2011 Essay Questions

Greetings and happy summer from UChicago! Late June means many things. The sharp sun casts gargoyle shadows. Fixed-gear bikes whiz through the quad on their way to a BBQ at the lakefront. And we select the final winning essay entries from students and alumni!

So while you're daydreaming at the ice cream shoppe (or sitting in the back of the minivan visiting colleges across the country) perhaps these questions will give you something fun to think about:

2011 UChicago Essay Questions

1. "What does Play-Doh™ have to do with Plato?" - The 2011 University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt List

Every May, the University of Chicago hosts the world's largest scavenger hunt. As part of this year's hunt, students raced to find the shortest path between two seemingly unrelated things by traveling through Wikipedia articles.

Wikipedia is so passé. Without the help of everyone's favorite collaborative internet encyclopedia, show us your own unique path from Play-Doh™ to Plato.

Inspired by Ayla Amon, AB'10, Daniel Citron, AB'09, and Benjamin Umans, AB'10

2. Observation, Hypothesis, Experiment, Analysis, Conclusion; since the 17th century, the scientific method has been the generally accepted way to investigate, explore, and acquire new knowledge. The actual process of intellectual discovery, however, is rarely so simple or objective. The human mind often leaps from observation to conclusion with ease, rushes headlong into hypothesis-less experiments, or dwells on the analysis, refusing to conclude.

Tell us about your non-scientific method. (Diagrams, graphs, and/or visual aids allowed within your essay.)

Inspired by Megen Cowett, AB'11

3. Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote, "Between living and dreaming there is a third thing. Guess it." Give us your guess.

Inspired by Jill Hampshire, AB'08

4. While working at the Raytheon Company, Percy Spencer noticed that standing in front of a magnetron (used to generate microwave radio signals) caused a chocolate bar in his pocket to melt. He then placed a bowl of corn in front of the device, and soon it was popping all over the room. A couple years later, Raytheon was selling the first commercial microwave oven.

Write about a time you found something you weren't looking for.

Inspired by Ashwin Acharya, an entering student from Hunter College High School, NY

5. 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.

6. Don't write about reverse psychology.

Inspired by Andy Jordan, AB'13

Again, remember--these aren't here to trick you! There are no right or wrong answers. Just thoughtful ones. Anything catch your fancy? Feel free to weigh in below, or join the discussion on Facebook.


Annie Yao said:

New essay topics!! This is so exciting! <3

Evan C. said:

You two WOULD be the first two to comment... ;)

David Mao said:

Don't read this comment.

June Huang said:

Too late.

I like 1 and 6 best :).

Bryce peppers said:

I'm loving the class of 2015 members in the comment section.

Teddy Lupin said:

Only four more years until I can apply!

Nathaniel Rossum said:


Jacob Mulcahy said:

O hai guys. As much as I loved "Find x", I wish I had gotten to choose from these. I'm predicting a lot of essays on topic #4.

Alexandra Garfinkle said:

I knew Ricky Stewart would find this before I did. =)

Caitlin Fallahay said:

I am loving number 6 so hardcore. Numbers 3 and 1 are my next favorites. Maybe I'll just write essays for all of them for my own personal benefit. I really don't have anything better to do this summer. XD

Rin said:

I like number 4. How inventive! Good luck class of 2016!

Himabindu said:

So this is our summer assignment right? RIGHT?

Douglas Vaaler said:

I love the new prompts, and, being the person I am, I already am thinkin' 'bout how I would write this essay! I'm somewhat dubious of the grammar in #4, though.

Evan C. said:


re: Grammar in #4; as were we! However, we sent it over to the Chicago Manual of Style, and they preferred it as-is. Next time we'll include a grammar error for which you were not looking.

Thanks for the comments everyone, and enjoy the essays!

Three is MY favorite.
Well, class of 2012? What are you waiting for? GET AT IT.

Chris P said:

I wish I could do it all over again just so I can write number 6 (and then destroy and rewrite numerous times of course).

Octavia said:

For number three, I'd write about tacos.
I love tacos.

Rich said:

I'm such a contrarian that if you tell me not to write about something I wouldn't be able to help myself. I'm hooked on #6

Maddy N. said:

These are amazing! Good luck everyone!

(Annie Yao, do you even go here?)

Sydney Birnbaum said:

The first one is my favorite. I think it'll be this year's "Find X" if I do say so myself. Also, I keep wanting to like these comments.

Oh, I can't wait to start on these. I'm going to go crazy.

Good luck to all. <3

I'm sure Percy Spencer wasn't looking for a melted bar of chocolate. :P

I love these.

Taylor G. said:

At last!

Ray said:

I'm likin 2 and 4, but 6 is a real puzzler ...

Kejian Zhao said:

That's just brill!

Louis said:

I'm a fourth-year now, but I wish I'd had these prompts. They are super hot.

Quinn said:

These are FANTASTIC. I liked the prompt I wrote about my year, but these are above and beyond great. I also like that they are entirely inspired by students.

Pauline said:

Le choix est impossible! They are all so provoking.

Echo Peng said:

Are these topics for 2011-2012 UC application? I want to apply !And i love these fantastic topics!

Ben Zavelsy said:

These topics suck hardcore so much! Just because of these topics I won't apply to this nerd convention. Get a life you boners, you actually hate these topics.

Trent Steel said:

Well, looks like the topics are doing their main job(using Darwinism to ward off the weakest applicants; IE the guy above).

Manka Tawah said:

I can't pick. they are all so legit that i'm at a loss...

i love how this is the only supplement essay i have that actually makes me think. the rest of them are like "why does our school fit you?"

Taylor said:

Is there anywhere we can find a complete list of previous uncommon app essay questions? I use these for writing inspiration sometimes, and I have to gather them from various articles all over the place. It'd be lovely to see them collected somewhere.

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