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University of Chicago (Booth) Essay Analysis, 2016–2017

Chicago BoothLast year, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business introduced an “essay” question like no other—one that we imagine gave some applicants serious pause. Candidates were presented with 16 photos depicting life in the Chicago Booth MBA program and asked to choose the one that best correlated with their opinion of why the school was right for them. Chicago Booth has chosen to maintain this photo-inspiration approach this year, but with some key tweaks. First, applicants have ten pictures from which to select, rather than 16. Although the school does not offer a reason for this scale-down, we can posit several theories. Perhaps several of the photos inspired very similar essays, so only one such picture was needed this year. Or maybe some images were chosen by a very small number of candidates, so Chicago Booth felt they would be superfluous this time and streamlined the options by cutting them. The school may also have wanted to focus applicants on specific aspects of the Chicago Booth experience and therefore did away with any pictures not related to those elements. A second big change is that this year’s photos include captions describing the depicted scene. This could add a layer of complexity in that an individual may be strongly drawn to one particular scene, but the associated caption in some way alters his/her initial interpretation of it. Third, and most importantly, the school now asks applicants to select the picture that “best resonates with you” (italics ours) rather than with the candidate’s belief that Chicago Booth is the “right fit.” By broadening the prompt’s scope this way, the school is allowing applicants to select from a wider range of possible themes and present a more rounded picture of who they are as individuals. Do not let this unorthodox question intimidate you—our analysis will help you navigate these potentially challenging waters.

View this collection of shared Booth moments. Choose the moment that best resonates with you and tell us why.

  • 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.

In a June 16 post on the Chicago Booth Admissions blog, the school’s director of operations and evaluation says of this rather unusual essay prompt, “The exercise is about showing us something we cannot learn elsewhere in the application. There is no wrong way to approach this. The question and moments are yours to answer and yours to interpret.” If you are feeling nervous about this essay, we hope this quote helps calm you a bit. Every MBA program’s essay questions share a common purpose—to help the admissions committee learn about you—and this is just a very pure and creative way of approaching the issue. Chicago Booth is not testing to see whether you will choose the photo that it deems “right” or “best.” It is offering a rather unique way of starting the conversation about something you feel is fundamental about you, something you want the school to know about who you are, where you have been, and/or where you want to go in the future. The photos provided are very malleable, so do not get too hung up on which one to choose. And with ten picture options, you should be able to find one to which you feel a genuine connection.

You might pick an image that connects with or recalls an important event from your past that had a significant impact on you and colors the person you are today. You could instead opt for a photo that relates to your aspirations as a Chicago Booth student or in your career. Another option is to select a picture that elicits a more emotional response from you and correlates with one or more of your core values or beliefs. In the end, letting the photos decide for you might be the best approach. With this essay—as with all application essays, of course—being sincere is crucial, so you will likely be able to craft your most compelling response when you feel a genuine attraction to the photo you choose. And do not merely identify an attribute in a photo and riff for a thousand words on what you feel are your most impressive accomplishments; instead, really get to the heart of how and why the image speaks to you personally. If you truly own your experiences and provide sufficient detail in showcasing them, your message will come across as authentic.

You can choose from multiple format options beyond the traditional essay for your submission, which no doubt adds to this prompt’s intimidation factor for some applicants. We offer no recommendation with respect to whether a written essay, a PowerPoint presentation, or any other format is “best” in this case. Opportunities are certainly available in both traditional and creative approaches, depending on where your strengths lie. We do, however, recommend that if you choose to write an essay, you limit yourself to no more than a thousand words.

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 words maximum)

Chicago Booth’s optional essay prompt is rather open-ended in that it does not specify that you discuss only problem areas in your candidacy, though it does restrict you to just 300 words. Nevertheless, this is still your opportunity to address—if you need to—any lingering questions that an admissions officer might have about your candidacy, such as a low GMAT or GRE score, a poor grade or overall GPA, a gap in your work experience, etc. Do not simply try to fill this space because you fear that not doing so would somehow count against you. And however tempted you might be, this is not the place to reuse a strong essay you wrote for another school or to offer a few anecdotes you were unable to share in your required essay. But if you truly feel that you must emphasize or explain something that would render your application incomplete if omitted, write a very brief piece on this key aspect of your profile. For more guidance, see our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, with multiple examples, to help you mitigate any problem areas in your application.

Reapplicant 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)

With this essay question, Chicago Booth is testing your resolve and your reasoning. We surmise that the school wants to be certain you are not just stubbornly following a path and trying to “finish what you started,” so to speak, but that you have truly reassessed your needs in the aftermath of your unfortunate rejection. We recommend that you discuss your subsequent growth and development as they pertain to additional personal and professional discovery, which validates your need for an MBA. In the interim, some of your interests or goals may have changed—that is not a bad thing, and the admissions committee will not automatically assume that you are “wishy-washy,” unless you give them good reason to do so. Just be sure that any of your goals that have changed still logically connect to your overall story and desire for an MBA. Your aspirations—new or original—need to represent a compelling progression of the growth you have achieved in the past year.

And for a thorough exploration of the Chicago Booth academic program/merits, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment, and other key elements, check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.



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