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University of Chicago (Booth) Essay Analysis, 2017–2018

Chicago Booth

*Please note: You are viewing an essay analysis from the 2017-2018 admissions cycle. Click here to view our collection of essay analyses for the current admissions season. 

For the third year in a row, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business is maintaining its rather unique “essay” question in which it asks applicants to select from a group of images depicting key moments in the Chicago Booth MBA experience and explain why the chosen image “best resonates” with them. When this prompt was first introduced in 2015–2016, the school offered a collection of 16 photos from which candidates could choose; last year, the group was reduced to ten. This season, Chicago Booth is presenting just six image options. We are unaware of the exact reasons behind this continued minimizing, but we theorize that certain types of photos were rarely chosen or did not elicit the kind of response the admissions committee ultimately felt was helpful in evaluating candidates. Another possibility is that multiple photos may have inspired very similar essays, so only one such picture was needed. Or Chicago Booth may have wanted to focus applicants on specific aspects of its program and therefore eliminated any images not related to those elements. This year’s photos again come with captions describing the depicted scene—an important factor in this equation in that an individual might be strongly drawn to a particular image, but the associated caption might influence his or her initial interpretation of it in some way. The bottom line is that with this nontraditional prompt, the school puts a significant amount of power in candidates’ hands in letting them select from a group of options, which thereby lets them better control the impression of themselves they want to present. We hope that you will find Chicago Booth’s essay question exciting and inspiring, rather than intimidating, and offer the following analysis to help you plan your response.

The following is a 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 offering advice to applicants on how best to approach its unorthodox essay prompt, a member of the Chicago Booth admissions committee stated on the department’s blog, “Simply put, we want applicants to have fun with the question and let their personality shine through. Focus less on curating a certain image and more on embracing who you are. Please trust when I say that there is no hidden meaning in the prompt.” We sincerely hope you will take the school’s counsel to heart and let go of any fears you might have about choosing the “wrong” image. 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 you. It is merely offering a novel way of inspiring a discussion 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 they all offer a good opportunity to convey key messages about yourself. With a little time and contemplation, you should begin to feel a genuine connection with one of the options.

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. Perhaps a good approach would be to let the image choose you, so to speak. 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, or a gap in your work experience. 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, we encourage you to download your free copy of 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.   

Post-Interview Essay:

If you are fortunate enough to be invited to interview with Chicago Booth, you will then need to write and submit an additional essay of 250 words in response to one of the following three prompts:

1) Share a photo you think would resonate with us and tell us why.

Interestingly, after having applicants write about a selected photo offered by the school, Chicago Booth is asking for yet another commentary on a selected photo, though in this case, you have total control of the choice of snapshot. This essay option might appeal to some candidates with whom the initial exercise of picking and analyzing a photo resonated and to whom doing so came fairly easily. We imagine that other applicants will steer clear of this question, however, having done more than enough photo assessment for one season. One key thing to note here is that the school is not asking for a photo that resonates with you but instead one that you believe would resonate with it. You will need to draw on your (we hope by now rather extensive) knowledge and understanding of the Chicago Booth program and identify a picture that aligns with one or more of its primary tenets. Note also that the photo does not to be one of you or even one that you have taken.

We interpret this prompt as a way for the school to test once again your grasp of what the Chicago Booth experience entails. Do you truly understand what being a Chicago Booth MBA student will be like? Are you ready for the experience? Are you coming into the program with open eyes and an open mind? If you successfully choose a photo that can objectively be deemed complementary to the school’s community and program, you will convey to the admissions committee that you do indeed “get it” and are ready to get started. Unfortunately, we cannot tell you specifically what such a photo would be, but we hope that if you have really researched the school, spoken firsthand with students and alumni, visited the campus (if possible), and given sincere thought to what you want from an MBA program and what Chicago Booth in particular offers that is important to you and to achieving your goals, you should be able to identify an effective picture with fairly minimal effort.

2) What motivates you?

This prompt appears to be a very straightforward, no-nonsense request for information. If you are putting forth the effort and time necessary to pursue an MBA and are ready to take on the two-year challenge of earning one, we have to assume that something is driving you to do so. Very simply, what is that thing? This query’s simplicity might make it challenging for some applicants, but if you have a real fire in your belly, as they say, that is pushing you forward in life, you should be able to articulate this for the admissions committee. Be sure to go beyond simply stating what motivates you and provide some clarifying context as to how and even why. If your children motivate you, for example, what exactly about them is compelling you to take this step? Do you wish to secure a stable financial future for them? Do you hope to make them proud through your success? Do you want to start a business that you could later hand down to them? And why is any of this important to you? The school obviously wants to know what is driving you, but revealing a fuller picture of the source of your aspirations will be key to crafting a truly compelling essay.

3) What was the last thing you searched on the internet and what does that reveal about you?

We caution you here to be sincere and not try to anticipate what the admissions committee might consider an impressive or particularly interesting topic. If you spent some time looking up cute cat videos to give yourself a cerebral break between work projects so you could start the next one refreshed and with a clean mental slate, saying so would be better than pretending that you instead spent time researching Newton’s third law of physics, just because that option might sound better. Authenticity is key. The school is seeking another window into your personality, so keep that goal in mind as you craft your essay. Note that the query asks what your search topic reveals about you, so beyond simply sharing the subject of your web search and the reason behind it, be sure to elaborate a bit on how it all relates to you as an individual—either personally or professionally, or perhaps both. Given that you have a week in which to respond to this query and that Google alone processes more than 40,000 searches every second, we doubt the school expects you to share what was literally the last thing you researched before reading the question, so you do have some small measure of wiggle room (but again, avoid being disingenuous and creating an artificial answer for supposed effect). Instead, consider the last several things you researched, pinpoint the one you feel would reveal the most about you to the admissions committee, and then fill in the blanks as we have advised.

Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. And, on your way to this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Primers to spur you along! Download your free copy of the Chicago Booth School of Business Interview Primer today.

And for a thorough exploration of the Chicago Booth academic program, unique offerings, social life, and other key characteristics, download your complimentary copy of the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.




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