Archive for the ‘University of Chicago Application Essay Prompt Two’ Category

They’re Baaack: The University of Chicago Application Essay Prompts for 2017-2018

In Applying to the University of Chicago, Chicago Typo Essay, Essay on Joubert, Uncategorized, University of Chicago Application Essay, University of Chicago Application Essay Example, University of Chicago Application Essay Prompt Two, University of Chicago Under-Discussed Topic Essay on June 26, 2017 at 11:43 pm

And this year, the essay prompts from U Chicago, a.k.a. “The Place Fun Goes to Die” are a little more lightweight and also more personal than in previous years.  Overall, this year’s U Chicago prompts are more about a quirky personal response than deep philosophy–though you can always find something deeper, or at least interesting to say with these prompts, with a little extra thought.  

And if you wanted to take a risk while writing an essay, this is the place:  Chicago pretty much begs you to take risks, wake up the app reader, show a little originality.   So be anything but boring.  

To show what I mean, we will now take a look at the first two of the University of Chicago Extended Essay Prompts for the 2017-2018 application season: 

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?

-Anonymous Suggestion


So let’s look into the background of  this prompt before we look at an example of how to write about it:  it is based on the relatively obscure Enlightenment French author, Joseph Joubert, and it seems aimed at our present national moment of mutual incomprehension:   What, you have never heard of Joubert?  Neither has 99% of the populace.

He actually is quite the dead white guy, a man who wrote aphorisms that read like the best haiku.   But he was also a writer who never actually wrote that book he was going to write; instead he wrote many aphorisms and short descriptions that distilled the essence of this or that,  as he hung out and engaged in witty conversation in the great salons of Paris and pretty much “enjoyed the journey.”   The journey over the destination is a cliché, of course, but if you read some of his stuff, like his Pensées, you will see what I mean.  Not that you need to read Joubert much to write this prompt . . . but it could help.  For example, this–  

A hard intellect is a hammer that can do nothing
but crush. Hardness of intellect is sometimes no less
harmful and hateful than hardness of heart.

Or this:

Some persons there are who, intellectually, are
reasonable enough, but whose life is quite irrational ;
and there are, on the other hand, those whose life is
rational and whose minds are devoid of reason.

The last one sounds like a pretty good sociological take on America today, no?

For those of you acquainted with Montaigne, Joubert is  what Montaigne claimed to be–a free explorer of whatever was on his mind.  Here is what his most recent translator into English, Paul Auster had to say about Joubert, in part:  

Neither a poet nor a novelist, neither a philosopher nor an essayist, Joubert was a man of letters without portfolio whose work consists of a vast series of notebooks in which he wrote down his thoughts every day for more than forty years. All the entries are dated, but the notebooks cannot be construed as a traditional diary, since there are scarcely any personal remarks in it. Nor was Joubert a writer of maxims in the classical French manner. He was something far more oblique and challenging, a writer who spent his whole life preparing himself for a work that never came to be written, a writer of the highest rank who paradoxically never produced a book.”

So take all that together, and you have some sense of the spirit of the question posed by Anonymous here; while you can pretty much riff off of a U Chicago question in any way that you can invent, they do offer some prompts that seem to have a political or cultural slant, and this is one of them, a prompt for a polarized age of argument in which most of use are having trouble understanding the other side (Qualification: Understanding does not mean agreeing, and I believe that the conflict in the U.S.A. is over real values . . . and will have a real impact on lives).

 If you like the prompt, but nothing is coming immediately to mind, a public e-text of Joubert’s Pensées is available in jumbled form here:  Pensees.  Just scroll down past all the documentation and introductory material to get right to it.  You might find an idea by going to the source.  Note that this does not mean you have to use the quote in your essay–that can be its own cliché–the idea may work well put into your own words.

Another way to look for topics that are not discussed enough is  to look at some topics that are almost certainly discussed too much, at least in kind of blind arguments that Joubert deplored :   politics, race, climate change, Trump (Trump is as much a sociological and psychological as he is political, so I give him a separate category. So true).  

Does that mean you cannot and should not write about any of these for this prompt?  Well, no.  Surely there is some aspect of these that is overlooked, or more to the point, surely most of our conversations about these things are clichéd, and clichéd in that deepest sense of using clichés to avoid dealing with the truth?   Take Trump.  I see him as an excellent example of the outcome of Winner-Take-All . . . parenting.  And I am not talking about Trump’s kids; I am talking about Fred Trump here.  Think of Donald Trump as a boy, and you have a different kind of discussion.  Maybe even some empathy–which does not mean agreement, by the way. 

Let me sum up our lesson on the U Chicago essays so far:  If  there is a background (like Joubert), it is better to know about it; it may not be useful, but you may be missing the point of the prompt if you know nothing about the background.  Not that being clueless will necessarily hurt, as a clever non sequitur can also be a winner.  But still, I would want to be choosing to write my essay as a kind of alternate-universe response that uses the opening quote as a way to go somewhere totally unconnected; I would not want to be doing that by accident.  

And now, more briefly, a typo prompt for number 2:

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.

So the obvious place to start would be with your actual interest area–take me; I would have been looking at things like Comparative Literature; hmmm . . .

Comparative Bitterature?  The knowledge and Study of all things bitter, from the best espresso sourced from a tribe of failed hipsters who now populate a long-lost South American coffee plantation, producing the deepest, darkest bitterest espresso ever known to man;  to the bitter  souls of internet trolls or the sense of defeat experienced by ex-presidential candidates. 

Notice that   in changing the majors via a typo, you are, in fact, inventing your own major, so you do not have to actually look at any subject you are interested in.  Look for the words you can change in interesting ways–and that is the obvious intention of this prompt:  to test your spirit of invention.  

I will leave it at that, other than to add that I would conclude my essay on Comparative Bitterature by explaining the purpose of my created major:  Comparative Biterature aims to reacquaint the cotton-candy culture of my own country, the U. S. of A, with the benefits of the bitter, which my tai chi master taught me  when he said, as I stayed down in a full horse-stance squat, “You must eat bitter before you appreciate sweet.  Which is why you will hold build up enough strength to hold that horse stance for 15 minutes before I teach you the next form . . .  Ouch.

Start creating some typos; I will be back in the next week or so for another post on this year’s U Chicago prompts.   


The University of Chicago Application Essays: Prompt 2, Part 2

In Application, University of Chicago, University of Chicago Application Essay, University of Chicago Application Essay Example, University of Chicago Application Essay Prompt Two, University of Chicago Application Essays, University of Chicago Translation Essay on July 10, 2014 at 10:53 am

I gave background to U Chicago’s Application Essay Prompt 2 in my last post; in this post, I will provide some more specific suggestions and sources for essay inspiration.  Before I do, here is the prompt, again:

Essay Option 2.

In French, there is no difference between “conscience” and “consciousness”. In Japanese, there is a word that specifically refers to the splittable wooden chopsticks you get at restaurants. The German word “fremdschämen” encapsulates the feeling you get when you’re embarrassed on behalf of someone else. All of these require explanation in order to properly communicate their meaning, and are, to varying degrees, untranslatable. Choose a word, tell us what it means, and then explain why it cannot (or should not) be translated from its original language.

Inspired by Emily Driscoll, an incoming student in the Class of 2018

Alrighty.  So my first suggestion is not to accept Ms. Driscoll’s argument that some words are untranslatable, because they are all translatable.  However, even once they have been translated, a foreign person still may not really get it.  One reason:  culture, which includes language but also history, philosophy, geography, weather, technology, etc, etc, etc.  A concept like the Chinese idea of Chi is actually pretty easy to translate but not so easy to fully understand–it can best be translated as energy but also can have to do with a person’s temperament and mood, with the weather and time of year and its influence on the person, with the “energy” or nature of food a person eats–and the chi of food alters as well, depending on the way food is cooked.  A fever manifests a disturbance in chi, but is also  a kind of chi in itselfand a martial artist of skill will use a person’s chi against him.

Notice that much of this does not fit the western concept of energy, though electricity is a also a kind of chi.  A nonnative speaker of Mandarin can become fairly fluent in the language but would need to, for example, study some martial arts under a master, maybe do some qi gong and learn about Chinese cookery, architecture and art in order to have a decent grip on Chi, on its meanings and manifestations in Chinese thought and experience.  So looking at language as an expression of culture, and at culture as a kind of closed room that must be entered and explored before many words–many concepts–can be fully understood . . .  is a good way to approach this essay.  There are also personal and familial reasons why a person may not be equipped to understand a word–even a native Mandarin speaker may not have the understanding of Chi that, say, a Taoist master who is also an acupuncturist and painter would have.

My second suggestion is to look at idiomatic expressions.  You might want to start with your own language, Oh Native English Speakers. Of course, given the different varieties of English, it can be argued that we Americans are speaking a foreign tongue to those Brits.  Or vice-versa.  A famous Brit whose name escapes my data banks once claimed that American speech is slang.  Contrasting the Queen’s English and the Colonies’ English is a fun exercise in itself–you can start with those slang and idioms that do translate, pairing them, then find idioms that do not translate at all; for example:

American English/Queens English

a dust up/argy bargy

cock up/snafu

biscuit or bikky/Cookie


technical expert (or geek, in some uses)/boffin


opportunist, schemer or swindler/chancer

chat or gossip/chinwag

reconnoiter or check out/dekko

old man or boss or old and the boss (and dreary and annoying)/gaffer

The next step is not just to look at what the equivalent expression is, but to try to figure out why/from what the term came.  Again, notice that they are translateable, but there is a cultural flavor and flair with many slang expressions.  A good example is dekko, which is not English in origin; it comes from  British military slang and derived from the Hindustani dhek/dekho meaning “to see”. It is also less commonly decco, deccie, deek, deeks.  It is also an example of what I mean about language and culture.  The British Empire ruled over India for well over a century, and in the process of garrisoning India, it brought back more than chutney and curry. It brought back many words and forever altered British culture.   Given that many of British soldiers were also working class, you find quite a bit of this new language entering through more street or slang dialects, like Cockney, which also has a lot of Romany (these people are commonly called gypsy) words.  Like this: Put up your dukes, pal.  Look the last two words up for more.  They are Romany in origin.

Cockney itself would be an excellent place for you to look for inspiration, though you should keep in mind that Cockney has just about died out–the last true Cockney speakers were fading away by the 1990’s, pretty much as the East End of London faded as  a stronghold of working class whites/Cockneys.  Notice how slang evolution is tied into history and slang, as well as “proper” language evolves over time.   So slang and idioms are a great source for an essay like this, and you can use the wonders of the internet to look for ideas,  making lists of words and looking for ways to connect words and concepts that say something larger about culture.

To start working with idioms, try British slang, Cockney, and American slang as search terms and give it some time. There are many sites and posts devoted to this, and quality varies.  Make lists and double-check definitions against other sources and sites–I will provide some good dictionaries and other sources for looking up and crosschecking, below.  What makes you laugh would probably also make your essay reader laugh, which is a good thing (as long as they are not laughing at you.)

To recap and add an example:  the history of language and word meanings, whether they are considered idiomatic or otherwise, is  a great place to look for essay ideas and content–words do change meanings over time, just as words are born and words die.  In the 13th Century, the word gay   meant bright (brightly colored), cheerful, et al.  It had nothing remotely to do with sexual orientation.  Then, in 1890’s America, it gained a slang meaning–a gay lady was a prostitute (I guess somebody was happy.)   Then, in the 20th Century, the term, which already had a double meaning associated with being happy or bright, and with suspect or illicit sex, was assigned to homosexuals, then adopted by the homosexual rights movement; but this change in meaning then led to suburban youth by the 1990’s referring to something suspect or bad as “gay” –a change that illustrates the adolescent fear of being different,  especially sexually, and conversely, of punishing those who are different.  This is an example of a  psycho-sociological effect that is reflected in the change in a word’s meaning.  Words change all the time, but not always this drastically–fear and prejudice are powerful influences, even on words.  When you write your essay, your focus might be on how the history of language is closely tied to sociology and psychology.  Our words say a lot about us.

To close things out, I am going to recommend some source materials, and as part of that paste in a recent article that shows a good way to open an essay like this . . . Hello loyal readers.  This is the second post on this Chicago prompt, and you have to pay a subscription to my private blog to get full access to this post and quite a few other posts, past and future.  You have about half of the post available in this sample.  If this seems unfair, that’s probably because you have been taught to disrespect the value of written work, due to the parasitic nature of most of the big internet companies, which offer creators little compensation while essentially giving the creative work of others away for free.  A subscription for full access to all of my posts is available for the small price of $15.  You send me an e-mail, with the subject heading “subscription, please,” and I will send you an invoice for $15.   After you pay it, I will give you access to my private blog, which has all of my posts available in full, including the rest of this post.

One more thing–a caveat emptor–I do not delete old posts from other application years, partly as a matter of historical record, but also because many universities repeat the same prompts, or use prompts that are similar to prompts used in the past.  If you see that a post was put up during the last application season, you need to double-check to be sure about the prompts for this year’s applications at your specific universities–we are currently in the 2014-2015 application season.  The software of this site will link “related” posts, but they are sometimes from previous years.  Be sure to visit the university website to check on application requirements and timelines for this year.

Speaking of which, I am still accepting some college advising and application essay editing clients.  E-mail me soon to inquire and to secure a spot.  As of this writing, July 10, 2014, I am fully booked in early August, but can accept college application editing business in July and from the latter part of August on.  This will change in the coming weeks, of course,  as new clients take up existing space in my schedule, so it’s better not to wait too long.  I only have so much time. . . See you soon.

P.S.  The ads you sometimes see below some of my posts are inserted by the WordPress people.  Allowing them to advertise allows me to save expenses on this platform, and by keeping my fixed costs down, I am able to offer not only the most effective editing service you are likely to find, I am also cheaper than all those big operations you may have heard of.  I myself do not see the ads unless I access my own site via an outside search.  If you do dislike one of the ads, please let me know at the e-mail above, and I will have a look and contact WordPress, if necessary.  Thanks.