Location: Florida until September 21 - Orientation at UChicago!
I think that this thread will help explain that difference. It seems (to me) to be, on the most prominent level, an unquantifiable one. It has to do with how the people who apply to and attend the U of C view themselves and the school--and how the school views itself. That's part of the reason Chicago's applicant pool is often referred to as "self-selecting." Other aspects of the difference exist, but that's my view. More people could explain this more clearly, I'm sure.
The linked thread, by the way, is featured at the top of this forum page, and helped me a great deal when I was first getting into the U of C and making my way through the application/decision process. I think unalove (the person behind the thread's gigantic original post) is a little famous around here for helpfulness in that respect.
The easiest way to explain the difference is this: Chicago generally looks to admit the students that the chicago FACULTY would MOST enjoy teaching. Chicago's Ivy League peers, instead, generally look for some mixture of: intellectual ability, HOOKS (legacy status, athletic ability, etc.), and leadership potential.
In short, the ivies look to appeal to their constituent groups (alums, sports reqs, etc.) and/or train future leaders and pre-professionals, whereas Chicago still looks to admit those students that the faculty would enjoy teaching the most. This is a key distinguishing factor between the U of C and many of its peer school.
Put another way, if you have good baseline stats (say, a 1300 or so SAT, good grades), and you are GREAT at soccer (could compete well on the D1 level), this would make you a very, very appealing candidate to an ivy league school. Chicago wouldn't care as much.
On the other hand, if you are very bookish, have great board scores, and demonstrate a high level of intellectual curiosity, you have a great shot at Chicago. The ivies, however, tend to put a strong cap on the "eggheads," and this sort of applicant would not have the same sort of draw at a Princeton rather than a Chicago.
One final way to distinguish the schools - Chicago still has a rightfully earned reputation as a very scholarly, somewhat eggheaded sort of place. When you think of, say, a Princeton or a Dartmouth, do these schools immediately connote nerdiness? I'd wager they don't, and that's because these schools look for very different sorts of students, and tend to value very different qualities within their student bodies.
I think Cue7 has an interesting reflection on what makes Chicago a little different from other schools, but I don't think that there is a "conspiracy theory" to keep eggheadedness at those schools to a minimum, but rather the kind of student each school tends to attract. I say this because I have friends who are unrepentant eggheads who attend or were admitted to both Dartmouth and Princeton. Their extracurricular profiles reeked strongly of academics and of not much else.
This is a hard question for me to answer personally, because I never seriously entertained the thought of going to an Ivy and didn't end up applying to any. Why not? For me, I perceived an air of self-satisfaction, bordering on snobbery, at the schools I visited, I didn't feel at home at any of the campuses I visited, plus I didn't want to walk around and for the rest of my life have a brand name stamped on my forehead.
Had I gone to an Ivy, I'm sure I would have realized that my concerns were relatively unfounded, but the schools I found most appealing for academic and social, and location reasons were not Ivies.
unalove - I didn't mean to argue that there is a "conspiracy theory" present at ivy league schools, rather, at the ivies, the admissions committee simply must appeal to a wider range of constituent groups. Dean Boyer at Chicago has often said that the University will continue to accept those students "that the faculty would most love to teach." This sort of rhetoric, as far as I can see, is simply not present in most ivy league schools.
Yes, the ivies have a need for those students with a ton of brainpower - that's why you see valedictorians and perfect SAT scorers flock to Harvard, Princeton etc. in droves. The ivies, however, also have a broader set of needs than Chicago. Each ivy league school needs squash players and rowers and swimmers and a healthy set of legacy admits. Moreover, the ivies look to train future leaders, whereas Chicago's goal - at least from much of the rhetoric I can find - remains to train the future intelligentsia of the nation. Accordingly, the ivies might forgive a perceived lack of academic ability for certain leadership qualities more than Chicago would. Put another way, I feel like a Dartmouth or Yale would care more about getting the soccer captain and eagle scout with 1300 SATs, whereas Chicago would most covet the science brainiac with 1550 SATs and a penchant for conducting science experiments on his own time.
That's not to see the soccer captain wouldn't be accepted at Chicago, or the science brainiac wouldn't have a place at Dartmouth. They both would, but I feel like the two schools place different values on these two types of students.
At Chicago, what I think is peculiar is, for the most part, the faculty interests and the alum interests ARE ALIGNED. If Chicago does poorly in soccer or club crew or whatever, no one really cares. If Yale performs poorly in crew or football, after a few years, there is tangible tension. Moreover, I never felt there was much pressure for Chicago to admit legacies, but this is certainly more emphasized at the ivy league schools.
Again, put another way, I feel like Yale would get most excited about a kid who could some day be the next president. I feel like Chicago would be most excited by the kid who someday could win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry or a MacArthur Genius Grant. That's not to say Chicago wouldn't want the future president (it would), or Yale wouldn't want the future MacArthur winner (it would), but the two schools do value different things in their respective undergrad communities.
What does this all lead to? A student body that is probably more cohesive but generally eggheaded at Chicago, and a more varied student body at many of the ivies. Again, I didn't mean to imply that there's a conspiracy theory here, just that the ivies - point blank - have more interest groups that have a voice in the admissions process.
Thanks for your replies. I'd like to say I do have a very high degree of intellectual curiosity. I'm willing to learn for the sake of learning, not because it'll get me employed. I do not have excellent grades (3.77 UW, 4.04 W with a healthy scattering of B pluses) , but I hope excellent essays and recommendations will get me in.
Oneguy - excellent essays, recommendations, and strong board scores will definitely help. Chicago primarily looks for what I'd call the three "I"s: intellectual horsepower, intellectual curiosity, and intellectual promise. Anything on top of that (skill in sports, extra-curriculars, etc.) add to the persuasiveness of an app, but the three "I"s are the FOUNDATION for a Chicago student.
Note that U of C looks for intellectual talent and the potential to learn in a student. They look for thinkers (think of Plato and Socrates) rather than memorizes. There is a reason why they are famous for their nobel prize winners, it is because those people think and use their mind to innovate ideas. I mean look that the oil drop experiment at U of C the professor founded the mass of an electron because of his curiosity and wanted to learn more about the newly discovered facts about atoms. The people at U of C are thinkers and I can't emphasize them enough. That's the reason why their essays is more important then grades really, their class is more discussion based than the teacher just talking, why? because this allows students to think rather than just write down notes. I mean it is so similar to Socrates, he would discuss with his students about knowledge. He would ask students questions after questions about the truth. And the students would answer with what they thought and then they would do it vice versa. Students and the teacher would go back and forth with a discussion each day.
So simple to say, there is a reason behind the uniqueness of U of C's essays, it is because they want to see what kind of interpretation you would take and what reasoning would you put behind your position. They like to see unique essays.
Cue you are incorrect. All schools want the same types of students, if anything they want to diversify. I know athletes admitted to UChicago who would otherwise not even get into a school near its caliber. The difference is self-selection.
The main difference that separates UChicago from the Ivy League or other True Ivy League institutions is that UChicago is less number-oriented. Other True Ivy League institutions tend not to tolerate a few B's or a slight drop in marks. (Source: personal experience) UChicago tends to look pass that imperfection and look for other qualities that it desires. That's what I love so much about UChicago.
Slipper - I disagree. Many schools (the ivies, stanford, duke, etc.) tend to want the same sort of students, and another group (Chicago, LACs like Swarthmore, Reed, Oberlin, etc.), have divergent goals.
Now, there can be tremendous overlap in the types of students schools want, but lets compare, say, Chicago and Dartmouth because these two schools have about the same number of students. Right off the bat, Dartmouth fields around 34 sports teams, Chicago fields about 17. Despite having the same number of students, Dartmouth will need about twice the number of skilled athletes on campus to maintain its sports program. Dartmouth will need squash players and skiers and people able to ride horses for the equestrian team. These requirements simply aren't present at Chicago. The more sports teams you have, especially ones that compete in competitive sports (in the ivy league, squash, crew, soccer, lacrosse, etc. tend to be very competitive), you will then produce more alums with a vested interest in these sports. As another example, Princeton is about the same size as Chicago or Dartmouth, but fields nearly 40 competitive D1 sports teams. Again, this will lead to tangible differences in the student bodies at a Chicago or Princeton.
So if teams do badly, their will be more vocal alum protest about this. Dartmouth also has more pressure to admit legacies, if for nothing else, because Dartmouth used to be larger than the U of C (especially when the U of C was constricting in the 60s and 70s), and there are simply more legacies that want to gain admittance to Dartmouth. In short, read Jerome Karabel's "the chosen" for more info on how ivy league schools now look to fill their classes. Since Chicago doesn't have the same constituent groups, they don't face the same pressures - at least not to the same extent.
What does this mean overall? Chicago will continue to field a higher proportion of the "eggheaded" types than will see the light of day at other schools, mainly because Chicago does not have to answer to all the needs that its peers schools must respond to on a yearly basis. Yes, Chicago - just like any other school - wants to diversify, but the difference IS OF EXTENT - at Princeton and Dartmouth, there is more direct pressure every year to appeal to the wide range of constituent groups than there is at Chicago.
At Dartmouth - if a student is intellectually curious, that's great. If that student, though, is intellectually curious, great at squash, AND a legacy? Well, that's what really excites D's admission committee. At Chicago, the legacy factor would be nice, the squash is fine, and the intellectually curious bit is the BIG factor.
Location: In a place where I will challenge challenges beyond my wildest dreams (UMich CS MSE '14, BSE '13)
^Tru to some extent, especially based on personal experience this year. I like to think of myself as a creative thinker (not necessarily artistic tho), somewhat bookish, somewhat involved ... I got into Chicago (well, eventually), but I got rejected from Brown (Ivy), MIT, and Stanford (well, they reject everyone).
Chicago definitely looks for different people than their peers.
Does Chicago "look" for "different" students, or do "different" students "look" for it? And how "different" are these students, after all?
We have to remember that a portion of students who apply to Chicago apply because it has a high USNews rank, and that these students will probably apply to other elites in a systematic fashion.
A portion of students will think carefully about their college choices and come up with unusual results. Some will probably lump Chicago in with Oberlin, Swarthmore, and Reed; others will compare it to Berkeley or McGill. Some (my best friend from high school) will apply to a bunch of schools with no unifying rhyme or reason.
Will the admissions committee be able to sort out who is a Chicago "diehard" and who is applying out of sheer curiosity? Do they even care?
Do the people who end up attending Chicago attend because it was always their top choice, or did they attend at the flip of a coin?
I ask all of these questions because I don't think there's a systematic way of answering the original question, or figuring out what the admissions committees find desirable about the school they are selecting for. I also caution overthinking the admissions process, because I think that trying to play to the admissions counselor's ear, particularly for Chicago, can harm more than help if you're not genuine about it.
unalove - now that Chicago receives close to 14k applications a year, I think they focus less on the particular individual, and instead look to get a critical mass of the three "I"s (intellectual horsepower, intellectual curiosity, and intellectual promise). Everything else adds "flavor" - so to speak - to the class. Making the foundation of the three "I"s, though, is the key goal.
At Chicago's ivy league counterparts, I think the process is probably a bit more varied, and involves more filling up quotas and meeting a wider range of needs to keep all the constituent groups happy.