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July 30, 2016

Chicago Booth 2016-2017 MBA Application Essays

This post is on the University of Chicago Booth’s MBA application essays for 2016-2017 admission to the Class of 2019. 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 29 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 previously had longer short answers here, which amounted to the length of a full essay, they now provide 250 characters (NOT WORDS) each for the long and short term goals in the application. The questions don’t ask for why you want to go to Booth and there is no place for that here. Tell them in the essay.  You can also elaborate further on your goals in your essay if you need to, but depending on what you write about, you might not need to.
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 Columbia Essay 1 as it provides a framework for developing goals.
I have taken this content from the online application:
250 characters remaining
250 characters remaining

Where to Begin?
Start with non-essay goals content above, since whatever you write in the essay should have some connection to it.  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 main essay.

Next: Write the Optional Essay and/or Reapplication Essays if you need to.

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.

I have taken the essay from the online application.
“Instructions: Please answer the Full-Time MBA Essay and any other essays that pertain to you.
Full-Time MBA Essay
The following is a collection of shared Booth moments. Choose the moment that best resonates with you and tell us why.
[Note, I am not including these 10 photos and accompanying descriptions but you can get on the online application or on the Booth website]
Check out these moments on social media: Instagram Facebook LinkedIn
Presentation/Essay Guidelines:
  • Choose the format that works for you. Want to illustrate your response visually? Submit a slide presentation. Like to express yourself with words? Write a traditional essay. Use the format that you feel best captures your response, the Admissions Committee has no preference.
  • Determine your own length. There is no prescribed minimum or maximum length. We trust that you will use your best judgment in determining how long your submission should be, but we recommend that you think strategically about how to best allocate the space.
Technical Guidelines:
  • File Size: Maximum file size is 16 MB.
  • Accepted Upload Formats: Acceptable formats are PDF, Word, and PowerPoint. We strongly recommend converting your piece to a PDF file prior to submitting.
  • Multimedia Restrictions: We will be viewing your submission electronically and in full color, but all submissions will be converted to PDF files, so animation, video, music, etc. will not translate over.
When Booth introduced this essay topic last year, I thought that they were making it much easier for applicants.  Previously the question had been open-ended. Now, applicants were being offered a bit of structure to play with and essentially told that they needed to relate themselves to Booth through the image.  This year, it is even easier because the 10 images are accompanied by descriptions. But does make it confining in some way?  I think not because the applicant can interpret the image and what means to him or her in any way that will prove effective. Effective means showing why you fit at Booth. For more about fit, see here. Based on what I saw last year, effective answers made an interpretation of the Booth moment that fits the applicant. In other words, think about what you really want to say about yourself that will best demonstrate why you fit at Booth. After you have thought about that then figure out what image of Booth you want to use.  So beyond looking at the ten lovely Booth moments, I do think you should first consider the overall issue of “Why Booth?” 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.</ a> 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.   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. Use this essay to help show admissions your ability to be self-aware and to have impact. In other words, this essay is 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. You may also want to consider why your future goals  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.

What kind of answers seems to work best? There is no single style of  essay or presentation that has worked best in the past. 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. The nature of the prompt this year actually takes the hard work out of that. 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 slides or in an essay. I think this is a very bad idea.  Better to provide Booth with a set of clear messages, whether in slide or essay format.

A simple way to outline an answer to the Booth essay question regardless of  format.

Step 1: Begin by stating which moment resonates with you.  Don’t make the reader have to figure this out. It should be clear from the outset.
Step 2: Provide one reason why the moment selected resonates with you and explain it by referring to something about you in terms of your background, values, goals, skills, selling point, etc.
Step 3 to ?: Repeat Step 2 above for each subsequent step.

What this outline will do is generate a set of ways that you resonate with Booth.   I assume that will be more than one way, but hey if you have a great answer, one way might work.  That said, the successful versions of this essay I saw last year involved multiple reasons (usually 3-5 reasons).

General Advice
Tell them about you, but don’t focus on what they can find elsewhere in the application. 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?
7. Why did you want to apply to Booth to begin with? What do you like about the school?
8.  How can you reinterpret one or more of the Booth moments in a way that would be counter-intuitive and interesting?
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.  Make sure your essay does not look like it was written for a different school.

Some Common Questions I Get Asked About Presentations
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.</ p>

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.  I have had a number of clients who successfully used humor in their presentations for Chicago Booth.

Re-applicant Essay: Upon reflection, how has your perspective regarding your future, Chicago Booth, and/or getting an MBA changed since the time of your last application? (300 words maximum)

Unlike some schools, the reapplicant essay and optional essay are different.  (Note: You will not see the Reapplicant Essay online on the essay page unless you have already clicked that you are a reapplicant on the “Chicago Booth and You” page).  Booth wants all reapplicants to write this essay regardless of the number of years ago that someone applied.  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 the 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: Is there any additional information that you would like the Admissions Committee to know? If so, please address in an optional essay. (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 to 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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