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

July 23, 2008

Chicago GSB Fall 2009 Essay 2

This is the second post in a four part series. Part 1. Part 3. Part 4.

The biggest change to the University of Chicago GSB's application for Fall 2009 admission is Essay 2:

Please select one of the following two questions to answer. (1000 word maximum)

Before analyzing each option separately, I think it is useful to analyze what they have in common. Both options relate directly to Chicago GSB's only required course, Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD) Program. According to the LEAD Program website:

Leadership depends on your ability to:
If you think about the topics for both of these questions, they very much involve these three elements of leadership. More specifically Part a) relates to influencing outcomes and Part b) relates to building relationships and/or influencing people.

Both options specifically relate to decision-making, a subject Chicago GSB takes quite seriously. Chicago GSB has a Center for Decision Research:
The Center for Decision Research is devoted to the study of how individuals form judgments and make decisions. Researchers at the Center examine the processes by which intuition, reasoning, and social interaction produce beliefs, judgments, and choices. Understanding how and why people make decisions has important applications in a range of contexts, including management, marketing, finance, and public policy.

Decision making at GSB is not an abstraction, but something that is subject to intensive scholarly research. You might want to consider how you could take advantage of such an academic approach to decision making when considering Part c).

I think it is important to see that the question on the one hand is a leadership question and on the other is your self-assessment about how a University of Chicago GSB MBA would enhance your own abilities.

Both options for this question have a Part b) focused on how you related to other people. I would treat this as formal constraint on the kind of story you tell. Chicago wants insight into how other people play a role in your decisions, so make sure that you effectively explain the role of others in the story you write about.

As I mentioned in my analysis of Essay 1, it is helpful to think about the gap between your current abilities and those required for your intended future. My GSR table will actually help you do this.
Given that you will need to tell a story in Parts a) & b) of the question that will lead to you being able to talk about what you want to learn at GSB, I suggest you do a self-assessment before selecting a specific topic. Of course, some will find it easier to begin with Part a) but from my perspective, thinking about Part c) first can actually help you determine which story will work best here.

That will really depend on your experience. My suggestion is that if you have a great story that fits this question, regardless of whether it is professional or not, use it. As mentioned above, I think a more important consideration is that you have a story that fits Part c) of the question

The University of Chicago is one of the most intellectually vibrant places on the planet. Anyone who wants to go there had better figure out how to make full use of the vast financial, economic, and management scholarly resources that it offers. I think Essay 2 is an excellent way for admissions to determine the extent to which you are compatible with the core mission of the GSB:

We are the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. Since 1898, we have produced ideas and leaders that shape the world of business. Our rigorous, discipline-based approach to business education transforms our students into confident, effective, respected business leaders prepared to face the toughest challenges. At Chicago GSB, we constantly question, test ideas, and seek proof. This extraordinarily effective approach to business leads to new ideas and innovative solutions.

Therefore when you are thinking about Essay 2, think about how the story you tell will demonstrate to the admissions committee your potential for being the kind of business leader that the University of Chicago is committed to cultivating.

Given that you have 1000 words to answer this question, I would suggest you reserve at least 30% of them for answering Part c). This really is the "Why Chicago?" portion of the essay set. Therefore, give multiple reasons for why what you would learn at Chicago GSB would have improved your decision making. I suggest you specifically discuss those aspects of the GSB that make you want to apply there.

Option 1
a) Please provide an example of a time when you had to make a choice between two equally important obligations. How did you decide which obligation deserved your attention? b) Did you try and predict other people's reactions to your decision? If so, how accurate were you? Why do you think you were or were not accurate in your prediction? c) Reflecting on this experience, how do you think an MBA from Chicago GSB might have aided in your decision making process?


Without calling this an ethical dilemma, it is one. Many applicants will find that if they write on this topic, they will be in a good position to reuse this essay for any ethical dilemma topics they encounter with another school's essays. Additionally the story will be useful for interviews. Here is how I suggest you structure Part a) of this essay:
1) Briefly explain the context for your decision.
2) State clearly why each obligation was of importance and be convincing about why they were of equal importance.
3) Describe your decision-making process.
4) Describe the outcome.

In this section, you need to consider the role of others in your decision-making process. By asking about whether you tried to predict how others reacted, I think admissions is specifically trying to measure your intuition and social imagination or, in other words, your emotional intelligence. If you failed to consider how others would react or did not fully predict their reaction, you will find that Part b) will help you write Part c).
For part b), even if you did not try to predict other people's reactions, explain why you did not. Actually doing so should help you discover an area of improvement you can write about in part c).

If you did try to predict other people's reactions and were inaccurate or were only partially accurate you have a good topic of Part c) of this essay.

If you successfully predicted how other people would react, you will not find your answer to Part c) in Part b). That is fine. Just focus on some other aspect(s) of the situation to get your answer to Part c).

My general comments above regarding Part c) apply here. Basically, I think it is important that connect what would have enhanced your ability to make a decision to why you want to attend the GSB.

Option 2
a) Have you ever made a decision that caused you to go against popular opinion? Please describe that situation and your rationale for you decision. b) Did you feel at any point that people misperceived your motives? Explain. c) In retrospect, how do you think an MBA from Chicago GSB would have affected your decision?

Questioning popular assumptions is a core part of the University of Chicago's culture. That is one reason why there are so many Nobel Prize winners among Chicago's past past and present faculty. This option gives you the opportunity to show how you too have questioned such an assumption. But that is only one aspect of the question, as this is also about your ability to make a decision. It takes courage to go against the tide of popular opinion, but great leaders have to be able to do that. Show how you have the potential to be such a leader. I suggest structuring Part a) as follows:
1. Describe the situation and state clearly what the popular opinion was.
2. State your reasons for going against popular opinion.
3. Describe the outcome.
Being aware about how others perceive you is a core part of being organizationally effective. Actually understanding how others perceive you is very much an integral part of LEAD. Especially in a situation where you are likely to be in conflict with other people, how did you handle their reactions? The likelihood of being misperceived when you disagree with others is high, so if you managed to avoid this, how did you do so? If you were misperceived, what did you learn from that experience and what could you learn at GSB?

My general comments above regarding Part c) apply here. You should explain how a Chicago MBA would have helped you make a better decision. Link what you want to learn at Chicago directly to this situation.

A 1000-word essay should give you plenty of space to provide a thorough answer to Essay 2. One of the nice things about both options is that you are likely to find that the topic you write about will be useful when writing essays for another school. That said, an effective answer here requires you to have a detailed understanding of why the Chicago GSB is right for you.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.
-Adam Markus
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