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Defne Ergoz, University of Chicago

Ethnically Turkish, but raised in Moscow and Dubai, Defne has a way with English. Two years ago, her creativity and strong time management enabled her to write the bulk of her college application essays before the start of 12th grade. Her efforts paid off. We recently caught up with her.

IO: Hi Defne! Thank you for speaking with us. You’re completing your freshman year at the University of Chicago. Has it met your expectations, or was it surprising in any way? In particular, what’s it been like as a multilingual, multicultural student there?

Defne: My first quarter was quite overwhelming as I adjusted to a new environment and was busy not only navigating academics but also living alone for the first time. Meanwhile, I was trying to make new friends and find community, which is especially difficult as a multicultural student. If you find yourself in this position, don’t fret—things will familiarize with time. For me, joining an environmental group like the Phoenix Sustainability Initiative and being involved in cultural groups like the Turkish Student Association on campus helped me find people with whom I could share meaningful experiences. Also, being active in my dorm, Campus North Residential Commons, meant I could meet other first-years living in proximity to me. 

It’s been fun trying to answer the typical: "Where are you from?" question, especially because I've never lived in Turkey, where I consider 'home,' or the USA, where my parents now reside. Further complicating the picture is the fact that I grew up in Moscow and Dubai. While I still haven’t nailed my answer, college has taught me to be uniquely myself, which means embracing my hard-to-simplify background. 

IO: How and why did you choose UChicago? What type of school were you looking for and what influenced you?

Defne: I distinctly remember being interested in the prompts my brother was sifting through as he was working on his extended supplemental essay for his UChicago application. At the time, I was a high school freshman, and I was excited by the thought of answering one of these unique prompts myself in a couple years. I love being creative, and the prompts made me think outside the box. Every year, UChicago releases about five new essay prompts written by students; applicants also have the choice to pick from past prompts.

I originally tried the prompt – “What’s so easy about pie?” – but it turned out not to be so easy. The prompt I ended up choosing was: “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” As I was writing it, I frequently wondered what others wrote about — what sparked joy in them and, of course, made them keen on attending UChicago. I was looking for a diverse, committed, passionate (and quirky) student body, strong academics, and a sense of community, which I can confidently say I have found here. 

IO: What are you studying and did you go to college with that major in mind? Did you apply early? 

Defne: I came in thinking I would study Political Science and Environment, Geography, and Urbanization. Since then, I have gained an interest in the Comparative Human Development major and the Architectural Studies minor. As I have until the end of sophomore or junior year – depending my selected area of study – to declare my major, I have not done so yet. 

I applied early action to UChicago because I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity since not many schools offer the option. When I was accepted, I withdrew my other applications because I knew this was the university I wanted to attend. 

IO: In the spring and summer of 2022, when you were in college application mode, one of your most impressive achievements was getting your essays done before the start of 12th grade. Please tell us about your essay writing journey. 

Defne: I first began working on my CAPS essay, which took the most revising, late in my sophomore year. I then started writing my supplemental essays as I narrowed down my application list. I ended up applying to 12 schools, which was the maximum allowed at my high school. By September, when school started, I had gone through quite a few drafts of my CAPS essay and had worked on the supplemental essays for the majority of the schools I was applying. 

IO: How did you motivate yourself and persevere to write all those essays in the summer?

Defne: I found it easier to write my essays in the summer because I was touring colleges. Since my mind was already in application mode, I was more motivated to work on my essays. 

IO: Having completed the bulk of your essays, what difference did it make to your fall schedule as you actually began the application process? 

Defne: Although I would have found a way to make my schedule work, drafting my essays over the summer leading up to senior year made it much easier to focus on my academics and extracurricular responsibilities. Rather than being in the first draft phase, I was able to focus on revising my work, rewriting essays where needed but making smaller changes most of the time. 

IO: On essays, would you recommend the path you took? What are your top tips for high school students who are now starting on their essays? 

Defne: If you more or less know the schools you wish to apply to–-even if it’s not your complete list yet, I would highly recommend working on your drafts over the summer, or at least as early as possible, to save yourself some stress and time later on, especially if you are feeling nervous about the application process. Regardless of when you start, don’t be afraid to write some rough first drafts, and give yourself grace. Also, don’t keep ideas in your mind–instead, draft them out and see where each story takes you. Best of luck, you got this!


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