Booth Essay Analysis

The flavor-du-jour is Booth’s essay questions released for 2010, specifically question #1. [Be sure to stay tuned as we roll out analysis for all of em, as well as other schools.]

Now let’s dig.

1. The Admissions Committee is interested in learning more about you on both a personal and professional level. Please answer the following (maximum of 300 words for each section):

a. Why are you pursuing a full-time MBA at this point in your life?
b. Define your short and long term career goals post MBA.
c. What is it about Chicago Booth that is going to help you reach your goals?
d. RE-APPLICANTS ONLY: Upon reflection, how has your thinking regarding your future, Chicago Booth, and/or getting an MBA changed since the time of your last application?

We wanna draw your attention to three words:

1. Personal
2. And
3. Professional

Thaaaaaaat’s right. All three. The balancing act is crucial. They wouldn’t have used the words “personal” or “and” if they didn’t mean it. “Professional” they’re gonna get through your resume. That’s a given. Anything impressive you’ve done professionaly will be documented there. [If not, fix it.] Sure, in your essays you’ll be able to put some flesh on the bones to add dimension to your resume bulletpoints, but schools are interested in PEOPLE, not PROFILES. And there are more amazing profiles than there are seats available. Picking cool, interesting, spicy people is where the wheat is separated from the chaff.

What, then, is “personal”? Attitude. Preference. Behavioral tendencies. Personality. We should be able to make predictions about your behavior based on your essays. A guy who succeeds in closing X deal, improving sales by Y%, scores 750 on his GMAT… these are all CRUCIAL pieces of information. But we can’t predict what this guy is like as a person based on those facts.

But… someone who reveals his dreams, exposes a compelling source for his passion, explains the WHY behind his goals, let’s his personality ooze into his writing style… that is someone we can picture. We can make a guess about whether that guy prefers beer or wine. Whether he’s a sports car or sedan kinda guy. Whether he is conservative or liberal. Etc etc.

a.  Why are you pursuing a full-time MBA at this point in your life?

“At this point in your life” is the operative phrase here. Let’s unravel the assumption. It is assumed that you NEED to achieve something, let’s call it “C.” And that you are currently at position “A.” And furthermore that in order to achieve C, you need to pass through “B” (business school/MBA). We need to know NOT just your reasons for pursuing an MBA… we chose those letters consciously.

We need to see the logic that CONNECTS A to B to C. This is subtle, and most folks MISS this. Without those connections, your 300 word piece will be lacking. Doesn’t mean you need to deliver it in chronological order from A to B to C. Could be that you lead off with C (the vision), then show where you are now (A) and then prove that B is the necessary connector between A and C. But… you have to connect ‘em. In connecting them, you will automatically reveal “purpose” behind your goals… and therefore a window into what you’re all about. See that? Magic.

These cats at Booth are so clever, they’re splitting up the question in this way to make your job easier. Don’t squeeze other essays into this section. You’ll be shooting yourself in the foot.

Connect the dots, gang.

b. Define your short and long term career goals post MBA.

Do NOT try to out-think this section. They want two things. Be direct. Be clear. This is an opportunity to reveal something about who you are simply by watching your ability to deliver these two things simply, and clearly. Sounds easy? It isn’t. Part of what trips people up is the desire to cram stuff in (past work experience, past achievements, the origin story of the goal) — that stuff is all cruuuucial. But Booth is splitting this questions up into bite-sized pieces for a reason. To keep you on track. So do it.

c.  What is it about Chicago Booth that is going to help you reach your goals?

Okay. This section tends to be an unmitigated disaster. The instinct to name-drop is just… epic. And so, so wrong. Hence, the tweaked wording. Booth is doing everything RIGHT in trying to shoehorn you guys into a much more targeted and meaningful response. Think about the wording for a second. What quality/aspect of Booth will help you reach YOUR goals? Not what aspect of Booth contributes to its stellar reputation. There are many. And they are all probably central in terms of why you want to ATTEND Booth, but have nothing to do with how this particular environment will help you get from A to C. It’s NOT why you like Booth. That’s valid and important too, but tells them nothing about what their value is with respect to helping to make you a success.

Start with this assumption:

“I cannot fully realize my goals at the present time.”

Now introduce this assumption:

“I’ve been accepted to Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, and Booth.”

Think about that. You can’t justify that by saying how great Booth is. Stanford isn’t? HBS isn’t? You can’t say that you picked Booth because they have this great class on Finance or Marketing. The others don’t?

Dispense with the sense of what’s better or worse. Focus instead simply on the HOW. How will Booth take you from (1) unable to achieve your goals to (2) able to achieve your goals. Just map out that chemical reaction. Don’t overthink it. Booth will not only appreciate it, they’ll likely be inclined to want to GIVE you that opportunity, WHEN they can see what that opportunity is. Again, most applicants SHANK this!

d. RE-APPLICANTS ONLY: Upon reflection, how has your thinking regarding your future, Chicago Booth, and/or getting an MBA changed since the time of your last application?

For re-applicants, change is paramount. Without serious change, there isn’t a great reason to expect a new outcome. The decision to re-apply is PREDICATED on change. It’s not, “let me give it a second shot, maybe I’ll get a different reader.” It’s that “this 2.0 version of me is virtually unrecognizable from the kid who applied last year. And now let me prove it to you.”

The key to this piece is cutting straight to the moment or moments that created that tidal shift in your perspective. Much will be the same. Your appreciation of how great Booth is will be the same. Your career path will likely MOSTLY be the same. Your work experience will be the same. What might change is the urgency of the MBA. Or your readiness for it. Or the extent to which you’ll be able to take advantage of the opportunity, given what’s happened since your last applied. Or your sense of how you’re gonna be able to succeed.

Remember, don’t just give us the new take—bring us into HOW it evolved. You’ll kill two birds with one stone that way.