We thought you might.
Psssst! Hello to all you early birds checking out last year’s prompts! Since University of Chicago released new prompts in early July last year, we are expecting to have this page updated around the same time this year. We’ll keep you posted!
In the meantime, feel free to familiarize yourselves with last year’s prompts. There’s a good chance they’ll stay the same for the 2019-20 admissions season.
The Requirements: 2 essays of 1-2 pages each
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?
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.
We live in a world of stuff, so this prompt is the perfect point of entry to almost any story you want to tell, from a childhood anecdote to a professional experience. On this oddball supplement, this is probably the closest thing you’ll get to a topic of your choice. You can probably back almost any preconceived idea into this prompt. And if you have NO idea what to write about, the constraints of this prompt offer an excellent starting point. In fact, digging through old stuff is one of our favorite ways to brainstorm. So throw open the junk drawers, claw through your bookcase, and troll the attic for forgotten boxes! The physical items we accumulate reveal a lot about the experiences that formed us and the routines that keep us going. Maybe you will unearth an old babydoll that you named and nurtured as a child — and now you want to be a pediatrician! Why not send a thank you note? Or perhaps you’ll pen some hate mail to the last loathsome packet of rubber bands for your braces. Don’t be afraid of the mundane artifacts of your daily life. The more you interact with an object, the more stories you’ll be able to tell about it. And it’s those specific details that will make your story vivid and memorable.
This prompt is not for the faint of heart (clearly!). History buffs, physicists, and philosophers alike may feel inspired. (Not to mention the aspiring science fiction writers among you.) But if this prompt leaves you scratching your head, please don’t hesitate to continue on down the list. Nothing feels worse than trying to force creativity. At its core, this prompt is a creative writing assignment. It asks you to imagine the impossible in a context that none of us have lived through. So while the constraints are clear, the possibilities are as infinite as the abyss you’re falling into. (Or maybe it’s not an abyss! Maybe it’s Orion’s belt! Or the collective unconscious!) But even as you venture into the unknown, chart your course. Give yourself some time to freewrite and outline the basic direction of your story. Even though this is a highly creative exercise, remember that you should still be driving towards a point. You should still aim to reveal something new to admissions about how you see the world, what you know, and/or what it’s like to be inside your brain.
Shout out to all the multilingual mavericks and aspiring linguists in the house! This prompt will likely strike a chord with those of you who have a knack for words or who grew up with families that spoke more than one language (or both!), but it’s also accessible to everyone. It provides an opportunity for you to delve into the languages and cultures that have had an impact on your life. But it also pushes you further, to describe some feeling or situation that is beyond words. Perhaps you create a word that is a mashup of your parents’ languages to describe the love you feel for your grandparents even though you don’t speak their language. Or maybe you coin a new Elvish term for the first lick of a fresh batch of homemade ice cream. The point is: get hyper-specific! Your word can be as long as (or longer than) the behemoth that inspired this prompt, so layer on the prefixes and suffixes until you arrive at a term that could perfectly describe some aspect of your personal experience — and no one else’s.
If you’re getting déjà vu, don’t worry. You haven’t seen this prompt before, but it is very similar to the previous option about inventing a new word. In this case, though, your task is less linguistic and more mechanical. What is a problem, big or small, that you’d like to solve? What forbidden area would you like to enter? What silence would you like to disrupt? Once you’ve figure out your what, you can move on to the how. And notice that the form is just important as the content of your spell; in other words, it’s not just about what you say, but also how you say it. These are the your ingredients (or variables, if you’d prefer) you have to play around with in this essay. So have fun, get a little messy, and take any chance you get to work in some additional information about yourself. Maybe you are a night owl who absolutely can’t look into the sun without sneezing (yes, it’s a thing) so your spell is an incantation. You chant, “Ah, ah, ah -” to drag the sun just below the horizon before you finish up “-choo.” Or perhaps you’d like to help your parents with your new baby brother without actually confronting a dirty diaper. What little rhyme would you cook up to conjure a real-life diaper genie?
This goes out to the visual thinkers in the house — from art to math and physics. If you’ve ever thought, “I’d rather draw my college essay,” this is the answer to your prayers. While this may feel like a catch-all prompt, it’s got some pretty sneaky constraints! So if you’re looking for something like a “topic of your choice” option, circle back to option 1. To address this prompt, ask yourself: What is the first impression you would want to make wherever you go? What fact feels appropriately unique without being TMI? It’s your job to reveal — through your art or infographic or lengthy calculation — something that is both new and essential. Maybe you’re vegan and want people to know and understand your dietary restrictions before they meet you; create a flowchart to help people decide what to offer you and understand the reasons behind your dietary restrictions. Perhaps your name is tricky for American tongues and you’re sick of correcting people; sketch out a hilarious comic of the conversation you never want to have again. Of course your creation can be more abstract than didactic. What would be hard for people to guess just from looking at you? What doesn’t admissions already know?