The University of Chicago has long been renowned for its provocative essay questions. 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.
Each year we email newly admitted and current College students and ask them for essay topics. We receive several hundred responses, many of which are eloquent, intriguing, or downright wacky.
As you can see from the attributions, the questions below were inspired by submissions from UChicago students and alumni.
To begin working on your UChicago supplement visit, getstarted.uchicago.edu, the Coalition Application, or the Common Application.
2017-18 UChicago Supplement:
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.
Extended Essay Questions:
(Required; Choose one)
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?
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
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
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
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
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.
Tufts University has received some attention recently for its #YOLO-based application essay prompt, but this was far from the first time a college has asked students to think outside the box.
While Tufts and the University of Chicago may be the two schools most well known for their unorthodox essays, many colleges have slipped in quirky questions to shake up potential applicants. Topics have ranged from autobiographical to flat out insane, but all the prompts — in theory — should tell a school something about yourself.
Most of these questions are from past years’ applications; some schools, including University of Chicago and Tufts, change their questions every year.
We've compiled some of our favorites for you to ponder. Try not to think too hard.
University of Chicago
"Have you ever walked through the aisles of a warehouse store like Costco or Sam's Club and wondered who would buy a jar of mustard a foot and a half tall? We've bought it, but it didn't stop us from wondering about other things, like absurd eating contests, impulse buys, excess, unimagined uses for mustard, storage, preservatives, notions of bigness…and dozens of other ideas both silly and serious. Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard."
"If you could choose to be raised by robots, dinosaurs, or aliens, who would you pick? Why?"
University of Virginia
"Make a bold prediction about something in the year 2020 that no one else has made a bold prediction about."
University of Pennsylvania
"You have just finished your three hundred page autobiography. Please submit page 217."
Johns Hopkins University
"Using a piece of wire, a Hopkins car window sticker, an egg carton, and any inexpensive hardware store item, create something that would solve a problem. Tell us about your creation, but don’t worry; we won't require proof that it works!"
Santa Clara University
"Tell us about the most embarrassing moment of your life."
University of Chicago
"So where is Waldo, really?"
"Create a short story using one of these topics: 'The End of MTV,' 'Confessions of a Middle School Bully,' 'The Professor Disappeared' or 'The Mysterious Lab.'"
St. Mary's College of Maryland
"St. Mary's College is casting for the incoming class. Send us your audition tape via the Web or DVD. Please provide us with the site for posting. Selection of this option will stand as your college essay. Consider your audience."
"Sartre said, 'Hell is other people,' but Streisand sang, 'People who need people/Are the luckiest people in the world.' With whom do you agree and why?"
University of Chicago
"Modern improvisational comedy had its start with the Compass Players, a group of University of Chicago students who later formed the Second City comedy troupe. Here is a chance to play along. Improvise a story, essay, or script that meets all of the following requirements:
- It must include the line “And yes I said yes I will Yes” (Ulysses, by James Joyce).
- Its characters may not have superpowers.
- Your work has to mention the University of Chicago, but please, no accounts of a high school student applying to the University—this is fiction, not autobiography.
- Your work must include at least four of the following elements: a paper airplane, a transformation, a shoe, the invisible hand, two doors, pointillism, a fanciful explanation of the Pythagorean Theorem, a ventriloquist or ventriloquism, the periodic table of the elements, the concept of jeong, number two pencils."
"What invention would the world be better off without, and why?"
"If you were reduced to living on a flat plane, what would be your greatest problems? Opportunities?"
"Kermit the Frog famously lamented, 'It's not easy being green.' Do you agree?"
University of Notre Dame
"You have 150 words. Take a risk."