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University of Chicago Releases Controversial Sample Essay

The proud, the beautiful, the oddly explicit. The University of Chicago.

As reported by The New York Times, the dean of admissions at the University of Chicago was so smitten with an essay comparing the University to an elusive lover that he thought it would be a good idea to send it out to all of UChicago’s prospective applicants. All of them. As you might imagine, this did a lot more harm than good as hundreds of already-stressed applicants found out that the essay was nothing like theirs, or at all similar to what they had planned, and immediately assumed they had done something wrong. Many began to wonder if they should toss all their hard work and start new essays altogether.

It’s human nature to read something you’ve been told is successful and want to emulate it, but don’t read this sample essay – though the applicant has been accepted – as a model of what to do. Instead, think about what the essay dares to say about its author and take that as inspiration to be free and forceful in your writing.

The college essay ought to be a personal, expressive piece of work, not a regurgitation of the five-paragraph model you’ve been taught in high school. Look at the sample essay Chicago has released and think of it not as a model but as an invitation to be bold in your writing – to commit to a style and execute it the best way you know how, rather than mimicking something or writing the way you think you’re supposed to. This a prime example of how to stand out from what is an increasingly large pile of applications at the nation’s top schools.

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Supplemental College Essay Example One, University of Chicago

Dear Admissions Officer,

I pose to you the following question: Who is the most underrated superhero?

If you do not already have an answer, allow me to assist you. The following is a list of several superheroes, followed by their secret identities. Iron Man, Tony Stark. Batman, Bruce Wayne. Superman, Clark Kent. Hopefully those names sound familiar. Now, here is a tough one. The Flash, ….…?

First, let me begin by explaining the Flash’s powers. The Flash is what is known in the comic book mythos, as a speedster. Speedsters, quite simply, have the power of super speed. That is it; super speed. No more, no less. What is amazing about The Flash, however, is the infinite amount of applications such a simple power can have.

Based on physics alone, the Flash can do virtually anything. For instance, The Flash can be stronger than Superman himself. Force, which in comic books is often interchangeable with strength, is measured in the real world by multiplying a given mass by the acceleration of that mass. The Flash may have a constant mass, but thanks to his super speed, he can accelerate at near light speed. That means when he is running at top speed, The Flash is functionally the strongest superhero there is.

The Flash can also fly. To use a real-life example, airplanes fly by moving so fast that the air moves over the top of the wings at a lower pressure than the air moving under the wings, thereby creating lift. The reason airplanes can fly that way and humans cannot is because of the speed at which the airplane moves. Speed, however, is not an issue for The Flash. However silly it may be, the flash can run with his arms outstretched an achieve flight just like an airplane does. Or, for a more controlled flight, he can simultaneously spin each arm in a tight circle with his fists facing the ground, creating miniature tornadoes that could lift him up. 

How about the power of intangibility? Easy one. It is a well known comic book fact that the Flash can vibrate his body so quickly that his molecules can phase through any solid object. The Flash can also crack any lock by literally testing every single possible permutation of a combination in just a few seconds. Fires? No problem. The Flash can run circles around a building over and over again, creating a vacuum that sucks out all of the oxygen a fire needs to burn.

It is astounding, then, that such a cool and versatile superhero who can do virtually anything has no block buster summer movies or top-selling video games about him. Not even a simple cartoon! The reason I love The Flash, however, is not because of his awesome red and yellow costume, his cool superpower, or his timely humor. The reason I love the Flash is because I love to talk about the Flash. Whenever I talk about the Flash with my friends, the discussions we have are not heated debates. Rather, they are tests of our knowledge and ingenuity. If you put your mind to it, and exploit the science just enough, you can prove that The Flash can do anything; it is all about being creative. The science may not always be entirely sound, but arguing about what is and what is not scientifically possible is what makes talking about the Flash so incredibly fun. So at least give the guy a movie! 

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UChicago Admissions Essays

-Inspired by Benjamin Nuzzo, an admitted student from Eton College, UK

The letter X is a two-dimensional figure, but it takes three dimensions to draw. After tracing the first line on the paper, you need to pull the pen upwards and move across a third dimension, through the air, before dropping it back down onto the paper and making a second stroke to complete the X.

The short period in which the pen leaves the paper is critical. The pen cannot perform its duty in the air. It cannot write. It is deactivated, stuck in a limbo that cannot be avoided, until the writer decides to return it to the page.

For me, that limbo is called Bollinger Canyon Road. Bollinger is the longest stretch of asphalt that connects my mom’s house and my dad’s house. I drive it nearly every day, sometimes multiple times, because parental custody of myself and my siblings switches every one or two days. I know the street so well that I’ve memorized the speed limits, and I move into the correct lane many miles before I have to.

My journey across Bollinger is repetitive, but I’ve made the best of it by using the fifteen minutes of driving to relax and expand my mind. I’ve blown off steam after a frustrating volleyball loss by blasting U2 songs and letting the emotion of the lyrics wash over my body like rainwater. I’ve pictured what my life will be like in ten years, imagining myself holding business meetings in a New York skyscraper or flying across the Atlantic Ocean to consult with the prime minister of the UK about STEM education. I dream of being a modern Renaissance woman, a person released from the expectation to only master one subject, who instead chooses to excel in sports, business, writing, music, and several languages. I’ve even fought my way through four albums of Italian language learning podcasts. Repeating every conjugation of the verb “mangare” while I wait at a red light might seem ridiculous to the driver next to me, but I know that it will be worth it when I can one day write poetry in the most beautiful language in the world.

For a long time, Bollinger Canyon Road made me feel like the pen in mid-air: lost, empty, and caught between two destinies. It was easy to solve my impatience with the drive; I simply filled it up with music, daydreams, and language tutorials. The more difficult task was reconciling my feeling of home, since I felt torn between my mom’s house and my dad’s house. I thought I had to prioritize one over the other in order to feel grounded and whole. Some days, I would tell myself that my dad’s house was my real home, and other days I would believe the exact opposite. I was so busy trying to make a decision that I didn’t realize that I was forming powerful connections to both my mom’s house and my dad’s house. While I was looking inward, the unconscious part of my mind found sanctuary under both roofs and savored the traditions of both halves of my family. If I had spent all my time at one house, I would never have felt connected to both, and I would be incomplete. It was the constant transition I thought was a burden that eventually brought me balance.

When I finally complete the drive, I’ll walk into one of two very different dwellings. My dad’s house is simple and clean, full of high-tech gear and a spacious couch. It feels like a college dorm, rich with intellectual opportunity and midnight rock duets starring my siblings and me on piano, guitar, and vocals. My dad and I love to spar about politics over our microwaved dinner and then watch the news afterward. Late nights are filled with Nova documentaries, piano duets, and s’mores with my siblings in the backyard, as we gaze at the stars and debate the existence of God.

At my mom’s house, I’ll walk into a forest of homey decorations, dirty laundry, and mouth-watering Polish food. It feels like a camp, with adventures hiding in every room. I’ll build a pillow fort with my little sister, snuggle next to my dog for a nap, and engage in high-stakes negotiation with my brother for the one laptop charger that hasn’t disappeared. After dinner, I’ll battle for control of the TV remote and lose out to The Bachelorette every time. It’s a bit louder and busier, but it also feels more full.

The letter X is also balanced. To lift the pen from the paper, drag it through the unfamiliar air, and re-enter it into the black-and-white world is to temporarily sacrifice comfort for magnificent symmetry. My life will always have a transition period, whether it’s starting my own technology business, writing a book of iambic tetrameter poems, or conducting cryptography research in Switzerland. I know now that the transition is more than a short time of uncertainty between important events. It is a crossroads, an opportunity to be welcomed and chased. To find X is to break from continuum and draw a new line at a surprising angle. By embracing the transitions in my everyday life, I give myself the chance to be change my mind and find personal growth in unexpected circumstances.

Essays That Worked

Read the top 147 college essays that worked at UChicago and more. Learn more.

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How to cite this essay (MLA)

Samantha M

Accepted at UChicago

Attending Columbia ’20

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The University of Chicago

College Admissions

The University of Chicago has long been renowned for its provocative essay questions. We think of them as an opportunity for students to tell us about themselves, their tastes, and their ambitions. They can be approached with utter seriousness, complete fancy, or something in between.

Each year we email newly admitted and current College students and ask them for essay topics. We receive several hundred responses, many of which are eloquent, intriguing, or downright wacky.

As you can see from the attributions, the questions below were inspired by submissions from UChicago students and alumni.

2017-18 UChicago Supplement:

Required Question:

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.

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?

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.

-Inspired by Josh Kaufman, Class of 2018

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

Essay Option 4.

The late New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham once said “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you could do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization.” Tell us about your “armor.”

-Inspired by Adam Berger, Class of 2020

Essay Option 5.

Fans of the movie Sharknado say that they enjoy it because “it’s so bad, it’s good.” Certain automobile owners prefer classic cars because they “have more character.” And recently, vinyl record sales have skyrocketed because it is perceived that they have a warmer, fuller sound. Discuss something that you love not in spite of but rather due to its quirks or imperfections.

-Inspired by Alex Serbanescu, Class of 2021

Essay Option 6.

In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose your own question or choose one of our past prompts. Be original, creative, thought provoking. 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.

Why UChicago?

I came to UChicago because I wanted a world-class education in a diverse neighborhood with the natural amenities of a large city. Additionally, I came to learn how to think. Sure, learning a specific skill-set is also great, but the ability to think critically, I believe, will take me much farther.

Because of the University of Chicago.

. I now have a wide network of friends and colleagues around the world; an education that speaks volumes wherever I go; and a community (Chicago) that I love and cherish.

A Guide to the UChicago Supplement

The UChicago supplemental essays might throw you off at first. The questions are strange, quirky, thought-provoking, and definitely daunting. You may not have thought of anything like these questions before, but that’s okay! The UChicago supplements are a great chance for you to step back from the typical admissions process, think about something different, and express yourself creatively.

For the UChicago supplement, you’ll have to write two essays: one answering a quirky prompt and the second explaining why you want to go to UChicago. I’ll explain how to approach each essay below.

I. The Uncommon Essay

When you take a look at the uncommon essay questions, you should laugh. The essays are meant to be fun, creative, quirky, and thought-provoking. Keep in mind the Admissions Office explains:

“We think of them as an opportunity for students to tell us about themselves, their tastes, and their ambitions. They can be approached with utter seriousness, complete fancy, or something in between.”

Here are some tips to help you write an original and successful supplemental essay. I’ve included an example with each tip to show you how I’d approach the prompts.

1. Pick the essay topic that gets you most excited.

You have five essay options or the chance to make your own topic. Unless you have a really creative idea, pick one of the five set prompts. Read through all the essay prompts before picking one. Do any of them strike you immediately as interesting or get you excited and thinking? Eliminate any prompts that don’t excite you and then brainstorm how you’d approach the remaining prompts. Pick the essay topic that gets you the most excited to write, think, and creatively make an argument or tell a story.

For example, I’m most excited about approaching Essay #1, because I love dissecting jokes and think I have some great starting ideas for it, so I would choose that prompt.

2. Answer the question.

You’re applying to colleges, so you might think you should talk about yourself and your extra-curricular activities, like in a typical personal statement. That won’t work here! It seems obvious, but be sure you’re answering the essay question!

For example, if I were writing Essay Question #3, I would make sure I’ve answered all three parts of the question, so ultimately, the admissions officer would have an idea of what I think history is, who “they” are, and what “they” aren’t telling us.

3. Tell a coherent story or develop an argument.

The strongest essays will tell a clear story or develop an argument with evidence. The admissions officers will be learning about you by seeing how you construct this argument or how you incorporate characters and language to tell your story. Be detailed and thoughtful about each part of your argument or story.

For example, if I answered Essay Question #4, I might write from the perspective of the mantis shrimp about how he sees the world, or tell the story of a scientist who creates mantis shrimp “goggles” and sees the world for the first time like a shrimp.

4. Sneak in parts about you.

Be sure you answer the question, but. you can (and should) sneak in things that are important to you, too! Use the question as a launching pad to explore parts about yourself that you haven’t addressed in your common app or the “Why UChicago” essay in a way that works. When you’re brainstorming and outlining your essay, make sure the argument or story reflects something that’s important to you or important about you. Remember though, it’s more important to make a strong argument with clear thoughts than to write about every sport you’ve ever played or every place you’ve traveled.

For example, if I were writing Essay Question #2, I might write about how “I am I and I am my thoughts” and reflect philosophically (maybe include thoughts from philosophers), because I love philosophy (and wanted to study that at UChicago — and did).

5. Be creative!

There’s no wrong answer or incorrect approach for these prompts. Be creative, use descriptive language, and have fun! The goal of the essay is for the admissions officers to see how you think and creatively solve problems. If you’re a poet and think an answer works best as a poem, do it! A Platonic dialogue? Why not! But, be sure to be creative in a way that you’re comfortable with, so you write the strongest essay possible for you.

For example, I might write Question #5 as a dinner conversation between a chemist, linguist, philosopher, and statistician about how to compare apples and oranges.

II. Why UChicago?

The second supplemental essay should be much easier than the first, but that doesn’t mean you can slack off. The admissions officers read hundreds of these essays and they see many of the same responses: The Core! The quirky intellectual vibe! The beautiful campus! Living in a city! Here are some tips for standing out.

1. Really do your research on what makes UChicago unique.

Highlight the reasons you want to go to UChicago that make UChicago uniquely UChicago. Lots of schools, for example, have some liberal arts requirements, but only UChicago offers a huge range within each core requirement. Do your research and then explain why the unique aspects of the college make it your top choice. The college admissions website is a great place to learn more about what makes UChicago special.

2. Find UChicago professors, classes, fields of study, and research that excites you.

Look up the websites for the fields that interest you at UChicago. You can usually find a list of professors, graduate students, upcoming and past classes, and research specialities. You can even take a look at the course catalog to see what’s currently being offered for undergraduates and graduates in every field. In your essay, highlight professors’ work that excites you or specific classes you’d love to take (not “Intro to. ” classes, but workshops like, “I-Thou and the Subject of Psychoanalysis”).

3. Show how you would get involved and contribute to UChicago.

UChicago is looking for students who will make the college community even better than it already is. Find UChicago-specific extracurriculars that you’re interested in and explain how you would contribute to that group. Is there something you think UChicago is missing? Tell the admissions officers what group you think UChicago should start and how you love that UChicago lets students grow their own on-campus activities (though make sure it really doesn’t already exist, because almost everything does!).

4. Mention study abroad programs, travel grants, and research opportunities that interest you.

Research the study abroad programs, travel grants, research opportunities, and other unique programs UChicago offers. If any of these interest you, explain why you think UChicago’s flag grants, for example, would help you get a head start on your future research and career goals.

5. Be specific and be sincere!

But really, why UChicago? Because you’re quirky, you love to learn, you spend way too much time falling through the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia, you want to learn Econ from the masters, you. Let your sincere feelings about the college shine through!

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UChicago Admissions Essays

These college essays are from students who got accepted at University of Chicago. Use them to get inspiration for your own essays and knock the socks off those admissions officers!

1. UChicago Long Essay

The letter X is a two-dimensional figure, but it takes three dimensions to draw. After tracing the first line on the paper, you need to pull the pen upwards and move across a third dimension, through the air, before dropping it back down onto the paper and making a second stroke to complete the X.

2. Warrior Princess

To understand why I want to attend the University of Chicago, take a look inside my mind. Hundreds of years ago, you would identify me by my scarlet-and-gold family crest, proudly painted on a battered yet unbroken shield. I would dismount from my midnight black stallion, long hair spillin.

3. Ambigrams

The Illuminati changed my life. Three years ago, I found my first ambigram in one of my favorite novels, by Dan Brown. I turned the page, and there it was: the word “Illuminati” printed into the exact center of the book. It was styled like a newspaper masthead, exquisite and complex, ye.

Essays That Worked

Read the top 3 college essays that worked at UChicago and more. Learn more.

University of Chicago Facts

The University of Chicago (U of C, UChicago, or simply Chicago) is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, United States. The university consists of the College of the University of Chicago, various graduate programs and interdisciplinary committees organized into four divisions, six pro.

UChicago Stats

  • 8.8% acceptance rate
  • 12,558 enrolled students
  • $50,193 tuition & fees
  • #4 in US News & World Report

Located in Chicago, IL


Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. Nelson Mandela

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The University of Chicago

College Admissions

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.

17 th 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.

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