As one of the world’s great universities, the University of Chicago has been shaping
higher education—and the intellectual lives of undergraduates—for more than a century. A
private institution chartered in 1890, Chicago’s 203-acre campus on the shores of Lake
Michigan has been home to 78 Nobel Laureates, the largest number affiliated with any
American university. Chicago scholars were the first to split the atom, to measure the speed of
light, and to develop the field of sociology.
I was going to begin: ‘When I look back on my four years at the
University of Chicago, they seem to me like a blissful dream.’ But that is precisely
wrong. I should say: ‘When I look back on my four years at the University
of Chicago, they seem to me years of waking up and of being intensely awake.’ I
say ‘awake’ because the University of Chicago, especially its college, is a community
committed to the life of the mind, so that inquiry, whether in laboratories
or libraries, tends to be intertwined with life.
Carrying on this tradition of innovative and provocative thought, Chicago’s 4,515 undergraduates
form a community of learners who have discovered the pleasure of exploring, taking
risks, immersing themselves intellectually, and determining the direction of their own education.
They choose Chicago because they want an undergraduate liberal arts curriculum taught
by a faculty of renowned scholars and teachers; they seek small classes and spirited discussions
(eighty-three percent of classes have fewer than twenty-five students, and the studentfaculty
ratio is 4:1); they participate in opportunities on and off campus that take their
professional and recreational interests to a higher level; they want preparation for the most
challenging careers and best graduate schools; and they look to learn outside of the classroom
from some of the brightest minds around—other Chicago students.
Even the very brightest students do not run out of challenges. The university really has
a liberal arts college housed within a world-class research university. The great resources of
the research university are in most departments at the students’ disposal, and students often
have close contact with the world of graduate students. The intellectual diversity of the students
and faculty sustains endlessly stimulating debates. The wealth of diversity in the university
is complemented by the wealth of diversity in the city: music, theater, shopping, dining,
museums, movies, parks, ethnic neighborhoods, night life, and Lake Michigan.
These surroundings enrich and enliven the concentrated atmosphere of the university
campus, where learning, discovery, hard work, and thoughtful conversation create an atmosphere
that, for an intensely curious student, is exhilarating and inspiring.
The University of Chicago is dedicated to the proposition that education consists of serious
and communal inquiry into such questions, under the guidance of teachers who
have reflected at length upon these questions. As one student described it, “This experience
is like waking up; via such questions, one is not transported to a theoretical and
remote world, but rather finds oneself in the familiar world, revealed by a new light.”
The atmosphere of shared intellectual excitement is what I have missed
most since I left the University of Chicago.
A student’s University of Chicago education is comprised of a common core of courses,
free electives, in-depth study within a major or concentration, and opportunities for research,
internships, and overseas study. This academic program allows for both freedom and flexibility
while developing a set of shared experiences and languages of discovery.
The Common Core
In Chicago’s core, students find new ways of investigating the human and natural worlds
through classes in the humanities, social sciences, mathematics, natural sciences, physical
sciences, and civilizations. The common core is different from a set of distribution
requirements. It provides a fertile common ground of conversation among all students in
the college. Not all students have read all of the same books, but almost everyone has
acquaintance, for instance, with Plato’s Apology of Socrates, the Republic, writings of
Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Max Weber, some of Shakespeare, and often Thucydides’
Peloponnesian War, and Virginia Woolf.
Majors leading to Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degrees, enable students to
specialize in one area in great depth. With more than 2,500 courses available each year, undergraduates
choose electives, which allow them to explore their interests more broadly. Students
may opt to join faculty in research through the College Research Opportunities Program, or
they may design their own research projects.
To enhance their on-campus experience, whether for the purpose of an academic
project or for language acquisition, many Chicago students study abroad. Choosing
from more than forty programs in nineteen countries, students pursue a wide range of
interests—fine art, anthropology, and rain forest biology among them. The growing number
of Foreign Language Acquisition Grants—seventy-five this past summer—provide funding
for students to live and study for at least one quarter in a foreign country. One of the most
popular ways to do study abroad at Chicago is by satisfying the core civilization requirement
through one of the intensive ten-week programs offered in Athens, Rome, Paris, Barcelona,
Vienna, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, and Pune.
Most Popular Fields of Study
The Committee on Admissions has no rigid formula for the successful applicant and
considers a candidate’s entire application—academic and extracurricular records, essays, letters
of recommendations, and SAT or ACT scores. A personal interview is encouraged because
it provides the candidate with a chance to learn more about the college and lets the college
know what may not easily be conveyed in the application.
Though no specific secondary school courses are prescribed, a standard college
preparatory program is ideal: four years of English, three to four years of math and laboratory
sciences, three or more years of social sciences, and a foreign language. The essays that you
are asked to write as part of the application are an opportunity to show your individuality in
addition to your ability to write clearly and effectively.
The University of Chicago does not employ numerical cut-offs when evaluating applications
for admission. Of the 1,220 students in the Class of 2008, seventy-eight percent graduated
in the top ten percent of their high school classes. The middle fifty percent of admitted
students had either a combined score between 1360 and 1490 on the SAT or a cumulative score
of between 28 and 32 on the ACT. SAT Subject Tests are not required.
The first page of the Chicago application states,
“A college application is an imperfect way of
communicating your qualifications, talents, and
special interests. Still, you should find plenty of
room for creativity here as you describe yourself
and your accomplishments.” The goal in the
Admissions Office is to extend its knowledge of a
student well beyond a test score or GPA and understand,
as much as possible, that student’s personal
and academic qualities. To that end, each application
is read first by a regional counselor, someone who should understand more about the
student’s high school and its environment. Then, each application is read at least once
more (and perhaps three or four times in all), with a final decision rendered by an admissions
committee, an associate, or the dean.
For first-year applicants, the following information for admission consideration is
- Personal information including extracurricular activities
- Essays—two short-answer responses and one extended essay
- High School Report Form including the transcript and the counselor recommendation
- Teacher Recommendations—one from a math or science teacher and one from an English
or social studies teacher (substitutions are not allowed, but you may submit additional recommendations)
- SAT or ACT score (test must be taken by the application deadline)
- Midyear Report Form, due by February 15 online, if at all possible
- Students applying for need-based financial aid need to submit the FAFSA, CSS PROFILE
and Financial Aid Application Form 4, which is part of the application.
Examples of Common Core Courses
- Humanities—Human Being and Citizen;
Form/Problem/Event; Readings in
Literature; Philosophical Perspectives
- Social Science—Classics of Social and
Political Thought; Self, Culture, and
Society; Wealth, Power, and Virtue
- Civilization Studies—History of Western
Civilization; Introduction to East Asian
Civilization; Science, Culture, and
Society in Western Civilization;
Introduction to African Civilization.
Students are encouraged to interview if possible. Interviews are conducted on campus,
but the school is able to accommodate many requests for alumni interviews in the student’s
home territory. Although it is not required, an interview is an excellent way for students to
share information about themselves that is not easily communicated through the application
and to gain a greater understanding of the University of Chicago.
Chicago is committed to helping students from
all economic backgrounds attend the university and
makes admissions decisions on a need-blind basis.
Furthermore, the University meets one hundred percent
of students’ demonstrated financial need. More
than half of Chicago students receive some form of
financial assistance. Students wishing to apply for
financial aid should submit the University of Chicago
financial aid application along with the Free
Application for Federal Student Aid and the Financial
Aid PROFILE of the College Scholarship Service
(CSS). The University of Chicago also offers purely
merit-based College Honors Scholarships and
University Scholarships. These range in value from
$9,000 to full tuition for four years, and they succeed
in attracting some extraordinary students.
Student Financial Aid Details
Even with the delights and demands of academic life, Chicago undergraduates find time
to participate in more than 300 student organizations. The Chicago Maroon, one of
three student newspapers, got its start in 1892, the year classes began. The Model United
Nations Team, Debate Society, and College Bowl Team have all won awards, some at the
international level. Improvisational social satire—the brand of wit made famous on
Saturday Night Live—got its start here and lives on in the Off-Off Campus improv group.
Four hundred student actors, playwrights, designers, producers, directors, and technicians
stage thirty-five plays annually through University Theater. The music scene is just as broad,
with symphony and chamber orchestras, jazz and wind ensembles, a cappella groups, and
classical and gospel choirs. Other clubs range in variety from “anime” to community service.
Chicago’s extensive intramural and club sports program involves more than
seventy percent of students, and the varsity sports program offers nineteen men’s and
women’s teams participating at the NCAA Division III level.
Another focal point of campus life is the residential house system. Each student is
guaranteed housing for four years at Chicago, and students choose from among eleven residence
Aconversational social life is fostered by many coffee shops on campus. The Reg, Harper
Library, the Classics Building, Cobb Hall, the Divinity School, the Business School, and
the Reynolds Club all have coffee shops and each offers an ambience and cuisine of its own.
The coffee shop in the Divinity School is run by graduate students who use the proceeds
to underwrite their expenses and provide scholarships to needy students. It has food from
many of the ethnic restaurants in Hyde Park, including Thai, Mexican, and Middle Eastern
dishes. Being in the basement, the student coffee shop has a close and shadowy feel conducive
to heartfelt talk. It also sells mugs and T-shirts that boast: “The Divinity School Coffee Shop—
Where God Drinks Coffee.” The Classics coffee shop offers its food and drinks with a space that
has a very high ceiling and a row of high windows at one end that welcomes an abundance of
light, which in turn brings out the wood paneling along the walls. The Reynolds Club renovation
has turned it into the de facto student center, with lounges, a marketplace, the offices of
dozens of student organizations, and football and pool tables installed in the coffee shop
upstairs. The coffee shop, along with Einstein’s Bagels on the first floor, are open until 2:00 A.M.
You can also see a movie on the Chicago campus just about any night of the week. The
university is home to DOC (short for Documentary Film Group)—the oldest film society
in the country, which shows at least one movie every night and more on the weekends
when recently released films are featured. On weeknights, they run various series, such as
a Kurosawa film or a Western every Tuesday for the whole term. Fire Escape Productions is
the filmmaking arm of DOC. The productions are mostly shorts, but in 2002, Fire Escape
completed the first feature-length film shot by the group.
There are a number of major festivals during the year including Ribs n’ Bibs, The
Humanities Open House, Kuviasungnerk, Summer Breeze, and the Folk Festival.
Kuviasungnerk, which runs for a week during January, is an attempt to beat the cold by getting
out into it at six o’clock in the morning. Hundreds and hundreds of students attend various activities, including aikido classes led by sociology professor David Levine. On the final
day, this class takes place outside on the lakefront. Until 8:30 or 9:00 A.M., one can get free
hot cocoa, coffee, and doughnuts from a stand in the center of the quads. Those hardy souls
who come every morning have a T-shirt that proclaims, “I survived Kuviasungnerk!”
Summer Breeze is a week of games, dances, and blues and rock performances by the best
local bands, and free drinks of all kinds. The Folk Festival draws together folk music performers
from around the country and students from throughout the university for a weekend
of performances, master classes, and jam sessions. The annual Scavenger Hunt is a
huge campus event that has teams circling the Henry Crown Field House with paper clips,
shaving their heads, and driving to other states to retrieve items ranging from circus
elephants to Canadian traffic signs.
Other Popular Activities
Model United Nations—University of Chicago (or MUNUC), started in the late 1980s by
a few independent and very capable students, has blossomed into the largest student
organization on campus, hosting an award-winning model-U.N. conference for high school
students from around the United States. More than a thousand visitors annually descend on
the Palmer House Hilton for a weekend of intensive meetings simulating the activities of
The student-run radio station, WHPK 88.5 FM, offers a dizzyingly eclectic variety of programs,
from avant-garde rock to political commentary. The theater groups are particularly
strong, staging about thirty-five full-scale productions per year. Off-Off Campus is a student
improvisation group that continues the tradition begun by the students who went on to found
the Second City comedy club. Students can act, direct, produce, and even write their own
shows. Because there is no theater major at the university, any student can audition for any
role in any play; a science major can direct a show. Yet classes on acting and directing are
taught by professionals active in the Chicago scene. The student-run University Theater has
internship programs with two professional theaters: the university’s professional and critically
acclaimed Court Theater and the Steppenwolf Theater. Many students join the University
Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra, the University Chorus, or the Motet Choir, which makes an
annual tour during spring break. There are several student-led a capella singing groups, including
The Unaccompanied Women, The Acafellas, and Rhythm ’n Jews.
Recent years have seen the flourishing of several organizations that help students use
their abilities to help Chicago. The university is in the heart of the south side of Chicago, an economically, ethnically diverse region of the city. The Community Service Center was started
by students in the early 1990s. The center links hundreds of students with volunteer opportunities
around the city. A tutoring program run by the Blue Gargoyle facilitates weekly one-onone
meetings between university students and children who need help in school. Actors from
University Theater perform and lead workshops in local schools. Student Teachers run an
after-school program with three local elementary schools, where students teach reading and
creative writing in discussion courses that they themselves design. Habitat for Humanity regularly
brings together large groups of students to build or repair homes, and a program called
“Turn A Lot Around” puts students to work alongside residents in cleaning up vacant lots and
transforming them into gardens.
The university guarantees housing for four years for every student. In 2002, a new residence
hall, Max Palevsky Residential Commons, opened in the center of campus.
Particularly nice about the Chicago housing system is the easy availability of single rooms,
even for first-year students, but double rooms are plentiful as well. The Shoreland, with several
hundred students, is a renovated luxury hotel with views of Lake Michigan and large
apartment-style rooms. Built in the neo-Gothic style, Burton-Judson is the other large
dorm, and is particularly sociable, while still having lots of single rooms.
The dorms are subdivided into Houses, some named after famous professors or Chicago
luminaries. Each large dorm has a master, usually a senior faculty member, and each house has
a resident head, usually a senior graduate student. The masters and resident heads host discussions,
trips downtown, and study breaks for the dorm. The resident heads, many of whom
are married, provide a steadying influence, and if there are children, their goodwill can be
great company after a long day.
About a third of Chicago’s students live off campus, but they remain in the Hyde Park
neighborhood. This means that almost everyone lives off campus for the fourth year, some also
for the third year and even second year. Despite all the hassles of bill paying and grocery shopping,
students who live off campus love the independence and self-sufficiency. Affordable
apartments are available near campus and one can buy into a dining hall meal plan. The
occasional student even lives on the north side, commuting daily to campus, in order to take
better advantage of the city.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
A degree from the University of Chicago can take you anywhere. Graduates work in government,
business, law, academia, entertainment, and public service. A surprising number of
graduates, about eighty-five percent, will seek to receive a graduate degree within five years of
graduating, either in graduate or professional school, and ninety-five percent of graduates say
they plan to enter graduate or professional school within five years. As students begin to consider
their opportunities and ambitions, the Career and Placement Services (CAPS) office
helps students make the transition into the wider world. Their career counselors have information
about a whole array of opportunities for further study or employment, in the public or
private sector, whether for-profit or nonprofit, and they talk with students to help them figure
what their ambitions are, what the next step after graduation should be, and how best to
present themselves and their credentials. The CAPS web site (at http://caps.uchicago.edu) provides twenty-four-hour access to a range of information, including an internship database
with more than 1,000 listings.
- Ed Asner, Actor
- David Auburn, Tony Award Winner
for the play Proof
- Jay Berwanger, First Heisman
- David S. Broder, Washington Post
- Henry Steele Commager, Historian,
- Katherine Dunham, Dancer,
- Milton Friedman, Nobel Laureate in
- Katherine Graham, Former
Washington Post Chairman and CEO
- Seymour Hersh, Journalist, Author
- Mike Nichols, Director, Actor,
- Carl Sagan, Astronomer, Author
- Susan Sontag, Writer, Critic
- Studs Terkel, Writer
Above all, it was my excellent teachers who brought me to love the University
of Chicago, to love learning, reading, and study, to feel so strongly about the university that I would be asked to write a published essay about it. In your decision
about where to go to college, I urge you to consider no factor more importantthan
the presence of caring, excellent teachers.
Of all the college students I have ever met, those students who found caring
teachers loved their colleges and their years in college; those who were not
blessed with caring teachers were dissatisfied, often downright unhappy.