Students who have never visited Chicago are often surprised by what they discover. Chicago is a vital city, stretched out along twenty miles of Lake Michigan beachfront, combining ethnic neighborhoods and a cosmopolitan city center. Chicago's downtown (The Loop and North Michigan Avenue) includes some of the country's most interesting architecture, from the earliest skyscrapers to post-Modernist designs. The performing arts play a major role in city life. Dozens of smaller repertory companies have created the most dynamic theater scene in the country—from Second City comedy to gritty plays by David Mamet. The University's own professional theater, which emphasizes the classics, is among the best. There is also a lively art and gallery scene, and, for those who like song and dance, almost every imaginable type of music club. Chicago is the home of urban blues, created by legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Willie Dixon; but it is also home to a varied array of folk music, classical chamber music and avant-garde. The city's major cultural institutions have well-deserved reputations for excellence: the Chicago Symphony, the Lyric Opera, and the Art Institute, with its exceptional collection of Impressionist paintings. All are about 15 or 20 minutes from Hyde Park by car and can be reached easily by bus or rail. The city has a full complement of professional sports teams—the White Sox, Cubs, Bears, Blackhawks, Fire, and Bulls—whose fortunes are a source of perpetual hope and lamentation. A typical department scene finds several faculty and graduate students agreeing that the mere addition of two or three pitchers (and some hitting) would bring a pennant within reach. The University has an excellent intramural sports program and very good sports facilities for student use. Chicago is anything but homogeneous. The city's neighborhoods—Polish, Irish, Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, Italian, Greek, Chinese, African-American, and the elite Gold Coast—produce some of the country's most tumultuous and fascinating politics. Incidentally, they produce a wonderfully varied choice of restaurants, filled with local customers who know the taste of homemade linguine (or, ten blocks away, chow foon). All in all, it is a big, active city—and it is not boring. Equally important, it is accessible on a graduate student budget.
The University itself is surprising to some. Perhaps they expect a high-rise urban university. Instead, they find a campus of tree-shaded quadrangles in one of the city's nicest neighborhoods. The older buildings are collegiate Gothic; the newer ones exemplify the best in modern architecture, from Eero Saarinen to Mies van der Rohe. The student body is relatively small, especially in comparison to faculty size. There are about 5,500 undergraduates and another 10,000 in the graduate programs and professional schools. The graduate divisions (in the social sciences, biology, physical sciences, and humanities) have about 3,200 students, nearly half of them in the social sciences. Its faculty of nearly 2,200 (including several hundred in the Medical School) is disproportionately large—but it facilitates a research atmosphere and allows most classes to be taught as seminars. The University's neighborhood of Hyde Park, located on the lake, was once a southern suburb of Chicago. Since the late 1800's, it has been an integral part of the city. Its streets are a mixture of single-family homes and rowhouses, some of them dating to the turn of the century and now carefully restored, along with three- and four-story apartment buildings and high rises along the lakefront with spectacular downtown and Lake Michigan views. Hyde Park is stably integrated and has some of the city's best public schools (plus several private schools, including the University's Laboratory School, running from nursery through high school). There are four main commercial areas along 51st, 53rd, 55th, and 57th Streets, with the usual mixture of retail stores, restaurants, and coffee shops. The bookstores are extraordinary—some of the best in the country. The Seminary Cooperative Bookstore (5751 South Woodlawn) deserves special mention as a wonderful scholarly bookstore. One of the University's unique features is that virtually everybody lives in the neighborhood. The University forms a genuine community in the city. In the morning or afternoon, along University Avenue or 57th Street, you can find most of the faculty and students walking to or from school or gathered for a beer at Jimmy's. Many of the department's faculty live in Hyde Park or neighboring Kenwood, as do many students. Most walk or bike to school, but many use the University's neighborhood bus system. Students frequently share rental apartments with a roommate or two. Housing information can be found here.