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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

August 25, 2007

University of Chicago GSB Question 2: Whose shoes?

This is the second post in a four part series. Part 1. Part 3. Part 4.
I really like Chicago GSB MBA Application Question 2 for Fall 2008 admission because it uses a great idiom, “step into someone else's shoes.” The question as a whole reads:

2. If you could step into someone else's shoes for a day, who would it be and why? (500 word maximum).

Now before I start analyzing Essay Question Number Two, I would like to explain a little about how I analyze any essay question. The first thing I do is something that we all learn in elementary school: If you are asked a question, break it down into the component pieces in order to understand it. I guess, we may have all first learned this as a formal way of solving problems in math class:
(20-1) + (1.5+3.5)
In order to solve the above we would most certainly want to solve the component problems first. Hence this will take three steps:
i) 20-1=19
ii) 1.5+3.5=5
iii) 19+5=24

In the same way, when I read any essay question, my first reaction is to take it apart:
i) Whose shoes would you step into for a day?
ii) Why would you want to step into this person’s shoes for a day?

Next, I look at the language and look for any special words or key concepts. I have already mentioned the idiom that is at the heart of this question. We need to look at it closely.


The Cambridge Idioms Dictionary gives the following relevant definition:
step into somebody's shoes, fill somebody's shoes:
to take the job or position that someone else had before you
When his father retires, Victor will be ready to step into his shoes.
It will take a very special person to fill Barbara's shoes.

The Oxford Dictionary gives the following:
be (or put oneself) in another person’s shoes imagine oneself in another’s situation or predicament.

For all readers, and for non-native English speakers in particular, I think the two definitions above help to clarify the linguistic context of the Chicago question. Idioms are highly culturally specific and this one is no exception.

With these definitions in mind, lets consider a couple specific constraints contained within the question:
1. The question contains a specific time limit: for a day. This means that whatever value is be achieved for being in someone else’s shoes, it must be capable of being experienced in a day.
BAD EXAMPLE: Therefore, saying you want to be the novelist Marcel Proust in order to know what it feels like to be completely focused on spending fifteen years to write À la recherche du temps perdu is simply out of scope.
GOOD EXAMPLE: You could, on the other hand, write about being Proust for a day in order to experience his creativity.

(This Proust example and others that will be used are made intentionally odd to hopefully eliminate some fool from copying them.)

2. The question requires us to be very specific about the person: “who would it be.” For example, you can’t just pick any great military leader, but might pick Julius Caesar. Keep in mind that the question does not say the person has to be living now. I think we can assume that it has be a real person, but otherwise it could be anyone at anytime.

Put it all together. Let’s use the Julius Caesar example.

Whose shoes would you step into for a day?

Julius Caesar on the day he crossed the Rubicon with his army. This event led to civil war, the end of the Roman Republic, and his eventual, albeit brief, takeover of the Roman Empire.

Why would you want to step into this person’s shoes for a day?

I think it would be an amazing opportunity to experience one of the most significant political and military decisions made by one of the greatest strategists and tacticians of all times. I believe I would gain great insight into (1) decision making because..., (2) strategy because..., and (3) tactics because... This would benefit me because…

Now hopefully you can see from this example that the first part of the question should require less of your 500 words than the second part of the question. Simply provide sufficient context so that your reader can easily understand. You should not write a biography of the person, instead you need to focus on the second part of the question.

It really is the why part of the question that Chicago cares about, so focus on that. I think why has to relate to what you discuss in Essay 1 in the sense that whatever you get from this unique experience, it should contribute to your goals, strengths, and/or opportunities in your personal and/or professional life. This opportunity to experience someone else's life should be used for some great purpose. What is that purpose? What will you learn from the experience? Whatever it is that you learn, make it important for you.

Finally, I don’t suggest writing that you would like to be in Rose Martinelli 's shoes when she reads your application because while this would be entertaining, it might be a bit too clever. How about being in Manolo Blahnik's shoes? And if the shoe fits, wear it!

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com.
-Adam Markus
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シカゴ、ビジネススクール, MBA留学
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