2008-2009 Essay Question Options
Essay Option 1
“At present, you need to live the question.”—Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from German by Joan M. Burnham.
Inspired by Sarah Marikar, a third-year in the College.
Essay Option 2
The short film, Powers of Ten, begins with an aerial shot of a couple picnicking in a Chicago park. The camera zooms out 10 meters. It then zooms out again, but the degree of the zoom has increased by a power of 10; the camera is now 100 meters away. It continues to 1,000 meters, then 10,000, and so on, traveling through the solar system, the galaxy and eventually to the edge of the known universe. Here the camera rests, allowing us to examine the vast nothingness of the universe, a black void punctuated sparsely by galaxies so far away they appear as small stars. The narrator comments, “This emptiness is normal. The richness of our own neighborhood is the exception.” Then the camera reverses its journey, zooming in to the picnic, and—in negative powers of 10—to the man’s hand, the cells in his hand, the molecules of DNA within, their atoms, and then the nucleus both “so massive and so small” in the “vast inner space” of the atom.
Zoom in and out on a person, place, event or subject of interest. What becomes clear from far away that you can’t see up close? What intricate structures appear when you move closer? How is the big view related to the small, the emptiness to the richness?
Inspired by Lee Burwasser, a graduate of J. R. Masterman High School, Philadelphia, Penn.
Essay Option 3
Chicago author Nelson Algren said, “A writer does well if in his whole life he can tell the story of one street.” Chicagoans, but not just Chicagoans, have always found something instructive, pleasing and profound in the stories of their block, of Main Street, of Highway 61, of a farm lane, of the Celestial Highway. Tell us the story of a street, path, road—real or imagined or metaphorical.
Essay Option 4
Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab (both national laboratories managed by the University of Chicago) have particle accelerators that smash bits of atoms together at very high energies, allowing particles to emerge that are otherwise not part of the everyday world. These odd beasts—Z bosons, pi mesons, strange quarks—populated the universe seconds after the Big Bang, and allow their observers to glimpse the fabric of the universe.
Put two or three ideas or items in a particle accelerator thought experiment. Smash ‘em up. What emerges? Let us glimpse the secrets of the universe newly revealed. Inspired by Katharine Bierce, a third-year in the College.
Essay Option 5
Take as a model Options 1 through 4 as you pose and respond to a prompt of your own. Please do not submit an essay written for the Common Application. Your prompt should be original and thoughtful. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, sensible woman or man, citizen of the world or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk and have fun.