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July 23, 2013

Chicago Booth 2013-2014 MBA Application Essays

This post is on the University of Chicago Booth’s MBA application essays for 2013-2014 admission to the Class of 2016. The 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.  You can find testimonials from my clients admitted to Booth here. I 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 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.

While Booth does not specifically ask you to answer “Why Booth?” in any of the essays, I do think you should consider this issue and, where appropriate, incorporate into your application. Given that Booth 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 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 pod casts 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.   Finally, remember that 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

As is usual, Chicago Booth has again modified its questions.  I have taken the questions from the application form.  While applicants are likely to first notice the absence of a goals essay, something that the Booth Insider which introduced the new questions discussed, there is actually somewhere between 300 and 400 words to do so.  I don’t know why Booth is trying to not make this look like an essay or address it directly unless it is simply to appear to be like some other top schools that have cut back on essay content.  In a subsequent Booth Insider, they wrote:

After reviewing our new essay questions, many of you have asked how to convey your professional goals and aspirations in the application. While the essays do not specifically address your professional trajectory or goals, there are many opportunities to highlight this within the rest of the application. In addition to your resume and letters of recommendation, the application has a section devoted to work experience that covers your past experience as well as your future goals. These are all great ways for us to get a better understanding of your career trajectory, accomplishments, and areas of growth.
Sure, all of this is true, but why not state the real case?  Is there any reason to be confusing and obscure about two 150-200 word goal statements (essays, writing of extended of perhaps up to 5-7 sentences)?
If you provide 700 characters each for the long and short term goals in the application, you are asking for essay like content.  Sure 700 characters is only about 150-200 words, but the combined 1400 characters that means 300-400 words. Many schools have or have had essays of said length and called them essays.   If you have write extended statements, clearly you had better have clear goals if you apply to Chicago.  The questions don’t ask for why you want to go to Booth, but I can’t see any reason why you would not want to mention that if it helps to explain why you need an MBA to achieve your goals (something I would surely tell any client to do unless it was so clear from their other essays). I have copied the relevant part of the application form (It includes all the category content from the pulldowns):
Professional Information
Please select the industry that best represents the majority of your work experience to date AccountingConsultingEnergy/PetroleumEngineeringEntrepreneurship/Social EntrepreneurshipFinance – Commercial Banking/LendingFinance – Investment BankingFinance – Investment Management/ResearchFinance – Private Client ServicesFinance – Sales and TradingFinance – Venture Capital/Private EquityGeneral ManagementGovernment/Non-Profit/EducationHealthcareHospitality- Food Service/LodgingManufacturingMarketingMedia/EntertainmentOtherReal EstateRetail/Luxury Goods/FashionTechnology

Have you ever served in the military?
Proposed industry post-MBA AccountingAdvertising/Marketing ServicesAgribusinessCommercialBankingComputer-Related ServicesConstructionConsultingConsumer ProductsDiversified Financial ServicesEducationEnergy/Petroleum/UtilitiesEntertainment/LeisureFood Service/LodgingGovernmentHealthcareInsuranceInvestment Banking/BrokerageInvestment ManagementLawManufacturingMediaMiscellaneous ServicesNon-ProfitOther Financial ServicesOther IndustryPharmaceutical/BiotechnologyReal EstateRetailSoftware/Printing/PublishingTelecommunicationsTransportation/AerospaceVenture Capital/Private EquityWholesaleWidely Diversified ManufacturingWidely Diversified Services

Proposed job function post-MBA AccountingAdvertising/CommunicationsBrand/Product ManagementBusiness DevelopmentCommercial Banking/LendingCompany Finance ConsultingCustomer Relations MgmtEducation (Administration)Education (Teaching)EngineeringEntrepreneurial/Self-employed General ManagementHealthcareHuman ResourcesInformation SystemsInsuranceInvestment BankingInvestment Mgmt/ResearchLawMarketingMultipleNon-profit AdministrationOperations/ProductionOtherPrivate Client ServicesProject ManagementReal EstateResearchRisk ManagementSales and TradingStrategic PlanningVenture Capital/Private Equity

What is your short-term post-MBA goal?

700 characters remaining

What is your long-term post-MBA goal?

700 characters remaining
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 here. If you are having difficulty formulating your goals, please see my analysis of Stanford GSB Essay 2 as it provides a framework for developing goals.

Where to Begin?
Start with non-essay  goals content above, since whatever you write in the essays should connect with your goals either in terms of demonstrated potential.  You need to effectively segment your content because of the very open-ended nature of the Presentation/Essay.  The goals has a clear focus, so it is best to start there. In general, for any application, starting with the goals  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 the two short essays and in the Presentation/Essay. In general, I suggest starting with the two short essays, 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.

Short Answer Essays
1.  My favorite part of my work is….  (250 word max)
2.  I started thinking differently when…  (250 word max)

Use these essays 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 Newspaper. Reading 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.

1.  My favorite part of my work is….  (250 word max)
This question is great opportunity to show how you have had a positive impact professionally.  We will assume your favorite part of work is not leaving your office or collecting your salary!  Instead focus on some aspect of what you do which you both enjoy and have been successful at. In other words, I would look at this as primarily an accomplishment essay with the limitation that what you accomplished is something you actually like.  I would surely not use this discuss simply the routine part of what you do that can be easily gleamed from your resume, but rather something that really sets you apart.
Some key things to keep in mind when answering this question:
-An Accomplishment can reveal your potential to succeed at Chicago and afterwords.
-An Accomplishment can reveal your potential for contributing to your classmates.
-Everyone has had accomplishments, so the more unique the accomplishment, the harder it will be for you to compared to others.
Brainstorm possible answers: The first thing you need to do is think of the accomplishments and also what you actually enjoy. These will eventually take the form of stories, so that is what I call them.
Here are my criteria for thinking about whether an accomplishment is a good topic for this essay: 

Ask yourself what skill, value, or unique experience is being showcased by your accomplishment: Your accomplishment needs to reveal valuable things about you. Some will call these selling points, but more specifically they consist of skills, values, or unique experiences. One might use a specific accomplishment to emphasize one's leadership skills, another to show one's ethical values, and another to explain a significant barrier that was overcome. The point is that the  accomplishment must at its core reveal something key to understanding who you are.
Ask yourself what potential for success in the MBA program or afterwords is being demonstrated: You may or may not be directly stating this in the essay, but you should think about what the accomplishment reveals in terms of your potential. Booth Adcom will most certainly be considering how your accomplishment demonstrates your potential to succeed in the MBA program and afterwords, so you should as well. One key way of thinking about the MBA application process is to see it as a test of potential. Potential itself can mean different things at different schools and so you must keep in mind differences between schools and in particular must pay close attention to what schools say really matters when they assess applicants. Please keep in mind that a core part of your own application strategy should be determining which parts of you to emphasize both overall and for a particular school.
Just as with potential, think about how your favorite part of work demonstrates your ability to add value to other students at Chicago: It is not likely or necessary that you will be explaining how your accomplishment will be contribution, but rather this is a strategic consideration.

2.  I started thinking differently when…  (250 word max)
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.  The problem applicants sometimes encounter with such questions is the right something that is a nice revealing answer, but one of little relevance to what Booth might need to know about you.
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 Booth 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 with which you are most comfortable. 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. All content must fit within four pages (presentation) or 600 words (essay).
  3. The file size is limited to 16 MB.
  4. The document will be viewed electronically, but we cannot support embedded videos, music, hyperlinks, or motion images.
  5. The file will be evaluated on the quality of content and ability to convey your ideas, not on technical expertise.
Based on working with 20 clients admitted to Booth that needed to prepare slide presentations, I am confident about the following.  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.

Presentation or an Essay?

When Booth introduced the essay option last year, I said that it does not matter which one you select, but based on talking with admissions at Booth during my visit there in April 2013, I don’t suggest doing the essay unless you are absolutely certain it will not look like it was written for another school. My impression formed by talking with two admissions members and student admissions member was that they too often felt like the essays were being used for other schools.  Given the need to really convince Booth of your interest in attending their school and to simply eliminate their sense that you might be simply cutting and pasting an essay into their application, I would generally recommend doing a presentation. Especially given the totally open ended nature of the HBS essay this year, I would be very careful abou t using an essay.  Still, I am completely open to the essay option if it is something that really will be perceived as written for Booth.
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). “You are considered a reapplicant if you submitted an application for the Chicago Booth Full-Time MBA program for the Fall 2012 and/or Fall 2013 start dates.”

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 you were unable to address elsewhere in the application, please share that information here. (300 word maximum)
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.

-Adam Markus
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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