It’s a first in, first out (FIFO) process, so the first apps to arrive are the first to be reviewed. As the application flow in, they’re piled into batches and then handed out to first readers—42 chosen second-year students known as “Admission Fellows.” Last year, more than 100 Booth students raised their hands for the 42 spots to initially screen applicants to Booth. They are largely chosen on the basis of their first year involvement in giving tours and running Admit Weekends, along with the passion they demonstrate for “Booth Nation.” During the height of the admission cycle, each Admission Fellow is handed 10 to 12 files a week.
They grade six separate parts of every application on a scale of one to six (with one being the highest score possible):
1) Test scores (GMAT or GRE plus TOEFL).
2) Quality of academics (Chicago looks beyond the GPA and more deeply into undergraduate (and graduate) transcripts to examine the courses you took and what grades you received in them).
3) Work experience.
4) Extracurricular activity, particularly as it reveals demonstrated leadership.
The first reader then provides an overall score for the application as well as a “Fit to Booth” score. The latter metric is entirely subjective: it’s a stab at deciding how well the applicant would fit into the school’s culture. “We really concentrate on fit,” explains Kole. “We want to make sure there is a great match.”
Those two final metrics tend to be highly correlated with each other. Besides the raw scores, the Admit Fellow also writes commentary and color on the quality of the essays and finally knocks out a summary highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each application.
EACH ATTRIBUTE GRADED BY A READER IS NOT EQUAL TO EACH OTHER.
Obviously, each of these categories is not equal in importance. Chicago won’t weight the six core areas it scores, largely because the importance of each category scores varies based on an applicant’s background and experience. “There is no set formula at play,” insists Kurt Ahlm, senior director of admissions. “What we are doing is carefully looking at each element of the application. These are signposts along the way that help us get a sense of a person’s strengths and weaknesses. And then we step back and ask, ‘Who is this person and how is he or she going to fit with the program?’”
Nonetheless, the most important hurdle every applicant has to jump over is to convince admissions that he or she can do graduate level work and won’t flunk out of the program. So test scores and your undergraduate record get important attention. “The bottom line is that students have to be able to do the work,” says Kole. “This is a very unpleasant place to be if you can’t keep your head above water. The water line is high so there is a certain level of demonstrated success in academia that we would like to see. We know, for example, that the GMAT is not as effective an indicator of talent in certain parts of the world where students don’t take standardized tests. We are not looking for a single type of person. We are looking for people who have a fit to this institution and will come here and fully engage in our experience and then go out and do amazing things. And we don’t want them to all go out and do all the same amazing things.”
Ahlm, who looks young enough to be a current MBA student, has worked in Booth admissions since the fall of 2002. A former recruiting manager for PriceWaterhouseCoopers with a Booth MBA, he had earlier redesigned the school’s application to require a brief, yet now infamous, “PowerPoint Presentation.” With last year’s departure of Admissions Director Rosemarie Martinelli, Ahlm is now leading a team of some 16 people in Booth admissions. He’s an affable and long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan who had lived within a home run’s distance from Wrigley Field for ten years before moving to the western suburbs with his wife and two children.