The University of Chicago Booth School of Business recently released its admissions essays and deadlines for the Class of 2015. Yet another top-ranked business school has significantly cut back on its essay load this year: While last year’s essay word count was 1,350 (not counting the “PowerPoint essay”), this year’s total word count is just 900 words. Read on to see what we make of the changes.
Here are Booth’s new essays, followed by our comments in italics:
Chicago Booth Application Essays
- What are your short- and long-term goals, and how will an MBA from Chicago Booth help you reach them? (500 words)
This question is essentially the same as last year’s first question, aside from a very slight wording tweak and a reduction in word count from 600 to 500 words. This is the fairly standard “Why an MBA? Why this school?” question that most business school ask. Note that, as important is it is to make a convincing case about your career goals and your reasons for wanting an MBA, you also really need to take the Booth part of the question seriously… What about Booth attracts you to the school? This is where you need to show that you’ve done your homework, and convince the school that you’re not only applying because Booth is highly ranked. Chicago Booth looks for a specific kind of applicant — one who’s intellectually curious and is not afraid of rigor. Does that appeal to you? If so, show it here!
- a. What has been your biggest challenge, and what have you learned from it? (200 words maximum)
This question is new this year. Yes, with a limit of 200 words, this essay doesn’t give you much to work with. With these types of questions, particularly when a school explicitly asks what you learned from a situation, we encourage applicants to use the “SAR” (Situation-Action-Result) method, with a lot of emphasis on the “Result” part. In this case, the result addresses the second and third questions in the essay prompt: What happened? What did you learn as a result? You only have 200 words here, so you must describe the situation VERY briefly, and then move on to the rest. This makes choosing a work situation ideal, since admissions officers will already have a basic understanding of where you work and what you do for a living. Also plan on keeping the “Action” part relatively tidy; the real key is devoting enough words to what you learned. Ideally, you can then describe how you took what you learned and put it into action in another, later situation. This is the very definition of growth.
- b. Tell us about something that has fundamentally transformed the way you think. (200 words maximum)
This question is also new this year. It replaces one that Booth tried for just one year, which asked, “How has your family, culture, and/or environment influenced you as a leader?” Clearly the school didn’t love the answers it got from that question, and now wants to try a different approach to better understanding what makes its applicants tick. With an essay like this, many applicants are tempted to “talk fancy” and tell stories along the lines of “My three months of inoculating mountain goats in Machu Picchu changed my life,” when the thing that truly influenced them on a profound level was something much closer to home. Even if something sounds mundane, if it really meant something to you and transformed the way you think, then we advise choosing that story over one that sounds impressive. The story could be about a professor that you had (the more recent, the better), a terrific boss you worked with, or something outside of the workplace. But choose something real over something that sounds flashy. And be sure to adequately describe the transformation that resulted from the experience!
- 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?
We have set forth the following guidelines:
* The content is completely up to you. There is no right, or even preferred, approach to this presentation.
* There is a strict maximum of four pages (presentation) or 600 words (essay), though you can provide fewer if you choose.
* Acceptable formats for upload in the online application system are PowerPoint or * The document will be viewed electronically, but we cannot support embedded videos, music, or motion images. Additionally, all content MUST be included in the four pages; hyperlinks will not be
* The file will be evaluated on the quality of content and ability to convey your ideas, not on technical expertise or presentation.
Ahh, Chicago Booth’s “PowerPoint question” is still here, although it’s been reworded again this year. The new wording puts emphasis on broadening perspectives… Both having your own perspective broadened at Booth, and you working to broaden the admissions team’s perspective of you. Last year the school more explicitly asked applicants to consider “what you’ve already included in the application,” and while this is worded differently, they’re mostly getting at the same thing: “Tell us something new and different about you.” You therefore really must ensure that these pages add something new to your application — don’t use it to just show off professional achievements that you already cover elsewhere in your application. Be creative! The reason Booth kept this question is because, while it hasn’t worked perfectly for the school so far, it really is the admissions committee’s best chance to tease some personality out of your application. So don’t be afraid to give them some!
- (Re-applicants only) 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)
This re-applicant question is the same as it was last year, so our advice carries over mostly unchanged. This question gets at the heart of what MBA admissions officers ask when they see a re-applicant: “What has changed since last time?” While we don’t believe the Booth admissions committee did it deliberately, we do think that the phrasing here can be a bit misleading. The way it’s written, this question may lead some applicants to believe that they didn’t get in before because of something wrong in the way they answered the “Why an MBA? Why Booth?” question, but that may not at all be why they were rejected last time. Imagine you’re an applicant who had all the right reasons for applying to Booth last year, but you had some other big weakness that kept you out, such as a low GMAT score or not enough meaningful work experience. Now you’re back, and you’ve worked hard to plug those holes, and now you need to manufacture a reason why your thinking is now different, although that thinking wasn’t the problem the first time around.
So, our advice here is to answer the question (ALWAYS answer the question asked!), but keep in mind that the phrasing may mislead you a bit. If you’re certain that it was something else that kept you out, be sure to work that into this essay, particularly if it’s something that won’t immediately jump out at admissions officers when they review your application data sheets.
For more advice on getting into Booth, download our Essential Guide to Booth, one of our 15 guides to the world’s top business schools. If you’re ready to start building your own application for Booth and other top business schools, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!
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