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The University of Chicago Booth School of Business has jumped on the “do what you want” bandwagon this MBA application season, jettisoning the short-answer essays it required of applicants last year as well as its classic “What are your goals? Why an MBA? Why Us?” essay prompt. So, for Chicago Booth, everything rides on either a presentation or essay—your choice! What should you do? Our analysis follows…
Chicago Booth was an innovator with its presentation prompt, which has been part of its application for the better part of a decade now. Because the presentation is such a long-standing feature, does that mean you must choose it and take the more “artistic” approach? Not at all. Choose the format that allows you to best answer the question—the one that will most effectively reveal who you are.
We recommend that you start (as always) with a thorough brainstorming session, before you even consider whether you want to move ahead with an essay or a presentation. By creating an inventory of ideas, you will be able to provide a profound picture of yourself. That said, whether you ultimately write an essay or prepare a presentation, your submission must not be just a long list of accomplishments. Both approaches require you to create a coherent story and offer a clear representation of yourself. Many applicants will misguidedly assemble a register of achievements and try to foist a fake theme on the admissions committee meant to tie them together—and the admissions committee will see right through that attempt.
If you elect to write an essay, think about themes in your life. You do not need to break new ground and identify a theme that has never been discussed before. If your story is one about your constant willingness to take the challenging path, for example, that could work perfectly, as long as you own the narrative. To do this, offer sincere and compelling examples of such behavior on your part. Although the Chicago Booth admissions committee does not limit the number of words you can use, we think a general guideline for an essay should be 750–1,250 words. If you submit more than that, you risk becoming like the rude dinner guest who lingers too long, unaware that the party has ended.
An alternative to the thematic approach is to tell a single story that fully captures who you are—what we will call the sole narrative approach. This would need to be an incredibly compelling representation of yourself. Effectively, the story must reveal such depth of personality that nothing else would need to be said. This will be possible for some candidates. The key with this option is richness of detail and truly showing your story, rather than relaying results.
If you instead choose to create a presentation, it must not be a humdrum PowerPoint, where you put six bullet points on a slide. That probably goes without saying. However, you should also not feel that your presentation needs to represent or convey your outstanding artistic abilities. Likewise, do not get so carried away with the design that you lose track of the content. The bottom line is always to stick with what represents you well.
Before you launch into developing an elaborate design scheme, sit back and contemplate what “vehicle” would best allow you to express yourself. The vehicle should be engaging, of course, but that does not mean it cannot also be simple. Maybe you annotate four pictures on four slides and draw out all sorts of interesting tidbits from your life by picking up on various personal details in those photos. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. We are not suggesting that you take this exact approach, but our point is that your presentation does not need to be terribly complex to be effective. As you create your presentation, identify a vehicle that is enticing and then keep returning your focus to the content.