Our Favorite College Application Essay Prompts: University of Chicago 2019-20

A UChicago graduate describes it as "the college for kids who like school." Is that you?

Last year, the University of Chicago made a lot of news when it made requiring standardized test scores optional. YES, optional. Keep that in mind if you’re considering applying.

Every year, UChicago makes news when it posts its latest application essay prompts. And you don’t have to be a high school student applying to college to appreciate these inventive, challenging and utterly original essay prompts, honest!

They even made their way into a recent popular novel, My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley. The main character, an essay coach, asks one of his clients to look at three of the prompts for inspiration, even though she’s not applying there. Her reaction: “They’re not easy.” “That’s pretty much the point,” the coach replies.

Whether you’re planning to apply to U Chicago or not, you might find their new essay prompts – and their old ones, which applicants can choose from too! – a mind-tickling thrill.

And if can you ARE applying, I’m including the required first prompt too, so you know what’s expected. Neither has a word minimum or limit.

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.

Question 2: Extended Essay (Required; Choose one)

Essay Option 1

Cats have nine lives, Pac-Man has 3 lives, and radioactive isotopes have half-lives. How many lives does something else—conceptual or actual—have, and why?
—Inspired by Kedrick Shin, Class of 2019

Essay Option 2

If there’s a limited amount of matter in the universe, how can Olive Garden (along with other restaurants and their concepts of food infinity) offer truly unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks? Explain this using any method of analysis you wish—physics, biology, economics, history, theology… the options, as you can tell, are endless.
—Inspired by Yoonseo Lee, Class of 2023

Essay Option 3

A hot dog might be a sandwich, and cereal might be a soup, but is a ______ a ______?
—Inspired by Arya Muralidharan, Class of 2021 (and dozens of others who, this year and in past years, have submitted the question “Is a hot dog a sandwich,” to which we reply, “maybe”)

Essay Option 4

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” – Jessamyn West
—Inspired by Elizabeth Mansfield, Class of 2020

Essay Option 5

UChicago has international campus centers around the world, but we don’t have any interplanetary, interstellar, or interdimensional campuses… yet! Propose a spot in time or space, in this or any universe, for a new UChicago campus. What types of courses would be taught at this site? What cultural experiences await students who study there?
—Inspired by Peter Jasperse, Class of 2022

Essay Option 6

“Don’t be afraid to pick past prompts! I liked some of the ones from previous years more than those made newly available for my year. Also, don’t worry about the ‘correct’ way to interpret a question. If there exists a correct way to interpret the prompt I chose, it certainly was not my answer.”
—Matthew Lohrs, Class of 2023

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!

Some classic questions from previous years…

Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your new intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History… a full list of unmodified majors ready for your editor’s eye is available here.
—Inspired by Josh Kaufman, AB’18

Alice falls down the rabbit hole. Milo drives through the tollbooth. Dorothy is swept up in the tornado. Neo takes the red pill. Don’t tell us about another world you’ve imagined, heard about, or created. Rather, tell us about its portal. Sure, some people think of the University of Chicago as a portal to their future, but please choose another portal to write about.
—Inspired by Raphael Hallerman, Class of 2020

What’s so odd about odd numbers?
—Inspired by Mario Rosasco, AB’09

Vestigiality refers to genetically determined structures or attributes that have apparently lost most or all of their ancestral function, but have been retained during the process of evolution. In humans, for instance, the appendix is thought to be a vestigial structure. Describe something vestigial (real or imagined) and provide an explanation for its existence.
—Inspired by Tiffany Kim, Class of 2020


FOR MORE FROM THE UCHICAGO PAGE, CLICK HERE

Please send me an email or phone me (East Coast) for essay guidance: Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com 1-855-99-ESSAY