The University of Chicago has long been renowned for its provocative essay questions. 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.
Each year we email newly admitted and current College students and ask them for essay topics. We receive several hundred responses, many of which are eloquent, intriguing, or downright wacky.
As you can see from the attributions, the questions below were inspired by submissions from UChicago students and alumni.
To begin working on your UChicago supplement visit, getstarted.uchicago.edu, the Coalition Application, or the Common Application.
2017-18 UChicago Supplement:
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.
Extended Essay Questions:
(Required; Choose one)
Essay Option 1.
“The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” – Joseph Joubert
Sometimes, people talk a lot about popular subjects to assure ‘victory’ in conversation or understanding, and leave behind topics of less popularity, but great personal or intellectual importance. What do you think is important but under-discussed?
Essay Option 2.
Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your new intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History... a full list of unmodified majors ready for your editor’s eye is available here: https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/academics/majors-minors.
-Inspired by Josh Kaufman, Class of 2018
Essay Option 3.
Earth. Fire. Wind. Water. Heart! Captain Planet supposes that the world is made up of these five elements. We’re familiar with the previously-noted set and with actual elements like hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, but select and explain another small group of things (say, under five) that you believe compose our world.
-Inspired by Dani Plung, Class of 2017
Essay Option 4.
The late New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham once said "Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you could do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization." Tell us about your “armor.”
-Inspired by Adam Berger, Class of 2020
Essay Option 5.
Fans of the movie Sharknado say that they enjoy it because “it’s so bad, it’s good.” Certain automobile owners prefer classic cars because they “have more character.” And recently, vinyl record sales have skyrocketed because it is perceived that they have a warmer, fuller sound. Discuss something that you love not in spite of but rather due to its quirks or imperfections.
-Inspired by Alex Serbanescu, Class of 2021
Essay Option 6.
In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose your own question or choose one of our past prompts. 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.
When it comes to asking the hard questions at the heart of scientific investigation, perhaps no book has ever topped Frankenstein. That’s why we’ve put Mary Shelley’s remarkable novel, which turns 200 in 2018, at the heart of our Quantum Leap initiative.
Frankenstein raises big questions about the practice of science and its role in society, the origin of our natural rights and our relationship to “the Other,” among many, many others. We’ve identified seven key questions that will guide our One State / One Story programming:
- Frankenstein complicates the idea of what it means to be human. What combination of biology, experience or innate characteristics make us who we are?
- Under what conditions do advances in science and technology lead to advances in society—and how can history help us answer the question?
- What responsibilities do creators and scientists have for the consequences, even unintended, of their inventions?
- New developments in science and technology can blur the lines between human and machine, natural and artificial, and can even shift humankind’s place in the universe. How should we navigate these changing, increasingly porous boundaries?
- How do social categories based on class, gender, sexuality, race and disability affect people’s access to scientific knowledge and technological advances? Do some groups gain greater profit, or face greater risks, from scientific and technological change?
- Is there an ethical context in which science should operate, and who should be responsible for determining the limits of science? If there are limits to science, does that also mean there should be limits to knowledge?
- Why did Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein become an enduring work of fiction, inspiring thinkers, creators and scientists across generations? How is it relevant to people today?
To help us explore these rich themes, we’ve convened an incredible group of scholar advisers. Each of these experts will contribute an essay to our One State / One Story program guide. They will also participate as speakers at upcoming events, including as part of our speakers bureau and at next March’s Weekend Retreat.
- Andrew Cullison, Phyllis W. Nicholas Director of The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics, DePauw University Cullison holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Rochester, specializing in ethics and meta-ethics. He has taught several different kinds of applied ethics courses including courses focused on ethics and technology, contemporary moral problems and questions of life and death.
- Richard Gunderman, Chancellor’s Professor of Radiology, Pediatrics, Medical Education, Philosophy, Liberal Arts and Medical Humanities and Health Studies, Indiana University Gunderman teaches in both the IU School of Medicine and the IUPUI School of Liberal Arts and has been honored 10 times with the IU Trustees Teaching Award. He received his B.A. Summa Cum Laude from Wabash College, M.D. and Ph.D (Committee on Social Thought) with honors from the University of Chicago, and M.P.H. from Indiana University. He is the author of more than 600 articles and has published eight books, many exploring the intersections of humanities and medicine.
- Jason Kelly, Director of the Arts and Humanities Institute and Associate Professor of History at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) Kelly’s research interests include the history of science, British history and the Enlightenment, and the history of the environment, human rights and art. He leads a major international collaborative project, Rivers of the Anthropocene, which brings together scientists, humanists and policy makers to study global river systems and policy since 1750. Dr. Kelly received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
- Fiona McDonald, 2016-2019 Postdoctoral Researcher, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) McDonald completed her Ph.D. in the Department of Anthropology at University College London. Her interdisciplinary research interests include water, energy studies, indigenous material and visual culture, oral histories, curatorial theory, performance theory and museum studies. Dr. McDonald annually re-reads Frankenstein and counts it as her all-time favorite book.
- Monique Morgan, Associate Professor of English, Indiana University Morgan is a scholar of English who specializes in 19th-century British literature, science fiction and science and literature. At IU, she is part of the Sci-Fi Research Collective. In addition to teaching Frankenstein in numerous classes, she has presented research on the novel at various academic conferences, led a discussion as part of McGill University’s “Reads” series, and is participating in an upcoming episode of WFHB’s Interchange focused on the novel. Dr. Morgan holds a Ph.D. in English from Stanford and a B.A. in physics and astronomy and astrophysics from Harvard.
- James Norton III, Professor of English and Director of Honors Academy, Marian University Norton has taught Frankenstein in a variety of academic contexts at Marian University, including in British Romanticism Seminar, Great Books Colloquium, and at the Chautauqua Summer Institute in New York. He also leads arts and sciences faculty in developing community-based learning projects. He received his Ph.D. in English from Indiana University, Bloomington.
- Katherine Osborn, Ph.D. candidate, University of Notre Dame Osborn’s research focuses on 18thand 19th-century British and Irish literature, especially as it relates to questions of gender, history, science and identity. She co-directs Notre Dame’s interdisciplinary Seminar in 18th and 19th Century Studies.
Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, we’ll be able to think, read and talk about these questions with Hoosiers from all walks of life. We hope you join a discussion in your local community or come to one of the many exciting programs we’re planning in the year ahead.