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University of Chicago

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The academics at the University of Chicago are tough but excellent. On one hand, there are the classes like calculus and chemistry which can seem impossible. Calculus is difficult because the university requires that all first-year students learn how to do proofs (i.e. proofs by induction, delta-epsilon proofs, etc.--not the easy things you do in geometry) and all first-year calculus courses are taught by graduate students who don't always speak English very well. Chemistry is difficult because of the subject material and the time commitment. For example, labs last about three and a half hours each week, and students go into exams worrying that the fourteen hours they spent studying weren't enough. Calculus, chemistry, economics, and some other classes are graded on a curve, which is good in the sense that getting a 40% on a midterm might earn you a B+, but it also means that the number of A's and B's awarded is limited. On the other hand, there are classes that are as awesome as calculus can be awful. This year I took a social science sequence called Self, Culture, and Society. We read books like Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, and Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. The books and the class discussion about them were fascinating. Going to Self became one of the best parts of my week. Students here study a ton. We still have fun, but getting away with not studying for an exam or not doing extra problems to understand the material just does not happen. Most weeks students go out to frat parties or other events on Friday nights, but then they stay in on Saturday nights to get work done. The University of Chicago fosters an excellent learning environment, so students here are not very competitive. Although in some classes like chemistry and economics students are competing with their classmates for the higher grades, mostly the attitude is that "we're all in this together," where "this" is surviving exams, studying for crazy amounts of time, and making it through this school. Also, with so many student organizations (over 500) and other things to be involved in, everyone can excel in their own way, so neither the academic or extracurricular environments are highly competitive. Professors are very accessible, and they are always available to help you and answer your questions. Many classes, such as calculus and chemistry, also include discussion sessions and problem sessions led by T.A.s that are designed to help students better understand the course material. Granted, these sessions are not always useful, but in the case that they aren't, there are college tutors and other resources for students. The university puts forth equally as much effort and resources toward creating a thriving learning community as it does toward preparing its students for post-graducaiton. The Career Advising and Planning Services (CAPS) is absolutely outstanding. CAPS advisors are available to help students write excellent resumes and cover letters and work on interview skills. Also, the Chicago Careers In... (CCI) programs are truly incredible. They are an excellent way to explore careers, make connections, and get internships and jobs. The CCI programs consistently hold events designed to give students the opportunity to talk to people in different fields, hear experts speak, and network. For example, over spring break, I went to Washington, D.C., with Chicago Careers in Public and Social Service (CCIPSS). We met with alumni at the White House, State Department, Peace Corps, USAID, the Brookings Institute, and Senator Durbin’s office. We had lunch with a Senior Advisor to the President and dinner with a Foreign Affairs Officer with the State Department who spent six months in Iraq working directly for General Patreus. The university completely understands the importance of career exploration and networking in order to get internships and jobs. CAPS also runs Chicago Career Connection (CCC), an online resource for students. Through CCC, students can schedule appointments with CAPS advisors and research and apply for thousands of jobs (there are at least 60,000 posted on CCC). The only downside to CAPS is that it takes about two weeks to get an appointment.

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The academic life here is incredible, and definitely one of the best things about UChicago. Professors here are open and helpful to students. In smaller to medium sized classes, even in math classes where participation isn’t important, professors make an effort to know names. In larger introductory classes, probably not. I’m not a huge humanities or discussion person, but the humanities classes here have proven to be my favorite. They’re pretty small (capped at about 15 people) and are aimed around discussion of novels rather than pure lecture. Participation is definitely valued here, except for in the larger introductory classes. Students study here a decent amount, but it really is based on individual courseload. There are some people here that go out four nights a week or spend all of their nights playing Super Smash Bros in the lounge until 4am, but there are also some people here that study every night. It depends on the classes, but again, that’s self-selecting. UChicago students are really intelligent and diverse, and therefore, conversations are also very intelligent and diverse. We’ll have discussions about everything from our humanities readings and world events to TV shows and recent happenings on campus. Students here are also very helpful to one another – particularly upper classmen to lower classmen. I haven’t experienced any kind of fierce competition yet, even in classes where the grades of students are based on curves. Also, all UChicago students are familiar with the Core, the academic requirements for all of its students. Personally, I really like it. Many things are avoidable with AP credits (which are very useful here!) but I like how everyone has to take a humanities class or an art class or classes in different subjects. Unlike other schools, UChicago doesn’t require specific courses. Rather, they have a requirement with a wide variety of classes that fills that requirement. So even though you may have to take classes in specific subject areas, students still have choice and variety. Also, one important thing to note about UChicago academics: learning here is for learning’s sake. However, UChicago has great programs for pre-professionals, including those that won’t to go into law, medicine, business, non-profit work, etc.

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Humanities and social science classes (that everyone will eventually take to fulfill the Core) are generally small enough that you could tell if somebody was absent. The professors make an effort to remember and call you by your name by the second week of classes. They are discussion based classes so you not only develop a relationship with your teacher, but your fellow students as well, as you debate and discuss ideas and texts. What I loved about my humanities and social science classes was the teacher's dedication to meeting your needs. They ask us for our opinions on texts, what works? what doesn't work? and their office hours are flexible and most teachers are very willing and excited to meet with you and go over your paper. In larger lecture classes like Intro to Micro/Macro, the student and teacher relationship is inevitably different. The first few lecture classes which was capped at 150 somehow ended up upwards 170, as 20 extra students magically trickled in. Such classes require a lot more dedication on the student end to speak up and ask questions or seek out teachers or T.As. on their own free time. The workload is completely dependent on the courses you choose to take. Some people argue that certain majors are harder than others but logically, more popular majors have more students and therefore, more competition. 3 classes is a full course-load and 4 classes is the maximum number of courses a student can register for (unless he/she decides to petition this in which he/she meets with the Dean of students in the college). 3 classes for one person can be a completely different commitment for another person. While I had only 3 classes and 8 hours of classes a week (Social sciences, humanities, and intro to micro), my friend who took 3 different classes (humanities, core bio, and spanish) had ~11 hours of classes plus 50 minutes of Spanish recitation/ conversation a week. I feel that the University of Chicago uses its core curriculum to help students bridge the gap between the comforts of high school and the spirited academic inquiry of college. Its core curriculum is specially designed to generate great thinking minds for all students regardless of their future field of study.

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Most of my professors know my name. It is easier to make a connection with a professor in a small classroom setting, more so than in a lecture. My two favorite classes were Racialization in the Private Sphere in the U.S. and Contemporary African-American Fiction. These were the first two classes that I was taking that wasn't a part of the core curriculum. One of these classes was towards my major and one was towards my minor. I enjoyed these classes because they were discussion-based, the readings were captivating, and the teachers were very passionate about the material. Students are constantly studying. There is very little idle time at this school, unless the student is making a conscious decision to not study. However, we all understand that we are at this school for a reason, and that graduating with our degree from U of C is the main priority. My motto is work hard, play hard. Students are very competitive as a result of the rigorous curriculum, where, for example, some may be jealous if you have a better connection with a teacher than they do. The only time I would spend with professors outside of class would be to go to their office hours to either review material from class or ask for help with an assignment. I have mixed feelings about U Chicago's academic requirements. Part of me doesn't mind the core because I like being exposed to different academic areas. However, it can still be a problem when those classes are very difficult and they aren't anything I'm interested in, for example biology. The education at U Chicago is geared toward learning for its own sake, as there are no pre-professional majors at the school. Therefore, students cannot major in fields such as business, finance, engineering, or journalism.

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Course work at the University is very difficult, but professors are incredibly accessible, both inside and outside the classroom. Many of the classes are arranged in the Socratic seminar style of learning, without a podium in sight. This way, students and professors sit as equals around a table, and students are able to engage not only with the text, but also can learn from professors and their peers at an equal rate. It really enables you to get to know your professors and classmates on a greater level. Students may study a lot, but they truly do love it. There is a love of learning that permeates the air at UChicago, and it's true that discussions of academic topics often can be overheard while eating in the cafeteria. Though that is true, many students are very normal in their everyday lives, and a math genius in the classroom. It is truly remarkable how much your peers have accomplished, and how humble they are about these accomplishments. You can definitely learn as much from your peers as you can in any classroom. Additionally, UChicago has very good pre-professional programs called Chicago Careers In ________ (business, science and technology, health professions, journalism, and more). One of UChicago's former criticisms was that the school was too theoretical. Now, students have the opportunity of enrolling in these programs to receive practical instruction in their intended careers. Through CCI programs, students meet with advisers to discuss resumes and cover letters. They often work with mentors in the field, job shadow over spring break, and hear about unique internships. There are also recruiting fairs and guest speakers, both of which are incredibly useful.

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Like most other schools, beginning science and math classes and intro classes are often large lectures, while classes in the humanities and more advanced are generally smaller discussions with professors seemingly more invested in your input and success. As a English/Romance Languages major (who dabbled in Linguistics and Arabic), I am more used to the latter, though the majority of my friends are in the former category and so I have a general idea of how class size/individualized attention works in most majors. I have personally found most professors extremely accomodating and invested in your success, though this is less true of professors teaching some of the Core sequences. Sosc and Hum sequences (part of the Core that everyone has to take to graduate) form a common intellectual ground for people to begin intellectual debates and discussions (knowing that your conversational partner has likely read Marx and Adam Smith helps facilitate such things). Other Core sequences, like Physical Science classes, are generally more of a pain, and most people complain that these requirements are silly and unnecessary. Some students even have to take Physical Education classes (your requirements as far as that goes are determined during O-week swim and P.E. tests). Over all the school's academic requirements in terms of classes needed to graduate are reasonable, even if workloads in some of those classes aren't. Very few majors prepare you for a job straight out of school (as most majors are highly theoretical), and most students intend to eventually further their education in graduate or professional schools before beginning their careers.

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Academics at UChicago is simply amazing! We have a very structured core curriculum that allows each student to take a wide array of courses from different subject areas and fields in order to get that well-roundedness that a UChicago degree depicts. About 95% of classes are taught by professors who are, of course, top in their field. There are about 7 nobel prize laureates (of the 81 that are affiliated with the institution) that are current faculty members here at UChicago. The remaining 5% are taught by graduate students who are just left to complete their dissertations. The professors are excellent, very articulate and are available for office hours. Classes vary in sizes based on the type. Core science classes are usually lectures that range from about 60-100 students each with sections that consists of about 18 students. Math, Humanities, Social Sciences, Civilization Studies etc range from about 12 - 20 students with some depending on the reputation of the professor. Students here study a lot! It is the culture of the school and that is why our graduates cop the best positions in whatever career field they go into. It does get a little depressing in the Winter quarter but nevertheless we find ways of making it all the more interesting, and fun. Students are often overheard at the dining tables or in the lounges (AND communal showers) discussing texts from our core Humanities and Social Science classes. People like Kant, Descartes, Plato, Hegel, Adam Smith and Marx spark debates between students here.

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Make no mistake, academics are the biggest part of one’s experience at the University of Chicago. Luckily, your academic experience is bound to be a great one given the University’s faculty and facilities. Not only has the University been home to more Nobel Laureates than any other schools, but it is also in the process of revamping its infrastructure (meaning gyms, labs, libraries, and all the other good stuff). The classes offered at the University, moreover, are more interesting in reality than they sound on paper. Students share a reciprocal feeling for their classes and often talk about them out of class. Surely, it is not uncommon for students to be discussing their classes in the dining hall (or their GPAs for that matter). Of course, the academic rigor also means a lot of studying with the average student probably doing about 4-5 hours a night (that is given a regular course load which is 4 classes). These 4-5 hours a day do not include, furthermore, the time one spends at problem sessions and/or meeting with one’s professors (who are usually very flexible and try and see you whenever necessary). Overall, I’ve noticed that the University of Chicago fosters learning for the sake of learning and- through its mandatory Core Curriculum- ensures that every student receives a fulfilling liberal arts education. At the University of Chicago, then, it is possible to get the advantages of a big city and the research facilities and the benefits of a great engaging education.

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We are delightfully hardcore here. Be prepared to be surrounded in class by a lot of students who did the readings more carefully than you. While it can be intimidating at times to be surrounded by students who are so darn smart, it's also refreshing-- I mean, when else in life will I have the opportunity to be in this kind of environment? Part of the reason I wanted to come to a school like Chicago was to be surrounded by a group of students who really cared about what they were learning, not students who found the path of least resistance to the highest grade. This is definitely a "learn for the sake of learning" environment. There are a lot of legendary profs here, both on the research side and on the teaching side. I've been very happy with the quality of education I've gotten here-- no doubt I've been pampered throughout high school, so I came in with expectations that I think are unrealistic of most universities, but Chicago really delivers. Professors and the grad students I've had have been more than happy to slip into fuzzy roles as well-- as an English major, I've gotten plenty of advice on how to think about writing papers and how to construct good arguments. Most classes are taught by profs, and at least in English, you can avoid taking classes with grad students entirely. However, I have found my grad students just as cool as my profs.

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Class participation usually comes down to 3-5 students in each class with some people participating once in a while. Each class will have a "That kid" which is a person who talks for the sake of talking and our classes usually bond because of that person. I think that that is a good example of how important academics is to U.Chicago. People here study a lot, with many people living in the library during Finals Week. The students are very competitive, but it is more competition against the class then with other students. Anywhere, you will find people willing to help and and the school provides free tutors. As an Economics Major, I am a student who has problem sets each week and takes some of he most challenging classes in the school. Some interesting classes I have gotten to take though, have been outside my major for the Core. The COre is a set of classes each students has to take such as humanities, civilizations, math and science. I got to take "The History of Natural Deserts" which was really fun and I even got to study abroad to get credits for my major. The school is a liberal arts school, but there is a lot of preparation for people to get jobs afterwards, although many people go to Grad School. People here just really enjoy learning and will spend time to do so because they study for the purpose to learn more, not for a grade.

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