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The city of Chicago derives its moniker from the Algonquin word for “smelly onion”. Accordingly, the University of Chicago translates to the “University of Smelly Onion”. Although a somewhat unbecoming name for one of the world’s premier universities, no other educational institute could wear it with the nonchalance that UChicago does.
My first view of the UChicago campus came on the day before the 2015 Columbus Day open house. While my dad and I were driving around campus, we saw the men’s cross country team jogging down South Ellis Avenue, shirtless and sweating profusely. Just as the traffic light in front of our car turned red, the team decided, unfortunately, to take a brief respite directly in front of our freshly rented out Hyundai Accent. As the smell of exhausted-college-student perspiration wafted through our lowered car windows, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop in on the team’s conversation. “Yeah man, I’m telling you”, said one stocky and out of breath athlete, “the idea of increasing marginal utility is completely false. No matter what we do, we’ll always end up being unsatisfied.” “Okay, I get your point”, replied another lanky runner, “But I’m saying that there’s a difference between ending up unsatisfied and increasing utility. It’s only when you stop gaining happiness do you start getting diminished returns.” Curious to hear more, I turned down the radio and leaned closer to my window, head tilted towards the group. But just as the stocky runner began to respond, the traffic light turned green, and our car sped off.
It was this conversation that really jogged (pun intended) my interest in UChicago. I was struck that a group of athletes were discussing economics – my intended field of study – while they were on a workout. As a trombone player, prospective economics student, and self-proclaimed pun savant, I was thrilled that, like these athletes, my interests and activities could all be simultaneously accommodated at the university. To me, economics is a fascinating field because, in many ways, it explains how the world fundamentally works. Topics like allocative efficiency and marginal utility don’t just apply to our economy, but to human nature and behavior as well. For example, one’s actions in weighing opportunity costs of certain actions and ultimately trying to increase their utility can be measured in happiness economics. An example of this is seen when people choose multicolored pasta over plain pasta. Although this fact on its own may seem unrelated to economics, it is actually related to the concept of diminishing marginal utility. The conversation that occurred about economic theory during something as routine as a run made me wonder, what kind of erudite discussions would evolve in the classroom? That question was answered the next day during the Open House, when I sat in on an Economics class taught by Harald Uhlig, who was lecturing on whether the European Central Bank guarantees fiscal or monetary policy. I was suitably impressed by Professor Uhlig’s anecdote about the time he was personally invited to the German congressional court over such an issue; as someone who is particularly interested in the real world applications of economic theory, the fact that an international issue such as this was being discussed in the classroom was remarkable.
A key mandate of economic theory is that there is always a reason as to why humans make the choices they do. My reason for applying early to UChicago is just as pragmatic. No other school offers such a storied department on the cutting-edge of research and new directions in the field, besides providing the opportunity to pursue diverse extracurricular interests. Sure, the unofficial motto of UChicago might indeed be “Where fun goes to die”, but as someone with a broad range of interests and academic curiosities, I know that UChicago will be a place where I can simultaneously enjoy myself and flourish. If the University of Chicago really does translate to the University of Smelly Onions, I would be proud to count myself among one of those onions.
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