This is a prompt that appears every year. This essay really poses the highest risk but also the highest potential reward. Writing your own question allows you to write an innovative essay that either tackles a difficult or controversial topic (for example, our founder Vinay Bhaskara’s essay tackled why mainstream Hollywood films are more valuable than seemingly more intellectual independent films), or presents the information with a unique format (such as a conversation with a dead historical figure).
Using a prompt from past years also allows you to write an essay that is thematically and tonally different from many other applicants (as they will mostly be writing about the first five prompts offered above).
Generally speaking, your best payoff to this essay comes if you want to try something unconventional, such as writing an essay that describes the four years of high school as Hell, Purgatory, Paradise, and Heaven, and is written in the style of the divine comedy.
There are a variety of possibilities here ranging from the idiotic (you probably don’t want to write your own variation on the alt-right’s platform referring to events in your high school life) to the (relatively) overdone — they’ve probably seen several essays that have been written in iambic pentameter as an ode to Chaucer.
And we’ll reiterate the note above: This type of essay has the highest variance in terms of outcome. If done well, an unconventional essay can captivate the right admissions counselor in a way that no conventional essay can. Conversely, if the essay is executed poorly or even if it isn’t, your essay may go over the admissions counselor’s head or bore them. So this is only a strategy that you should try if you are confident in your abilities and have at least a couple of sources of high-quality feedback.
This is also an optimal prompt for truly diving into an academic passion, particularly if it is of an advanced level or unique tenor. For example, if you know a lot about Soviet cars produced between 1957 and 1983, then writing a custom prompt that allows you to explore that passion may be easier than trying to bend that topic to match one of the prompts provided.
As with any academically oriented essay, you do want to make sure that any jargon you use is made clear, either via explicit explanation or context clues. You shouldn’t shy away from jargon — it’s one of the things that helps position you as an expert on the subject of your essay. But you don’t want to render the essay unintelligible to your reader.
One broader note on writing your own prompt — it doesn’t have to be as complex or convoluted as the other UChicago prompts, and you mainly just want to find a prompt that matches the essay that you want to write, even if it is straightforward.
We wish you the best of luck writing your UChicago essay!
If you’d like assistance on your essay, learn about our essay editing program.
The UChicago supplemental essays might throw you off at first. The questions are strange, quirky, thought-provoking, and definitely daunting. You may not have thought of anything like these questions before, but that's okay! The UChicago supplements are a great chance for you to step back from the typical admissions process, think about something different, and express yourself creatively.
For the UChicago supplement, you'll have to write two essays: one answering a quirky prompt and the second explaining why you want to go to UChicago. I'll explain how to approach each essay below.
I. The Uncommon Essay
When you take a look at the uncommon essay questions, you should laugh. The essays are meant to be fun, creative, quirky, and thought-provoking. Keep in mind the Admissions Office explains:
"We think of them as an opportunity for students to tell us about themselves, their tastes, and their ambitions. They can be approached with utter seriousness, complete fancy, or something in between."
Here are some tips to help you write an original and successful supplemental essay. I've included an example with each tip to show you how I'd approach the prompts.
1. Pick the essay topic that gets you most excited.
You have five essay options or the chance to make your own topic. Unless you have a really creative idea, pick one of the five set prompts. Read through all the essay prompts before picking one. Do any of them strike you immediately as interesting or get you excited and thinking? Eliminate any prompts that don't excite you and then brainstorm how you'd approach the remaining prompts. Pick the essay topic that gets you the most excited to write, think, and creatively make an argument or tell a story.
For example, I'm most excited about approaching Essay #1, because I love dissecting jokes and think I have some great starting ideas for it, so I would choose that prompt.
2. Answer the question.
You're applying to colleges, so you might think you should talk about yourself and your extra-curricular activities, like in a typical personal statement. That won't work here! It seems obvious, but be sure you're answering the essay question!
For example, if I were writing Essay Question #3, I would make sure I've answered all three parts of the question, so ultimately, the admissions officer would have an idea of what I think history is, who "they" are, and what "they" aren't telling us.
3. Tell a coherent story or develop an argument.
The strongest essays will tell a clear story or develop an argument with evidence. The admissions officers will be learning about you by seeing how you construct this argument or how you incorporate characters and language to tell your story. Be detailed and thoughtful about each part of your argument or story.
For example, if I answered Essay Question #4, I might write from the perspective of the mantis shrimp about how he sees the world, or tell the story of a scientist who creates mantis shrimp "goggles" and sees the world for the first time like a shrimp.
4. Sneak in parts about you.
Be sure you answer the question, but... you can (and should) sneak in things that are important to you, too! Use the question as a launching pad to explore parts about yourself that you haven't addressed in your common app or the "Why UChicago" essay in a way that works. When you're brainstorming and outlining your essay, make sure the argument or story reflects something that's important to you or important about you. Remember though, it's more important to make a strong argument with clear thoughts than to write about every sport you've ever played or every place you've traveled.
For example, if I were writing Essay Question #2, I might write about how "I am I and I am my thoughts" and reflect philosophically (maybe include thoughts from philosophers), because I love philosophy (and wanted to study that at UChicago -- and did).
5. Be creative!
There's no wrong answer or incorrect approach for these prompts. Be creative, use descriptive language, and have fun! The goal of the essay is for the admissions officers to see how you think and creatively solve problems. If you're a poet and think an answer works best as a poem, do it! A Platonic dialogue? Why not! But, be sure to be creative in a way that you're comfortable with, so you write the strongest essay possible for you.
For example, I might write Question #5 as a dinner conversation between a chemist, linguist, philosopher, and statistician about how to compare apples and oranges.
II. Why UChicago?
The second supplemental essay should be much easier than the first, but that doesn't mean you can slack off. The admissions officers read hundreds of these essays and they see many of the same responses: The Core! The quirky intellectual vibe! The beautiful campus! Living in a city! Here are some tips for standing out.
1. Really do your research on what makes UChicago unique.
Highlight the reasons you want to go to UChicago that make UChicago uniquely UChicago. Lots of schools, for example, have some liberal arts requirements, but only UChicago offers a huge range within each core requirement. Do your research and then explain why the unique aspects of the college make it your top choice. The college admissions website is a great place to learn more about what makes UChicago special.
2. Find UChicago professors, classes, fields of study, and research that excites you.
Look up the websites for the fields that interest you at UChicago. You can usually find a list of professors, graduate students, upcoming and past classes, and research specialities. You can even take a look at the course catalog to see what's currently being offered for undergraduates and graduates in every field. In your essay, highlight professors' work that excites you or specific classes you'd love to take (not "Intro to..." classes, but workshops like, "I-Thou and the Subject of Psychoanalysis").
3. Show how you would get involved and contribute to UChicago.
UChicago is looking for students who will make the college community even better than it already is. Find UChicago-specific extracurriculars that you're interested in and explain how you would contribute to that group. Is there something you think UChicago is missing? Tell the admissions officers what group you think UChicago should start and how you love that UChicago lets students grow their own on-campus activities (though make sure it really doesn't already exist, because almost everything does!).
4. Mention study abroad programs, travel grants, and research opportunities that interest you.
Research the study abroad programs, travel grants, research opportunities, and other unique programs UChicago offers. If any of these interest you, explain why you think UChicago's flag grants, for example, would help you get a head start on your future research and career goals.
5. Be specific and be sincere!
But really, why UChicago? Because you're quirky, you love to learn, you spend way too much time falling through the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia, you want to learn Econ from the masters, you... Let your sincere feelings about the college shine through!