University of Chicago (Booth) Essay Analysis, 2013–2014

Why not start our analysis of the University of Chicago Booth’s essay questions for this season with a few important words directly from the school’s admissions committee?

“This year’s questions have been specifically designed to get to know you on a deeper level and to go beyond why it is that you want an MBA.  As you review the essay questions … we encourage you to think about the experiences that have shaped and influenced you, your passions and interests (professionally and personally), and what you think the Admissions Committee needs to know about you in order to fully understand your candidacy. While essay questions are just one part of a holistic evaluation process, they are still a very relevant and valuable component for our Admissions Committee.

You may notice that we do not have a formal essay question asking you to outline your career goals and reasons for an MBA. Our full online application, which will go live within a couple of weeks, will offer an opportunity for you to share this important information as well.”

Chicago BoothSo what is the admissions committee saying here? The message is that the school values applicants’ essays/presentations as vehicles through which to gain a profound sense of who its candidates are and what they stand for. Chicago Booth is essentially asserting the importance of this part of the admissions process—to ensure that you take it seriously. So, perhaps more than ever, you will need to think very carefully about what stories and messages you want to share with the school before you start writing. Brainstorm thoroughly and create a personal inventory of sorts, then plan your essays so that as much of that inventory as possible finds its way into your submissions. Do not worry about showing that you have many strengths and talents. Effective business leaders are not one-dimensional, but are quite the opposite. The admissions committee will be happy to discover that you have a depth of skills and experience.

Short Answer Essays

1. My favorite part of my work is….  (250 word max)

Ideally, you will have multiple ideas for how to respond to this query, but what should you avoid writing? Definitely do not write about how you can become completely consumed with a singular aspect of your job, like spreadsheets! Although the admissions committee wants to know that you are a passionate person, that passion has to have external implications. In other words, your passion needs to have an impact on others (and please don’t make the contra argument that this can be achieved through spreadsheet modeling!).

Your favorite aspect of your work might be your company’s annual off-site, the generosity that your boss shows in mentoring you, the creative process involved in launching a new product/campaign or even the satisfaction of winning a mandate or earning praise from a client for a job well done. What is important in this essay is not the particular aspect of work you choose, but that it reveals a character trait or skill that reflects a contribution you will make to the Chicago Booth community. You should not just write, “My favorite part of my work is the company off-site.” Even though you have only 250 words for this essay, you can still convey in some detail how you experience this aspect of your work—not just what it is, but what kind of reaction/emotion it triggers in you and how this relates to who you are as an individual and what you value. Relay the story of why the off-site is so meaningful for you.

2. I started thinking differently when…  (250 word max)

To start thinking differently about something, you need to have first thought one way in particular. So, begin your essay by engaging the reader in a narrative that clearly illustrates your original way of thinking and show that you felt true conviction to this mind-set. Then, explain what later challenged this line of thought and demonstrate that your thinking ultimately changed as a result. Strive to create a stark contrast between before and after, supported and illustrated by specific actions. If you can accomplish this, you will have a very strong essay. Although 250 words is not very much, this is certainly possible.


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?

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 always, 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 interesting 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 again that you 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.

Reapplicant Essay

Upon reflection, how has your perception regarding your future, Chicago Booth, and/or getting an MBA changed since the time of your last application? (300 word max)

Chicago Booth’s reapplicant question 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 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 firsthand discoveries/experiences 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, for example, 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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