Or not. I like U Chi’s approach to essays and appreciate the challenge they throw down, and even if their prompts are sometimes pretentiously self aware of cleverness more than they are truly clever, they do open a window of fresh air into the stale halls of the college application essay. If you need some help with getting into the spirit of things, just chant, “U Chi is to the application essay as Stanford is to the marching band.”
One thing you can count on with Chicago is some latitude–the off-the-wall essay is more welcome here than anywhere else–but keep in mind that the usual warnings about being a whiner or offensive still apply. You are still writing to a human audience, and you still need to consider their response to you. And hey, even the Stanford marching band, where “anything goes,” has discovered that not everything does go. Same goes for the U Chicago essay. You still need to use some judgment about how you look on paper. And conduct some due diligence investigations before you write, otherwise known as research. More about that below.
Directly below I splice in the U Chicago essay prompts, to save you opening multiple windows–under the prompts, I will begin discussing how to address some of them, including that wonderful new option of choosing an essay prompt from past years to write about. Here are the prompts, followed by Part I of my analysis:
2015-16 UChicago Supplement:
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.
Question 2 (Optional):
Share with us a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music, musicians, performers, paintings, artists, blogs, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed, or add a category of your own.
Extended Essay Questions:
(Required; Choose one)
Essay Option 1.
Orange is the new black, fifty’s the new thirty, comedy is the new rock ‘n’ roll, ____ is the new ____. What’s in, what’s out, and why is it being replaced?
—Inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015
Essay Option 2.
“I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” –Maxine Hong Kingston. What paradoxes do you live with?
—Inspired by Danna Shen, Class of 2019
Essay Option 3.
Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story.
—Inspired by Drew Donaldson, Class of 2016
Essay Option 4.
“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” –Paul Gauguin. What is your “art”? Is it plagiarism or revolution?
—Inspired by Kaitlyn Shen, Class of 2018.
Essay Option 5.
Rerhceseras say it’s siltl plisbsoe to raed txet wtih olny the frist and lsat ltteres in palce. This is beaucse the hamun mnid can fnid oderr in dorsdier. Give us your best example of finding order in disorder. (For your reader’s sake, please use full sentences with conventional spelling).
—Also inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015. Payton is extra-inspirational this year!
Essay Option 6.
In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose a question of your own. If your prompt is original and thoughtful, then you should have little trouble writing a great essay. 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.
Essay Option 7.
In the spirit of historically adventurous inquiry, to celebrate the University of Chicago’s 125th anniversary, please feel free to select from any of our past essay questions.
College App Jungle Advice and Analysis on the U Chicago Prompts for 2015-2016 Part I
Things not to do in the U Chicago essay:
No true confessions of your darkest thoughts/fears/desires
No (obvious) bragging
Remember: they do not really know you. There will not be any body language for them to see, no nudge-nudge, wink, wink to convey that you are kidding; they won’t see you outside of the data and activities reported and the essays that you send–as with all college applications, you are a kind of holograph arising from a few screens of words and numbers. So “honesty” and “being yourself” are hedged terms, even here, and even here you are crafting a self to present to an application reader. Just ask this: which of your selves would you let into college? And then show that self, with maybe a shot of extra zany thrown in.
Things to consider doing:
Research. You may not end up actually including any new information learned from research in your essay, and in fact your essay should not read like some plodding and serious piece of research, but doing some research helps frame things and may give you some ideas on how to be creatively weird (instead of factually correct and/or boring). Doing research is always advice I give for the Chicago prompts, which inevitably have some kind of scientific or intellectual background, even when they intentionally warp it, and this is especially true this year, because Chicago is taking us into the Wayback machine with their last essay option, above, which I repeat here:
Option 7: In the spirit of historically adventurous inquiry, to celebrate the University of Chicago’s 125th anniversary, please feel free to select from any of our past essay questions.
When you click on the past essay questions, you will see that the first option they offer from their past questions is option 2 from last year, what I call the Sapir-Whorf question. I wrote extensively about this prompt last year, so if you like it, give my commentary a read before you dive in: Writing About Option 2 from 2014: Sapir-Whorf.
See what I mean about framing things through research? This was such a meaty question that I wrote a second post on it, in which I gave more specific suggestions for responding: Sapir-Whorf Part II.
This example shows why I like the UChi prompts—-yes, you could simply due a non sequitur riff on the question without knowing anything at all, but knowing something helps a lot.
I would also point out that even the non sequitur in comedy depends on knowing what the sequitur is–in other words, if you do not know what is right or customary, you do not know when the comedian is intentionally getting it wrong. In most cases, comedy appeals to what is broadly known or accepted, as when Steve Martin does a riff on Side Effects. (Am I dating myself by name dropping this master of nuvo-Dada? Probably)
So keep in mind, wiseguys and humorists: Knowing up from down is important if you want to make down into up.
I have written about a number of other interesting prompts from U Chicago in the past, so in keeping with this post’s emphasis on research, you might look at those while you are waiting for my next post on this year’s U Chicago essay prompts:
I think that is enough due diligence for now. Stay tuned for my next post on U Chicago, and let me know if you need editing–three rounds of editing on single U Chicago essay starts at $160, ready to submit if you follow my editing. Serious inquiries only, lest your e-mail be converted to processed, canned pork product. Until next time,