University of Chicago (Booth) Essay Analysis, 2012–2013

Chicago Booth continues to stand out thanks to its quirks—and we write that affectionately. So many applications are boring to construct, but never Chicago Booth’s, with its PowerPoint slides and its short, 200-word essays.  In breaking the mold, Chicago Booth truly gives applicants the chance to make an impression. Use the school’s prompts wisely…

1. Essay: What are your short- and long-term goals, and how will an MBA from Chicago Booth help you reach them? (500 words)

Because Personal Statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge. Please feel free to download your copy today.

For more information on the defining characteristics of the MBA program at Chicago Booth (or one of 15 other top business schools), please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guides.


2. Short Answer Essays:
a. What has been your biggest challenge, and what have you learned from it? (200 words maximum)

Even though you are allowed only 200 words for this essay, you can still effectively discuss a challenge as broad as a personal issue (e.g., overcoming family expectations) or as narrow as difficulty developing a skill (e.g., because of dyslexia). The challenge you choose to highlight in your essay is not nearly as important as your ownership of it. You need to make your challenge personal and offer a quick narrative about the way in which it has befuddled you and how you have sought to overcome it. Despite such a short space, you still need to offer a story with a proper “arc.”

Note that when we say “ownership” in this case, we mean that the situation or event you discuss needs to clearly be unique to you. For example, consider the following statement: “My biggest challenge has been overcoming family pressure in my quest to become a consultant rather than a doctor. My family has long pressured me, but I have ultimately been able to resist their insistence that…” This opening is not truly unique to any one person’s experience and could in fact be applicable to (and therefore written by) many candidates who have faced similar family pressure, though perhaps in favor of a different cause or objective (e.g., becoming a banker rather than a lawyer, or attending school X rather than school Y). By including the details of your particular story, revealed through a narrative, you will ensure that you alone own your story—the challenge you present will be incontrovertibly yours, and thus you will reveal distinct elements of your character.

b. Tell us about something that has fundamentally transformed the way you think. (200 words maximum)

“Transformed” is a powerful word. For this essay, you cannot discuss something that has merely shifted the way you think to some degree. Instead, you need to reveal an experience that powerfully and indelibly altered it. To effectively show the contrast between your current mind-set and your original one, you should write about your experience with a sense of “before and after” in mind. You will need to describe your initial thoughts and develop the first part of your story as economically as possible—given that you have so few words with which to work here—building to the climax that triggers the reversal and makes the reasons for the change explicit. Ideally, you will be able to show that not just your opinions/ideas were changed as a result of this incident, but that your approach and actions were also truly refashioned. In other words, you will need to convey that this experience made a powerful impact on you and yielded ongoing results in your life.

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:

  • 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 PDF.
  • 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 viewed.
  • The file will be evaluated on the quality of content and ability to convey your ideas, not on technical expertise or presentation.

At mbaMission, we really welcome this creative approach to self-expression. Chicago Booth’s unique PowerPoint/PDF presentation question truly offers candidates a blank slate and thus presents an incredible opportunity for applicants to differentiate themselves by creating an entirely distinct concept. What is great about this option is that you can showcase your unique attributes through your content while also captivating your audience with your creativity, represented through your chosen design/format. (We are not suggesting that the slide presentation is an art competition, but we do believe it has the potential to engage and hold the reader/viewer in a unique way and is therefore an opportunity that should be seized to maximum effect.)

Because the slide presentation leaves so much room for creative interpretation, rather than offering advice on how to approach this for all candidates indiscriminately, we would need to collaborate directly with applicants to devise a personal strategy for each one individually. As a general rule, however, we recommend starting with a thorough brainstorming session and fully considering the range of content available—after all, this is a unique opportunity to tell the admissions committee what you feel is most important about you. Then, devise a design that will allow you to communicate this information in the most unique and compelling way. Take care to give equal thought to both your content and your approach so that both are optimized. You do not want to make the mistake of choosing a presentation method that is distinct and captivating but that limits your ability to fully tell your story, nor do you want to include so much “weak” information about yourself (or worse, repeat information already provided elsewhere in your application!) that your otherwise compelling presentation approach is rendered clunky and ineffective. Fully understanding and crafting your content first will prevent either of these scenarios from happening and will start you on the right track.

An important note: you should not feel obliged to offer a slide presentation. Chicago Booth gives candidates the option of writing up to 600 words instead, and many applicants can effectively use words to present a multifaceted and interesting image of themselves. We definitely would not recommend simply pasting in another standard essay, however, and strongly advise that you again think carefully about what you want to say to the admissions committee before beginning your first draft. If you ultimately choose to write an essay in response to this prompt, make sure that you achieve a level of richness and creativity in your text while painting a clear and vivid picture of yourself.

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)

Chicago Booth’s reapplicant question this year offers a slight twist on the traditional, open-ended request for an update, narrowing its scope to three specific areas of inquiry: your future, Chicago Booth and earning your MBA. Although you likely do not need to discuss all three areas in this essay, you should definitely explain how and what you have learned about Chicago Booth since your previous application. The school only wants to accept applicants who are truly motivated to attend Chicago Booth in particular, so discussing any meetings you have had with alumni, campus visits or other a priori discoveries should help you create a compelling narrative that clearly demonstrates your sustained  interest. You need not worry if you have changed your short- and/or long-term goals from last year—just be sure to show that any such change is reasonable and still very much connected to your abilities. So, whereas changing your aim from working with Exxon to working with Greenpeace would be way too big a gulf to cross, moving from strategy consulting to marketing consulting would be considered rational, especially if you discuss how you have discovered a new area of interest for which your skills and experience are equally fitting.

Remember, you do not need to be—or present yourself as—a radically different candidate from the one you were last season. You just need to display clarity of thought and action and demonstrate that your interest in the Chicago Booth MBA program is as strong as ever.

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