The Ultimate Guide to Writing the UChicago Supplemental Essays

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

the university of Chicago

The Ultimate Guide to Writing the UChicago Supplemental Essays

The UChicago Supplemental Essays are designed to offer students an opportunity to express their goals, display their achievements, and better reveal their personalities. While the standard application focuses on standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, and other straight-forward and unrevealing bits of information on a student, these UChicago Supplemental Essays are the perfect chance for applicants to stand out amongst the crowd and catch the attention of admission officers. While essay prompts for other colleges tend to be more standard in their subject matter, the UChicago Supplemental Essays are renowned for their uniqueness, idiosyncratic nature, and creativity. The essay prompts are actually suggestions from previous UChicago students. While other essay topics might make you roll your eyes, these prompts will have you scratching your head and brainstorming like crazy. To help give you the best chance of knocking your responses out of the park, the AdmissionSight team has broken down these essays in detail.  There’s a preliminary essay that’s required by all students and then a series of possible prompts from which you need to select one.University of Chicago campus

Preliminary Essay

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.

This is hands-down the most straight-forward and basic questions you’ll be asked on the UChicago Supplemental Essays. While the rest have a flare for personalization and creativity, this prompt is asking a fundamental question that many colleges ask incoming applications: why our school? With thousands of different universities and colleges to which you can apply, college admission specialists want to know what it is about UChicago that makes it special for you.

While you might be tempted to list out all of the great aspects of the university, this won’t help you stand out among other applicants. Everyone already knows that UChicago offers students great learning opportunities, has excellent professors, and maintains a culture of higher learning. You don’t need to rehash these commonly-known features in your response since those are obvious reasons why somebody might apply to the university.

As the question states, you’re being asked to specify what your own wishes are and how applying to UChicago relates to them. More specifically, they’re asking about “learning, community, and future” and how these aspects of the university meet your desires. A successful answer will need to include a clear summary of your academic and personal goals along with some detailed features of UChicago that will help facilitate those goals.

Extended Essays

Cats have nine lives, Pac-Man has 3 lives, and radioactive isotopes have half-lives. How many lives does something else—conceptual or actual—have, and why?
—Inspired by Kedrick Shin, Class of 2019

As mentioned before, the UChicago Supplemental Essays are the exception to any rule that exists about college essays. They’re quirky, fun, odd, and, most importantly, thought-provoking. Clearly, this question is a perfect representation of what kinds of questions you can expect to be confronted with when applying to the University of Chicago. So, shake off formality and convention to let your creativity flow uninhibited.

This prompt is asking you to think of anything – either real or imaginary – that has a certain number of lives and to explain why. Cats, Pac-Man, and radioactive isotopes are given as examples – clearly illustrating the creative range with which you’re given to answer to the question. Before you start trying to write, allow your mind to wander and see where the prompt suggestions take you. Don’t limit yourself to the traditional definition of “life”, and don’t forget that this can include anything from either fiction or reality.

Maybe you’re besotted with the concept of reincarnation and have ideas about how many lives people or things have based on their ability to reach the Buddhist concept of nirvana. Perhaps you’re a science-fiction buff who believes that people will be able to survive for extended periods of time in the future or even be “reborn” through cloning. Whatever kind of ideas you come up with, be sure to explain the “why” to fully answer the question. Keep your answers creative, fun, and based on something that interests you.

Young students attending a class.

If there’s a limited amount of matter in the universe, how can Olive Garden (along with other restaurants and their concepts of food infinity) offer truly unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks? Explain this using any method of analysis you wish—physics, biology, economics, history, theology… the options, as you can tell, are endless.
—Inspired by Yoonseo Lee, Class of 2023

Everyone knows that Olive Garden claims to offer unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks. But do they really? This prompt asks you to think a little deeper about the chain’s popular promise. Is it a productive marketing tactic or would they conceivably be able to offer an unlimited amount of food? Furthermore, what would be the ramifications of that claim in terms of the amount of matter in the universe?

While there are a million different ways you can take this answer, a good place to start is from your particular area of study. This not only shows UChicago admission officers that you’re interested in viewing the world through this lens, but it also demonstrates your ability to deconstruct – even seemingly trivial – questions with concepts and tools of studying related to the field.

For example, business majors might take a marketing approach to the famous Olive Garden claim to discuss if it’s an effective strategy. Biology majors might talk about the physical limits that the human body has when it comes to digesting food in a certain period of time. Law majors might discuss the legal implications of making such a claim and whether or not it puts Olive Garden in a potentially jeopardizing legal situation.

As the prompt clearly expresses, you can explain your answer using any source of analysis from theological and metaphysical to physiological or philosophical. All you have to do is explain whether they can truly offer their alleged unlimited food to customers. Keep your answer clear, creative, and expressive.

A hot dog might be a sandwich, and cereal might be a soup, but is a ______ a ______?
—Inspired by Arya Muralidharan, Class of 2021

If you’re a fan of wordplay, puns, riddles, puzzles, and other kinds of fun games, this is the question for you. This unique UChicago Supplemental Essay is asking you to make a funny or quirky comparison between two seemingly disparate things. Their examples illustrate the humor and creativity with which admission officers want you to approach the question. While there’s no right or wrong answer, there is a more effective way to answer the questions.

It’s a good strategy to take an angle with which you have a vested interest. Maybe you love hip-hop music, comic books, app development, human psychology, paranormal movies, or the Latin language. The theme you choose when answering the questions isn’t the important part. Instead, going with something you’re passionate about makes it easier to give a creative and thoughtful response that illustrates your interest in a particular area.

Are fast-food restaurants gas stations for humans? Is Antarctica a frozen ocean? Are books readable trees? Is checkers a sport? You get the idea. The University of Chicago wants you to see your originality, ingenuity, and ability to think outside the box. Don’t overthink your answer, but make sure it provokes some thinking. Resist the hesitation to look up a pre-existing statement or riddle since others might also take this route, making it less likely that you’ll stand out.

Start out by brainstorming and writing down any possibilities that come to your mind. You can always go back through and choose the one that catches your attention the most before you elaborate.

students sitting on a staircase while studying

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” – Jessamyn West
—Inspired by Elizabeth Mansfield, Class of 2020

If you have to reread this UChicago Supplemental Essay a few times to make sense of it, you’re not alone. Put in simple terms, this prompt is asking students to take a closer look at the relationship between fiction and truth. While that might clarify the topic of the essay, it certainly doesn’t give any clear direction. Like all of these oddball questions, you’re free to go in any direction that you want.

A great entry point for broaching this topic is by bringing up a recent or favorite piece of media or art that you consumed that made you question something you had previously believed about reality. For example, maybe a recent book you read by George Orwell made you reconsider how you look at the relationship between citizens and the government. Or, perhaps a Mark Twain piece made you think twice about how you view the media. You could even write about how a fictional movie about social issues shed some light on topics that you didn’t realize were an issue.

Whether you choose a movie, book, TV show, or work of art, you need to find a piece of fiction that reveals something to you about reality or truth. While this question is requesting that you talk about a certain work of fiction, the greater point is to explain how this piece of fiction influenced your perception of truth. Think about the critical role that these fictional works play in the lives of every person and society at large.

You don’t have to be a movie buff or book worm to answer this question. Everybody has had the experience of having their view of the world or perception of truth changed through a work of fiction. It’s all about showing how fiction can relate to truth. You’ve got a great response somewhere in the recesses of your mind! Now, you just have to fish it out.

UChicago has international campus centers around the world, but we don’t have any interplanetary, interstellar, or interdimensional campuses… yet! Propose a spot in time or space, in this or any universe, for a new UChicago campus. What types of courses would be taught at this site? What cultural experiences await students who study there?

—Inspired by Peter Jasperse, Class of 2022

You might have been lulled into assuming this question was a “typical” supplemental essay question after reading the first few words, but you realized it’s yet another quirky question when you saw “interplanetary, interstellar, or interdimensional.” Here’s an opportunity for you to break out your inner science-nerd and relay your passion for time-travel, parallel universes, and other fun science fiction themes.

With a prompt allowing you to choose any place in space and time to place another UChicago campus, it can be daunting to know where to begin. A great place to start is by asking yourself what time and place you would like to travel to and why. This not only makes it easier to think of something fun and creative, but it also makes it personal to you – making it easier to elaborate. While Hogwarts would be a great place to have another UChicago campus, you might want to choose something a little more unique to increase your chances of standing out.

You can also choose your location based on your area of study to tie in your academic interests into this fun question. Maybe you’re an aspiring astronomist who would want a UChicago campus somewhere in the Big Dipper constellation where the local culture would worship spoons and other cutlery. Perhaps you’re applying for a history program and you would want to have a university built next door to the Great Pyramids where all of the classes would be taught in hieroglyphics.

No matter what exciting and fascinating places you take the new UChicago campus, be sure to answer each part of the supplemental essay. You’ll need to talk about the different courses that will be taught and the cultural experiences that incoming students can expect to have. Keep it fresh, fun, and unique.

“Don’t be afraid to pick past prompts! I liked some of the ones from previous years more than those made newly available for my year. Also, don’t worry about the ‘correct’ way to interpret a question. If there exists a correct way to interpret the prompt I chose, it certainly was not my answer.”

—Matthew Lohrs, Class of 2023

a female student looking at the camera

In the spirit of adventurous inquiry (and with the encouragement of one of our current students!) choose one of our past prompts (or create a question of your own). Be original, creative, thought-provoking. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, a citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun!

If none of the prompts have sparked your interest thus far, you’re in luck! This prompt opens up ALL other past prompts from the UChicago Supplemental Essays. This isn’t meant to be an escape from the quirkiness of and creativity required by these questions though. Just a quick run through the additional prompts shows that these are thinkers as well. It’s a good idea to read through all of them even if another prompt has already caught your attention just to be sure that there’s not another one you’d rather answer. Find the one that speaks to you the most and that gets your mental cogs going.

AdmissionSight has helped countless students get into their dream college by helping them with each step of the admission process. Whether you need one-on-one counseling, essay editing services, or anything else, we’re here to help. Our team of dedicated admission specialists understands what it takes to get students into some of the best schools in the country. Please contact us today if you have any questions about our services or want to request a free consultation.


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