How to Get Into UChicago

Padya Paramita

How to Get into UChicago

The University of Chicago has very quickly become one of the most competitive colleges in the United States. The current acceptance rate of 6.2% is on par with schools such as Columbia, making it even more selective than Yale, Brown, MIT, and other top universities. If the question of how to get into UChicago is on your mind, you have to strive for more than just work hard in your classes. You need to know exactly why UChicago is the place for you.

You may appreciate that the University of Chicago has a separate Creative Writing major rather than having it as a concentration within the English department. Or, you’re intrigued by the existence of an interdisciplinary Comparative Human Development major. But, you’ve got to go into greater detail than just naming programs. To help you navigate the query of how to get into UChicago, I’ve outlined the different application rounds, academic requirements, elaborated more on UChicago’s test-optional policies, gone over ways to approach your extracurriculars and write the unique supplemental essays, and finally, included the important deadlines and documents that you need to send in order to complete your application. 

The Different Application Rounds

If you’re thinking about how to get into UChicago, you’ll have to know whether you want to apply early or not. While most schools will only have Early Action or Early Decision, UChicago offers both, as well as Early Decision II. UChicago is one of the few schools which allow you to apply in one of the following four ways:

  • Early Decision I
  • Early Decision II
  • Early Action
  • Regular Decision

The differences in the binding nature and deadlines for each are outlined below:

Round Application Deadline Decision Date Reply Date
Early Action (non-binding) November 1 Mid-December May
Early Decision (binding) November 1 Mid-December Mid-January
Early Decision II (binding) January 2 Mid February Early March
Regular Decision (non-binding) January 2 Late March May 1

Knowing which round you’ll apply in helps set you on a timeline and you can hold yourself accountable to have all your materials ready on time. If you like UChicago, and you’re confident about your grades and extracurriculars, and finish with your essay early, you may apply either Early Action (EA) or Early Decision I (ED I). Early Action benefits applicants who are strong and are excited about UChicago, but aren’t yet sure whether they want to attend the school. Since you hear back by December and don’t have to let the college know about your decision until May, you’re also free to apply elsewhere and weigh your options.

Meanwhile, if UChicago really is your dream school, ED I can help boost your chances tremendously. By signing a binding agreement, you’re choosing to commit to the university if you’re accepted. This will help admissions officers understand your enthusiasm for the college. Of course, you’ll have to prepare a stellar application, but your conviction (and potential to add to a high yield rate) definitely helps. 

If UChicago is your dream school, but you weren’t able to apply in the November round, then Early Decision II is your next best option. Although the school will have accepted many of their incoming class during ED I, if your application is strong, and the school knows you’re willing to commit, it will still act as a boost. 

Think ahead of time what the best route for you is so that you’re not scrambling to fill out your Common App or finish your essays at the last minute.

Academic Requirements

If you’re looking into how to get into UChicago, you should know that the standards for academics at this institution is extremely high. With an average GPA of nearly 4.0 when it comes to admitted students, you’ve got your work cut out for you. You’ll need to start working hard from the 9th grade, and take the most challenging classes so that the admissions officers can determine whether you can keep up with the rigor at the university. You also have to meet the following high school class requirements:

  • 4 years of English
  • 3–4 years of math (through pre-calculus recommended)
  • 3–4 years of laboratory sciences
  • 3 or more years of social sciences
  • Foreign language study (2–3 years recommended)

“Recommended” indicates that you should follow these protocols unless you absolutely can’t - or you wish to prioritize an elective that resonates more with your academic interests. Keep yourself organized from the beginning of high school, especially if you know that you’ll be applying to a school of UChicago’s caliber so that your GPA isn’t the component that brings you down in the selection process. 

Understanding the Test Optional Policy

In 2018, UChicago decided to go test optional, meaning, you don’t have to submit your SAT or ACT scores if you don’t want to include them as part of your application. This decision came to support students who aren’t great test takers or don’t have the resources to excel in standardized tests. 

The school believes: “These tests can provide valuable information about a student which we and other colleges will consider alongside the other elements in a student’s application. We encourage students to take standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, and to share your scores with us if you think that they are reflective of your ability and potential.” 

A good way to determine whether your results can boost your file or not is to look through the data for admitted students. The median numbers are:

ACT Middle 50% 33-35

SAT Middle 50% 1500-1560

The averages for UChicago have gone up since they became test optional, since only students with the highest numbers were the only ones sending their scores. If you have a really high Math score or your SAT score is 1490 you could consider sending it in, but if your results are closer to the 1300s it’s best not to include that and keep the focus on extracurriculars and other parts of your application that can help affirm the school of your strengths. After all, your GPA and activities serve as more of an accurate reflection of your performance over the last four years, whereas your test score is only a product of one day.

Letters of Recommendation

The University of Chicago wants to know what you’re like to have as a student inside the classroom and so requires letters of recommendation from two of your teachers. UChicago recommends that the letters come from instructors who have taught you in one of the following courses:: mathematics, social studies, history, science, English or literature, foreign language, or any other class where you’ve done substantial amounts of reading, writing, or class discussion. 

Make sure your recommendations come from teachers who are familiar with you and how you work,  and can include specific and positive details about why you would be an asset to the school. The website adds, “This does not necessarily need to be the teacher who gave you the best grades, but instead someone who best knows your academic personality and thinks highly of you.” As long as they can attest to your interests, abilities, and strongest skills, that’s what matters. 

Extracurriculars

Alongside boasting a strong GPA, you must also shine outside the classroom in order to be considered for a place in the incoming class. UChicago doesn’t have “any specific expectation or preference for how you spend your time,” but checks your activities list “to see what's meaningful, worthwhile, or interesting to you.” The admissions officers will evaluate how you have taken advantage of your resources and stepped out of your comfort zone. Just joining a club and staying a general member won’t be enough to impress them.

The key lies in taking one or two activities that you’re really passionate about and taking on leadership roles. The school wants to know that you’re an assertive individual who goes after their interests and can contribute meaningfully to the community. Don’t just pursue an activity based on what you think the university wants to see - they strictly forbid this. You need to convey genuine passion and curiosity in the field, and find ways to make an impact on your community.

Personal Statement

Alongside filling up your resume with impressive activities, UChicago also wants to know more about your story and what separates you from other applicants. This can definitely expand on a leadership position in an activity that means a lot to you. The university sees it as a chance for you to “present yourself and your ideas in your own words.” Even though it’s not specific to UChicago, think about how you can use it to distinguish yourself - what can you bring to campus that others can’t?

The admissions office expects to hear your voice. Your personal statement is an effective way to boost your application by telling them where you come from, what you’re passionate about, and how you’ve spent your time outside school. Specifically, the UChicago website outlines the following three questions: 

  • What is your story? 
  • Why did you choose to pursue certain opportunities? 
  • What activities are most meaningful to you? 

For your essay, brainstorm a topic that addresses one or all of these questions. The reader should take away that you are a must-have candidate who is not just academically bright, but is also passionate beyond just the books. The college also adds, “Your personal statement should be appropriate for a wide array of audiences and should put your best foot forward.” So, make sure it doesn’t alienate anyone, and presents you in a positive, likeable light.

Supplemental Essays

Mandatory Question for All Candidates

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 type of question is typical for many colleges. If you’re applying to UChicago, the admissions officers naturally want to know why so that they can determine whether you’d be a strong fit for their institution. Read the prompt carefully - and address the “learning,” “community,” and “future” aspects of the question. How do you grow best in the classroom and how does it connect to UChicago? Consider what kind of community helps you thrive. And what are your goals in the future? Remember to not only talk about your ideal scenario in these settings but also about how UChicago is the place to pursue your aspirations. You can read in detail about how to tackle this essay here.

Once you’ve got the brainstorming process for this more straightforward prompt out of the way, it’s time to face the reason why most people Google “how to get into UChicago.” The school is known for its highly unusual and rather quirky supplemental essay prompts. The 2019-20 application asked students the following questions:

Questions with Options

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

Essay Option 1

Who does Sally sell her seashells to? How much wood can a woodchuck really chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Pick a favorite tongue twister (either originally in English or translated from another language) and consider a resolution to its conundrum using the method of your choice. Math, philosophy, linguistics... it's all up to you (or your woodchuck).

Essay Option 2

What can actually be divided by zero?

Essay Option 3

The seven liberal arts in antiquity consisted of the Quadrivium — astronomy, mathematics, geometry, and music — and the Trivium — rhetoric, grammar, and logic. Describe your own take on the Quadrivium or the Trivium. What do you think is essential for everyone to know?

Essay Option 4

Subway maps, evolutionary trees, Lewis diagrams. Each of these schematics tells the relationships and stories of their component parts. Reimagine a map, diagram, or chart. If your work is largely or exclusively visual, please include a cartographer's key of at least 300 words to help us best understand your creation.

Essay Option 5

"Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?" - Eleanor Roosevelt. Misattribute a famous quote and explore the implications of doing so.

Essay Option 6

Engineer George de Mestral got frustrated with burrs stuck to his dog’s fur and applied the same mechanic to create Velcro. Scientist Percy Lebaron Spencer found a melted chocolate bar in his magnetron lab and discovered microwave cooking. Dye-works owner Jean Baptiste Jolly found his tablecloth clean after a kerosene lamp was knocked over on it, consequently shaping the future of dry cleaning. Describe a creative or interesting solution, and then find the problem that it solves.

Essay Option 7

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!

Yes, this can definitely throw you off and make you question everything, especially if you’ve been answering supplemental essays from other schools that ask more direct questions about your interests and goals. But, there’s no reason why you can’t make this about who you are and what you can bring to campus. In fact, UChicago wants you to talk more about yourself. Your voice can be serious, but the prompts certainly welcome a creative approach. At the end of the day, the admissions officers are interested to see whether you’re a critical thinker who demonstrates intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for learning.

You can learn more about ways to brainstorm and approach each of the prompts individually here. Play to your strengths - if you’re more of a creative than academic writer, think about which prompts bring out that side of you. On the flip side, if you’re better at academic writing, you may be more comfortable with prompt 2. At the end of the day, don’t let these questions be the reason that stops you from applying to UChicago.

Requirements and Deadlines

As you plan to tackle the question of how to get into UChicago, it’s also important to think about the logistics. Admissions officers expect you to follow instructions and stick to deadlines when it comes to ensuring that the required transcripts, essays, test scores, and recommendations reach the school on time. 

The Early Action and Early Decision deadline for UChicago is November 1. The Regular Decision and Early Decision II deadline is January 2.

Knowing these dates can help you start working on filling out the Common App, writing all of the required essays, providing your recommenders enough time to write their letters. The files and deadlines you need to know as you prepare to submit your University of Chicago application are listed below:

Requirements for UChicago Application Deadlines and Notes
Common App personal statement The word limit is 650 words.
UChicago-specific essays These will appear on the Common App once you’ve chosen UChicago as one of your colleges.
Official high school transcript This must be submitted directly from your school.
School report This should be submitted by your counselor to summarize your academic performance, including your official transcript.
Counselor recommendation This letter is very important to help you stand out from your peers.
Two (2) letters of recommendation from teachers These letters are also crucial, as admissions officers want to know what you are like in the classroom.
Mid-year report If you are deferred from ED or EA, this is due February 1. For Regular Decision (RD), this should be submitted whenever mid-year grades are available.
SAT or ACT If you wish to submit scores, UChicago accepts the October ACT and November SAT scores for Early Action and Early Decision I, December SAT and ACT scores for Early Decision II, and January SAT and February ACT scores for Regular Decision.
Video introduction Because UChicago doesn’t interview students, applicants have the option to send a 2-minute introduction video
Arts, creative, or research supplement If you are an excellent artist, designer or a musician - or you’ve done comprehensive research in a field - consider submitting a portfolio of your work; guidelines here.
Financial aid documents U.S. citizens and permanent residents applying for aid must fill out the FAFSA, your or your parents’ tax returns and the UChicago-Specific Financial Aid Worksheet which can substitute College Board's CSS Profile

The University of Chicago is without a doubt one of the most competitive schools in the country. Don’t let the intimidating supplemental essay prompts shake you - if you truly care about the school and have worked hard to develop your academics and extracurriculars, you can give yourself a fair shot at receiving that coveted acceptance letter. Conduct thorough research, apply early if you can, and put your best foot forward as you take on this challenge. Good luck!

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