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First-year files: The “special sauce” at University of Chicago

January 18th, 2022

The new year is a great time to reflect on the year past: the challenges, the joys, and all the experiences created. I like to encourage Shrop Ed advisees who are now in their first year of college to look back on their first semester. These insights and experiences can often help younger students as college choice decisions are near.

Image via University of Chicago News

In today’s installment of “first-year files,” a student who attends the University of Chicago after taking a gap year shares her experiences. This post is a great distillation of University of Chicago’s intellectual environment, which I consider its “special sauce,” and I am delighted Jenny is willing to be so candid. I believe this is a great read for students as they continue to decide what direction their lives will take.

Jenny’s first year experience from University of Chicago shared below….

I loved my first quarter at UChicago. I took a gap year before coming to college, and to me, being at college combines the best of being in high school and being on gap year––––I have the school community and daily schedule of high school to ensure my productivity, but I also have much greater freedom to make my own schedule and decide what to pursue like throughout my gap year.

I took math, physics, and a core humanities class called Philosophical Perspectives this past quarter. In my philosophy class, we studied ethics through books like Plato’s Five Dialogues and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Our class discussed topics such as “Is anyone really morally responsible for their actions?” and “If someone you love becomes unvirtuous, should you stop loving them?” In my physics class, we built upon students’ knowledge from AP Mechanics and learned techniques for solving physics problems. The coolest part of our class was that our professor was part of the team of physicists who discovered the Higgs-boson particle. After our final, he hosted a social event for our class and shared his experience of working with scientists all over the world on experimental particle physics.

I’ve enjoyed all three of my classes, yet my math class, Honors Real Analysis I, stood out the most. It is the most difficult class I’ve ever taken but also the most rewarding. The class was fast paced: we covered Treil’s Linear Algebra Done Wrong and Rudin’s Principles of Mathematical Analysis in nine weeks. I spent many nights and weekends in the library reading textbooks and doing problem sets with my friends, but I don’t regret any second of it for the beauty of mathematics the class has shown me. It was my favorite class this quarter, and I’ve tentatively decided on a math major based on my experience.

Aside from finding the classes incredibly engaging, I also felt a sense of community and strong intellectual atmosphere at UChicago. Unlike in high school, where I sometimes felt like students separate into cliques based on athletic abilities, academic interests, or cultural backgrounds, in college, I’ve found it much easier to talk to students who, upon first glance, seem completely different from me. Additionally, students here have more diverse passions and stronger interests in intellectual discussions. I know someone whose goal is to join psychology academia and research human happiness, but he also loves soccer and Go. Another friend of mine could have pursued music professionally, but decided instead to study physics and keeps a 20-pages+ google doc of her physics theory ideas. UChicago students diverge in their interests, social-cultural backgrounds, and beliefs, but I think most of us share a hunger for knowledge and eagerness to make our mark in the world, and that, to me, makes the school an inspiring place to be.

We’re grateful to Jenny for her generosity in sharing experiences with others, and wish her continued success at UChicago!

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