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Supplement Monday: University of Chicago Application Essay Topics

by Story2 Guest Author, on Aug 5, 2013 1:19:00 PM

To help you tackle the many supplement essays you’ll have to write this fall, we are giving you essay tips on writing a different college’s supplement application essays each Monday. Last Monday, we wrote about the Tufts supplement essays. This week, we are tackling the University of Chicago supplement.

The University of Chicago is infamous for it’s bizarrely intellectual essay topics. Since the school has arguably the nation’s most rigorous undergraduate curriculum, this makes sense. The University of Chicago admissions committee uses these essays as a screen to see if students have the quirkiness and intellectual curiosity that will make them a great fit for school.

Last week, Business Insider interviewed University of Chicago admissions officer Garrett Brinker on how students can answer the school’s admissions essays. One piece of advice Brinker offered that beared repeating: “Some good essays are funny, others are serious, and still others are sarcastic, witty, and deeply personal, all at the same time. But overall, our favorite essays are ones that are thoughtful and truly tell us something about you as an individual.” Here are a few tips for how you can make sure you write University of Chicago supplement essays that tell the admissions committee something about yourself.

Essay One: 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.

This is just your classic, “Tell us why you want to attend College X” essay. As such, it’s important you don’t fall into the trap of writing an admissions essay that is about the University of Chicago. Remember, admissions officers already know about their school, they want to know about you.

The first part of this question asks how the University of Chicago satisfies “your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future?” The word particular means they want you to dive deep into one reason you are really excited to attend the University of Chicago. Remember, this is a school that values intellectual curiosity. To answer this prompt effectively, you need to do your research and figure out a unique offering that draws you to the University of Chicago. Then, you have to connect this offering to “your own wishes.” In other words, you need to explain how attending the University of Chicago allows you to build on your past interests. Remember, this essay should be two-thirds about you and one-third about the University of Chicago.

Essay Two (Optional): Share with us a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music, musicians, performers, paintings, artists, blogs, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed, or add a category of your own.

Remember, the University of Chicago values students who are intellectually motivated and curious. If you don’t answer this question, you are essentially saying that you don’t have a favorite book, poem, author, film, play, etc... That’s a giant red flag in the intellectual curiosity department. To avoid this issue, answer the optional question.

Even though this question says you should “share a few” of your favorite “books, poems, authors...” it’s better to focus on your connection to one of these interests and explain what you did as a result of reading this book or watching that movie. Showing an admissions committee how you have taken action in the past will make you stand out. Telling an admissions committee what you thought as you read a certain book will make you seem like the other 50 students that also enjoyed reading the Great Gatsby in AP English Language.

Question Three: Just like Tufts, the University of Chicago lets you pick from six essay prompts for your third essay. Rather than explain all six options, I’m going to go into detail on the quirkiest of these prompts.

Essay Option Six: So where is Waldo, really?

While writing a 500-word essay about Waldo might not seem like your idea of a good time, take the advice of University of Chicago admissions officer David Brinker: “[I]f students have fun writing [their essays], we will have fun reading them." When you face a prompt as bizarre as “Where’s Waldo?” you have a ton of creative liberty. Use it to your advantage. For more advice on how to answer this specific prompt, I talked to our CEO Carol Barash. Here’s what she said:

“With a prompt like, “Where’s Waldo?” it’s very easy to get lost in your ideas. The two biggest mistakes students make writing college essays are staying too general and writing about thoughts rather than actions. Use a narrative technique that allows you to tell the story through your unique perspective and in your authentic voice. Focus on specific moments to show readers who you really are. Finally, use the essay as an opportunity to make a specific connection to the University of Chicago. This will show the admissions committee that you have done your research on the school and have a specific reason why you want to attend the university.”

Want to see examples of other essays that worked (incuding an essay from the University of Chicago)? Click here. 

Zach taught 11th Grade U.S. History in Holly Springs, Mississippi through Teach For America. Before TFA, Zach graduated from Princeton University where he received a degree in History, and served as sports editor of the Daily Princetonian and captain of the junior varsity tennis team. Zach spent two summers in college working with Worldwide Orphans Foundation in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he co-directed a day camp for over 200 children living with HIV.

Topics:college admission