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University of Chicago 2023-24 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

University of Chicago 2023-24 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: 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

Exponents and square roots, pencils and erasers, beta decay and electron capture. Name two things that undo each other and explain why both are necessary.

– Inspired by Emmett Cho, Class of 2027

Ah, an essay about balance. Typos and autocorrect come to our mind immediately, and not just because our brains often think faster than our fingers can type! The examples admissions have provided do a great job of showing how you can take this idea in multiple directions and apply it to any discipline. What about pasta sauce and our Tide To Go pens? Not a day goes by that we’re not dreaming of penne alla vodka or pappardelle with arrabbiata and the resulting stains we’ll be wearing for the rest of the night! (Just us?) Use this prompt as a way to go deeper into one (or more) aspects of your life, and remember that the prompt is merely a springboard, a jumping off point. Don’t be afraid to write and see what comes of it—you can always backspace later to undo it!

Essay Option 2

“Where have all the flowers gone?” – Pete Seeger. Pick a question from a song title or lyric and give it your best answer.

– Inspired by Ryan Murphy, AB’21

Well, well, well, if this isn’t a fabulous prompt for art lovers and philosophers, alike. “What would you do?” (a thoughtful question asked by members of City High). “Are we out of the woods yet?” (a question repeated over and over by Taylor Swift).. “What’s love got to do with it?” (an evergreen inquiry from the great late Tina Turner). Think through some of your favorite tunes and select a question that strikes a chord within you (music puns!), then start writing. This is one of those prompts where your final product can vary greatly from your initial plan—or not! The important thing is not to rush the process; explore the question posed by an artist who has touched you, then leave yourself plenty of time to shape and finetune your writing into a polished essay worthy of submission to the University of Chicago. If you’re lucky, you can finish your draft weeks before it’s due. “Wouldn’t it be nice?” – The Beach Boys.

Essay Option 3

“Vlog,” “Labradoodle,” and “Fauxmage.” Language is filled with portmanteaus. Create a new portmanteau and explain why those two things are a “patch” (perfect match).

– Inspired by Garrett Chalfin, Class of 2027

This might just be our favorite prompt of this admissions season, since you can take it in just about any direction you like. If nothing comes immediately to mind, try taking a piece of paper and writing down a list of things you like to do or aspects of your identity that are important to you. This prompt is fantastic because you can use it to write an essay about two areas of your life that may not otherwise intersect in an obvious way and give admissions a chance to better understand who you are in the process! Maybe the two words you choose are “introvert” and “performer,” because the stage allows you to express yourself in ways you never would in day-to-day life, giving you “introformer”! (Which sounds like a really cool robot, just saying.) Or perhaps you are chomping at the bit to write an essay about your experience in the Atlanta ballroom dance community as a proud Latina. “Lattrot?” Whatever two aspects of your identity, personality, or background you choose to write about, remember to have fun with it – and UChicissions (UChicago admissions) will too!

Essay Option 4

A jellyfish is not a fish. Cat burglars don’t burgle cats. Rhode Island is not an island. Write an essay about some other misnomer, and either come up with and defend a new name for it or explain why its inaccurate name should be kept.

– Inspired by Sonia Chang, Class of 2025, and Mirabella Blair, Class of 2027

This playful, creative prompt will likely call to those who can think of a few examples off the top of their heads. Maybe you think of fireflies, which aren’t flies (or fire for that matter) at all, but beetles. Do you think they should be renamed accordingly, since words and categorization matter? Or do you think “fireflies” should be kept, since the name has become something bigger than the bug itself, and no one will think fondly of summers at their grandmother’s house catching “luminescent beetles”? Ultimately, your argument will (hopefully) show admissions how your brain works and pepper in a few insights as to the kinds of things you hold dear along the way.

Essay Option 5

Despite their origins in the Gupta Empire of India or Ancient Egypt, games like chess or bowling remain widely enjoyed today. What modern game do you believe will withstand the test of time, and why?

– Inspired by Adam Heiba, Class of 2027

Calling all game-fanatics: this is the perfect opportunity to wax poetic about your favorite pastime! Whether you’re convinced that Dungeons and Dragons is here to stay or that cyborgs will be playing Uno in space station community halls in 2123, this is the opportunity for you to make your case. Now, there are some pitfalls that come with this prompt, so beware. Although admissions is asking about games, they really want to get to know the player behind the game (i.e. YOU). Use this prompt to offer admissions more insight into who you are and what makes you tick. Don’t slip down the slope of dedicating too many words to explaining rules and intricacies; instead, reflect on why you love the games you do and why you think gameplay is important to humanity or what is required to withstand the test of time. 

Essay Option 6

There are unwritten rules that everyone follows or has heard at least once in their life. But of course, some rules should be broken or updated. What is an unwritten rule that you wish didn’t exist? (Our custom is to have five new prompts each year, but this year we decided to break with tradition. Enjoy!)

– Inspired by Maryam Abdella, Class of 2026

This prompt option will likely jump out to those who have been questioning the silly little things humans do since they were toddlers. Well, here’s your chance to call us out. Maybe you’ve always been an incredibly direct person and consistently puzzled by the way the people in your community communicate between the lines. Or, perhaps there is just one unwritten rule that you’d like to strike down for the rest of eternity (NO MORE TALKING TO STRANGERS ON HIKING TRAILS!). See how you can finesse your response to reveal more information about your interests, goals, and character through an unsavory unspoken cultural agreement.

Essay Option 7

And, as always… the classic choose your own adventure option! In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, 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! 😊

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State: Illinois
Acceptance Rate: 7%
Undergrad Population: 7,653
Tuition: $63,801
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