The College of the University of Chicago is the university's sole undergraduate institution and one of its oldest components, emerging contemporaneously with the university's Hyde Park campus in 1892. Instruction is provided by faculty from across all graduate divisions and schools for its 6,300 students, but the College retains a select group of young, proprietary scholars who teach its core curriculum offerings. Unlike many major American research universities, the College is small in comparison to the University's graduate divisions, with graduate students outnumbering undergraduates at a 2:1 ratio. The College is most notable for its core curriculum pioneered by Robert Maynard Hutchins, which remains among the most expansive of highly ranked American colleges, as well as its emphasis on preparing students for continued graduate study since 85% of graduates go onto graduate study within 5 years of graduation, which is higher than any other school, and around 15-20% of graduates go on to receive PhDs.
In 2012, Forbes magazine ranked the University of Chicago's undergraduate program 4th in the country, ahead of every Ivy League institution except Princeton; it was also ranked 1st in the Midwest, 3rd among research universities, and 4th among private colleges. In 2010, Forbes also named the University of Chicago a "billionaire university," ranking the university as the 6th most successful in the country for producing billionaire alumni.
In 2007 Princeton Review named the College as having the "Best Undergraduate Academic Experience" in the United States. In the 2012 edition of The Best 376 Colleges, the Princeton Review ranked UChicago 7th for politically active students, 9th for students who study the most, 13th for the best college library, and named it a "best-value college"; the Princeton Review moreover finds that in general applicants to UChicago also simultaneously apply to Ivy League institutions and their associates.
In 2012, the QS World University Rankings ranked the University of Chicago as the 4th best institution of higher learning in the United States, after MIT, Harvard, and Yale, as well as 8th in the entire world.
The University also has the highest SAT ranges for admitted students of any school in the nation. For the class of 2015, the middle 50% range for combined math and reading SAT scores was 1420-1530.
Up until the 2007-2008 admissions cycle the school exclusively used a self-dubbed "Uncommon Application", and did not accept the more popular, nationalized Common Application, which can be sent to multiple institutions, for collegiate admissions. However, in 2009, the school adopted the Common Application and included a supplement that kept the spirit of the Uncommon Application. The cornerstone of the previously used Uncommon Application and the current supplement is a unique set of essay questions that have attracted a lot of attention for the school. Prompts have ranged from the bizarre, “Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard,” to intentionally vague prompts such as "Find X" to esoteric quotes by famous individuals such as "mind that does not stick" - Zen Master Shoitsu (in this prompt, only the quote was provided; no question was asked). In the 2011-2012 season, there was a question that referenced a game in which students use to draw connections between seemingly unrelated things: "What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato?"
The school's acceptance rate fell to a record low of 7.8% for the class of 2019. In comparison, the acceptance rate was 8.4% for the class of 2018. The yield also hit a record-high 60.3% for the class of 2018, topping schools such as Dartmouth, Brown, and Cornell.
The college offers 52 majors (originally called 'concentrations,' but changed in 2004). A primary departmental or committee affiliation is denoted for those whose names differ from that of their field designation. A student is awarded either the A.B. or S.B. degree. The college notably does not offer majors in pre-professional areas such as engineering (with the exception of the newly introduced Molecular Engineering program) or finance; however, the school contends that students going on to graduate study in these fields often can select work in related areas such as physics or economics in order to receive adequate preparation within the liberal arts tradition. The college recently introduced minors in a select numbers of fields, and also offers several joint bachelors / masters programs to high performing students in a variety of subjects.
The University of Chicago requires all undergraduates to fulfill the Common Core, which demands work across all areas of the liberal arts for both A.B. and B.S. concentrators, albeit in a form reduced from the Hutchins era. Currently, 15 courses are required in addition to tested foreign language proficiency (one year of de novo study being expected as preparation) if no Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate examinations are used for exemption (a reduction of six credits, or two full-time quarters, may be achieved via this method). While the science curriculum has largely followed the intellectual evolution of its respective fields, the requisite humanities and social science sequences now have several variants that encompass non-Western, non-canonical, and critical theory texts. This is a departure from the school’s traditional ties to texts of the European tradition such as Plato and Locke. While in totality the core curriculum’s goal is to impart an education that is both timeless and a vehicle for interdisciplinary debate, the increasing number of options to students within its confines produces a wide variety of backgrounds amongst graduates.
The College often publishes literature that emphasizes the “life of the mind,” drawing attention to the school’s serious academic environment. Alternatively, a popular phrase with students is “where fun comes to die,” describing the school's lack of a stereotypical college party culture. Efforts in the 1990s, under President Hugo F. Sonnenschein to change some of these perceptions of the College were controversial, though ultimately successful.
Although Greek life is not predominant among the undergraduate population, there are several active fraternities and sororities that have established histories with the College, including Alpha Delta Phi, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Alpha Phi Alpha, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Delta Upsilon, Lambda Phi Epsilon, Phi Gamma Delta, Zeta Psi, Psi Upsilon and Sigma Chi fraternities, as well as alpha Kappa Delta Phi, Alpha Omicron Pi, Delta Gamma, Kappa Alpha Theta, and Pi Beta Phi sororities. The campus is also home to three coeducational professional Greek organizations, which are Alpha Phi Omega, a community service fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi, a business fraternity, and Phi Alpha Delta, a pre-law fraternity, in addition to the Epsilon Club, a local social fraternity that was formerly the University of Chicago chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon.
The annual University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt is a multi-day event in which large teams compete to obtain all of the notoriously esoteric items on a list. Held every May since 1987, it is considered to be the largest scavenger hunt in the world. Established by student Chris Straus, "Scav" (as it is known among University students) has become one of the university's most popular traditions and has typically pushed the boundaries of absurdity. Each year, the list includes roughly 300 items, each with an assigned point value; the items vary widely, and often include performances, large-scale construction, technological construction, competition, and travel, as well as the traditional "find this item" listings. Most teams fall well short of completing half of the list and instead compete for total points amassed. The more difficult and time-consuming items earn more points, and teams typically devote more resources into these items.
Notable extracurricular groups include the University of Chicago College Bowl Team, which has won 118 tournaments and 15 national championships, leading both categories internationally. The Chicago Debate Society has had a top four team at the American Parliamentary Debate Association's National Championship tournament four out of the past five years. The University's competitive Model United Nations team was the top ranked team in North America in 2013-14, 2014-15, and Fall 2015. The Model UN community also hosts two major conferences per year: MUNUC (Model United Nations at the University of Chicago), held in February for high school students, and ChoMUN (Chicago Model United Nations), held in April for college students. Another notable organization is the Chicago Society, established in 2001. Chicago Society invites world-renowned speakers on a variety of issues and topics to campus. Recent invitees have included Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Steven Levitt, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, and Anwar Ibrahim. Their events have appeared in newspapers around the world.
The university's independent student newspaper is the Chicago Maroon. Founded in 1892, the same year as the university, the newspaper is published every Tuesday and Friday. South Side Weekly is a student-run alternative weekly covering issues and arts on the South Side of Chicago.
Undergraduates publish a number of periodicals as well, including Sliced Bread, an annual arts and literature publication and the University's largest magazine, The Chicago Shady Dealer, a humor magazine, Vita Excolatur, an erotic magazine, and Euphony, a literary journal.
The University of Chicago's University Theater is one of the oldest student-run theatre organizations in the country, involving as many as 500 members of the university community, producing 30 to 35 shows a year, and selling on the order of 10,000 tickets. It also operates Off-Off Campus, one of the University's two improv comedy troupes, started in 1986 by Bernard Sahlins, one of the founders of The Second City.
WHPK, a student-run and University-owned radio station, broadcasts out of the Reynolds Club on the university campus. DJ "JP Chill" has had a rap and hip hop show on WHPK since 1986. It was one of the earliest rap shows in the country and the first in Chicago.
The administration has controversially worked to combat the university's reputation as a place "where fun comes to die", which some claim have discouraged top students from taking the university into serious consideration when researching colleges.
The university also hosts Doc Films, the country's oldest student-run film society.
The school's NCAA Division III teams, most of which are members of the University Athletic Association, are not a major focus on campus today, appearing almost “minimal” in their role on campus to “non-existent” according to students. However, in the first half of the twentieth century, the school was a powerhouse in Big Ten Conference play, notably in football where the school won numerous national championships, and produced the very first Heisman Trophy winner, Jay Berwanger. President Robert Maynard Hutchins suspended sports for several years though during his tenure fearing their digressive nature from academic endeavors, ending the prominence of most athletic programs. Today the many programs aim to cultivate the “student-athlete,” the emphasis being on balance between the two. Varsity sports offered are baseball, football and wrestling for men, softball and volleyball for women, and basketball, cross country, soccer, swimming, tennis and track and field for both men and women.
The college employs a house system whereby undergraduates living in dormitories are assigned to a block of students of usually no more than 70 which serves as a focal point for university events. Most campus dormitories contain multiple houses, though Stony Island has only one, the eponymous Stony Island House. Each building is overseen by a resident master, and should there be more than one house, each a resident head. One or two upper division undergraduates are then selected to serve in addition as resident assistants for each house. All first years are required to live in housing, however, the availability of affordable, off campus apartments makes them a popular option with a sizable segment of the student body. Moreover, students are free to bid or request switches amid houses both between academic years and during them. The current buildings and attendant houses of the college are: