I was really surprised by our University of Chicago visit. I expected the campus to be more urban and be spread out into the city. Instead, it has gorgeous Neo-Gothic architecture with a defined campus. It reminded me a lot of UCLA because both have large quads surrounded by beautiful old buildings.
We sat in on an information session and then took a campus tour in the rain. The information session was the first interactive one that I’ve been to. The admissions officer had us do meet and greet with strangers around us … a kind of “peace be with you” introduction that I associate with church. There was purpose to this exercise. We were then supposed to discuss this question, “Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 50 duck-sized horses?”
My discussion lasted about 2 seconds. I went wth horse-sized duck because it felt less daunting to fight only one animal than 50. It turns out that I am not the right fit for this college. University of Chicago students LOVE to debate these types of open-ended questions, it turns out. I would describe the U of Chicago student generally as MIT Meets Liberal Arts. Or a quantitative version of liberal arts. But throw in a interest in debate as well.
U of Chicago students are quirky, as evidenced by the creative essay questions posed on their college application:
Essay Option 1
Cats have nine lives, Pac-Man has 3 lives, and radioactive isotopes have half-lives. How many lives does something else—conceptual or actual—have, and why?
—Inspired by Kedrick Shin, Class of 2019
Essay Option 2
If there’s a limited amount of matter in the universe, how can Olive Garden (along with other restaurants and their concepts of food infinity) offer truly unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks? Explain this using any method of analysis you wish—physics, biology, economics, history, theology… the options, as you can tell, are endless.
—Inspired by Yoonseo Lee, Class of 2023
Essay Option 3
A hot dog might be a sandwich, and cereal might be a soup, but is a ______ a ______?
—Inspired by Arya Muralidharan, Class of 2021 (and dozens of others who, this year and in past years, have submitted the question “Is a hot dog a sandwich,” to which we reply, “maybe”)
Essay Option 4
“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” – Jessamyn West
—Inspired by Elizabeth Mansfield, Class of 2020
Essay Option 5
UChicago has international campus centers around the world, but we don’t have any interplanetary, interstellar, or interdimensional campuses… yet! Propose a spot in time or space, in this or any universe, for a new UChicago campus. What types of courses would be taught at this site? What cultural experiences await students who study there?
—Inspired by Peter Jasperse, Class of 2022
Essay Option 6
“Don’t be afraid to pick past prompts! I liked some of the ones from previous years more than those made newly available for my year. Also, don’t worry about the ‘correct’ way to interpret a question. If there exists a correct way to interpret the prompt I chose, it certainly was not my answer.”
—Matthew Lohrs, Class of 2023
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!
You can also use these questions from years past:
What’s so odd about odd numbers?
—Inspired by Mario Rosasco, AB’09
So where is Waldo, really?
—Inspired by Robin Ye, AB’16
—Inspired by Benjamin Nuzzo, an admitted student from Eton College, UK
In 2015, the city of Melbourne, Australia created a “tree-mail” service, in which all of the trees in the city received an email address so that residents could report any tree-related issues. As an unexpected result, people began to email their favorite trees sweet and occasionally humorous letters. Imagine this has been expanded to any object (tree or otherwise) in the world, and share with us the letter you’d send to your favorite.
-Inspired by Hannah Lu, Class of 2020
Our student tour guide told us that is was these very essay questions that got her interested in University of Chicago. I believe that she wrote on the “find x” question.
I think the exercise that the admissions officer posed turned out to be really helpful in defining if the University of Chicago is right for you. Just like this question, there are two types of students in this world. Those who like to ruminate on koans and those who do not. Future Zen masters should apply here.
Dog and Cat. Coffee and Tea. Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye. Everyone knows there are two types of people in the world. What are they?
—Inspired by an anonymous alumna, AB’06