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September 16, 2012

Chicago Booth 2012-2013 MBA Application Essays

This post is on the University of Chicago Booth's MBA application essays for 2012-2013 admission applicationThe University of Chicago is a very intellectually serious place.  Booth reflects that culture. Not everyone who goes there is an intellectual, but most are quite smart.  Your objective is to show you understand yourself, understand what you want to do in the future, and understand why Booth is right for the fight school for you now. If you can do so, it is quite possible that you will part of the Class of 2015. I had five clients admitted to the Chicago Booth Class of 2014, my all time high. That said, I had four clients a year admitted to the Classes of 2013, 2012, and 2011. You can find testimonials from some of them hereI would suggest reading the Q&As I conducted with former clients who are members of the Classes of 20132012 2012, 2011, and 2010 as these interviews will provide you with Booth student perspectives on the program. If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, I would especially suggest reading my recent Q&A with LGBT member of the Class of 2013. I have also written a comparison of Booth and Kellogg in terms of their location and culture, which can be found here.

As is usual, Chicago Booth has again modified its questions. Except for the Optional Essay,which I took from the online application, I have taken the Class of 2015 questions from the Booth website. 
Where to Begin?
Start with Question 1: You need to effectively segment your content because of the very open-ended nature of the other questions.  Question 1 has a clear focus, so it is best to start there. In general, for any application, starting with the goals essay always makes sense because what you say in it will impact what you say elsewhere. After all you want to show how other aspects of who you are will support your goals.
Next:This is really up to you, but I suggest really trying to figure out what specific topics you want to focus in on in Questions 2 and 3. In general, I suggest starting with the two short essays in Question 2, especially if you have content that you intend repurpose from another school. By outlining what you intend to do in each of these essays, you are less likely to have unnecessary overlapping content between them.
Next: Write the Optional Essay and/or Reapplication Essays if you need to. Keep in mind that unlike most other US schools, Booth has a very open-ended optional essay that can be used for discussing something positive if you have space available to do so.
Finally: After you have written everything, make sure it works as part of your entire  application strategy. Review your entire application and think about whether you have presented all aspects of yourself as clearly as possible. Specifically think about your application meets Chicago Booth's three central evaluation criteria: curriculum, community, and career.

1) Essay: What are your short- and long-term goals, and how will an MBA from Chicago Booth help you reach them? (500 words maximum)
To answer this section effectively you need to know what your goals are and why they will fit with Booth's mission:
We are the University of Chicago Booth 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.
For more about fit, see here.  For more about writing goals that are both ambitious and visionary, see hereIf you are having difficulty formulating your goals, please see my analysis of Stanford GSB Essay 2 as it provide a framework for developing goals.
Why Booth?
In this part of the question you need to explain why you need an MBA from Booth to reach your goals. To really answer this question you need to know about Chicago. Given that Booth has great online sources available for this purpose, even if you don’t visit, you can learn about it. Start hereIn particular take a good look at Chicago Booth Dean's Student Admissions Committee (DSAC) blog. To learn more about the GSB's research, see University of Chicago Booth's Working Papers and The University of Chicago's Capital Ideas. I also strongly suggest listening to the Booth 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. Japanese applicants should most certainly visit the MBA J-Book.
Effective answers to the Booth part of the question will establish deep and specific linkages between specific aspects of the MBA program and your goals in order to show fit.  To do this effectively requires actually writing something meaningful about your goals. If your objective is to make this essay effective, you don't want to write something that is purely generic, something anyone could write.  You need to show your specific fit.  This means analyzing your needs and relating them directly to Booth.  It means showing Booth admissions that you know  what you will do in an MBA program with only one required class (LEAD).
It is, of course, fine to mention that Booth has a flexible curriculum, but everyone knows that. The point is what you will do with it?  That is always the point.  I have had clients admitted into the Classes of 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 and I can say that the only thing that is consistent about them is that each had their own individual plans for how they would utilize their Chicago education.  You need to have your own Booth study plan that clearly links to why you need an MBA now.   
Booth is not just for finance! Just go explore Booth and you will see that goes way beyond finance. For instance, it is a great school for those with entrepreneurial goals.

2) Short Answer Essays: 
Use these essay to help show admissions your ability to be self-aware and to have impact. In other words, these questions are partially a test of your self-awareness both as a person and a leader.  LEAD (Leadership Effectiveness and Development) is the only required course at Booth and one that involves becoming aware of one’s leadership style in an attempt to eventually improve it. You can conceive of this essay as a pre-LEAD exercise.
One great place to read about leadership, and business in general, is Harvard Business School Working Knowledge. The last time I checked there were 360 articles on leadership and management posted there. Find out what kind of leader you are by taking this quiz based on Lewin's classic leadership style framework. I think leadership is more complicated than Lewin's framework, but this quiz is a great way to get you started thinking about yourself, a key part of answering any leadership essay question effectively.Third, if you have not done so, I suggest reading relevant essays in 65 Successful Harvard Business School Application Essays: With Analysis by the Staff of the Harbus, The Harvard Business School NewspaperReading through the essays on leadership should help you to understand the great diversity of topics that are possible.
By the way, if you have noticed a lack of Booth-specific resources on leadership in the above, it is because there is actually very few such resources. Booth’s research has not been focused on leadership studies per se, something reflected in the fact that with the notable exception of the Center for Decision Research, none of Booth’s Research and Learning Centers focus on the study of leadership, nor do its three highly specialized journals.  Be that as it may, at least at the stage of admission, Booth cares about your self-awareness as a person and a leader.

a. What has been your biggest challenge, and what have you learned from it?  (200 words maximum)
A challenge can certainly be a weakness, failure or setback, discussed in my analysis of Tuck Essay 3 or HBS Essay 2,  but it is surely possible that a challenge could simply be a real test of your leadership and a great way to convey an accomplishment discussed in  my analysis of Stanford Essay 3 or HBS Essay 1 or Wharton Essay Topic 3.  Given the extreme word limitation, I would suggest a structure like the following:
1. Clearly state what your challenge was.
2. Explain what actions you took. Think about what your actions reflect about your own skills and/or personality.
4. Explain what you learned. If what you learned is something you applied to a subsequent situation, please explain that.
Everyone should have many examples of challenges, but the key thing is to have one that you learned from. The nice thing about this question is that it covers a huge variety of situations.

b. Tell us about something that has fundamentally transformed the way you think. (200 words maximum)
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the University of Chicago is an intellectually serious place. This question properly reflects the intellectual side of Booth.
This is a great open-ended question and it is highly possible that you can convert content used in essays like Tuck 2 or 3 or HBS 2 or Wharton 3 to answer this question (See a. above for links to my posts on these topics).  A fundamental transformation is a major change, so it is important what you write about here is not trivial. 
THE RELEVANCE TEST: A great answer here will be on something relevant to why Booth should admit you:
- A concept or value that has influenced a major decision(s) you have made in your life
-An important aspect of the way you view an issue critical to your goals
-Your commitment to something greater than your own personal interest
-Your inner intellectual life
-Your ethical values
-Some other aspect of who you are that will compel admissions to want to interview you
The structure for answering this question is likely to be something like the following:
1. Discussion of the thing (person, place, event, book, situation) that changed your thinking.
2. Explanation for why the thing changed your thinking.
3.  Perhaps a specific example of how your thinking was changed in terms of actions you took.

3) Presentation/Essay:
The Chicago experience will take you deeper into issues, force you to challenge assumptions, and broaden your perspective.  In a four-slide presentation or an essay of no more than 600 words, broaden our perspective about who you are. Understanding what we currently know about you from the application, what else would you like us to know?

Question 3 Guidelines
We have set forth the following guidelines:
  1. The content is completely up to you. There is no right, or even preferred, approach to this essay. Feel free to use the software you are most comfortable with. Acceptable formats for upload in the online application system are PowerPoint, Word, or PDF. However, we suggest converting your file to a PDF to preserve your intended formatting.
  2. There is a strict maximum of four pages (presentation) or 600 words (essay), though you can provide fewer if you choose.
  3. The file size is limited to 16 MB.
  4. The document will be viewed electronically, but we cannot support embedded videos, music, or motion images.
  5. All content MUST be included in four pages (presentation)/600 words (essay); hyperlinks will not be viewed.
  6. The file will be evaluated on the quality of content and ability to convey your ideas, not on technical expertise or presentation.
Based on working with 17 clients admitted to the Classes of 2011-2014 (as well as  in previous years), I am confident that the advice I offer below is effective.  Each of these client's presentations was distinct and provided admissions with an interesting set of perspectives on the applicant.  Some of the slides looked really professional, while others were clearly not.  Some were funny, others serious.  Some were high concept, others very simple and direct.  All of these slides worked in their own way. This year, you might not be doing slides, but my core advice, will still hold. 
Slides or an Essay? It does not matter. If it mattered, Booth admissions would not have introduced the essay option. My theory is that after reviewing presentations since Fall 2008 entry admissions is a bit tired of some of them (I know I am tired of seeing lame ones and they see many more lame ones than I do).  They also probably realized that medium itself was getting in the way of the message. They probably also got tired of reading presentations with an insane amount of verbiage on them.  They probably also figured out that the easiest way to increase the number of applications and become more difficult to enter was to make the slide presentation optional. The slide presentation has been a real barrier to application for some candidates and now it is gone. I have not been advising clients to prioritize one format over the other. If my client is pressed for time and has essay content that is easily adapted to Booth's question as an essay, I think that is a good way to go. If my client is someone who likes making presentations and has a good idea on how to make a good one, I am in favor of making a presentation. 
What kind of answers seem to work best? There is no single style of presentation that has worked best in the past. I think this will true even more this year when you can choose an essay or a presentation.  Even very simple “show and tell” style presentations can work if they help admissions understand you and why you should be admitted. That said, I think that answers to this question that make choices about what to present and that are unified by a concept or theme tend to work best. I try to always get my clients to provide something that stands out and has a unique perspective, which is best conveyed when one takes a distinct point of view and has a clear focus. Some people try to jam everything in their lives onto 4 slide pages. I think this is a very bad idea.  Better to provide Booth with a set of clear messages, whether in slide or essay format. 

General Advice on the Question for Both Slides and Essays
Tell them about you, but don't focus on what they can find elsewhere in the application. In Question 1, you have already discussed your goals and why you want an MBA from Chicago, so don't discuss goals and why MBA here.  You will have discussed specific aspects of leadership, accomplishments, and strengths in Question 2, so don’t repeat them here. In your resume and in the application form, you will have provided information regarding your past experience, so don’t just repeat that information here.

I think they are looking for a meaningful assessment of your personality. I use the word "meaningful" because it does not necessarily require logic or analysis to do so. For example, an image with some kind of description may provide Chicago Booth with great insight into who you are. Since Chicago is specifically being "non-traditional," you certainly can be also so long as you answer the question. On the other hand, you might find a typical interpretative structure better for you, in which case I suggest you think seriously about writing an essay.

Some Questions to get you brainstorming:
1. What do you want Chicago to know about you that would positively impact your chances for admission?
2. What major positive aspects of your life have not been effectively INTERPRETED to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?
3. If you were going to tell admissions 3-5 things about you that would not be obvious from rest of the application, what would they be? Why should Booth care?
4. If there was one story about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and want to admit you, what is it?
5. Do you have a personal interest (painting for example) that would work effectively in a PowerPoint?
6. If you have a sense of humor and/or creativity, how can you express it here? 
As you can see, these questions would lead to very different kinds of responses. There is no one way to answer this question, but I believe there are right ways for every applicant to do so. Finally, think big and be creative. To answer this one effectively will take time unless you already have content from an another school that will work here, but if you want to get into Chicago Booth, put in the time.

Some Common Questions I Get Asked About the Presentation
The content below specifically relates to making a slide presentation-based answer. 
1. If I make a presentation is this a test of PowerPoint Skills? No. I think it is a test of your ability to prepare a very simple presentation about yourself. Remember that you are preparing slides for a presentation and unlike a presentation that you would deliver, you are not able to take full advantage of what PowerPoint can do. In fact, for anyone who has actually is good at PowerPoint, they may find it necessary to compromise on their aesthetics and technical skills in order to most effectively answer the question. Especially those who believe in providing a minimal amount of content per slide will likely find it necessary to increase the amount of content they include. As someone who previously made the transition from text heavy slides to minimalist ones when delivering sales and marketing presentations, I know that if I had to answer this question, I would have to compromise on what I consider to be my own best practices for making PowerPoint slides.
2) In your opinion, should one use a minimalistic approach involving images to convey one's ideas? I think this will really depend on you. The important thing is to effectively convey something important about who you are to the admissions committee. If that can be done effectively with more images that is great, if it can be done effectively with minimal or no images that is also great. The important thing is that your reader understands the significance of any images you use. Luckily, you have the notes for that purpose. Just as in "real" PowerPoints, images or any graphic element can be used effectively or badly. Always ask yourself, "Why am I using this image? Does it really help them understand me?" If it does, keep it. If it is mere decoration, think about eliminating it or replacing it with something that will have a positive impact on Chicago's ability to understand who you are.
3) Would a little bit of humor do good e.g. a cartoon? I think humor can be used effectively. You must practice extremely good judgment when using humor for any application. Don't make a joke simply to make one. Use humor if it is effective in conveying something that will compel admissions  to want to interview you. That said, I have had a number of clients who successfully used humor in their presentations for Chicago Booth.

4) Re-applicant Essay: Upon reflection, how has your thinking regarding your future, Chicago Booth, and/or getting an MBA changed since the time of your last application? (300 words) Only those applicants who applied for entrance in Fall 2011 or 2012 are required to complete this essay.
Use this space to specifically explain what has improved about you since you last applied. You can certainly mention improved test scores, but I would not use every much of your word count for that. Typical topics include: development of a new skill, promotions that demonstrate your potential for future success, involvement in an extracurricular activity, learning significantly more about Booth, and why your goals discussed in Essay 1 now are better than the ones you presented last time.

An effective answer here will do the following:

1. Showcase what has changed since your last application that now makes you a better candidate.

2. Refine your goals. I think it is reasonable that they may have altered since your last application, but if the change is extreme, you had better explain why.

3. Make a better case for why Booth is right for you.

For more about reapplication, please see "A guide to my resources for reapplicants." 

Optional Essay (300 Words): If there is any important information that is relevant for your candidacy that you were unable to address elsewhere in the application, please share that information here.
This question is completely open-ended. I highly recommend using it discuss something positive as well as any concerns you may have that cannot be addressed in the application form. Your first priority should be to use it explain any problems or concerns you have. Your second priority should be discuss that one additional story or specific facts  that Booth really needs to know about you. Use this answer to provide admissions with another reason to invite you to a Booth interview. Make sure your answer does not look like it was written for another school, but feel free to use this in any way that you need or want to. 

For my post on Booth admissions interviews, see here.

I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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