University of Chicago Guide

The Ivy Scholars guide to University of Chicago’s culture, admissions, and other essential information for prospective students and their families.

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Population: Phil the Phoenix

Type: Private Research Institution

Population: 16,000 (6,000 undergrads)

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About University of Chicago

The University of Chicago, usually abbreviated UChicago, is in the neighborhood of Hyde Park in Chicago, a short train ride from the Loop downtown. Sitting mere blocks from the shores of Lake Michigan, the institution is home to the largest university operated press in the United States. The tree covered 217 acre campus is often compared to Hogwarts, due to its gothic inspired architecture.

University of Chicago Statistics

Year Founded: 1890

4 Year Graduation Rate: 86%

Gender Distribution: 52% male, 48% female

Acceptance Rate: 7%

Residency: 18% in state, 69% out of state, 13% international

Location Type: Urban

Schedule System: Quarters

Student/Faculty Ratio: 5:1

Average Class Size: 12

Demographics: 43% Caucasian, 21% Other/unreported, 18% Asian, 13% Hispanic, 5% Black

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National Rankings

US News Rankings:

  • #6 National Universities
  • #17 Best Value Schools
  • #23 Most Innovative School
  • #34 Undergraduate Research
  • #61 Best Undergraduate Teaching

Independent Rankings:

  • #1 Midwestern Schools per Forbes
  • #1 Best Test Optional Colleges per Niche
  • #3 Best Colleges for Economics per Niche
  • #9 World Universities per The Times of Higher Education
  • #9 Best Library per The Princeton Review
  • #15 Research University per Forbes
  • #29 Best Value College per The Princeton Review

UChicago Admissions Information

Application Deadlines:

  • Early Decision I: November 1st
  • Early Decision II: January 2nd
  • Regular Decision: January 2nd
  • Transfer Deadline: 1st

Notification Dates:

  • ED/EA Mid-December
  • Early Decision II: Mid-February
  • Regular Decision: Late March, Early May

Acceptance Rates:

  • ED/EA/ED II: 9%
  • RD: 4%
  • Transfer: 5%

Average Applicant Pool: 32,000

Average Number of Applicants Accepted: 2,300

Average Number Enrolled: 1,800

Application Systems: Common App, Coalition App

Average GPA: 4.48 weighted

*UChicago is test optional for students who desire to apply that way, and does not require the writing section.

SAT Scores:  25th% – 1470, 75th% – 1570

ACT Scores: 25th% – 33, 75th% – 35

*Test mandatory. Writing sections are not required.

Demonstrated Interest:

UChicago does consider demonstrated interest.

Demonstrating Interest

Recommendation Letter Policies:

Two teacher recommendations are required, both of which must be from high school teachers you have had in academic subjects. An additional letter is accepted if a student feels these two letters alone are not enough to encapsulate all necessary information.

UChicago Essay Prompts:

  • Common App Personal Statement (650 words)
  • 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. (1-1.5 pages)
  • Answer one of the following (1-1.5 pages): 
    • Who does Sally sell her seashells to? How much wood can a woodchuck really chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Pick a favorite tongue twister (either originally in English or translated from another language) and consider a resolution to its conundrum using the method of your choice. Math, philosophy, linguistics… it’s all up to you (or your woodchuck).
    • What can actually be divided by zero?
    • The seven liberal arts in antiquity consisted of the Quadrivium — astronomy, mathematics, geometry, and music — and the Trivium — rhetoric, grammar, and logic. Describe your own take on the Quadrivium or the Trivium. What do you think is essential for everyone to know?
    • Subway maps, evolutionary trees, Lewis diagrams. Each of these schematics tells the relationships and stories of their component parts. Reimagine a map, diagram, or chart. If your work is largely or exclusively visual, please include a cartographer’s key of at least 300 words to help us best understand your creation.
    • “Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” – Eleanor Roosevelt. Misattribute a famous quote and explore the implications of doing so.
    • Engineer George de Mestral got frustrated with burrs stuck to his dog’s fur and applied the same mechanic to create Velcro. Scientist Percy Lebaron Spencer found a melted chocolate bar in his magnetron lab and discovered microwave cooking. Dye-works owner Jean Baptiste Jolly found his tablecloth clean after a kerosene lamp was knocked over on it, consequently shaping the future of dry cleaning. Describe a creative or interesting solution, and then find the problem that it solves.
    • In the spirit of adventurous inquiry (and with the encouragement of one of our current students!) choose one of our past prompts (or create a question of your own). 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!

UChicago Essay Writing Tips

Special Notes:

  • UChicago requires a midyear report be submitted by your counselor for your first semester or trimester by February 1st. 
  • Students may schedule an optional on-campus interview, or an alumni interview if they are unable to travel to campus.
  • Students may upload a 2 minute video introduction in lieu of an optional interview.


  • Students who have completed a year or more of undergraduate studies must apply as transfer students. Students who have received a degree may not apply as undergraduates.
  • Students who want to study at UChicago before returning to their home institution can apply to be Students at Large.
  • Transfer applicants are required to use the Coalition Application.
  • Transfer  applicants are required to complete an additional supplemental essay, on top of the others required:
    • Please tell us why you are planning to leave (or have already left) your current college or university.

UChicago Admission Strategy

Admissions Criteria: 

The factors UChicago considers very important are: course rigor, essays, recommendations, character, extracurriculars, and talent.

The factors which UChicago considers are: GPA, test scores, class rank, legacy status, first generation status, geographic origin, level of interest, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and work experience.

While the school does recruit athletes for their athletic department, they are not given admissions priority or additional financial aid.

What is UChicago Looking For?

UChicago evaluates students in three categories: Academic, Personal, and Intellectual. Students are additionally given an activity rating, based on whether or not they were recruited or otherwise highly sought for one of their extracurriculars. Academic rating is on a scale of 1-6, with 1 being the highest, and is based on grades and test scores. Personal is A-E, with A being the highest, and is based on activities. Intellectual refers to a student’s intellectual vitality, and is rated on a scale of W-Z, with W being the highest. This is determined through a number of factors, with the essays being most important.

Among these factors, a middling academic score of 2 or 3 can be overcome with a high intellectual rating. A low intellectual rating cannot be so easily overcome with high academics. High academics are expected, but displaying intellectual vitality is necessary. A low personal rating can similarly sink an application, though a high one won’t necessarily save it.

UChicago has sought to elevate their institutional prestige by influencing admissions numbers. The recent admission of two rounds of ED applications seems to be in an effort to increase yield, or the number of accepted students who actually decide to attend the school. Going test optional also increased the number of applicants, and allowed the school to inflate average test scores, as admitted students with lower scores generally did not submit them for consideration. Thus, students with low test scores should not submit them, as these will hurt their chances more than not submitting scores at all.

UChicago is known for being academic and quirky, and that is still the kind of student they are looking for. While they want students with high grades and impressive extracurriculars, they also want students who will fit into the image of the school; who will contribute to its culture and ethos.

Finally, the school has undertaken several recent initiatives which will impact admissions. They have opened a new graduate school for Molecular Engineering, which will also host new undergraduate majors. They have begun initiatives to attract more rural, underprivileged, and first generation students. They also announced new scholarship programs, guaranteeing full tuition for families earning under $125,000 a year.

UChicago Strategy:

It is important to determine if UChicago is a good fit for you. Students applying to the school to check off a box for “Top Schools applied to” will have a harder time gaining admittance if they do not seem genuinely enthused about the school. UChicago’s drive to boost their stats, and thereby boost their ranking, has impacted admissions by flooding the field with under-qualified or under-interested students. 

While many of the students applying are fully qualified, the field has grown so large that it is hard to stand out. Students hoping to attend must do more than meet the academic minimums. 

If UChicago is a student’s top choice, they should apply Early Decision, especially ED 1. They should only submit test scores if they have good scores; at or above the average for admitted students. They should demonstrate the same passion for learning that all top colleges want to see. Scheduling an interview (either on campus or with an alumnus) can also help boost a student’s admission chances.

If UChicago is a student’s second choice, they must decide between applying EA, and waiting to see if they get into their first choice before applying ED II. Applying EA is a good idea if you are uncertain about schools, and applying to many EA, while if you are certain about UChicago as your second choice, you should wait and apply ED II.

As UChicago does track demonstrated interest, doing so is a good way to increase admissions chances, especially given the school’s recent focus on increasing their yield numbers. While their yield is very high, and demonstrated interest won’t grant a major edge, it will provide a slight boost.

The essays are a very important part of the application, and are considered more important than GPA overall. UChicago’s essays are notoriously weird and difficult, and should be approached from a place of intellectual curiosity and a desire to learn. Do not wait until the last minute to begin the supplementals. These are a major factor in how admissions judges whether a student will fit in with UChicago’s “quirky” character.

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UChicago Academics


Core Requirements:

Courses of Study: 

  • 52 Majors Offered
  • Option to double major
  • Popular majors include Economics, Mathematics, Biology, Political Science, and Public Policy
  • It is relatively easy to change majors, requiring an online form, and possibly an advisor meeting if a student is in their third year or after.
  • Minors Offered
  • Course Catalog

AP Credit Policies:

  • UChicago awards credit for scores of 5 on AP exams, and for scores of 7 or above for some IB exams. Students may earn any amount of credit from exams, but must still take 38 courses to qualify for graduation.
  • Comprehensive Test Credit Information

Special Programs

Honors Programs:

  • Honors classes are available for all qualifying students to take.
  • Departmental Honors (contact individual departments for more information)
  • University Honors (includes Latin Honors [summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude] and Dean’s List based on GPA each quarter)
  • Maroon Key Society This is an honors society open to high-achieving 3rd and 4th year students.

Research Availability:

Study Abroad: 

Business Options: 

  • Business Area Study Program is offered through the Booth School of Business, and is a three-year course of study, open to students of any major after the Spring quarter of their first year.
  • Many students who want to go into business major in Economics or Statistics, as there are no designated business majors. The economics department does offer a specialization in business economics, in partnership with the Booth School.

Pre-Med Options:

  • UChicago does not offer a dedicated pre-med major, but there is a set of classes they recommend for students who plan on attending med school. 
  • High achieving students have the option to apply to Medical School early, and begin taking classes at the Pritzker School of Medicine in their 4th year through the Professional Option: Medicine program.
  • Pre-Health Advising

Pre-Law Options:

Computer Science Options: 

Additional Specialty Programs: 

Programs for High Schoolers:

  • Emerging Rural Leaders programs for high achieving freshman and rising seniors to come to the university’s campus in the summer.
  • Summer School Opportunities offering courses in various disciplines, and a chance to experience life on campus.
  • Scholarship Programs students selected for these programs will be able to participate in summer programming free of charge.
  • Pipeline Programs offered by the medical school for high school and undergraduate students interested in medical research.

Student Life at UChicago

School Motto: Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched

Mission and Values:

  • Mission: In all we do, we are driven to dig deeper, push further, and ask bigger questions—and to leverage our knowledge to enrich all human life. Our diverse and creative students and alumni drive innovation, lead international conversations, and make masterpieces.
  • Additional Information
  • Student Testimonials (Niche, Unigo, Grad Reports)

Residential Housing System:

UChicago’s House System, based on the British model, separates dorms into houses, each with 30-100 members. Houses are overseen by RAs and Resident Heads, and have individual cultures, traditions, and quirks. Houses have designated tables in dining halls, compete as teams for intramural sports, and plan group activities. Houses also have individual lounges and kitchens.

Housing Statistics:

  • Students are required to live in housing during their first two years
  • 60% of student live on campus at any given time

Campus & Surrounding Area:  

  • A tree covered campus, much of the old architecture, and almost the entire main quad, is neo-gothic in style, causing comparisons to Hogwarts.
  • Only a few blocks from the Museum of Science and Industry, and past that Lake Michigan. 
  • Trains and busses connect the campus to other Chicago neighborhoods, and the Loop downtown. 
  • The neighborhoods surrounding the campus are known to be unsafe, and there are occasionally safety concerns on campus as well. The university maintains a private police force to ensure the safety of the campus and its students.
  • Virtual Tour, Virtual Events


  • Easy access to downtown via the L-trains, the school gives each student a Ventra card to ride for free.
  • UChicago runs free shuttles with varying schedules and routes based on time of day, but there are usually shuttles running in Hyde Park until 2-4 AM. 
  • Parking Information


  • O-WeekFirst year students arrive a week early for an introduction to the campus.
  • KuviasungnerkA week of early morning exercise and related activities in the middle of winter. 
  • ScavA 72 hour long scavenger hunt every May, teams race to find, create, or accomplish ~500 items.
  • Latke-Hamantash DebateAn entirely serious annual debate between faculty on the superior food item: Latke or Hamentashen.
  • Summer BreezeA concert held on campus every May.

Student-Run Organizations: 


Greek Life: 

Approximately 20-25% of the student body is involved in Greek life on campus. This includes social, service, and professional organizations.


  • There are a number of bars around Hyde Park, and the broader Chicago area, which are easily accessible on transit. 
  • There are frat and apartment parties most weekends. 
  • No longer tops lists of the worst party schools in the country.

Financial Information

Yearly Cost of Attendance:

  • Total: $80,277
  • Tuition: $57,642
  • Fees: $1,656
  • Room & Board: $17,004
  • Books: $1,800
  • Personal Expenses: $2,175

Financial Aid:

UChicago has committed to making sure college is affordable, and offers need blind admissions. Students from families who make less than $60,000 a year receive free tuition, fees, and room and board, while those whose families earn less than $125,000 receive guaranteed free tuition. 

Additional Financial Aid & Student Loan Information


All admitted freshman applicants are automatically considered for merit-based scholarships. Additionally, UChicago has the Odyssey scholarship, which provides need based aid to students, including funding for study abroad and health insurance, and seeks to ensure that students in the program graduate from the school entirely debt free.

Fun Facts

  • The school’s unofficial motto is “Where fun comes to die.” The administration keeps trying to change this, but students lean into it. 
  • In 1999, the scav hunt was shut down by the FBI because two 4th year physics students built a nuclear breeder reactor in their dorm room to fulfill an item on the list. The list guidelines have since been changed so that all items may be completed legally. 
  • Romanian intellectual and professor Ioan Petru Culianu was assassinated in the basement of the Divinity School at UChicago in 1991.
  • UChicago’s Mansueto library was the set for the villainous faction’s base in the movie “Divergent.” 
  • The world’s first self-sustaining nuclear reaction was the Chicago pile, which occurred in the tunnels under the then bleachers of the school’s football field as part of the Manhattan Project. 
  • The university was a founding member of the Big 10, and is undefeated in football against Notre Dame. 
  • The first Heisman Trophy winner was a UChicago student. 
  • Notable alumni include Bernie Sanders, Carl Sagan, Kurt Vonnegut, and Edwin Hubble. 
  • The school’s football team was dissolved in 1939, for conflicting with the school’s academic vision. 
  • UChicago students don’t use terms like Freshman or Junior, instead using 1st years, 2nd years, and so on.
Wendy Y.
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

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