A Guide to the UChicago Supplemental Essays 2022-2023

Padya Paramita

A Guide to the UChicago Supplemental Essays 2022-2023

You probably already know that admission into the University of Chicago, with its acceptance rate of around 5%, is far from guaranteed. But as you gear up to apply, you might get further thrown off by the essays you have to write. Alongside the required classic “why UChicago” question, this highly selective school also presents you with some rather unusual prompts in the UChicago supplemental essays 2022-2023.  

You don’t expect to see references to wisdom teeth or F1 racecars when you’re getting into the mindset of convincing admissions officers why you’re a good fit for a school, and yet these have been part of past UChicago prompts. It goes without saying that UChicago’s unconventional prompts aren’t your typical supplemental essay questions. But despite their unique nature, the goal of the university is the same as any other school—to understand your perspective, to get a sense of your goals, and determine whether your values align with those that UChicago looks for in its students. To guide you through each of the prompts, I have outlined the questions, how to go about tackling them, and more tips to help you write the UChicago supplemental essays 2022-2023.

The UChicago Supplemental Essays 2022-2023

UChicago prides itself on its thought-provoking supplemental essay prompts. Use these as an opportunity to introduce yourself, what you’re passionate about, and your ambitions and goals. Although there is no set word limit for any of the prompts, InGenius Prep counselor Natalia Ostrowski, who worked as the Assistant Director of Admissions at UChicago, recommends that you limit the first essay (“Why UChicago”) to a page (double-spaced in 12-point font). The second essay—the more unusual one of the two—should be about two pages, double spaced, and in 12-point font. 

The voice in your essay can be serious, you can let your creativity completely loose, or you can find an in-between take on any issue you’re writing about. According to Natalia, “UChicago admissions officers want to see how you connect ideas and get a front-row view into your critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, and excitement for knowledge.” 

So without further ado, let’s go through all of the prompts—including each of the odd ones—for the UChicago supplemental essays 2022-2023, and the ways you should dissect and answer them:

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.

Although there is no strict word limit on this “why UChicago” essay, don’t go overboard with what you like about the university. Admissions officers already know it’s a great school. How do you narrow down what you love about the school? Well, look at the question for hints. The question asks that you elaborate on how UChicago can help meet your needs when it comes to the following:

  • Learning
  • Community
  • Future

When reading your response to this question, admissions officers are looking for whether you’ve done your homework on UChicago to determine how much you’d fit into the college. Below are a few questions that Natalia suggests you ask yourself to brainstorm for this essay:

  • Why is the Core important to you? (And don’t just copy/paste what you wrote for Columbia and vice versa—they’ll know) 
  • What specific majors are you interested in and why? 
  • Has it always been your dream to work with [insert professor here] or study abroad in [insert location here]? Why? 
  • Which activities are you excited to contribute to? Why do you want to be a Maroon (yes, UChicago has sports!)?

Emphasize the community aspect —how do you hope to find your people on campus? Is it the opportunity to participate in student organizations such as Humor Magazine or the intramural wiffleball team that call out to you? Or are you keen to explore Chicago’s Revival Community Improv Theater within walking distance of the college? You might want to continue your community involvement work from high school by participating in the Neighborhood Schools Program, The Civic Knowledge Project, or one of the college’s several organizations that help give back to the greater Chicago community. 

Since you have space, you can provide context on who you are, your passions, and the kind of values you hope to bring to UChicago. Whatever you choose to write about, make sure you prioritize what you’re looking for from your college experience and how UChicago is the ideal place to explore these interests or goals. Show admissions officers that you have done your research and can convincingly argue for your place at the school, clearly outlining the parts of campus you wish to commit to.

Question 2: Extended Essay (Required; Choose One)

Now we get to the more peculiar essays. At first—and even second or third glance—these questions are out of the box in comparison to other schools’ supplemental essays. But where do you even start? Natalia affirms that “Admissions officers want to see how your brain works. It doesn’t matter what you write about or which question you answer—your ideas and how you write about those ideas is what matters.” 

She also adds that from your essay, “Admissions officers will be able to have a glimpse of who you might be in the classroom, or when you’re deep in discussion in the dining halls or dorms, or walking through the snowy Harper Quad on your way to get some hot chocolate at Hallowed Grounds.” 

The takeaway for admissions officers reading your UChicago supplemental essays 2022-2023 should be to understand what makes you tick and how you are going to contribute to the community. This is the goal you should keep in mind throughout your writing process.

Essay Option 1

Was it a cat I saw? Yo-no-na-ka, ho-ka-ho-ka na-no-yo (Japanese for “the world is a warm place”). Może jutro ta dama da tortu jeżom (Polish for “maybe tomorrow that lady will give a cake to the hedgehogs”). Share a palindrome in any language, and give it a backstory.

For those who don’t know, a palindrome is a word, phrase, or sequence that reads the same backwards as forwards, such as civic, race car, madam—you get the picture. This is actually one of the most open-ended questions among the UChicago supplemental essays 2022-2023, because with a convincing enough argument, you might just be able to sway admissions officers to believe—or not—that a certain palindrome has a backstory we might not have thought about before. Here are some palindromic phrases to help get you started on your brainstorming:

  • Never odd or even
  • Step on no pets
  • A man, a plan, a canal: Panama
  • Anne, I vote more cars race Rome to Vienna
  • Did Hannah see bees? Hannah did
  • Sit on a potato pan, Otis
  • Cigar? Toss it in a can. It is so tragic
  • Eva, can I see bees in a cave?

Don’t get so caught up in finding the perfect palindrome that you miss the second half of the question: “give it a backstory.” You can use this question to discuss your potential major or favorite activity, because after all these are your supplemental essays. How can a certain law in physics explain how Otis can sit on a pan? Does the law of demand and supply in economics help answer the question of whether Hannah saw bees. This is a great question to combine both your imagination and creativity alongside your curiosity within your academic interest.

Essay Option 2

What advice would a wisdom tooth have?

Up next on the UChicago supplemental essays 2022-2023 is another open-ended question. UChicago has used this guise of the “wisdom tooth” to see what students might value and what advice they might hold true in their daily life. Consider any advice that you’ve been given, sayings that resonate with you, words that you hold close to your heart and follow as you continue your journey as a student. Don’t use something cliche like “don’t judge a book by its cover.” That’s too generic! Instead, think of advice that’s specific to your interests and goals—advice that you can then exemplify with anecdotes from your life. The more specific you get in your explanation, the better admissions officers will understand who you are and why you should be a future UChicago student.

Essay Option 3

You are on an expedition to found a colony on Mars, when from a nearby crater, a group of Martians suddenly emerges. They seem eager to communicate, but they're the impatient kind and demand you represent the human race in one song, image, memory, proof, or other idea. What do you share with them to show that humanity is worth their time?

The next prompt is another open-ended question because let’s face it “one song, image, memory, proof, or other idea,” can truly include anything. Think carefully about your interests, about areas of knowledge that you have in your arsenal, and what you think you can make a convincing argument about because, after all, you’re trying to convince Martians that humanity is worth their time! This is a prompt that you can have a lot of fun with because you don’t necessarily have to talk about something academic, although you can. Avoid common and broad topics and don’t be afraid to get niche and weird. You can talk about how sharks don’t have bones, or about why Martians should visit a certain country or spot in your hometown, you can talk about your favorite sports team and why the Martians should root for them, or you can talk about your favorite character on your favorite TV show. Regardless of the topic you choose, make sure your reasoning is compelling enough.

Essay Option 4

UChicago has been affiliated with over 90 Nobel laureates. But, why should economics, physics, and peace get all the glory? You are tasked with creating a new category for the Nobel Prize. Explain what it would be, why you chose your specific category, and the criteria necessary to achieve this accomplishment.

Here is another question you can get creative with—but this one can lean in a more academic direction than the rest of the prompts among the UChicago supplemental essay prompts 2022-2023. For example, if you’re a visual artist you can invent a category in visual arts. However, you could—and probably should—get even more creative than that. Think out of the box. Consider both the category and what one would require to win a prize in the category. What about a Nobel Prize in driving for the best engine builder? Nobel Prize in engineering for the person who fixes door hinges the best? A Nobel Prize in Architecture for building sandcastles? No matter what the category and criteria, make sure your personality comes through in your explanation so that the admissions officers know you’re an individual to watch out for!

Essay Option 5

Genghis Khan with an F1 racecar. George Washington with a SuperSoaker. Emperor Nero with a toaster. Leonardo da Vinci with a Furby. If you could give any historical figure any piece of technology, who and what would it be, and why do you think they’d work so well together?

This question is a bit random, but I recommend it to those who are interested in a bit more creative writing in their essays rather than those who feel more comfortable with straightforward responses or academic writing. If there is a historical figure you know quite a bit about—or someone who is from your area—you probably have a grasp on their personality. As a result, you can assign them a piece of technology that you think they could use to create something revolutionary or simply have fun with. Think Einstein with an iPad, or Napoleon with a Fitbit. Why exactly are you assigning the person of your choice with the tech of your choice? Choose wisely and talk about the possibilities that could be out there!

Essay Option 6

And, as always… the classic choose your own adventure option! In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, 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!

If you don’t like any of the other options, why not look at 30 of the previous years’ questions that UChicago has provided to inspire you. The question “What can actually be divided by zero?” might appeal to you more than any of the new prompts for UChicago supplemental essays 2022-2023. And that is okay. 

Note that UChicago is giving you an incredible amount of choice here by providing access to their past prompts. If you decide to go the alternative route and come up with your own question, it HAS to be good enough. It wouldn’t be the wisest decision to go with your own silly prompt with the plethora of options in your arsenal. 

While UChicago doesn’t prefer that you answer questions 1-5 rather than 6, carefully weigh your options before you decide to pick number 6. Is there nothing you might have to say for the first five essay questions? If that is indeed the case, and you’re willing to take the risk (and UChicago appreciates risk-takers) put your unique spin on a previous—or completely original—question!

Additional Tips for Writing the UChicago Supplemental Essays 2020-2021

Now that you’ve taken a look at the prompts for the UChicago supplemental essays 2022-2023, here are a few tips to help your brainstorming process: 

  • Standout essays for standout prompts: The prompts for the UChicago supplemental essays 2022-2023 are without a doubt, highly unique. It’s okay to feel intimidated, and you might choose a prompt that asks for a more academic-leaning response if you’re not a creative writer. While it’s fine to find an option that’s tailored towards your assets, note that other applicants will be writing all sorts of weird and highly imaginative essays. So you need to come up with something memorable and original to stand out from the competition. 
  • Consider multiple approaches: Each of the questions for the UChicago supplemental essays 2022-2023 has different routes you can choose. For some, such as the what would you show Martians prompt or the topic of your choice questions, you can write about anything. So don’t restrict yourself to thinking there is a right answer. While it might feel like the college may want you to answer a certain way, UChicago wants to understand your personality and background. Stay true to yourself and authentically convey who you are and the way you view the world.
  • Don’t let the prompts discourage you from applying to the school: While the prompts set by the University of Chicago are definitely unusual and undoubtedly tricky, they are not impossible to answer. The school has set a standard for similarly quirky questions and hundreds of students still get in every year. So the minute you see these on the Common App, don’t be tempted to run away and remove UChicago from your school list. It’s a great school, and if you have a strong application to compete with other top students, don’t miss out on the chance just because the supplemental essays seem a little intimidating!

The UChicago supplemental essays 2022-2023 can add depth to your application and help admissions officers understand who you are and what you’re looking for from your college experience. The “why UChicago” prompt is your chance to convey how you would be a good fit at UChicago and vice versa. On the other hand, the essay question is a great component to capitalize on so that admissions officers understand your interests, creativity, and how you view the world. The task at hand might seem like a tough uphill battle, but it’s definitely not impossible. Good luck!

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