Essay Scoop: University of Chicago Essays

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Julia de Raadt
Julia de Raadt

Julia has dedicated much of her career to education. Since commencing with Empowerly, Julia has looked after the research team which handles student questions on different topics about college admission.

The University of Chicago takes a different approach to formulating their essay questions. They ask their students and alumna to suggest questions they’d like to pose to prospective students. In other words, the admission committee wants to see how applicants respond to questions they’ve never been asked before! This prepares students for the type of questions that often come up in the course of studies at the school. Knowing that the University of Chicago essays may surprise you, let’s take a look at past prompts to help you prepare!

With that in mind, it’s important that you take the time to really think about what is being asked. Use the opportunity to be creative and respond honestly with an answer that reflects what you really think. Here are a some suggestions that may help with getting those ideas flowing for your University of Chicago essays!

Your Instructions

Choose one of the seven extended essay options and upload a one or two page response.

Sounds straightforward enough. Let’s look at the options below!

The Prompts

Orange is the new black, fifty’s the new thirty, comedy is the new rock ‘n’ roll, ____ is the new ____. What’s in, what’s out, and why is it being replaced?

—Inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015

Ideas develop and change over time. Although this prompt appears to focus on what’s cool or uncool, steer your writing towards a change in trends. Your perspective of what makes this desirable/undesirable hinges on concrete examples combined with your analysis. How do you hope to address this in your time at UChicago?

“I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” –Maxine Hong Kingston. What paradoxes do you live with?

—Inspired by Danna Shen, Class of 2019

Self-reflection is the name of the game. Identify a contradiction in your life or one you’d like to make part of your life. Touch upon what makes it interesting on a conceptual level or the effects of the paradox and why it holds significance for you. How do you see yourself tackling the internal tension and elaborate on the ways you’d do so through the university.

Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story.

—Inspired by Drew Donaldson, Class of 2016

This could be a powerful essay, but be careful to focus on what these individuals mean to you and not on their stories only. Focus on an issue they tackled but be careful not to make their actions the focus. Instead elaborate on the significance of their actions with regard to the bigger picture.

“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” –Paul Gauguin. What is your “art”? Is it plagiarism or revolution?

—Inspired by Kaitlyn Shen, Class of 2018

All key terms (art, plagiarism, and revolution) intentionally lack definition to push you to interpret. Take advantage of this liberty and integrate personal experiences. You don’t need to spend time explaining why the topic can be considered art but instead flesh out its connection to the latter 2 terms. What makes it either or a mix of the two or how does it fit under an alternate understanding?

Rerhceseras say it’s siltl plisbsoe to raed txet wtih olny the frist and lsat ltteres in palce. This is beaucse the hamun mnid can fnid oderr in dorsdier. Give us your best example of finding order in disorder. (For your reader’s sake, please use full sentences with conventional spelling).

—Also inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015. Payton is extra inspirational this year!

Do you know how to play ‘I Spy’ (or maybe you have your own version)? You’ve been finding and making sense of things your entire life. This is the perfect place to reveal where you apply the search and how. You can easily tie in an intellectual pursuit or another personal interest. Your revealed thought process and purpose are especially important.

In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose a question of your own. If your prompt is original and thoughtful, then you should have little trouble writing a great essay. 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.

Perhaps none of the previous prompts resonated with you but you have a topic in mind. Craft a question that allows you to discuss an academic/personal interests in the way you’d like. Be clear on the significance it holds for you and present your interpretation like you would for the previous prompts.

In the spirit of historically adventurous inquiry, to celebrate the University of Chicago’s 125th anniversary, please feel free to select from any of our past essay questions, available at

Feel free to explore the list if none of the framing or specific prompt content relates to you or sparks an interest.

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 an introspective essay – use “I statements” to hone in on your specific desire for learning, and why you want to learn. That desire is as important as the actual evidence you will use. This is also a “Why Us” essay where you should mention at least 2-3 UChicago-specific professors, clubs, courses, or traditions that mean something to you.

(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.

You should always answer optional prompts, especially if you have not discussed a particular hobby, interest, or activity before. You really do not need to answer all of the topics mentioned – choose the few that matter. Use a list format and do not attempt to write a mini-essay here – they just want a quick overview of you.


These are a sample of the University of Chicago essays. As you can see, each prompt allows you to explore your creativity. Keep up the good work, and don’t forget to have an expert proofread your application before you submit!

Questions? Let us know!