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University of Chicago 2018-19 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

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.

University of Chicago 2018-19 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.

Question 2: Extended Essay (Required; Choose one). 1 or 2 page response.

Essay Option 1
In 2015, the city of Melbourne, Australia created a “tree-mail” service, in which all of the trees in the city received an email address so that residents could report any tree-related issues. As an unexpected result, people began to email their favorite trees sweet and occasionally humorous letters. Imagine this has been expanded to any object (tree or otherwise) in the world, and share with us the letter you’d send to your favorite.

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.

Essay Option 2
You’re on a voyage in the thirteenth century, sailing across the tempestuous seas. What if, suddenly, you fell off the edge of the Earth?

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.

Essay Option 3
The word floccinaucinihilipilification is the act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant or of having no value. It originated in the mid-18th century from the Latin words “floccus,” “naucum,” “nihilum,” and “pilus”—all words meaning “of little use.” Coin your own word using parts from any language you choose, tell us its meaning, and describe the plausible (if only to you) scenarios in which it would be most appropriately used.

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.

Essay Option 4
Lost your keys? Alohomora. Noisy roommate? Quietus. Feel the need to shatter windows for some reason? Finestra. Create your own spell, charm, jinx, or other means for magical mayhem. How is it enacted? Is there an incantation? Does it involve a potion or other magical object? If so, what’s in it or what is it? What does it do?

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?

Essay Option 5
Imagine you’ve struck a deal with the Dean of Admissions himself, Dean Nondorf. It goes as follows: you’re guaranteed admission to the University of Chicago regardless of any circumstances that arise. This bond is grounded on the condition that you’ll obtain a blank, 8.5 x 11 piece of paper, and draw, write, sketch, shade, stencil, paint etc., anything and everything you want on it; your only limitations will be the boundaries of both sides on the single page. Now the catch… your submission, for the rest of your life, will always be the first thing anyone you meet for the first time will see. Whether it’s at a job interview, a blind date, arrival at your first Humanities class, before you even say, “hey,” they’ll already have seen your page, and formulated that first impression. Show us your page. What’s on it, and why? If your piece is largely or exclusively visual, please make sure to share a creator’s accompanying statement of at least 300 words, which we will happily allow to be on its own, separate page.    

PS: This is a creative thought experiment, and selecting this essay prompt does not guarantee your admission to UChicago.

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?

Please note: the information below relates to last year's essay prompts. We are going to update this guide with the prompts for 2021-22 as soon as they become available. Check back soon!
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