After maintaining its somewhat unique “choose a photo” essay prompt for three years in a row, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business has completely overhauled its application essays this season, transitioning from that single open-ended and creative option to two short, direct essay questions. And notably, the school has shifted from having no limits at all to having a minimum expectation with respect to word count. In some ways, the minimum sets a range that a lack of limit does not. We have often suggested 1,000 words as a guide for the unlimited Chicago Booth essay, but now, we suggest keeping responses to 500–600 words each. Approximately double the minimum seems to be a reasonable high-end target, though you will not be thrown from the applicant pool for going even higher. That said, we do think 1,000 words would be as high as one might go, and only in exceedingly rare cases.
Returning to the prompts, the school’s first essay now is a very traditional career essay, in which you will need to reveal that your MBA is a well-thought-out professional imperative and that Chicago Booth is the clear bridge to your future. In the second essay, you have an opportunity to share your “soul,” discussing your broader values in your development. With the two pieces together, you should be able to provide the admissions committee with a well-rounded picture of yourself. Our more in-depth analysis follows…
Interested in learning how to tackle this year’s Chicago Booth application essay? Watch the short video below before you continue reading the full analysis!
Essay 1: How will the Booth MBA help you achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA career goals? (250 word minimum)
If this essay prompt seems rather simplistic and straightforward, that is because it is. Chicago Booth is requesting very fundamental—yet incredibly important—information and really just wants you to provide it so the school can understand your motivation for pursuing an MBA from its program and where you expect to go in your career afterward. Be as specific as possible in your description of where you see yourself after graduation and several years down the line, from the industry and role to any additional details about which you currently feel confident (perhaps specific companies or responsibilities that appeal to you in particular). Explain what has brought you to this point in your professional life, not only your career progression to date but also what has inspired you to earn an advanced degree as a vital tool in moving forward. And ideally, take the extra step of noting which of the program’s resources you believe will be most helpful to you in your pursuits. To be effective, this needs to be more than a passing mention, so do your research on the school and draw a clear picture for your admissions reader as to how and why the particular offerings you have identified relate directly to your needs and how you intend to apply them.
This essay includes many of the most elemental components of a traditional personal statement essay. We therefore encourage you to download your free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, in which we provide much more in-depth guidance on how to consider and respond to these sorts of questions, along with numerous illustrative examples. Please feel free to download your complimentary copy today.
And for a thorough exploration of the Chicago Booth academic program, unique offerings, social life, and other key characteristics and resources, download your complimentary copy of the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Essay 2: Chicago Booth immerses you in a choice-rich environment. How have your interests, leadership experiences, and other passions influenced the choices in your life? (250 word minimum)
Although Chicago Booth asks about your “interests, leadership experiences, and other passions,” the admissions committee does not expect you to check all of these figurative boxes. Instead of focusing on each of these aspects and trying to formulate a response that would fit one, invert your approach by taking a step back from the question and reflecting on how you have arrived at where you are today, both personally and professionally. What has led you to this point in your life and/or career? What has been your primary motivation? In considering your path to date with this mind-set, you should be able to easily identify inflection points that fall within the scope of the “interests, leadership experiences, and other passions” that have shaped you.
You should know that no specific interest, leadership experience, or passion is either “right” or “wrong.” What will make your response powerful is identifying the actual influences in your life and writing about them with sincerity. And you must go beyond simply stating an interest/experience/passion—to truly convey authenticity, you will need to present your experiences in a narrative form. By giving your essay a voice and allowing your reader to visualize how your influences manifest, you will be on the road to a sincere essay.
Although you are not restricted by a set maximum length, we nevertheless suggest skipping a long introduction and launching directly into your narrative. Immersing the admissions reader in your story right away is a good way to capture his/her attention. If you have a single, very strong core narrative, you might start by sharing the emergence of your passion in your first paragraph(s) and then describing its manifestation in the later one(s). For example, if you were a particularly outdoorsy youth and are now a leader in your position as a product developer at The North Face, this approach could reveal a clear cause and effect. If, however, you have a portfolio of formative experiences, you might strive to reveal this cause-and-effect relationship between passion and manifestation two or even three times within your essay. The permutations are many, but our point is that your best chance of standing out comes from revealing how a particular aspect of your life (or more than one) blossomed over time into something more and has helped create the person you are today.
Optional Question: Is there any unclear information in your application that needs further explanation? (300 word maximum)
Chicago Booth’s optional essay prompt is a little quirky in that the admissions committee uses the word “unclear,” which to us sounds like a more direct way of saying, “Don’t share additional information just to ‘sell’ your candidacy, but use this space only to address a problem area.” So let us be especially clear: however tempted you may be, do not use this space to simply share a strong essay you wrote for another school or offer a few anecdotes you were unable to share in your required essays. This is 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. 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 Question: 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 word 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.
The Next Step—Mastering Your Chicago Booth Interview: 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. To help you on your way to this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Primers. Download your free copy of the Chicago Booth School of Business Interview Primer today.