Welcome back! Lets get back into our running essay series on the University of Chicago!
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
The key words in this prompt are “victory” and “progress,” which indicate that the prompt is set up nicely for you to draw a contrast between the topic that you think is important but under-discussed and other topics.
One natural axis with which to approach this essay is policy or politics. It is pretty easy to draw a contrast between issues that are politically contentious, like abortion or free speech, and issues that are highly impactful but less debated, like malaria in Africa or the opioid crisis in the United States. If you go down this path, it’s important to note that questions like abortion and free speech are certainly important.
Instead of just arguing that they are not important, you can draw upon the prompt in saying that discussion of those issues is usually conducted in such a manner that no progress is made. Instead, it’s usually about trying to yell at the other side.
As long as you make this clarification, you can then turn to the real or underlying issue and explore it further, laying out why you think it’s important. This essay archetype can be made more effective if it is interwoven with a strong personal narrative that ties you to the important and under-discussed issue (for example, perhaps you have cousins that have gotten addicted to opioids). But it is still possible to write an excellent essay in this vein even if you don’t have a personal connection to the essay.
Another angle to take with this essay is to focus on a highly specialized or niche area within a topic or field of interest and write a deep-dive essay that shows off your passion for a subject. This can obviously be something like a deep academic treatise on an overlooked aspect of Russian history between 1640-1700, but it doesn’t have to be about a purely academic topic.
For example, if you’re an avid soccer player and fan, you can write an essay about why the 3-5-2 formation is under-discussed and under-utilized, despite allowing several underdog teams to pull upsets in international tournaments. The important thing isn’t that the idea is particularly academic or erudite, but rather that you know the topic extremely well and can display your love for it through the essay.
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, Fundamentals: 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
This prompt certainly lends itself to an essay with a more humorous tone, and it is quite easy to slip into a joking treatment of “Bromance Languages” or “Ant History.” There are certainly interesting essays that can be written in this vein, but we would caution that it is really difficult to pull off a humorous tone in a written format because so much of humor is contextual and specific to the tastes of the audience.
You can still write an essay that attempts to leverage humor with this prompt, but you should keep your audience in mind. Admissions counselors at top universities tend to be younger, highly educated, and politically progressive. So it’s probably not the best idea to slip that “edgy” (i.e., racist) joke that you found on Reddit into this essay. And regarding tone, you should be going for something closer to Mel Brooks or Woody Allen than to Adam Sandler.
However, you don’t have to tackle this prompt with a humorous lens. Instead, you can use it as an opportunity to show off your intellectual chops and flexibility, or highlight multiple academic themes on your profile.
For example, let’s say that you’re interested in both linguistics and gender and sexuality studies. Instead of cracking the all-too-easy jokes about Bromance Languages, you could reframe your exploration of the topic by using it as a launchpad to discuss the concept of toxic masculinity and how that prevents effective communication in male friendships by creating a taboo around discussing one’s feelings openly.
This essay is going to work best if you find a pun or fusion that aligns closely with your profile. To share just one more example, let’s say that you renamed “Social Sciences” to “SoCal Sciences” and are interested in studying urban studies and history. You could frame the renamed major as the study of how the historic presence of industry and the military (the hard “sciences”) in Los Angeles shaped the urban geography of the city and made it harder for the city to densify its neighborhoods once those industries left.
Again this is just one of numerous possible examples with the dozens of majors on that list. You should think carefully about your own.
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
This prompt is the first to really lend itself to a highly personal narrative, as you can use it as a vehicle to comment on the broader psychology or organizational patterns of the society around you while weaving in your personal experience. As an example, if you struggled with self-esteem and communicating with peers when you were younger, you might argue that your place in the world is driven by the combination of confidence, intellect, and the ability to communicate or connect with other people.
If you mixed your analysis of these topics with intensely personal and negative memories of times that you struggled in each area, it could be the foundation for an incredibly powerful essay.
Conversely, you can easily lay out a more positive case and tell your story that way. For example, you could propose that the world is composed of altruism, Smithian self-interest, and random chance. Using this as your foundation, you could argue that every event in your life falls into one of these categories, and share anecdotes of how your life displays each of those traits.
Once again (as with most UChicago essay prompts), there is also a more academic angle that you can take, perhaps illustrating your knowledge of sociology, economics, or neo-Marxist analysis. The key with this type of approach is to ensure that you are displaying both your intense passion for the field and your in-depth knowledge of it. UChicago is the rare school that will accept your display of an academic or quirky passion in a college essay, but you cannot fake it — your essay needs to display the deep love and passion you have for the subject or field.
We hope this was helpful! Tune back in tomorrow for optional prompts 4-6!