you absolutely do not have to be a fashionista to tackle this prompt. In fact, clothing is really just one point of entry to answering the essential questions. Maybe you don’t think much about what you wear, but put on a certain posture every time you walk through your neighborhood. Perhaps you grew up with superstitious parents who always made you wear protective amulets before going on big trips or taking big tests. Maybe your makeup is your armor as it gives you the power to shape (or contour?) who the world will see you as that day. What do you do to make yourself feel safe? What aspects of your physical presence do others seem to respond to? Your outer appearance is just the jumping off point for you to reveal something new to admissions.
Essay Option 5.
Fans of the movie Sharknado say that they enjoy it because “it’s so bad, it’s good.” Certain automobile owners prefer classic cars because they “have more character.” And recently, vinyl record sales have skyrocketed because it is perceived that they have a warmer, fuller sound. Discuss something that you love not in spite of but rather due to its quirks or imperfections. -Inspired by Alex Serbanescu, Class of 2021
This prompt is so weirdly specific! If this one calls out to you, chances are it’s because something springs to mind right away — a love of bad metaphors or the musky complexity of burnt toast. But if you want to try to brainstorm, think about the things that people tease you about. What do your friends and family lovingly poke fun at? The childhood blankie you still keep on your bed? The pungent cheeses you insist on storing in the family fridge? The old knock-knock jokes you like to tell? The great thing about this prompt is that, when you finally land on a topic, it will be unique to you and no one else (a core tenet of CEA’s essay-writing philosophy). Writing this essay will give you an opportunity to reveal your creativity and compassion: the requisite qualities for seeing potential or beauty in something or someone’s flaws.
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.
This is your life preserver in a sea of oddball prompts. If all else fails, you can recycle an essay you’ve written for another school, but it had better be good. It had better be some of the best writing you’ve ever done. U Chicago has made its expectations clear for applicants who choose to go their own way. So, if you choose to use something you’ve already written, be sure to get creative with the prompt. Take a hint from the other essay options and lead off with a quote or theoretical musing that points towards some essential question.
You might also choose this option because none of the other prompts provided ample latitude for you to tell the story you really want to tell. In this case, you should craft your essay and prompt somewhat concurrently. As you brainstorm, keep an eye on essential themes that you can weave into a creative prompt, or that your essay can put a fun twist on. Were you born with a congenital eye defect that literally (and metaphorically) affects how you see the world? (Q: How is your perspective on the world unique?) Or maybe your joint interests in computer science and urban planning have led you to muse on what it really means to go “off the grid.” This approach works best when you already have an idea in mind, but no matter what you write about, have fun with it! Writing your own prompt gives you a excellent opportunity to display an extra level of meta thinking and self-awareness.
So, how do you feel about Wednesdays?
I’m betting that’s not a question you get asked frequently. It is, however, a past application essay question for the University of Chicago—one of many we’ve amassed in the years we’ve asked “uncommon” questions. Much like your feelings on Wednesdays, we bet you aren’t also often asked about your Ph, your thoughts on odd numbers, or why you’re here and not somewhere else. And, hint: that’s kind of why we’re asking you.
Every year the University of Chicago asks five “uncommon” questions as part of our application supplement. Rather than giving you the same old “what did you do on your summer vacation”-style prompt, we ask our students and alumni to suggest questions they’d like to pose to prospective students, and then consider the over 500 suggestions we get each year among a group of admissions officers before choosing our “final five”. This is how we wound up with this year’s questions, ranging from things like “What’s so odd about odd numbers?” to a quote from an art installation on campus, “Why are you here and not somewhere else?”
We ask you these questions not because we want to fool you, or make you squirm, or hurt your brain. We ask you these questions precisely because we love, love, love seeing where your brain goes when you’re asked a question you’ve never thought about before before. These are the kinds of intellectual encounters you’ll have on our campus every day; it’s rare that a professor will ask you to explain how your loss in the big sports game affected you, but very common for someone to ask you a question you’ve never encountered, and to see how you work with it. The question might be about Plato, or muons, or the work of a beat poet from the South Side in the 1960s instead of about your thoughts on odd numbers—but the ways you’ll be thinking are the same even if not on the same topic, and this, precisely, is why we ask you to try it out as part of your application.
So how, exactly, do you respond to such an open-ended question? This is, of course, also open-ended. We want you to use this as a time to be creative, to take a prompt and run with it in the way that you think represents what’s going on in your brain best. There are some things we suggest avoiding, and many many things that are totally up for doing. We think our questions are pretty neat, and would love to see what you do with one of them, so we don’t suggest re-using an essay from class, another school, or from your common/universal app personal statement for this essay. We also hope to see students taking this beyond simply factual information about them; a resume is not an essay, so there’s no need to pack all of your achievements and accomplishments in to narrative form. While we welcome fun explorations of new topics, sometimes we do see students who come up with some kind of “schtick” they think helps them stand out (case in point: an essay written entirely backwards, or an acrostic poem). Know that we’re most impressed and influenced by the content, thoughts, and skill contained in your writing rather than tricky tricks, so try not to conflate crazy style with skill—make your essay about the ideas first even if you’d like to explore them in a new way. Some students feel compelled to write about an experience they’ve had or an idea they’re passionate about, and that can be a great choice if you feel the urge. But know that we can often learn a lot about you with how and what you choose to write about even if you’re not writing about yourself, so if you’d like to take this as a time to explore something beyond your own personal experiences, go for it! We read everything and are tickled by lots, and always welcome students who think a little bit outside of the box. So if you’re sitting there thinking “Man, I wish I could write my essay like a critical analysis/book report on Skymall Magazine” (note: this has happened, and the student was admitted) but are shying away because Skymall Magazine isn’t covered in that pulpy book your mom bought you about writing college essays—write about Skymall Magazine! A UChicago supplement essay that responds to our question with a topic you see as interesting and compelling (that is, of course, well thought through and edited reasonably) will shine out much more than following a standard “college essay” format. Don’t be afraid to stretch your mind and have a little fun. That’s what we do here.
And, as a final note: we don’t require your essays to be in a standard 5-paragraph essay format, although we do hope they’ll have words in them (it’s totally fine, although not required at all, to add a visual or musical or any-other-ical accompaniment to your writing, but know we’re also looking at your writing skill here, so we do hope you’ll write something). Some students write personal narratives, some write what could be considered more traditional essay style works, some write short stories, some write something completely different. We ask simply that your essay is somewhere in the realm of 500-650 words, or about 1-2 pages single or double spaced (and we’re flexible—don’t take this as license to write a 14-page tome, but know that we won’t stop reading at 651 words if you need an extra verb).
Any questions? You can always feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.