Breaking Down Chicago Booth's Essays for 2011-2012

Well, we wanted to get a quick analysis up and let all those applying to Chicago Booth that the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

This year's essay questions are different, but essentially the same.  

Essay One -- 1. What are your short- and long-term goals, and how will a Chicago Booth MBA help you reach them?  (600 words)

Booth's essay one (Goals) is a shortened version of last year's three-part,900-word essay one.  Booth must have gotten sick of cutting up the question way too specifically -- my guess is that they have to read three "differing" 300-word answers for essay one that pretty much said the same thing (or had significant overlap.)  That is, many applicants simply did not do a good job of bifurcating their thoughts on paper.

Essay Three -- 3. Considering what you've already included in the application, what else should we know about you?  In a maximum of four slides, tell us about yourself.

Ye Ole Four PowerPoint Slides -- We like how Booth specifically points outthat they want something that has not already been stated in other parts of the application.  We suspect that the Booth admissions committee has seen what we have seen. Most of the bad Booth PowerPoints that we have seen are just a rehash of already stated information, but in a sloppy graphical format.  We have even seen some failed PPT's that are basically all bulletpoints.  Somehow, the word has gotten out that this PowerPoint essay is supposed to be closer to MIT Sloan's cover letter essay.  But really, summaries (and bad ones at that) need not apply.  

Moving onto the "real" change .... Chicago Booth's new essay two.

So this post is only going to address the new coat of paint applied to essay two  It is important to note that Chicago Booth has eliminated the traditional, tried and true "risk" essay.  Our theory is that the program realized, to a certain extent, that they were showing their hand a bit too much.  So what did they try to do, our belief is that they tried to mask the question with a more "personal" bent - something that has been a trend with quite a few top programs (i.e. Two years ago Columbia essay two changed from "Master's Classes" to a more touchy-feely play.)

Last year's question two - 2. Chicago Booth is a place that challenges its students to stretch and take risks that they might not take elsewhere. Tell us about a time when you took a risk and what you learned from that experience (750 words).

This year's question two - 2. At Chicago Booth, we believe each individual has his or her own leadership style. How has your family, culture, and/or environment influenced you as a leader? (750 words)

Sure, at face value, it may seem like the question has completely changed.  But let us face it, there is no way that the culture of Chicago Booth could have changed markedly from one year to the next.  The school is still looking for the same types of people, and undoubtedly, will attract and types of analytical and finance oriented people.  Ultimately, what will separate the rock stars from the groupies, is the applicant's ability to speak to taking smart risks.  So while this may seem like an exercise in talking about your mom and dad, perhaps your family pet or crazy Uncle Larry or Auntie Uma, it is really about defining the values your family and personal background have taught you.  The critical component to fully answering the question is to also talk about how those values, norms and beliefs have instilled in you and appreciation, and perhaps propensity, for taking smart risks.  Again, the influence of your personal surroundings has injected a willingness to accept risk, and you have subsequently learned evaluate that risk from an objective point of view.

We know that for some who read this, it may seem like a stretch to talk about your mommy and then talk about how you love taking risk.  Of course it is not as simple as writing something like that.  Let's be fo' real, real and relatively sophisticated at the same time.  It would really flow (logicallly) like this (as an example):

  1. This is what I learned from my parents.  This is the example they set for me.  These are the defined set of values I learned from them.
  2. This is where I took their values and made them my own.  Here is a leadership example of that - a leadership example that incorporates elements of evaluating and taking smart risks to achieve a goal.  Here is (perhaps) another leadership example -- maybe a more personal one or one that combines personal and professional elements.
  3. These are the results (based on my personal and professional leadership accomplishments - and beliefs) that I hope to bring to your Chicago Booth program to the benefit of all involved -- and through initiatives X, Y and Z.

The representative structure above is pretty much the same that applicants should have been using last year.  The only difference is that in prior years, Chicago Booth pointed out introducing the element of risk ( a theme central to the school), this year they point to the impetus (parents, culture, etc.) of what drives your risky (yet smart) leadership behavior.  This is why we say that a long line of consistent leadership characteristics always convinces a reader, rather than a recent one-hit, Johnny-come-lately applicant.  

Clear as mud?  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Reference: Chicago Booth Essay Questions: