College Spotlight: University of Chicago

When my tour guide, Leon, a junior economics and political science major from San Francisco, cheerfully rattled off the extensive list of activities he’s involved with (he’s a student tour guide, he works in the provost’s office looking at global partnerships for new cash flow opportunities, he ‘s involved in an innovation program, and there was something else but my pen couldn’t keep up), I felt my blood pressure rise. When did he sleep?

He quickly dismissed my worry with a laugh. “I just like to be involved,” he said. Given the number of students walking by our group who shouted out a greeting to him, it was obvious that he had a lot of friends and was having a great time at the University of Chicago.

Advanced Opportunities

One of the things Leon liked most about his experience at U Chicago was his ability to take some classes in the graduate school of business (undergrads can take up to 5 classes at several of the graduate professional schools), balancing the liberal arts education with some technical and professional skills. He took Financial Statement Analysis and Financial Accounting and believes they helped him land a banking internship in New York this coming summer. He raved about the three Treks he went on through Career Services: one to Shanghai/Beijeng, one to meet with investment bankers in Chicago, and another one to Hong Kong.

But he most lit up when talking about the amazing services the library (which looks like a spaceship) provides. When you request a book, a robot arm not only brings you the book, it also brings the whole bookcase, so you can see what other related books you might be interested in.

“And if you’re really lazy and don’t want to leave your dorm room, you input what pages you need from a book into the system and they will scan and send them to you,” he said. (Librarians, not the robot arm).

Academic Engagement

The main denominator among the 6,500 undergraduate students at the University of Chicago is that they are extremely intellectually curious. This is a good thing because all students are required to participate in a core liberal arts experience. The curriculum allows for lots of exploration and you don’t declare your major until the end of your sophomore year, which gives you the flexibility to change your mind.

While walking around the campus, I noticed that many of the conversations revolved around readings or assignments for a class. Students seem very engaged with what they were learning. Given this vibe of academic devotion, It makes sense that 10 percent of all people who have won a Nobel prize wither went to or taught at U Chicago. Similarly, over 80 percent of undergraduates engage in a research project with a professor. According to the deputy director of admission, “The whole place is like one big research institute.”

Most Popular Majors

As for majors, popular programs include economics, political science and public policy (it has one of only undergraduate public policy majors in the country), computer science, biology, sociology. Unsung heroes include: Cinematic Media Studies (a film program that includes analyzing, screenwriting, thinking about intent, and historical context), and foreign languages. Its Near Eastern Languages and Civilization (NELC) program is one of the strongest language programs in the world.

Engineering is a little different at the University of Chicago. There is one major option called Molecular Engineering in which you can choose three tracks: Bioengineering, Chemical and Soft Materials Engineering, or Quantum Engineering. The major focuses on the intersection between science and engineering and is built on an interdisciplinary foundation in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology.

If you love to learn, you’re excited that the atom was first split under the squash courts, you’re not looking for great sports at your college, you like the idea of a liberal arts experience, and want to go to school in a college town that seems like it was dropped in a major city, you might want to check out the University of Chicago.