At UChicago, we are lucky to admit students from all backgrounds and interests, and also to receive so many wonderful applications and essays from brilliant students!
There is no such thing as a perfect essay, nor is there a perfect way to write an essay! You can write about a passion or a hobby, a passing interest or something you find humorous. You can be serious, you can be funny, you can be sarcastic, you can be discursive… you can be anything you want to be!
Essays can be a chance to reveal something about yourself that maybe you couldn’t fit elsewhere in your application. Included on this page is a selection of essays drawn from the WIDE variety we’ve received from our admitted students over the years. In their diversity of topics and approaches, they reflect the many passions, backgrounds, hobbies, beliefs, interests, and origins of our student body.
Remember that each of these sample essays is just that—a sample, one of MANY admitted students’ essays over the years. Feel free to browse them for inspiration, or take a look at some of UChicago’s creative supplemental essay topics to generate some ideas. You can even come up with your own prompt if you want to! In the end, you already have everything you need to write a perfect essay—YOU!
Essay 1: Sandwiches like snowflakes.
In response to the “What is square one, and how do you get back to it?” prompt, this student turned his affinity for sandwiches—made from ingredients that range from smoked trout to Dijon and apple butter—into the recipe for a great essay!
I am convinced that sandwiches are truly one of a kind; comparable to snowflakes in their degree of distinction. Yes, it would be possible “recreate” your favorite sourdough, smoked trout, olive tapenade, roasted pepper concoction, but would it be as good as it was the first time? Would the proportions of each ingredient be exactly the same? Would the flamboyant toothpicks protruding from each half be at the precise angle they were originally? Down to the atom, was the bisecting chop performed at the identical location? No! Of course not, that is ridiculous; so is the notion that it is possible to return to what was before.
Square one is a foundation, an origin or a beginning and a restart all at the same time. Depending on the frame of reference, square one can be anything from the anchor word in a game of Ban anagrams, to the Big Bang which kick started our universe. But for me, the sandwich, from peanut butter and jelly to hot dogs (technically a folded open face), is the perfect tool to analyze this phenomenon of “square one.”
When I set out to make myself a sandwich, there is a full fridge of possibilities. I extract every container of relish, hummus and sriracha from the chilly depths and arrange them on the counter. The original square of bread, or not so square as the case may be, in front of me, I hastily reach for some spreads to start with, willing to combine the unconventional. But alas, I accept that mustard and apple butter is not the way to go and I return to square one ... yet, not really, because I just decided that neither Dijon, nor apple butter are universally compatible ingredients, which only moments earlier was a distinct possibility. I may be at the same point in terms of crafting my lunch, but I am now at square two because I have knowledge that I did not have when the fresh slice first hit the plate.
The trial and error at the drawing board is part of what makes each sandwich unique. But this novelty goes beyond the creative process; each sandwich is composed from different batches of bread; fundamentally, no two have identical physical properties. All objects, sandwiches included, have a unique position in space-time. At each specific point along this continuum, atoms situated around a sandwich and in it have exact locations and bonds to one another. However, the second law of thermodynamics states that, with the passage of time, the universe becomes increasingly disorganized and random. This constantly increasing entropy means that atoms will promptly assume completely new, completely random locations compared to where they were a moment ago. Since these particles could theoretically be at any infinite number of precise points, the laws of continuous probability apply: the chance that even one atom will be in the precise location it once was is zero. If its location is truly comparable to assigning it a random number, for it to appear at a previously occupied coordinate, this number would need to match the original one by the digit to an infinite number of places. This could not occur by chance since chance would say that, given infinite trials, two different digits will eventually be selected. In other words, it is possible to find your jam making sandwiches, but returning to square one is most definitely not.
Essay 2: Working at a fast food restaurant.
Any experience or job in your life can make a great essay! This student wrote about interacting with various characters at her job at a drive-thru window and how that helped form portals to other peoples’ worlds outside of her own.
The drive-thru monitor on the wall quietly clicks whenever a person pulls up to the menu screen. It’s so subtle I didn’t notice it my first two months working at Freddy’s, the retro fast-food restaurant looming over Fairfax’s clogged stretch of Route 50. But, after months of giving out greasy burgers, I have become attuned to it. Now, from the cacophony of kitchen clangs I can easily pick out that click which transports me from my world of fry oil into the lives of those waiting in the drive-thru.
A languid male voice drifts into my ear. He orders tenders, with a side of cheese sauce. “How much cheese sauce is in a cup?” he frets, concerned over the associated 80 cent charge. The answer is two ounces, and he is right to worry. It’s a rip-off.
After I answer him, my headset goes quiet for a second. Finally, his voice crackles through.
“Do you sell cheese sauce by the gallon?”
A man orders two steakburgers and two pints of custard.
Minutes later, he reaches my window. I lean out to take his credit card, only to meet the warm tongue of a wizened dog.
The man apologizes: “She just loves your restaurant.”
I look at the dog, her nose stretching out of the car and resting on the window ledge, then look at the order he had given me.
Once I hand him his food, the dog sniffs one of the pints.
“No!” he reprimands. “Only after you eat your dinner.”
He sets a burger between her paws, then speeds away.
I can’t understand the order, but I know that whoever is speaking is from New Jersey. Tommy, pronounced “Tahmee”, apparently has high blood pressure. He orders fries.
“No!” the woman screeches. “No salt!”
They pull up to the window. The man, clad in a Hawaiian shirt, thrusts a crumpled wad of cash in my hand.
The women pushes him back. “Sorry!” she apologizes, “But we’re lost! Never been to Virginia before - we’re trying to find Lynchburg!”
It is 10:45 PM, and Lynchburg is three hours away. We give them an extra side of fries (no salt of course) and directions to a nearby hotel.
For these brief moments, I am part of their lives: in their cars, they are at home. They are surrounded by their trash and listening to their music, dancing with their friends and crying alone, oblivious to the stranger taking their order. On the surface, these people are wildly different; they range from babies clad in Dolphin’s jerseys (“Her first pre-game party!”) to grandmothers out for ladies’ night; college students looking for a cheese sauce fix to parents on a dieting kick (“Chicken sandwich on a lettuce wrap”). But, despite every contrasting characteristic, they all ended up in the same place: my drive-thru, my portal to their worlds.
*Click* It’s a family, squished into a little car. When I hand them their bags, they happily open them and devour the food. The mother asks me for extra napkins, forks, and knives.
“We just moved,” she explains. “And everything is still in boxes.”
I moved a lot as a child, so I know what they’re going through. I give them an entire pack of utensils.
As the car leaves, the kids in the backseat press their faces against the car window and wave. I wave back as the car slowly makes it way toward 50. New to the area, they have yet to adopt the hurried rush that comes with the proximity to DC.
Customers like these help me realize I am not just a passive traveller in this drive-thru - I do not just watch and observe. I laugh and I help and I talk with them, if only for a few moments. They tell me about their lives, and I mention stories from mine. Over my hundreds of hours behind the drive-thru window, thousands of different people have come through, sharing snippets of their diverse lives. All they have in common when they come in is the desire for greasy fast food. However, by the time they leave, they share something else: a nugget of my life.
The drive-thru portal takes me to disparate places; to Lynchburg, to the grocery store to buy cheese sauce, to a new home filled with opportunity and cardboard boxes. It transports me back to my room, where I hug my dog and feed her chicken and treats. It is a portal to the world, hidden in the corner of a fast-food kitchen.
With each click, that door opens. (764)
Essay 3: Look for the spark.
In this essay, that spark was the fireworks a student saw between himself and an undergraduate education at UChicago.
It fills me up with that gooey sap you feel late at night when I think about things that are really special to me about you. Sometimes I just hunger for more, but I keep that a secret. The mail you send is such a tease; I like to imagine additional words on the page. Words like "you're accepted" or "you're awesome!" or "don't worry, she still loves you!" but I know they're all lies. You never called after that one time, I visited you thrice, but you never come around anymore. Tell me, was I just one in a line of many? Was I just another supple "applicant" to you, looking for a place to live, looking for someone to teach me the ways of the world? The closeness between us was beautiful, it couldn't have been just me that felt it, I know you felt it too. The intimacy was akin to that of scholar and original text, your depth as a person is astounding! To be honest, I must confess I had already dreamt of a rosy future together, one filled with late nights and long discussions over the Gothic era and the ethical stage of Kierkegaard, we would watch the sunset together and spend every Christmas snuggled in blankets. Eventually we would get older, I would become a well-educated corporate lawyer and you would enrich yourself within the domain of human knowledge. Your cup overfloweth with academic genius, pour a little on me. You're legendary for it, they all told me it would never work out between us, but I had hope. I had so much hope; I replied to your adorable letters and put up with your puns. I knew going into it that you would be an expensive one to keep around, I accounted for all that; I understand someone of your caliber and taste.
And now you inquire as to my wishes? They're simple, accept me for who I am! Why can't you just love and not ask why? Not ask about my assets or my past? I'm living in the now, I'm waiting for you to catch up, but you're too caught up in my past, I offer us a future together, not a past to dwell upon. Whenever I'm around you, I just get that tingle deep inside me that tells me you're the one; you have that air of brilliance and ingenuity that I crave in a person, you're so mature and sophisticated, originality is really your strongest and most admirable trait. I wish we could be together, I still think in my heart of hearts we were meant to be, but you have to meet me halfway, dear. I'm on one knee here with tears welling up in my eyes, the fireworks are timed and ready to light up the night sky for you, just say 'I accept...you.'
Essay 4: Remember grade school?
Any sport at any skill level can inspire fun and creative writing! In this essay, a student talks about finding joy in the “square one” from childhood foursquare games.
It took me a minute to figure out why the phrase “square one” so immediately repulsed me. My disdain for clichés isn’t that extraordinarily strong, and my experience with geometry was overall fairly pleasant. But the intense emotions filling my brain swirled themselves into a movie-flashback- style memory soon enough.
Square Four was the only place any of us wanted to be in those early afternoon recesses. You called the shots; you made the rules; you set the tone with your opening serve. Foursquare was no joke, and no one wanted that sort of power in anybody’s hands but their own. Square One, then, was an anxiety inducing place. After waiting in line behind twelve other eager nine year olds, there was a good chance you’d be out on the first shot. You’d gone soft--those minutes in line left your reflexes out of practice and lethargic. But it was also the only chance you had to outmaneuver the reigning champions in squares Three and Four. See, no one cares about you in Square One. Square Two is trying to oust Three and Four, Three wants their chance to lead, and Four just wants to show off their momentarily superior skill and defend themselves against the constant attack of the menacing red rubber ball. If you are smart about it, Square One is where you strategize to beat them all. Which corner of the square do they favor? How hard are their hits? What kind of passes throw them off their game? These are the questions that need to be answered immediately, lest you enter the real game in Square Two with no plan of attack.
Finally, with your superior reflexes and your uncanny ability to tell where anybody would pass the ball before they did, you made it to Square Four. You’re on top of the world; there’s nowhere to go from here. You have a brief existential crisis about what it means to have peaked at nine years old, but it quickly subsides as you run down the list of rules you have been plotting for the endless seven minutes that it took you to get to this point. They are all of your favorite rules, and the groans coming from your underlings give you life (nine year olds have never heard the word empathy). And then you mess up. First. You said no airplanes (hitting the ball without letting it bounce), but as the ball came hurling at your face your fight or flight instincts come out, and you’ve always been a fighter. Instead of letting the ball bounce, your reflexes betray you by prioritizing the safety of your two brand new pearly white grown up teeth. Square Two catches the ball.
“You said no Airplanes,” she smirks at you devilishly; you can’t even follow your own rules.
Three moves to Four, and you are back to Square One. Even worse, you are back in line to get to Square One. You get back to Square One by messing up. And everyone cycles through this way. Some never get out of Square One, some make it to Four every time, but the game only continues if someone else takes your place. No one wants to keep playing by the same rules under the same tyrant--if that was how the game worked they would just join the kids playing soccer on the field. It’s the beauty of the game: it’s always evolving. New rules come and go, new players become the best, and Square One is where you see what’s working. The game goes stale with the same person in charge, so everyone has to go back to Square One sometime (even if everyone agreed that I was always the best at the game, anyway.)
Essay 5: We love coffee.
“Black and steamy, sweet and milky, caffeinated and decaf,” Folger’s drip and San Francisco Fog Chaser… at UChicago we love coffee just as much as this student (we do have around a dozen cafés on campus), who turned her beverage of choice into the focus of her “Why UChicago?” essay.
I love coffee. I love the Folger’s drip coffee I pour piping hot into my thermos every morning. I love the San Francisco Fog Chaser brew that I sip over the pages of the Economist. I love it black and steamy, sweet and milky, caffeinated and decaf. Whether savoring it in the Church’s breakfast room after the 9:30 AM service or on the Starbuck’s patio with my friends, I simply, irrevocably, just love coffee.
The University of Chicago, my tour guide proclaimed, is a “coffee campus”. He excitedly pointed to buildings around the quad, listing various coffee shops. Finally, his finger arrived at the Divinity School.
“The Grounds of Being is hands down the best coffee you are ever gonna get!” he exclaimed.
A short walk to Swift Hall and a foamy cappuccino later, I decided I wanted to attend the University of Chicago.
17th century English coffeehouses were nicknamed “penny universities”. For a single cent, patrons entered a world of unstructured academic instruction - Enlightenment debates and discussions catalyzed by caffeine. Started in Oxford, they spread throughout England, becoming intellectual hubs that connected minds from all walks of life.
When I stepped into the Grounds of Being, I leaped centuries back into one of those Oxford penny universities.
Around me, scholarly conversations flowed. While my $3 coffee cooled, physics and politics intermingled with lattes and “Hail Marys”, creating a delicious intellectual brew. I savored the atmosphere, drinking it in. It was coffee at its finest.
Holding my drink, I scaled the stairs from the coffee shop’s basement hideaway and exited into the bright light of the quad. The day was warm, and every student seemed to be outside. I chose a bench to finish my drink.
The idea behind the penny universities was to provide a novel type of cerebral learning outside of school. They rested on the premise that the typical academic structure lacked a certain zest.
The Grounds of Being differed from those Oxford coffeehouses in this respect. It was not a supplement to the university academics; it was a reflection of them. As students and professors passed, I saw the same type of discussions on the quad as in the coffee shop. The campus pulsated with the freewheeling atmosphere of intellectual inquiry.
The exclusive group of early coffeehouse patrons included Sir Isaac Newton, a physics icon. The Royal Society often continued their discussions into a coffee hour where he and his fellow scientists engaged in debates alongside politicians other prominent Londoners.
At the University of Chicago, I could participate in the same scientific discussions as Newton. I could engage in debates with people of diverse backgrounds and majors. I could study under one of the best physics departments without sacrificing liberal discourse. It maintains the essence of the early coffeehouses in the context of a modern university.
As my tour guide said, it is truly a coffee campus.
Essay 6: Feel as free as a bird now.
Though Lynyrd Skynyrd is technically Southern rock, you can most definitely write about country music, like this student, who defended her beloved genre in the below essay.
Alright. I’ll just say it. Accept me or reject me, you should know.
I listen to country.
At my school, I conceal my taste in music. When listening to my playlists with friends, I keep a careful eye on the song. If I see a Dolly Parton or Tim McGraw album cover come up, I slam that fast forward key and pray my friend didn’t notice.
They say country is trash. My peers hear songs like “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” and “Ticks” and think all country music is like that. It isn’t. I swear.
If only my friends would listen to my favorite country songs, then they would understand. Maybe if they heard “Jolene”, by Dolly Parton,
Or Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”.
They might appreciate Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Hurt”
Or even Tim McGraw’s “Felt Good On My Lips.”
Even “American Kids” by Kenny Chesney might spark their interest.
It’s too bad songs like “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” give country such an awful reputation, because there really are some wonderful songs out there.
Essay 7: A ruined book tells a story(?).
One essay prompt asks students: “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?” Keeping with the bookish theme (though this essay focuses more on Matilda and Harry Potter than Holden Caulfield and Nick Carraway), this student wrote about why some people appreciate worn books… and why others won’t let those same people borrow their books.
The only time I was scolded in elementary school was for returning a damaged library book. A drop in the bathtub had left the pages of Matilda irreparably wavy and crinkly. Even with a thorough blast from my pink Hello Kitty blow-dryer, the book could not be returned to its pristine condition. Librarians everywhere cringed; Jane Austen rolled in her grave. At eight years old, however, I was not deterred from finishing the book. I simply waited for the pages to dry and read on, eager to find out whether Matilda ever escapes evil Miss Trunchbull (Spoiler alert: she does). Never was the dichotomy between those who prefer well-loved books and those who keep their books pristine more evident to me.
Though less aesthetically pleasing, I never regarded that copy of Matilda as ruined. Even eight year olds understand the function of a book. Its job is to tell a story, to allow its reader to sink into a different world while clutched in his or her hand. They're like presents on Christmas. The wrapping paper is simply a transportation device that needs to be ripped and damaged to get to your gift. People on team `well loved' are recklessly obsessive about their passions. We are the risk takers of the world. While others live repetitive lives of organized beauty, our lives revolve around spur of the moment creativity. Like our minds, the margins of our books are filled with scribbled notes. Functionality is key to our existence. We don't mind accidentally cracking the spine of a book if it was done in a wild frenzy to decipher a plot twist. People in this category are easy to spot in book stores. See a weirdo smelling the pages of used books? Probably a well-loved-book aficionado. The musky smell of old books is the smell of history. We revel in the knowledge that our favorite books were enjoyed (or critiqued) by owners prior to us. My used copy of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince has a coffee stain on page twenty-three. Whenever I come across it, I cannot help but imagine an avid, young reader like myself, so engulfed in a different universe that they didn't notice their coffee dripping on the page.
In contrast, there are those book lovers who refuse to keep their books anything but pristine. Their shelves are lined neatly with rows of perfect, hardcover books. They never dog-ear their books. Instead, bookmarks are kept readily available to avoid sinking to such destruction. For them, reading time is always separate from bath time and meal time. These are the type of people who take ten minutes to unwrap a gift, carefully smoothing and folding each piece of wrapping paper to be saved for next year. Their perfect libraries give them comfort, and they care about the condition of their books just as much as they care about the wellbeing of their favorite characters.
Reading in public, I often get glares from pristine-book-lovers. I wonder why they look like they just saw a puppy getting murdered, until I realize that their gaze is zeroed in on the fluorescent highlighter I use to mark my favorite passages. Talking to them helps. Book lovers on both teams adore talking about books. They warm up to me when they realize that the book I'm marking up is a favorite of theirs and the line I'm highlighting is their favorite quote. We are all book lovers after all, and sometimes we become great friends. That is, until I ask to borrow a book.