Chicago/Booth Essay Analysis

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

Nothing tricky here. We’ve written about this a dozen times. And we’ll do it again.

Three pieces here: (1) Short Term, (2) Long Term, and (3) How will Booth help.

Actually, there’s a FOURTH: the lure.

The lure is an often overlooked and absolutely critical piece of the puzzle. It’s the opening chunk of an essay like this that either gets your reader’s attention, or puts him to sleep.

Devote a solid 75-100 words (yes, one-SIXTH of this essay!) to setting it up properly, and with a bang.

Part 1 – The Lure – Entice. Shock. Startle. Provoke. Throw us off balance, somehow. Take a risk here. We will tell you that you’ve gone too far, or that it it’s a nice idea but isn’t working. But please don’t let us say “yaaawwwwn, we are BORED.” Boring openers may be safe in some respects, but they are also LETHAL.

Great openers paint a teaser vision of the future. If you have an amazing idea or goal, don’t just state it, present a vision for how things can change IF you’re successful. If you have an amazing “origin story” to your goal – i.e., some super cool experience that gave birth to your career path so-to-speak, draw us in. And do so dramatically. If you have a statistic that could knock us off our seats, hit us with it. Or better yet, pose a question and then shock us with the answer. Do this part right; it will make or break your essay. This section (not necessarily the first paragraph, but this section) should end with a high-level indication of where your future is headed. We need to know that you’re gonna wanna be CEO of Exxon. Or you want to take Starbucks down and introduce an even cooler, better version of the coffee-culture that took the world by storm a few years back. Or that you are gonna do something amazing in the world of Finance. We just need something to hold onto. We don’t need specifics, but we can’t be GUESSING, is all.

Part 2 – Give us the PLAAAAN. Step us through the moment to moment stages of your plan. Throwing particular emphasis on the LOGIC of how each step connects to the next. Don’t just give us the 1-2-3. Give us the why 1, and then how and why 1 leads to 2. Then how and why 2 leads to 3, etc etc. It should just… make… incontrovertible SENSE. The more logical it is, the less likely it is to fail. We like that. Business schools especially LOVE that.

Don’t be afraid to get real here. Aim smaller if it means the goal is more believable/achievable. Business schools love ambition. But you know what they don’t love? UNEMPLOYED GRADUATES. They love ambition, but they LOVE LOVE LOVE the statistic that shows off how deliciously EMPLOYED their alums are one year out of school. Why? Because YOU GUYS look at that stuff when applying. And because it makes their ranking go higher (or lower). Be convincing. Aim… smart. Show them you’re gonna be able to do what it is you’re hoping. In doing so, you are convincing them that as a business person, you have a great sense of pushing yourself, but embarking on goals that are executable.

300 words here.

Part 3 – How will Booth help?

Specificity reigns supreme.

I’m about to explain why the Intercontinental hotel in Budapest will serve my needs best as I visit this city:

  1. It has a bed for me to sleep on.
  2. It has a faucet in the bathroom which I can use to wash my face.
  3. It has a television with a remote control.

Congratulations. I just described 99.9% of all hotels on Earth. You have learned nothing about ME, OR the Intercontinental’s unique ability to serve me on my trip to Budapest.

Now, what if I said I’m an 83-year-old man dying to see the Danube one last time before my time is up. I need a hotel that is located close to the river because I am infirm and am unable to travel distance without difficulty. I need a hotel that has comfortable pillows because I have severe neck problems that can be exacerbated by insufficient pillows. And I need a bathroom that is handicap friendly, because I move around in a wheelchair.

Then I explain that the Intercontinental:

  1. is located ten feet from the Danube River.
  2. has 100% goose down pillows which are rated #1 for people with neck problems
  3. is the only hotel located close to the Danube that has handicap-friendly bathrooms on each floor

The first agument is preposterously unspecific, and it’s the one we see 95% of the time. The second argument lays out (1) specific NEEDS/CONDITIONS of the visitor, and (2) how specific aspects of the hotel MEET those needs.

200 words here, folks. Dig in. Get specific. If your argument can apply to other applicants, you’re doing it wrong. If your arguments can apply to other MBA programs, you’re doing it wrong. It has to be about specific needs of YOURS that specific aspects of BOOTH will address. Show us what those needs are, and HOW Booth will address them.

1 a) 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? (300 words)

The components of the re-application essay are transferable everywhere.

This section is all about demonstrating the difference between last year’s version of you, and this year’s “reissue.” Think iPhone. iPhone 1 was awesome, game changing, etc. But it had problems. Identify those problems and show how iPhone 4 (i.e., the CURRENT ISSUE—you, this year) has improved upon all those things that were lacking, AND added impressive (and relevant) NEW things to improve the value of this latest version. We need to see the difference between the two versions, AND be convinced that this is a candidate who is a juggernaut, on a rampage of further improvements.

The “reflection” part is important too. Give us a sense for how you didn’t cry for days, and wither into a lifeless, depressed mess. Show us how you roll with a punch. What if you don’t get what you want after business school? Show us how you’re gonna succeed ANYWAY. Those moments after the decision will potentially give us the confidence that you ARE the kind of guy who will react to setbacks with unusual aplomb.

Booth specifically mentions how your sense of getting an MBA might have changed. Well, there’s only one great answer here, which is a sense that within this past year, you’ve done thing and learned things that have proven exactly how valuable the MBA is to your future plans. Well, not dire, but how insane your potential could be WERE YOU TO GET ONE. Explain that revelation, and why the renewed push for an MBA. Don’t seem desperate. Instead, seem ultra-determined for success, whose BEST version has you passing THROUGH an MBA. Explain why the best version passes through an MBA.

If it’s MBA or bust, you’re a liability. If you’re gonna succeed no matter what, but your success will be SPECIAL with an MBA, give us some insight into why.

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)

This essay needs major focus. Once focused, you’re free to roam and give us some fascinating insights into where you come from, where your influences come from, etc. It can get rich, soulful, passionate, etc. But it must generate from a ridiculously FOCUSED approach to constructing this sucker.

The simplest way to achieve that focus is to split it into two major components: (1) What IS your leadership style? Define it. and (2) How has this style evolved?

Balance-wise, probably the CRISP definition/explanation of WHAT your leadership style is should be around 300+ words. The development of this style (notice how I didn’t say “origin” – a leader’s style has to be dynamic, and constantly evolving; what we’re looking for here are the major influences along the course of its development) can be around 300+ words as well.

That leaves us with 100-150 words. What now?

Well, we can do a few things here. We can self-reflect and turn the microscope on ourselves and examine what’s lacking or flawed. We can peek ahead and describe things we wanna develop that we haven’t mastered yet. We can analyze the style itself and measure it against other types of styles and assess the pros and cons. There is SOMETHING that can be done here that indicates that you understand leadership. And that leadership is gonna factor into your future plans somehow. 150 words may be more like 100, but the point is, give us some momentum, somehow.

You can order this one in a variety of ways—you can start with the “backstory” and then explain the leadership style as a consequence. Or, you can hit us with the style first, and THEN show us where it came from. Drama-wise, either way can have impact. But neither piece will make for a great closing. This is why we want to reserve 100 words or so to give the final moments some “oomph.”

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.

Ahh, the famous Booth Powerpoint Slides. “What ELSE.” This is a signal first and foremost, not to repeat stuff. Why on Earth would you? You’ve given them some dry stuff in written form, now’s your chance to do something VISUAL to give them a taste of what makes you tick.

And you have four slides to do it. Now, the cardinal rule here is not to do with the slides, what you could ALSO do with a resume, or essay. They are switching the medium for a reason. They wanna see something different. They are giving you a blank canvas and telling you to fill it in whatever way captures what you’re all about… the best.

So, what the heck do you capture? And how? Let’s take them one at a time.

What to include:

• stuff that will SURPRISE us

• deeply personal and meaningful stuff

• stuff that will make us wanna HANG OUT WITH YOU

• stuff that adds considerable DIMENSION to whatever you’ve captured in your essays and resume (in other words, things that show different SIDES to you)

Notice how we didn’t say “stuff that will impress us.” You’ll have that chance in your resume, and in the other Booth essays.

How to capture it:

• There HAS to be connective tissue between the slides—something visual or narrative that takes us on a journey; it’s not just Slide 1… it’s Slide 1 of 4. It’s not just Slide 2, it’s the slide that comes after Slide 1, and the one that comes before Slide 3. See what we’re driving at here? If you can shuffle them up and re-order them with the EXACT same effect, you’ve probably missed the boat somehow. Now, this doesn’t mean it has to be “linear.” Rather, the slides simply need to connect somehow. Think about putting together an outfit. They colors don’t need to “match” or “complement each other” even. But they do need to “work” together, somehow. If there’s a logic to the mis-matching, then you’re good. If it just looks slapped together with complete randomness, the viewer will subconsciously reject it as “bad.”

• TAKE ADVANTAGE OF GRAPHICS. Please please please don’t clutter your slides with dense text. Blech. Show us that you’ve spent some time as an architect of each slide, and have considered the opportunity carefully to arrange and design something with some intention. You don’t need to be a graphics whiz. In fact, a sleek design with shoddy content will always lose to a droopy design but crackling content. But, why not aim for both? That’s the one that causes the viewer to TALK about the slides days AFTER they saw it for the first time. That’s the guy who gets invited for an interview. Now, what does it mean to take advantage of graphics. Simply, surrender the instinct to ALWAYS use text. Think of ways to orient things, and describe them visually—whether it’s photos, pulled images, actual powerpoint artwork (symbols, arrows, boxes, etc.), doesn’t matter.

• Less is more. Less is SO much more than more, it’s silly. Do NOT clutter slides with stuff. Make it so that each slide has basically ONE take-home concept. Ah, this is the slide about XXXX. Next. Ah, this next one is the slide about YYYYY. etc etc. Not, okay, this slide walks us through the childhood, and then the volunteer experience here, and then the first job experience… yikes. No. Separate it to make each slide very clean both visually, and content-wise.

• Do NOT cram content into a “brilliant idea for a theme.” These tend to be GOD AWFUL. Figure out what you wanna say about yourself FIRST. Develop the list of “greatest hits.” This might start out as fifteen bulletpoints of things you may wanna capture. That list will eventually get whittled down to FOUR CLEAN CONCEPTS, but it’s okay to be loose initially. The one thing you don’t wanna do is fit content into concept. Get your greatest hits, and move toward three points, maybe four. Remember, you’ll want an intro slide that sets it aaall up. That slide MAY or may NOT have a ton of content on it. It should capture a ton of stuff about you and what you’re all about, BUT as far as “bulletpoints” go, the magic number is three.

Now, we often see the Booth insignia show up on the last page and some fairly lukewarm indication that there is connection between the application and the school. But if you’re gonna make that point (and it’s a bit obvious), you’ll really want to show some sort of “extreme” connection to the school. Give us a REAL reason you belong here. Give us a REASON, yknow? Don’t just indicate that you’d like to “end your journey” at Booth, or that the “next step is Booth.” We get that from “the application itself.” Take this space to give us more about YOU.

So, to sum:

1. Develop a list of viable “things” about you you absolutely NEED Booth to know—remember, these aren’t accomplishments that might live on your resume, unless there’s aspects of those accomplishments that AREN’T captured on your resume that could be developed here.

2. Whittle the list down to THREE magic bullets. (Four can work in some cases.) Assign each concept to a slide, or put another way, each slide to a concept.

3. Develop the cleanest, simplest progression from Bullet 1 to Bullet 2 to Bullet 3. Consider an intro slide (or even a “conclusion” slide at the end if you start with Bullet 1) that prepares the reader for what he’s about to see.

Ready to be confused?

There is, of course, always a different way to skin it—especially with an open-ended creative prompt such at this one. It doesn’t have to be segmented into 1 concept per slide. In fact, this can take so many different shapes and forms, it’s virtually limitless. That suggestion above is for the applicant whose instinct is to break it all down into neat and even pieces, present a simple and logical case, and do so without too much fuss.

For the outside-the-box folks out there, the sky is the limit. The form itself can be dismantled and turned on its head. Whatever you do with it, make sure you remember that the take home is that you’re a dangerous applicant, with dangerous potential as a future business leader. The “form” can be as cool as can be, but if it overwhelms the “function,” you may lose out.