When was UChicago Founded?

August 21, 2023
By AdmissionSight
University of Chicago campus

When was UChicago Founded?

When was UChicago founded? Though legally established in 1890, the University of Chicago was originally founded by the American Baptist Education Society and oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, who later described the university as “the best investment I ever made.” This founding took place during a period right after the Civil War when many new academic institutions were being established across the United States.

On October 1, 1892, the first day of school, the university opened its doors to 594 students and employed a staff of 120 teachers. Uniquely, the university was organized around graduate research institutions, a structure similar to Germanic universities, setting it apart from most other American universities of the time, except for Johns Hopkins University. Until around the mid-twentieth century, the University of Chicago remained relatively small compared to its East Coast contemporaries.

A result of this structure is that the graduate student population currently outnumbers the undergraduate students by a factor of two. Since UChicago’s founding, the university continues to have one of the smallest undergraduate student bodies among the top 10 national universities and boasts one of the lowest student-to-faculty ratios, with a 4:1 ratio. All faculty members are expected to teach undergraduate courses.

In the 1930s, the university embarked on a successful experiment to reshape its college education. Embracing President Hutchins’ ideology of Secular Perennialism, the institution developed the “common core” curriculum, emphasizing reading primary sources and Socratic dialogue over textbook learning and traditional lectures. This approach remains a vital part of undergraduate education in Chicago.

Additionally, the university sought to eliminate so-called “distractions” from campus life, including varsity athletics, fraternities, and religious organizations. It successfully removed all varsity sports for 20 years and all but four fraternities. This move attracted free-thinkers such as Carl Sagan and Kurt Vonnegut and helped to further shape the unique educational culture of the University of Chicago.

Students walking in the hallway of the school.

Since the time UChicago was founded, the university has made substantial contributions to the scientific community throughout the 20th century, in addition to the positive impact it had on higher education. The now-famous oil-drop experiment was carried out at Ryerson University in 1909 by Professor Robert Millikan in the Ryerson Physical Laboratory on the campus of the institution. Millikan was able to determine the charge that an electron carries as a result of this experiment, which laid the path for the development of quantum mechanics in the 1940s. The Ryerson Laboratory has been given the distinction of being a historic physics site by the American Physical Society.

What is UChicago Known for?

The undergraduate major in economics has been the most popular choice among students who have declared a major at the University of Chicago. This field of study was chosen by 24.04% of students, which is equivalent to 895 individuals.

Even further, the economics major was picked by more students than the combined total of the next two most popular majors, biological science and mathematics. Math and biological science are, respectively, the second and third most popular majors. 10.37% of students, or 386 individuals, claimed that they would pursue a degree in biology. On the other hand, 10.34% of students, or 385 individuals, would pursue a major in mathematics.

At the University of Chicago, students can choose from more than 50 distinct majors and over 40 different minors, in addition to a large number of specialized and pre-professional programs. These options serve as a supplement to the school’s basic Core Curriculum.

USC students talking and walking in the campus.

Since UChicago’s founding in 1890, it has been widely recognized, in addition to the various academic programs it offers, as one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the United States in terms of the quality of its undergraduate research opportunities. In addition to this, the scope of the school’s research activities extends all the way to the international level.

As a result of the establishment of additional campuses in Delhi, Hong Kong, Paris, London, and Beijing, the University of Chicago has solidified its position as a preeminent intellectual institution in many parts of the world.

The University of Chicago’s numerous centers and facilities act as hubs for distinguished professionals across virtually all areas of academic research and study. The university’s students, faculty, and alumni are often in the news for pioneering research in diverse fields such as cancer prevention, social justice advocacy, fashion, international politics, and more.

As of the 2022 edition of US News and World Report’s annual college guide, the University of Chicago is tied for sixth place among all universities in the United States. Furthermore, it has earned the distinction of being the number-one university in the country for military veterans. Admission to the institution is highly competitive, with an average incoming freshman having a high school GPA of 4.2 out of 4.0, reflecting near-perfect grades. This rigor is further evidenced by the university’s low acceptance rate of just 7% of applicants.

These figures reflect the University of Chicago’s commitment to accepting only those students who excel in their field. Opportunities for students to engage in research and receive a comprehensive education in their chosen subjects are abundant at all three levels of study: major, minor, and concentration.

The university’s Core Curriculum emphasizes the importance of free speech and expression, inspiring students to explore, understand, and address the most pressing academic, social, and political challenges of our time.

In addition to its demanding research and academic programs, since the time UChicago was founded, its approach to undergraduate education stands out as exceptional. This excellence is underscored by the impressive 94 Nobel Prize laureates who have graduated from the institution.


Since its establishment in 1890, the University of Chicago has been responsible for the establishment of a variety of noteworthy customs.

One of these is the Scavenger Hunt, which holds the record for being the biggest hunt of its kind in the entire globe. The University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt, also known as ScavHunt, has been an essential part of the culture of the university ever since it was first held in 1987. The event, which takes place over the course of four days in the month of May each year, is held annually. The four-day Scavenger Hunt involves a wide range of activities in addition to the typical list of clues to solve or items to find. These activities include the Scavenger Olympics, a road trip, and a blood drive.

The University of Chicago Medical Center receives the blood donations that are collected during the ScavHunt Drive.

The golden seal that is located on the Reynolds Club floor is the subject of a persistent urban legend that has been passed down through generations at the University of Chicago. The design of the seal, which shows a phoenix rising from the ashes, is meant to make a reference to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the subsequent revitalization of the city. Any student who breaks this tradition by stepping on the seal will, according to the lore, be unable to complete their education in the standard four years.

The Reynolds Club is involved in more school rituals than just the ritual involving the seal. Students get the chance to purchase a milkshake from the Club for only one dollar during Dollar Shake Days, which are held every Wednesday. These days are hosted by the Club.

Extracurricular Activities

More than 400 recognized student organizations (also known as RSOs) are available to students at the University of Chicago, and those students have the opportunity to join any of those organizations if they so choose. The University of Chicago offers a wide variety of extracurricular activities, some of which are club athletics, performance groups, and Greek life.

RBIM stands for Rhythmic Bodies in Motion and is the name of one of the most well-known registered student organizations (RSOs) at the college.

RBIM is the largest student dance organization on campus, and it regularly hosts showcase performances featuring a variety of dance forms. These styles include tango, jazz, tap, and hip-hop, among others.

Two people dancing in the stage.

Auditions are done in the fall of each year for the annual spring showcase is performed in the spring. RBIM also has a subset of students who play at various campus events throughout the academic year. This subgroup is open to students who are interested in becoming active in this organization in ways that go beyond the yearly showcase.

The Greek life programs at the University of Chicago are expanding, and there are currently over 20 distinct sororities and fraternities on campus. None of the four sororities at this school have their own residences, in contrast to the majority of the school’s fraternities, who all have houses off campus.

Phi Gamma Delta, popularly known as FIJI, is one of the most well-known and successful fraternities at the University of Chicago. It is particularly well-known among the university’s football players.

What Major is UChicago Known for?

The college’s residential and educational experience is built on the community that students form by attending classes together and learning from both instructors and fellow students in various social and intellectual settings. The college expects students to attend all the classes for which they have registered, reflecting on how UChicago was founded, with the intention of fostering a collaborative learning environment.

Female student smiling at the camera.

UChicago holds the belief that successful education at the college level depends, to a considerable part, on consistent attendance at classes and laboratories. The following are among the most common choices for students at the University of Chicago:

Econometrics and Quantitative Economics

Students are provided with the fundamental resources necessary to comprehend the workings of a contemporary economy through the study of economics.

UChicago wants to familiarize its students with economic models of individuals as consumers and producers, price determination through the interaction of individuals in markets, and models of income and employment determination.

In addition, we want to develop our students’ basic skills so that they can test the predictions made by these models against their knowledge of the real world. This information about the real world can be reconstructed using data from existing cross-sections or time series, as well as information gleaned via experiments and the individuals’ own observations.

Public Policy Analysis

The field of Public Policy Studies is interdisciplinary in nature, with its roots in the social sciences. However, it also draws heavily from the fields of economics, sociology, political science, and law, amongst others.

The major acknowledges that traditional disciplinary borders do not neatly encapsulate public issues and that analysts who possess a wide variety of social science understanding, quantitative expertise, and communication skills are well-positioned to contribute to improved public policies. The study of public policy requires direct engagement with policy concerns. This engagement helps to ensure that academic hypotheses are well-informed and connected to actual world realities.

Political Science and Government

The study of governments, public policy, political processes, political conduct, and ideas about government and politics are all topics that fall under the purview of political science. When studying the political dynamics of any country or location in the globe, whether ancient or modern, political scientists employ a wide range of methodological approaches, including both humanistic and scientific points of view, as well as a variety of theoretical frameworks.

Three students using a laptop in a table.

As UChicago was founded to have a liberal arts core, the study of political science is an important component of a liberal education. It teaches students concepts, methods, and knowledge that assist them in comprehending and evaluating politics both inside nations and between them.

Experimental Psychology

The study of the mental states and processes that give rise to behavior is what is referred to as psychology. It investigates the fundamental mechanisms and roles of perceptual processing, cognitive processing, emotional processing, and attitude formation in the context of guiding behavior. Despite the fact that it focuses on the human level, individual behavior is dependent on the social interactions and structures in which people are embedded as well as the biological systems that we are constituted of.

As a result, the study of psychology spans a diverse range of subject areas that share similarities with a variety of other academic fields within the social and biological sciences. The requirements of the major are meant to familiarize students with the research methodologies that psychologists utilize and to give a foundation of fundamental knowledge encompassing the major fields of psychology. Both of these goals are intended to be accomplished by the students.


The development of ideas and methods for modeling uncertainty, as well as for organizing experiments, surveys, and observational programs, as well as evaluating and interpreting empirical data, are all part of the current study of statistics as a scientific discipline.

The use of mathematics is essential to the study of statistics in all of its subfields, from probability theory to data analysis. Students who are strong in their mathematical and computational abilities and who have an interest in applying these abilities to challenges in the natural and social sciences should consider studying statistics as a potential topic of study.

Want to learn more about how UChicago was founded? Or do you need help putting the finishing touches on your college applications?  At AdmissionSight, we have over 10 years of experience guiding students through the competitive admissions process

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