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University of Chicago

The University of Chicago - an overview

‘Themistocles, Thucydides/The Peloponnesian War,/X squared, Y squared/H2SO4/Who for? What for?/What the hell are we fighting for?/Go, Maroons!’ School cheer – University of Chicago.

Founded in 1890, the University of Chicago is a private research university, with around 17,000 students, approximately a third of whom are undergraduates.

Chicago has campuses and centres in London, Paris, Beijing, Delhi, and Hong Kong and has eight professional schools and five graduate research divisions, as well as an undergraduate college. It is renowned for its academic rigor and for breaking barriers of knowledge in economics, law, mathematics, and physics.

Chicago faculty established behaviouralism in the political science field, isolated plutonium, developed carbon dating, discovered REM sleep, contributed to the Manhattan Project and designed the first self-sustaining man-made nuclear reactor.

University of Chicago has produced 100 Nobel Prize winners – the fourth-largest total in the world -27 Pulitzer Prize winners and 4 Turing Award winners. Barack Obama taught law at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years and the university list of alumni is far too long to replicate but includes Milton Friedman, Kurt Vonnegut, Carl Sagan, and Hastings Banda.

You will be in excellent company if you are offered a place at the University of Chicago.

University of Chicago campus

The original building was destroyed by fire and the main campus is now in Hyde Park, eight miles south of downtown, and boasts Victorian and Collegiate Gothic quadrangles modeled on Oxford, as well as striking modernist and brutalist architecture.

The phoenix on the university coat of arms refers to the destruction and rebuilding of the university, and a single stone from the original building is embedded in a wall in the classics department. There are seven residence halls on campus and 60 percent of the student body choose to live in halls.

By 2023, undergraduates will have to spend their first two years in university housing, before moving into the city, should they wish to do so. To give you an idea of costs, in 2021-2, a room on campus was approximately $10,833, while an unlimited meal plan came in at $6,852. Payments are charged per quarter since the University of Chicago works on a quarterly academic system, rather than the more common three terms.

How is the University of Chicago organized?

The undergraduate college offers BA and BSc degrees in 51 majors and 33 minors. Every undergraduate has to pass the Core Curriculum, see below, in order to gain their degree.

The graduate school has five divisions: Humanities, Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences, and the Institute for Molecular Engineering.

The Law School, established in 1902, the Booth School of Business, Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts, and the Harris School of  Public Policy are all part of a network of teaching and research centres, which includes the world-renowned Oriental Institute, the Argonne National Laboratory and the Fermilab, co-managed by the University of Chicago and the US Department of Energy, which specialises in high-energy particle physics research.

What is the University of Chicago Core Curriculum?

Unlike many other high-ranking universities, which provide a fairly watered-down version of a foundation curriculum, the University of Chicago prides itself on giving all its undergraduates a wide-ranging education and developing their critical-thinking skills, argumentation, and analytical abilities before they choose their major.

The Core Curriculum pushes and challenges undergraduates to broaden their horizons: thus, if you are studying STEM subjects and intend to major in engineering, you will still have to fulfill the university’s requirements and take 15 courses and reach a certain proficiency in a foreign language before you can focus on your chosen course. The first year of your undergraduate studies will therefore be dedicated to  the Core Curriculum, which is divided into three sections:

Humanities, Arts, Civilisation studies: Mathematics Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences: Social Sciences:
1 course in the Arts
1 course in Mathematics
3 courses
2 courses in Civilisation
2 courses in Physical Sciences
2 courses in Humanities
2 courses in Biological Sciences
+ a sixth course
+ a sixth course

Undergraduates who have been educated abroad can apply for a waiver for the language proficiency requirement. Everyone else must choose from over 50 languages and show that they have reached at least beginner level by the end of the courses.

Language competency will be assessed through coursework.

Feedback from University of Chicago alumni is full of praise for the Core Curriculum, with former students remembering the fossil excavations they undertook on the Dinosaur Science course, being introduced to Art of the East, and discovering the properties of mould in Our Mouldy Earth with immense fondness and appreciation.

Others praise the Arts requirement, with its huge range of courses in the visual, dramatic, and music arts, and the vast number of options they could choose, from sculpture to stage design – subjects they would never have considered taking otherwise.

Nevertheless, bear in mind that the Core Curriculum sets a high standard, produces a heavy workload, and is said to be more demanding than those of MIT, Yale, and Harvard. You will find yourself pushing to finish courses in time, and juggling academic commitments, while still being expected to produce excellent work across the field.

How much are tuition fees at the University of Chicago?

In 2020-2021, tuition was $59,298. International students are eligible for merit scholarships. If you wish to apply for financial aid, you will need to fill in an International Aid Worksheet at the same time as your application, and provide supplementary documents concerning income and assets. It is not possible to apply for aid after your application has been submitted. The University of Chicago is need-sensitive.

What is the University of Chicago renowned for, academically?

Applications to the University of Chicago how does it work?

Is it difficult to get onto a course at the University of Chicago?

Although the University of Chicago has not demanded SAT or ACT scores since 2018 and was the first high-ranking American university to do so, do not think for one minute that this implies that the university is short of applicants. In fact, it has an extremely low admission rate, with acceptance rates dropping from 13 to 6 percent over a period of five years, to hover around the 5.9 marks in 2021. In addition, applications went up by 7.4 percent in this period and are expected to keep on rising.

In short, it is very competitive, and yet, once you do get a place, 99 percent of students finish their course – an exceptional retention rate, which clearly shows that the University of Chicago is, indeed, a global Top Ten institution (QS, 2021). When it comes to international students, these make up approximately 12 percent of the student community. To give you an idea of the caliber of applicants, the MCAT average score for 2022 was 518; the GMAT 730; the LSAT 171 – all of which are between the 96th and 98th percentile.

How do I apply?

You need to apply through the centralized Common Application system, whose regular decision deadline is 4 January, while early decision shuts on 1 November. You will have to open a University of Chicago account to submit the application form and need to upload:

  • Letters of recommendation – these are important
  • Your IELTS or TOEFL scores – 7 across the board for the former, 104 for the latter
  • Your GRE results for postgraduate courses
  • Reports and transcripts, if applicable
  • Personal Statement which covers your extracurricular activities and work experience
  • You will have to complete the University of Chicago supplement, which consists of two essays, a long (650 words is average) essay in response to a prompt, and a shorter essay explaining why you wish to attend the University of Chicago.
  • You also have the option to upload:
  •  a  video profile
  • a portfolio or research information
  • a financial aid application
  • there is a $75 application fee.

What can I do in my free time at the University of Chicago?

The University of Chicago is very well resourced and you will find the facilities to pursue a wide range of hobbies, sports, and interests. The university has 19 sports teams, over 400 clubs – ranging from investment clubs to religious societies, Humans v Zombies groups, a capella groups and dozens of academic and cultural societies. Some 25 per cent of the students belong to fraternities and sororities, which also organise a rich social calendar.

And of course, there is also the amazing city of Chicago a mere eight miles away, which can offer you all the clubs, bars, restaurants, and music venues a student can wish to enjoy.

The university has a week-long Winter Festival in January, runs a Summer Carnival and a Festival of the Arts, as well as putting on the famous Summer Breeze concert every year. If this is not quite what you looking for, why not join the infamous/famous University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt.

What is the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt?

This extraordinary event consists of teams of between 2 and 250 students, battling to secure the scavenger hunt list, and then spending four days working their way through its challenges. Lists have been put in inaccessible spots or buried, team captains have been kidnapped – all is fair in this event. The list consists of 300 items and includes a road trip to a destination that can be up to 1000 miles away. The quests and puzzles have included:

  • Persuading someone to place a flag on the North Pole
  • Eating the biggest number of Gummi Bears using chopsticks
  • Getting a shout out for your team on the national news
  • Securing an elephant - and a Stradivarius
  • Persuading strangers to use their faces to make orange juice
  • Building a wooden record which actually plays
  • Constructing a breeder reactor in a shed
  • Dressing as a spider and going to a mainstream club

If you are still hesitating over whether or not to apply to the University of Chicago, then I think the Scavenger Hunt should be a deciding factor and you should definitely apply.

I want to apply to the University of Chicago, what shall I do next?

Contact us, here at Elab, either by phone or email. We have an experienced team of US specialists who will be able to give you any information you might need, and guide you through the process of applying to the outstanding University of Chicago. Get in touch and let us work together.