Chicago Admission Essays

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: -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.


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)

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