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University of Chicago 2021-22 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Please note this is the guide for the 2021-22 essay prompts. As soon as the 2022-23 prompts are available, we will be updating this guide -- stay tuned!

Regular Decision: 

University of Chicago 2021-22 Application Essay Question Explanations

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?

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)

Essay Option 1

What if the moon were made of cheese? Or Neptune made of soap? Pick a celestial object, reimagine its material composition, and explore the implications. Feel free to explore the realms of physics, philosophy, fantasy…the sky is the limit!

—Inspired by Tate Flicker, Class of 2025

Your answer to this prompt should ultimately speak to your passions. Maybe Jupiter is made up entirely of salt water because you can’t think of anything cooler than alien sharks (and you’re an aspiring marine biologist). Perhaps Saturn is made up of string because you recently discovered a love for knitting and you would take full advantage of this bountiful new resource. If Pluto is made up of trampolines, would you take your love of gymnastics to new heights? (We’re too punny!)

Whatever the celestial object is made of, it has to link to some kind of story or revelation about yourself. You need to know what you’re choosing, why you’re choosing it, and how it relates to something about you that admissions doesn’t yet know.


Essay Option 2

What’s so easy about pie?

—Inspired by Arjun Kalia, Class of 2025

You could take this prompt as face value and literally write about pie. Maybe you’re a novice baker or pie serves as the centerpiece of all of your family reunions. Does pie smooth out  social interactions with your relatives? (Who can question you about your career path and life goals when they have a mouthful of delicious pumpkin pie in their mouth?!) 

On the other hand, maybe this prompt isn’t about pie at all. Or, if it is, perhaps you don’t think there’s anything easy about pie. This prompt can be interpreted in a hundred different ways. The extent to which you can push this open-ended question is virtually limitless. Admissions is looking to see how you think, process, and approach. So, flex your imaginative muscles and take the metaphor off a cliff (in a good way). In the end, if this prompt doesn’t speak to you, don’t worry, there are plenty of others to choose from!


Essay Option 3

In Homer’s Iliad, Helen had a “face that launched a thousand ships.” A millihelen, then, measures the beauty needed to launch one ship. The Sagan unit is used to denote any large quantity (in place of “billions and billions”). A New York Minute measures the period of time between a traffic light turning green and the cab behind you honking. Invent a new unit of measurement. How is it derived? How is it used? What are its equivalents?

—Inspired by Carina Kane, Class of 2024, and Ishaan Goel, Class of 2025

This question can be reflective of so many aspects of your life. It can refer to a subject that you enjoy studying, a place that is important to you, or a hobby you’ve invested a lot of time into. This prompt is meant for fun, so don’t hesitate to tap into your comedian side or engage in wordplay. Are the hours between dinner and twilight the “construction-zone,” as you try makeup tutorials in your free time? (Repurposed phrases are encouraged!) If this prompt appeals to you, your answer will become abundantly clear. What do you want admissions to know about you? You can make almost any topic work for this prompt, so long as you have the proper segue.

We here at CEA have a different definition of a New York Minute, which is the time it takes a New Yorker to mute the monitor in the backseat after getting into a cab. If we were responding to this prompt, we might explore what it’s like to grow up in a city filled with distractions or what it’s like to be part of a super fast-paced environment. 

The new unit of measurement you invent could be the octave your mom manages to reach when breaking into one of her hyena laughs (her “wild-note”), or the force in which your dog is able to wag his tail and knock over literally everything (the “demolition-wag”). Let your mind wander and see what comes up for you!


Essay Option 4

“There is no such thing as a new idea” – Mark Twain. Are any pieces of art, literature, philosophy, or technology truly original, or just a different combination of old ideas? Pick something, anything (besides yourself), and explain why it is, or is not, original.

—Inspired by Haina Lu, Class of 2022

This prompt is for all the creatives out there. Like the rest of the University of Chicago’s prompts, it doesn’t really matter which side you take, so long as you’re using the prompt to write about something that is important to you. Maybe you want to write about recent social justice movements like Black Lives Matter or #MeToo. Are they introducing new ideas? Not necessarily. Does that mean they’re not important for us to engage with and pay attention to? Absolutely not. 

You can also argue that everything is new. Sure, every piece of music is composed of the same notes, but those notes can be arranged in an infinite number of ways, evoking joy with that classic G-major and melancholy with those minor keys. You could argue that, every time you play a song, it’s for the first time because it will never be played exactly the same way twice. Or you could argue that ideas are reflective of the times in which they are introduced, and thus, they’re always brand new because they’re explored through the lens of a new chapter in history. If this prompt calls to you, follow the sound, and we’re sure you’ll come up with something great (and maybe even new)!


Essay Option 5

It’s said that history repeats itself. But what about other disciplines? Choose another field (chemistry, philosophy, etc.) and explain how it repeats itself. Explain how it repeats itself.

—Inspired by Ori Brian, AB’19

This prompt serves you with a fun, creative way to nerd out about an intellectual interest of yours. However, what you choose to focus on doesn’t have to be something related to your major or long-term goals; it can just show admissions that you’re multifaceted and think about things creatively.

Maybe you’re a music-lover and want to write about how lyrics or choruses repeat themselves. Or, perhaps, you’re an avid reader and you’ve read or seen the plot of Pride and Prejudice at least seven times (each time with a different title and new characters, despite being the same storyline). Maybe you’re a science geek and want to talk about asexual bacteria and how it replicates/repeats itself all the time. So long as you’re having fun while responding to this prompt, you’re doing it right!


Essay Option 6

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, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun!

We love all the prompts from the past—there are so many quirky ones! If this year’s questions aren’t inspiring you, don’t be afraid to peruse the archives to find one that stands out to you. If you belong at UChicago, there is no doubt you will find a prompt that sparks a story within you. 

We’d also like to note that this is a great opportunity for recycling essays. If you wrote a strong longform essay for another school, see if any of the old prompts work in your favor, or make up your own question custom-built for your essay. Good luck! 😊

We try our best to make sure our guides are as up to date as possible, but we still recommend confirming each prompt and word count with the school in question.
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