Chicago Booth MBA Essay Analysis, Your 2015 Application

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Are you ready to dig into your essays? Application essays are specifically and cleverly designed to get into your head. We like to turn the tables on the admissions committees and get inside their heads. Why are they asking these questions? What are they looking for? Read on as our experts break down application essay questions to help YOU plan the attack.

This year, Chicago Booth opened up its signature presentation to more creative interpretation… which is both liberating and frustrating.

Let’s get into it.

Chicago Booth MBA Essay Question 1

Presentation/Essay: Chicago Booth values adventurous inquiry, diverse perspectives, and a collaborative exchange of ideas. This is us. Who are you?

Presentation/Essay Guidelines

  • Be reflective. We’ve learned a lot about you throughout the application, but what more should we know?
  • Interpret broadly. “Who are you?” can be interpreted in many different ways. We encourage you to think critically and broadly about who you are, and how your values, passions and experiences have influenced you.
  • 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.
  • Choose the format that works for you. You can design your presentation or compose your essay in the format that you feel best captures your response. However, please consider the specific technical restrictions noted below.
  • Think about you, not us. Rather than focusing on what you think we want to hear, focus on what is essential for us to know about you. Simply put, be genuine.

Technical Guidelines

  • File Size: Maximum file size is 16 MB.
  • Accepted Upload Formats: Acceptable formats are PDF, Word and Powerpoint.
  • 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.
  • Preserve Your Formatting: We strongly recommend converting your piece to a PDF file prior to submitting to ensure that everything you see matches what we see.

The famous Chicago Booth Presentation. The Booth essay that has confounded many, and brought out the best in others. What it is… is a golden opportunity to make Al Pacino in Heat very happy, and “Give em all you got.”

It used to be a three to four page Powerpoint presentation. Today, it has become a touch more open-ended. Present yourself, however you want. This can be as frustratingly directionless as it is liberating.

Let’s help it to be a liberator…

Be reflective. We’ve learned a lot about you throughout the application, but what more should we know?

Hint: don’t tell us stuff we already know. Why would you? If there are pieces you can fill in, stuff that you couldn’t possibly lace into a resume, then maybe. But, it can’t just be “the fifth bullet point that I left off because I ran out of space and had to fit it all to one page.” Instead, it has to be the “human” moment that changed your perspective, or somehow defines something fundamental about you. Something NEW. Folks, take this suggestion very seriously. To repeat something isn’t to reinforce it, it’s to not only reveal that you’re not really embracing Booth’s recommendation, but also to suggest that you’re… kinda unimaginative, and boring.

Interpret broadly. “Who are you?” can be interpreted in many different ways. We encourage you to think critically and broadly about who you are, and how your values, passions and experiences have influenced you.

Here’s a strange test you guys can administer yourself, as a potential gauge for how well you’re hitting THIS piece. If you show this to a bunch of people who know you, they can respond in one of a few ways.

Response #1 – “Wow, this is AWESOME. You did an AMAZING job.”

Contrary to what you might think, this isn’t particularly great feedback. (It may be, but it’s not NECESSARILY great feedback.)

Response #2 – “Wow, this presentation is SO YOU!”

THIS is a very good sign. If your presentation has captured something uniquely YOU, you have struck some kind of emotional chord with someone who knows you well—and that just means that the chances are great that will reveal that thing to someone who doesn’t know you (aka, the adcom).

So, it’s not about “doing a great job at creating a presentation.” It’s about doing an amazing job as distilling what’s YOU about you… IN the presentation.

Here’s another potentially amazing response:

Response #3 – “Hunh, I never knew that about you!”

Amazing. Why? Because the person’s focus was on YOU as the subject, AND presumably knows you well and managed to learn something. All amazing feats.

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.

Bold, Chicago Booth! Bold. This may almost be a trap (haha). Folks who take this “no maximum length” concept and OVERSTAY their welcome may be signaling that they “don’t have great judgment.” So, please seek feedback here from trusted sources on what’s too much. Economy of words, pictures, whatever is a signal of EXCELLENT judgment, and clarity in communication skills. Do, um, that. In fact, once you get your concept nailed down, don’t communicate that story in “however long it takes,” Communicate it as QUICKLY as you’re able to communicate it.

Choose the format that works for you. You can design your presentation or compose your essay in the format that you feel best captures your response. However, please consider the specific technical restrictions noted below.

How to pick a winning format? Well, this is actually a fascinating question. Think of your presentation as an experience… that can be viewed as a presentation or PDF, or read as a Word doc. Doing it one way over another must present an ADVANTAGE to you. Are you able to articulate what that advantage is? Your choice of medium here must correspond to an advantage that makes the other version inherently LESS SUCCESSFUL at “capturing you.” For some, who have an unusually strong voice that POPS through with their writing, an essay or some type of prose piece in MS Word may nail this best. For others, who are artists, have graphic design chops, excellent presentation skills, or have pictures of them or that they have taken, or some other variation that a presentation format allows you to take advantage of… the PDF or PPT is the obvious choice.

Here’s an exercise. Consider some ALTERNATE versions of the story you’re trying to tell—i.e., via the alternative media choices available to you. What does the essay version of your presentation look like? What does the pictures-only version look like? What does the hybrid some-pictures, some-text version look like? What does the graphic design-heavy version look like? Which one captures “you” best? Some should start to pull ahead very clearly when you consider all the possibilities and even map a few out if you’re having trouble imagining all of it.

One thing’s for sure, if your STORY (i.e., your MESSAGE) is compelling, the format won’t matter quite so much. Get that part right. Figure out the WHAT here. The HOW will be the easy and fun part.

Think about you, not us. Rather than focusing on what you think we want to hear, focus on what is essential for us to know about you. Simply put, be genuine.

You’re either gonna have this instinct, or not. It’s hard to convince some folks to “be honest and earnest and not overthink it” when this is in their DNA. But we will continue to fight the fight and try!

Dear “all of you out there who think it’s possible to say what the adcom wants to hear…” – if your goal is to “earn admission to Chicago Booth to earn your MBA” and you believe that you can “talk to an insider and determine the kinds of things they want to see and hear,” and you just fold that stuff into your presentation, you will burn your chances of earning admission to Chicago Booth. Trust us. It’s transparent, and it has never worked.

So, pull aside a trusted friend, sibling, etc. If they review your presentation and say “this doesn’t really sound like you” and your response is “oh that’s okay, this guy who has his MBA from Booth said that as long as I mention a few things like this, I’m golden!” – then you’re doing it wrong! Create this presentation not to impress an admissions committee member, but to wow a friend by presenting the truest and coolest and most interesting summary of who you are and what makes you INTERESTING. Do that first. No matter what.

(It is possible to take THAT rough stone, and then to sculpt it and refine it in a way that is b-school-friendly. But enlist the help of a trusted friend/mentor for that stage, if you are so inclined. Not always necessary, but do not let that friend/mentor encourage you to reverse-engineer your presentation based on your anticipation of what will work best. Start BY yourself and… FOR yourself.

Check out some thoughts we’ve had on this particular essay in previous application seasons.


Chicago Booth MBA Essay - Reapplicant

Chicago Booth also requires that reapplicants to its program complete the following essay question:

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)

And for all you reapplicants out there… let’s show the adcom a better version of yourself this time around, eh?


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