Illinois College Road Trip: University of Chicago

Some 6,200 undergraduates attend the University of Chicago, located about 8 miles south of downtown in Hyde Park. Students have access to big city resources and activities, but the campus retains a residential feel.

One of the most selective schools in the country, UChicago admitted about 7.3 percent of applicants to the latest first-year class. Students are high achievers, and the university prides itself on its commitment to “complete freedom of speech on all subjects,” in the words of its first president, William Rainey Harper.

[See: 2019 Top 100 Colleges With the Lowest Acceptance Rates.]

Undergrads can pursue about 50 majors, plus a range of minors and preprofessional programs. The academic calendar is arranged in quarters, so students typically take three or four courses each term.

Many appreciate the pace and flexibility, but “it definitely does get easy to fall behind,” says Afreen Ahmed, a senior economics major from Chicago.

To help, everyone is assigned an academic adviser as soon as they enroll. “She knows me more than I know myself I feel like most of the time,” says Christian Porras, a third-year biological sciences major from Cooper City, Florida. More than 3 out of 4 classes have fewer than 20 undergrads, so you can expect individual attention from professors across the board.

About a third of one’s classes are part of the core curriculum, which includes requirements in the humanities, science, math, the social sciences, civilization studies and the arts.

Many elect to complete their civilization studies requirement on a quarterlong immersion trip abroad, where about 25 students take classes and go on educational excursions with UChicago faculty.

[See: 10 Steps to Take Before Studying Abroad.]

In addition, more than 4 in 5 undergrads participate in research, in part through the 160-plus research institutions and groups across campus. At times, it can seem like there are “more research opportunities than students to fill them,” says Emily Shen, a senior from Taiwan studying neuroscience and biological sciences.

She has worked with a professor to investigate the impact of oral health on the overall wellness of patients at the university’s medical center. The work inspired her to start a student-run organization that provides oral health education in nearby elementary schools and day cares and to pursue a career in dentistry and health policy.

The Office of Civic Engagement helps connect undergrads with service options in the community, while the Office of Career Advancement links them with internships, job shadowing and short “treks” around the world to explore career paths in a particular field.

There are about 420 student organizations and 20 Division III varsity sports teams. Student IDs double as city passes, giving undergrads free or discounted access to more than 70 cultural institutions around the area. Public buses and trains are also free or discounted to students during the school year.

The campus Department of Safety and Security maintains a visible presence, and on the whole, “the university really makes an effort for students to feel safe,” says Meera Dhodapkar, a senior studying public policy and biological sciences from New Haven, Connecticut.

All first-years live on campus as a member of one of nearly 40 college houses. Each community serves as home base to about 80 students, plus resident assistants and a graduate student or university staff or faculty member serving as resident head. In each of the main residence halls, a senior faculty member serves as resident dean to help organize outings and events.

[Read: Consider Living Learning Communities as a Prospective International Student.]

The houses give everyone the opportunity “to form close-knit relationships,” says Darien Dey, a recent sociology grad from Guyana. Each house has a distinct personality and traditions, such as bad movie nights or teaming up for the annual UChicago scavenger hunt.

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