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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 MBA Essay 1: Why now?

This is the first of a series of four posts on the University of Chicago GSB's MBA application essays for Fall 2009 admission. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

This first essay question is very standard. It is greatly simplified and the maximum word count has been shortened in length by 50% from last year, but the most essential part of last year's question has been preserved. While Essay 1 is now shortened, part of the content that went into it previously has now been moved to Essay 2. Specifically the "Why Chicago GSB" part of the question can be found in Essay 2, but, as I suggest below, that does not mean you should ignore Chicago GSB when answering Essay 1.

The question:
Essay 1. Why are you pursuing an MBA at this point in your career? (750 word maximum)

Before reading my analysis of this question, please keep the following advice from Rosemaria Martinelli, Associate Dean, Student Recruitment & Admission, University of Chicago GSB, in mind:

1) Self-reflection – Know why you are applying for an MBA. Know your strengths, weaknesses, and why you think an MBA will prepare you for the future. Know your goals and be able to communicate how you think you can achieve them.
2) Understand fit – Every school is different in terms of culture, courses and extra-curricular offerings, so make sure you know what makes an MBA from a specific school so important for you to achieve your goals. If you know yourself and you know how each school can help address your needs, you can make a compelling case in the application. If you do not fully understand or reflect on either of these points and rely solely on your credentials to carry you, chances are you will fall short in a very competitive application process.

Her advice directly relates to writing both essays and the slide presentation effectively. It is also great advice that can be applied to other schools.

Actually this question is one that Ms. Martinelli previously asked when she was the Admissions Director at Wharton. Wharton still includes this same question in its essay set:
1. Describe your career progress to date and your future short-term and long-term career goals. How do you expect an MBA from Wharton to help you achieve these goals, and why is now the best time for you to join our program? (1,000 words)

While both schools clearly expect an answer to Why now? (and not next year or last year), Chicago is emphasizing that this is the critical question to answer. However you structure your essay, you had better focus it on answering this critical question. Getting an MBA is not obvious. It is something one does because it fits into an overall plan for one’s career and life.

Why is now the time? Explain both analytically and with examples (stories) why you need an MBA now. To answer this question you need to think about the past. After all, if now is the right time, what factors have led you to this point?

Here a basic way to structure this question:

Argument 1: RELATED TO YOUR CAREER DEVELOPMENT. Discuss your career up to this point. Explain why now is the time. Write about your present, your goals, and the gap between them.
Argument 2: RELATED TO YOUR PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT. Discuss the intellectual and/or experiential reasons for wanting to do an MBA. Write about your strengths & weaknesses, your intended future and the gap between them.
Argument 3: RELATED TO THE WIDER WORLD. What opportunities and threats exist in your present and intended future that an MBA can support (opportunities) or mitigate(threats)?

I suggest using my GAP, SWOT, AND ROI TABLE FOR FORMULATING GRADUATE DEGREE GOALS for this purpose (see below). In regards to Chicago's question, Argument 1 relates to a Gap Analysis and Argument 2 and 3 to a SWOT analysis. This table will also help you with Essay 2. I think Gap, SWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it. (Click here for the Businessweek MBA ROI calculator. Click here for a GMAC report on MBA ROI. )
(To best view the following table, click on it. For a word version, please email me at adammarkus@gmail.com)

How to use this table:

Step 1.
Begin by analyzing your "Present Situation." What job(s) have you held? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?

Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. REMEMBER:WHEN YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESS DON'T ONLY THINK ABOUT WORK, THINK ABOUT OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them.
Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of?
Weakness: What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear?

, analyze the environment you work in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?

Step 2.
Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your "Post-Degree" future after you have earned your graduate degree. IF YOU CANNOT COMPLETE STEP 2, YOU HAVE NOT SUFFICIENTLY PLANNED FOR YOUR FUTURE and therefore you need to do more research and need to think more about it.

Step 3.
If you could complete step 2, than you should see the "Gap" between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?

Step 4. After completing Step 3, you now need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient "ROI" for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4 than you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.

The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA (or other degree)? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals? Thinking about these issues now will help you to develop a fully worked-out strategy for how you will best present yourself both in the application and in an interview.

While one could theoretically answer this question without reference to Chicago GSB specifically, I suggest you don't. Instead provide an answer that addresses why you need an MBA now and from GSB specifically. You will certainly have space in Essay 2 to fully elaborate on what you hope to gain from GSB. To really answer both of these questions you need to know about Chicago GSB. Given that GSB has great online sources available for this purpose, even if you don’t visit, you can learn about it. Start here. In particular take a good look at Chicago GSB Dean's Student Admissions Committee (DSAC) blog. To learn more about the GSB's research, see
University of Chicago GSB's Working Papers and The University of Chicago's Capital Ideas. I also strongly suggest listening to the GSB podcast series. This a great series of podcasts that should help get you thinking about business at the kind of intellectual level required for success at Chicago GSB.

Japanese applicants should most certainly visit the MBA J-Book.

Making career goals exciting requires thinking about whether your goals are compelling. Admissions committees ask applicants to write about their goals after graduate school, but can applicants actually know what will be on the cutting-edge in two or three years? While many applicants will be able to successfully apply with relatively standard goals ("I want to be a consultant because..."), communicating aspirations requires going beyond the typical.
Be informed. Chicago GSB Admissions needs to believe you know what you are talking about. If you are changing careers, no one expects you to be an expert, but you should come across as having a clear plan based on real research into your future. If you are planning on staying in your present industry, you should be well informed not only about the companies you have worked for, but also about the industry as a whole. If you are not already doing so, read industry related publications and network.
Those who are changing fields should most certainly read industry related publications in their intended field. Additionally I suggest conducting informational interviews with at least one peer level and one senior level person in that field. Conduct a peer level interview to get a good idea of what it would be like to actually work in that industry. Conduct a senior level interview to get the perspective of someone who can see the big picture and all the little details as well.
Don't know anyone in your intended field? Network! One great way to start is through LinkedIn. Another is by making use of your undergraduate alumni network and/or career center.

No matter whether you are changing fields or not, learn what is hot now and try to figure out what will be hot by the time you graduate. Now, of course, this is just a plan and chances are that what is hot in your industry or field now may very well be cold in the future. The point is to come across to Rose and her colleagues as someone who is not only well informed, but has CUTTING-EDGE knowledge. Some great general sources for learning what is hot:
From the Business Schools: Feed your brain with cutting-edge ideas from the best business schools in the world. In addition to the Chicago GSB resources I mentioned above, other great sources of information include Stanford Social Innovation Review, Harvard Working Knowledge, Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business School Publishing, Knowledge @ Wharton, and MIT Sloan Management Review.

You may also want to do a search on itunes for podcasts: My favorites in addition to Chicago's podcast are Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (from the Stanford School of Engineering, but totally relevant) Net Impact, and Harvard Business IdeaCast. INSEAD, IMD, LBS, and Wharton also have podcasts.
LinkedIn Answers: I would suggest that everyone join LinkedIn and make use of LinkedIn Answers. LinkedIn Answers is a great way to tap into cutting edge expertise (including my admissions advice!). Follow LinkedIn's rules and you will often be able to obtain excellent information.
Hoovers: For information about specific companies, Hoovers is just a great way to learn about key facts including competitors (a very useful way of knowing who else you might want to work for and to learn about an industry). While primarily focused on the US, Hoovers does have listings for companies worldwide.
Vault: For scope of coverage, this site is a must. Vault includes both career and admissions information. It includes both company specific and industry-wide information.
Other sources: Read magazines, websites, and books that relate to your intended field.
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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