November 9, 2015

For the uncommon good

Amid a changing student body, weirdness will always prevail.

Move-in Day felt bizarre. Not because the students in my dorm were obnoxiously weird or pretentious, but because they weren’t. Perhaps that’s a result of living in Max, the stereotypically most athletic and aggressively “normal” dormitory on campus. Perhaps that’s also a symptom of assuming that the most active posters on the Class of 2019 Facebook page were representative of the entire student body. But it’s most likely due to the power of five infamous words, first conjured in the ’90s: “Where Fun Goes to Die.”  

In the ’90s, the Common App did not exist, and future college students were required to submit unique applications to each university they were considering. Now, however, high-achieving high school students can simply apply to UChicago alongside similar competitive schools with one master application. As a result of this, the UChicago Class of 2019 is not statistically dissimilar from any top private school’s incoming class in terms of demographics and application profiles. UChicago’s acceptance rate has plummeted from around 34 percent in the early 2000s to single digits in the past few years, which has contributed to its number four spot on the U.S. News and World Report’s seemingly definitive college rankings list. Every overachieving, College Confidential-browsing high school student now holds UChicago in the esteem of other top universities.

But therein lies the problem of elite applications: The admissions process becomes a tug-of-war between prestige and the school’s self-promoted identity. The University’s new competitive status drives quantitative metrics such as standardized test ranges up and up. These numbers stand in stark opposition to the infamous quirky essay prompts, a longstanding tradition in the UChicago admissions process. For a school which once boasted an “Uncommon App,” the admissions office’s attempts to widen its application pool have resulted in a far more normalized admissions process. Likewise, the normalization of both the application process and student body coincides with the upcoming closure of Broadview and Blackstone, two traditional outposts of distinctly eccentric House culture.

This isn’t entirely a bad thing. Whereas the University used to attract a specific breed of idiosyncratic students, it now caters to a wider slew of applicants. That doesn’t mean that the archetypal UChicago students can’t be found—otherwise, we wouldn’t see zombies hunting down humans outside of Bartlett—but rather, they’re only a fraction of an increasingly more balanced student body. The University, with its offbeat essays and rich intellectual lineage, will still attract its stereotypical students, but it’s worth noting that our school’s increasing prestige attracts another type of student, too. The presence of these more “normal” students is contributing, whether we like it or not, to our school’s evolving stereotypes.

It’s important to realize that an overarching UChicago stereotype has never been completely fixed—the Core and our sports programs are, after all, completely different from the respective Hutchinson and Big 10 eras of the school’s history—but our contemporary equivalents still retain the integrity of the past. The same principle will apply to the College’s student body years down the road. Perhaps the future incoming classes will look very little like the classes from the heyday of House slogan T-shirts. Perhaps one day, all of the campus’ picturesque Gothic towers will be demolished in favor of more ostentatious, Ricardo Legorreta-inspired dorms. But for now, UChicago’s quirkiness is still in loud display, from Kuvia to the Opening Convocation parade. After all, it’s going to take more than the Common App and dorm closures to completely eradicate of the still-catchy, still-relevant, “Where Fun Goes to Die” mantra.

Felipe Bomeny is a first-year in the College

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