People all over the world clamor for an acceptance to the University of Chicago, and for good reason: it ranks in the world’s top 10 universities, rubbing elbows with an exclusive group of schools — including the Ivy League — that excels academically, conducts cutting edge research, and produces highly successful people.
Located in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, the school is often nicknamed “Harvard of the Midwest.” Like Harvard, UChicago is credited for many key innovations, such as the Chicago Pile-1 — the world’s first artificial nuclear reactor — and radiocarbon dating.
Scientific advances aren’t the only thing that has earned the school fame. Before becoming the 44th president, Barack Obama worked for 12 years as a senior lecturer at the Law School.
With eight graduate schools and five international centers in London, Paris, Hong Kong, Delhi, and Beijing, UChicago has become synonymous with the Ivy League, the most famous brand name in higher education.
In this article, we’ll explain why Chicago is a top-tier school, how it fits into discussions of the Ivy League, rankings, and how to get accepted. By the end, you will be able to decide whether Chicago is right for you.
Is University of Chicago an Ivy League School?
The University of Chicago is not an Ivy League school.
The Ivy League is an athletic conference consisting of Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania. Since their founding in 1954, the Ivies have also gained prominence for academic and research excellence. So much so that any high-achieving school is inevitably compared to the League.
UChicago is no exception. Although it’s an honor to be associated with the Ivy League, UChicago has established its own brand over the years. The school is known for its rigorous undergraduate programs, which includes interdisciplinary courses like Big Problems and Chicago Studies.
UChicago also offers joint bachelor’s and master’s programs in specialized areas such as social service administration, computational social science, and computational analysis and public policy.
Like the Ivy League, Chicago has made a name for itself by being on the cusp of modern research and producing the brightest minds. Some of these alumni include Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, NBA commissioner Adam Silver, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, Senator Bernie Sanders, astronomer Carl Sagan, and minimalist composer Philip Glass.
The university is affiliated with 94 Nobel laureates, making it the world’s tenth most Nobel-affiliated institution.
Why University of Chicago Is Often Confused As an Ivy League School
Given the highlights we’ve gone over so far, it’s easy to confuse Chicago as an Ivy League.
The university joins a roster of other non-Ivies — MIT, Stanford, Duke, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins — comparable to their Ivy counterparts. While the Ivies are top-tier, non-Ivies can be just as elite, if not more. It depends on what you look for in a school.
For example, UChicago is ranked #3 by Niche.com in the fields of math, public policy, and economics. If you want to go into any of these careers, Chicago is the place to go. But no matter what you want to study, you’re sure to encounter the Core Curriculum, which teaches undergrads how to address problems using multidisciplinary perspectives.
The Core consists of sequences in humanities, social science, physical science, biological science, and history of civilization. Students take these courses in conjunction with their major, broadening their knowledge and viewpoints. And since undergrads are all enrolled at Chicago’s sole College, they are less divided by subject and more united by “free and open inquiry.”
The arrangement is similar to Columbia’s Core Curriculum, or Brown’s Open Curriculum. Indeed, many Ivies share Chicago’s goal of holistic education where students are free to explore their passions and discover new ones.
This spirit pervades the university, resulting in very high research output. In fact, the University of Chicago Press is the largest university press in the country. Publications include the authoritative Chicago Manual of Style and Critical Inquiry.
University of Chicago: Ranking, Acceptance Rate, and More
University of Chicago has an acceptance rate of 6%, one of the most selective in the nation. It’s right up there with Yale, Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia.
U.S. News ranks Chicago #6 on their list of national universities. The list weighs graduation rates, social mobility, undergraduate academic reputation, faculty resources, financial resources per student, and other factors. Chicago also performs well in categories such as value, innovation, and undergraduate research.
Washington Monthly, an outspoken counterpart to U.S. News, ranks Chicago #24 overall. WM claims to value colleges’ “contribution to the public good in three broad categories: social mobility, research, and promoting public service.”
Niche.com, which ranks colleges based on data from the U.S. Department of Education and student/alumni reviews, offers a more comprehensive assessment of schools based on discipline. Overall, Chicago ranks #17, but it’s in the top 10 for political science, philosophy, chemistry, history, physics, religious studies, psychology, anthropology, film studies, and English. Chicago excels in a variety of courses, any of which would be a privilege to study there.
These rankings are only meaningful in relation to your unique values. Do you want to go to a school because of its academic reputation? Or do you prefer a college that moves the needle on social change? What do you want to study? Consider these questions as we move forward into the next section.
How to Get Into University of Chicago
With an acceptance rate as low as 6%, you’d be right to worry about your chances. But if you take the following advice, you’ll have a much better shot than someone who has no idea what to expect.
GPA and SAT/ACT scores
You’ll need at least a 4.0 to be competitive. Some insist on a GPA as high as 4.48. To get a GPA this high, you’ll need to take plenty of AP, IB, and/or Honors classes. Admissions officers need to see that you’ve challenged yourself and succeeded, suggesting future success in UChicago’s rigorous academic atmosphere.
UChicago became standardized test-optional in 2018, but doing well on the SAT or ACT will only further demonstrate your academic ability. Aim for at least 1500 on the SAT or 34 on the ACT.
UChicago is pretty famous for its quirky essay prompts. The following was an optional prompt from the 2020-21 application cycle:
“Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” – Eleanor Roosevelt. Misattribute a famous quote and explore the implications of doing so.
UChicago wants to get to know you as a person. In their own words: “… we want you to, through your application, show us who you are in your own voice. What is your story? … We care about you and who you really are, not what you think we want to see in an application.”
In turn, you should allow your personality, sense of humor, passions, and unique view of the world to shine. Decide which prompts play to your strengths and experiences, and don’t be afraid to have fun with them.
Extracurriculars and Letters of Recommendation
Like the Ivies, UChicago values quality over quantity. They would prefer, for example, the student who has filed a patent for a new invention over the student who filled out all 10 spaces in their application with mediocre extracurriculars. Whatever your interests, make sure you demonstrate them through achievement as outstanding as you can make it.
Your letters of recommendation should also be from teachers who know you beyond the A they gave you in your favorite subject. Provide them with all the appropriate materials to write a good letter — your work/volunteer experience, personal statement, etc. — but make sure they can also supply specific anecdotes vouching for your passion and fit for UChicago.
Recap: University of Chicago Is Not an Ivy League School. However, it is One of the Best Universities in the World
The University of Chicago is not an Ivy League, but over the course of this article we’ve explained why that doesn’t preclude the school’s elite status.
Chicago is one of the best universities in the world, in part to world-class graduate programs and faculty. They pioneered modern sleep research, discovered the hormone-cancer mechanism, and developed the first NIH-approved cloud computing system to process cancer data.
The university has also led the way for social change. Founded in 1908, the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice was one of the first schools of its kind. Furthermore, it was the first U.S. graduate school to be led by a woman: Edith Abbott, PhD. Today it’s the nation’s top school dedicated to social work.
Bottom line: UChicago ranks highly in a plethora of fields as well as overall, so you’ll be surrounded by brilliant peers and faculty no matter what subject you pursue. The unique Core Curriculum will ensure you receive a multi-faceted education.
You don’t have to go to an Ivy League to change the world. UChicago produces plenty of global movers and shakers as is. If you have what it takes to become one of them, go ahead and apply.