Chicago Booth Risk Essay

Clearly, the admissions committee at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business marches to its own beat, and this year, it has released an “essay” question like no other. We expect that the school’s “essay” prompt will flummox a lot of people (and because applicants can choose from multiple format options for their submission, we are putting the word “essay” in quotation marks). The question is an unorthodox one, but do not let this intimidate you. We will get on with our Chicago Booth essay analysis now, in hopes of ending the bewilderment…

Essay 1: Chicago Booth values individuality because of what we can learn from the diverse experiences and perspectives of others. This mutual respect creates an open-minded community that supports curiosity, inspires us to think more broadly, take risks, and challenge assumptions. At Booth, community is about collaborative thinking and tapping into each other’s different viewpoints to cultivate new ideas and realize breakthrough moments every day.

Using one of the photos provided, tell us how it resonates with your own viewpoint on why the Booth community is the right fit for you.

Essay Guidelines

  • Choose the format that works for you. Feel free to submit a traditional essay, slide presentation, or any format that you feel best captures your response. Please use the format you are most comfortable with, 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.

So much of Chicago Booth’s essay question and parameters are a sideshow from the school is really asking you, which we will attempt to paraphrase: “Examine these photos and relate one of them to your interest in the Chicago Booth community.” The good news is that a picture is worth a thousand words—or in this case, 16 pictures provide a opportunity to write less than a thousand words! With 16 pictures, you should be able to “spin” one of them in your favor. Is the photo of a man in a parka proudly standing on an ice floe and pulling a sled a representation of adventure, pride, calculated risk, selflessness (after all, one could surmise that a classmate took the picture!), struggle, resilience, a willingness to conduct field research, or another attribute altogether? The photos the school provides are very malleable, so to start, do not get too hung up on which one to choose.

Instead, start by thinking about what you know and truly appreciate about the Chicago Booth community. If you are not profoundly aware of what the community is like, do whatever is necessary to learn about it: visit the campus, network with students and alumni, and check out the Considering Booth channel on YouTube. By deepening your understanding of the school’s community, you will naturally become much better prepared to respond meaningfully to the essay question. If you have little to no knowledge of the Chicago Booth community or understand it only in clichéd terms, whatever you write or submit will ring hollow.

In discussing why the Chicago Booth community is the right one for you, you can take a very broad perspective on the concept of community—it can include class experiences, social experiences, alumni interactions, and much more. And as you share which aspects of the community resonate with you, you can (and should) by extension discuss… you! For example, if you identify “audacity” as an attribute displayed in one of the school’s provided photos and then note that audacity is a quality of the Chicago Booth community that you find appealing, you would then be wise to reference your own audaciousness. Do not merely identify an attribute in a photo and riff on your accomplishments for a thousand words; instead, really get to the heart of how you exhibit a specific characteristic, and reveal how it would manifest in experiences you anticipate having as a Chicago Booth student. In crafting this “essay” submission (whatever format you choose), be sure to simultaneously show a very deep awareness and understanding of both yourself and the institution.

Do not worry that your themes might seem clichéd; if you truly own your experiences and provide sufficient detail in showcasing them, your central messages will come across as genuine. For instance, “thinking globally” might be a challenging concept to “own,” but if you truly exhibit this perspective in a way that defines who you are, then as long as you can demonstrate and authenticate that mind-set, any semblance of cliché should slip away.

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.

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 more, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

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. 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.




U Chicago / Booth 2015-2016 Essay Topic Analysis

Following up on the release of the University of Chicago / Booth MBA essay topics for 2015-2016 last week — and our interview with Associate Dean of Student Recruitment and Admissions Kurt Ahlm — we wanted to offer some guidance to applicants as they prepare to tackle this potentially challenging new prompt.

Booth has sidelined its personal expression prompt, which had appeared on the Chicago MBA application for seven consecutive years, and has introduced a task that differs from the previous format in an important way. Rather than simply having applicants to introduce themselves to the admissions committee, the program now presents candidates with 16 images that capture life at Booth; applicants are asked to choose one and explain why it resonates with their fit with the MBA program. This is a bit of a marketing exercise on the part of the program, similar to other schools like CBS and HBS, which ask applicants to view a video as part of the essay task. It’s also a bit of a projective test (think “inkblots”), as an applicant’s choice of image may in itself lead the adcom to draw some conclusions before even reading the candidate’s response.

As was the case last season, applicants have the option of writing an essay or developing a PowerPoint and PDF response. And, as was the case last season, there is no word, page, or PPT slide limit listed, meaning that the length of the response is left to the applicant’s judgment (and the 16MB maximum file size). These format options allow both verbally and visually oriented applicants to draw on their strengths in answering the prompt, and offers a bit more breathing room than the program’s original 4-slide PPT-only formulation of the personal expression essay.

Let’s take a closer look at the Chicago / Booth MBA essay for 2015-2016:

Required Essay: Chicago Booth values individuality because of what we can learn from the diverse experiences and perspectives of others. This mutual respect creates an open-minded community that supports curiosity, inspires us to think more broadly, take risks, and challenge assumptions. At Booth, community is about collaborative thinking and tapping into each other’s different viewpoints to cultivate new ideas and realize breakthrough moments every day.

Using one of the photos provided, tell us how it resonates with your own viewpoint on why the Booth community is the right fit for you. (See our post announcing the Booth essay topics for the full set of guidelines)
Booth presents applicants with quite a range of images, depicting everything from solo study to social celebration, from community service to icy adventure, from a famous Chicago landmark to a study abroad scene, from classroom conversation to a outdoor collaborative. As Associate Dean Alhm mentioned in our interview, the adcom is looking for applicants’ authentic reactions to the photographic stimuli, so we recommend that candidates begin by reviewing the photos and identifying the 4-6 to which they are most drawn on a gut level. It might also be worth making some notes about why each one resonates with you and seeing whether there’s overlap in the aspects that draw you to each, as these core points of connection could be valuable to incorporate into your response, no matter which of the photographs you ultimately select.

While a sense of automatic resonance is a good starting point, it’s also important to be strategic and to select the photo that will be the best vehicle to discuss your fit with the Booth MBA program and community. For this reason, we recommend that you set your top 4-6 photos aside and reflect on what you most want to convey about  your candidacy, career goals, and fit with the Chicago MBA. This might involve completely pausing the process of developing your response while you learn about the school, as Associate Dean Ahlm hints in our interview that becoming very familiar with the Booth experience is essential to an effective essay. We therefore recommend that applicants review the program’s website, reach out to students and alumni, digest the Clear Admit Chicago Booth School Guide, and consider attending an information session or visiting the campus before they begin working in earnest on their responses. The admissions committee is looking for students who have really synthesized and internalized the Booth program, and who have a good understanding of their fit with its offerings.

Once you’ve identified the essence of your fit with Booth — in terms of what you would gain, what you would contribute, and how your values are aligned with those of the program — we suggest revisiting your top photo choices with an eye to which one most resonates with your message. You may even choose to review all 16 options again, in case your research on the program has changed your perspective. Attend to what’s happening in the picture, as well as how it makes you feel, as you’re making your selection. And, on a final strategic note, keep in mind Associate Dean Ahlm’s comment that the photos were chosen with an eye to highlighting the collaborative side of what is often perceived as an individualistic program. While there are no wrong choices, some selections — like abstract architecture or a woman studying alone in an (admittedly beautiful) room — might make for more challenging responses than others.

In addition to choosing which photo will inform their responses, applicants will also need to determine the best medium for conveying their fit with Booth. For those whose strong suit is writing, a traditional essay is absolutely acceptable here — though we encourage even essay-writing applicants to include a visual touch point or two, in the spirit of the prompt. A selfie on the Booth campus could do wonders to convey your excitement about the program, and a photo of your own color run/Holi experience or travel abroad scene could underscore your fit with the adventurous student spirit depicted in some of the Booth photos. As for applicants who choose a visual-heavy PowerPoint format, it will still be very important to include some text to accompany any photos you share and to spell out the reasons you feel a fit with Booth based on your chosen photo from the essay prompt. To summarize, we recommend a balance of text and imagery, with an eye to authentic expression of your sincerely felt connection with the Chicago MBA program. In terms of length, meanwhile, we recommend limiting essay responses to 750 words (plus a few photos, perhaps), and PowerPoint responses to as many slides as an admissions reader could comfortably review in 5 minutes.

As a final note on the content of this response, we encourage applicants to show the adcom who they are and to articulate why they’re a fit with the program. For some, this might involve identifying several themes that are reflected in the stimulus photo and developing a few paragraphs or PowerPoint slides around each. For others, it might involve a verbal or visual narrative of their professional journey and the reasons they see their path intersecting with the scene depicted in their chosen picture. And for others still, their response might include a treatment of their most dearly held value, as reflected in the Booth photo and other experiences with the program. What effective reponses will have in common, however, is a sincere and thoughtful treatment of their fit with the collaborative Booth community, and a genuine enthusiasm about the Chicago MBA program and their ultimate career goals.

Re-Applicant 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)
This response asks applicants about how their career plans, interest in Booth, and desire to obtain an MBA has evolved since last season’s admissions decision. Applicants should note that this prompt seems to assume that some change and growth has taken place, so it would be prudent to showcase an enhanced appreciation of the merits of the Booth MBA program and its potential to advance the candidate’s progress toward his or her well defined goals.

Clear Admit Resources
Thanks for reading our analysis of this year’s Booth MBA essay topics! As you work on your University of Chicago MBA essays and application, we encourage you to consider all of Clear Admit’s offerings:

Posted in: Essay Topic Analysis

Schools: U. Chicago Booth

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