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University of Chicago: Admission, Courses, Culture, Financial Aid and more
An overview of University of Chicago, its admission procedure, scholarships, latest news, programs, campus culture and enrollment. This post will be the first in a series on the top biotechnology colleges and universities in the US. I will include some general overview of the school and its location, but focus on biotechnology and related fields for the sections on academics.

Overview and Rank
The University of Chicago is a private university located in Chicago, Illinois which was founded in 1890. The campus is situated 7 miles south of downtown Chicago, in the Hyde Park neighborhood. It is currently the 4th highest ranked university in the United States according to the US News university ranking system. U. Chicago is also rated 24th in the US for scientific impact in Biomedical and Health sciences according to the CWTS Leiden ranking system.

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Undergraduate admission to U. Chicago is based on more than GPA and test scores. The university has no specific minimum GPA or SAT/ACT and considers each applicant's entire background, including extra curricular activities and letters of recommendation. The average GPA for accepted students in 2012 was an A- (3.7 on a 4.0 scale), the average SAT score was around 2000, and the average ACT score around 32. U. Chicago accepts the Common Application, in addition to a specific U. Chicago supplement, which can be found on the Common Application’s website (

Enrollment (Fall 2012):
Undergraduate: 5,612
Graduate: 9192
Total: 15,544
Male: 52%
Female: 48%
Accepted: 13% (8.8% for 2013. This number has been dropping each year due to the elite nature of the school.)

Tuition: $45,324
Student Life Fee: $1,062
Room & Board: $13,653
Books/Personal Expenses: $3,821
Total: $63,860

Financial Aid:
Students can find out if they are eligible for financial aid by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The parent contribution to financial costs is determined through analysis of their net worth while considering factors such as family size and additional children enrolled in a college or university. The student’s contribution consists of any summer work in addition to work during the academic year, as well as student’s assets and student loans. Once all of these factors are considered, U. Chicago may award an institutional grant to cover the remaining cost of attendance. Of full time undergraduates, 46.7% receive an average of $36,600 in financial aid.

Academics and Biotechnology Related Study
At U.Chicago, the undergraduate school, called “The College”, offers 50 majors and 28 minors. Because this is a consistently ranked top school, students can expect a rigorous curriculum throughout all of the majors. Of primary interest to those seeking a future in biotechnology are the Biological Chemistry and Biological Sciences majors. Biological Chemistry focuses on the study of the chemistry and physics of cellular and molecular structures and processes, and includes courses in biotechnology. This major will prepare students for work in fields related to biochemical and biophysical sciences. Biological Sciences is closer to a traditional Biology program with focus on organisms and their environment. This major also allows the student to select a specialized program of study including:
  • Cellular and Molecular Biology
  • Ecology and Evolution
  • Endocrinology
  • Genetics
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology
  • Neuroscience

There are two undergraduate classes specifically for introduction to biotechnology. One class is part of the “Core Biology” series, which is designed to give an introduction to biotechnology for non-biological sciences majors. This class (or another that falls under Core Biology) is a prerequisite for the Biotechnology for the 21st Century class. This class starts with an overview but then branches into specific aspects of the biotechnology field, including microbial, medical and agricultural biotechnology. More advanced biotechnology related topics should then be pursued in major specific classes.

These majors can be further augmented with minors in fields related to biotechnology that may help better prepare the student or give them important cross disciplinary knowledge. Suggested minors are Mathematics, Computer Science, and Statistics. In addition to the classes required for each major or minor, undergraduate students must complete a core curriculum known as The Core. The Core is a set of classes covering a wide range of fields that introduce students to a common set of ideas and skills useful across all majors. The Core takes about ⅓ of a student’s time at U. Chicago and covers the Humanities, Civilization Studies, Arts, Natural and Mathematical Sciences, Social Sciences, Language (which the student can place out of) and Physical Education (which the student can pass with a fitness test, instead).

There are a wide variety of undergraduate research opportunities in the Biological Sciences Division including the Beckman Scholars Program in Molecular Sciences. This program includes guided literature readings, seminars and data and journal clubs. There is also a summer research program for undergraduates (REU) which lasts for 10 weeks and pays a stipend of $4,000. REU programs allow students to spend a summer intensively working on a research project with a faculty member at the university .

U. Chicago also has 4 large Graduate and 6 professional schools. Of particular interest to Biotechnology minded students is the Biological Sciences Division with areas of research spanning many biological fields. The 20 PhD programs are divided between 4 different “clusters” pertaining to their areas of study. These 4 clusters are:
  • Biomedical Sciences - research centered on medical fields such as immunology
  • Darwinian Sciences - research covering evolution and integrative biology
  • Molecular Biosciences - Biochemical and Molecular biology related study
  • Neuroscience - Neurobiology and computational neuroscience

Admission to the Biological Sciences Division requires a Bachelor’s degree in a related field, in addition to having proficiency in English and having taken the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Subject GRE’s are not required, except for Medical Physics. To complete a PhD for the Biological Sciences Division, every student must satisfy the curriculum, preliminary examination, qualifying examination and dissertation requirements of their particular program in addition to 6 quarters of residency. In addition, every PhD student must teach twice for credit and can take an optional teaching training course. A course in Scientific Ethics must also be completed in the Spring quarter of the graduate student’s first year.

There is also the Institute for Molecular Engineering, which is a cross disciplinary institute built upon the University’s strengths in molecular, computational, and clinical sciences. The institute is fairly new, having been established in 2012 in partnership with Argonne National Laboratory, and aims to lead the way in a new field which combines synthetic molecular building blocks with biological components. The institute is actively and rapidly growing, seeking 24 new faculty members. The institute will also be moving to a brand new building to be completed in 2015, which will have state of the art laboratory space and equipment.

In addition to over 400 officially recognized clubs and organizations, U. Chicago has 14 fraternities and 7 sororities. Beyond campus social life, there is much to do in the way of extracurricular and social activity at the University of Chicago due to its location in Chicago, which is the third most populous city in the US. There are innumerable attractions to visit, such as Millenium Park, Chicago Theatre, The Art Institute of Chicago, and many more. Like any major city, there are many concert venues, theatre performances, and a wide range of dining and nightlife locations. Chicago has several modes of transportation around the city, including its large public rapid transit system, known as the ‘L’, and the Metra, a commuter rail service. Chicago is also home to the O’Hare International Airport, Chicago Midway International Airport and the Union Station Amtrak line, both useful for traveling in and out of the city itself. Making use of all the transportation options available is well advised due to the population density, traffic, and parking scarcity in Chicago, as is typical with many major cities.

Of course there are also many attractions in Hyde Park itself, where the campus is located. Hyde Park has several shopping and dining districts, museums such as the Hyde Park Art Center, parks such as Jackson Park (which contains wooded areas and a Japanese garden), and is bordered to the east by Lake Michigan.


Image Source: by by eli_albert - Creative Commons-licensed content.
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