What Happens When You Apply To Booth

Kurt Ahlm heads up admissions at Chicago Booth.

Once assessed and graded by an Admission Fellow, an applicant’s entire file then goes one of six associate directors of admission for a second review. Typically, the students will spend one and one-half hour to two hours on each application. Admissions officials may give the typical application another half hour or so. The big decision at this point is whether an applicant should get an interview. If the student and the admissions staffer agree, the applicant is invited to an interview.


What’s the biggest difference between the first two reviews? Each admission director is seeing a much larger part of the applicant pool because eight students report to each director. So they can more easily compare and contrast candidates with similar backgrounds. Even so, says Ahlm, “it’s amazing how well correlated they are. They each see things just a little differently. The students bring a different lens to it; they have their own perspective living the day-to-day life of a student. It’s rare that I see dissonance. It’s great because I get two very clean perspectives on it. And when there is a disconnect, it gives me a great way to dig deeper and find out what the real issues are.”

If there’s conflict between the student reader and the admissions director, it can go to another associate director. If the decision is to deny, then the application file immediately goes to Ahlm for a final decision. “We look at all aspects of the application,” says Ahlm. “We want the full story from everybody. Before you would go through a deny process or not be invited to interview you are at least going to be reviewed by three people—an Admit Fellow, an admissions director, and finally me.”

“Kurt is going to craft the class from what he reads,” says Stacey Kole, deputy dean of the full-time MBA program. “What is great about having multiple readers is you get to see if one reader scored someone really low and another reader scored someone really high, we’re not just going to look at the average and say that someone who got two threes are the same as someone who got a five and a one. Kurt is going to take all of that information and make sense of it.”

The scoring process serves other functions. For one, it can help to inform the subsequent interview. So an interviewer might follow up on an area of concern exposed by a low grade on a specific category. For another, a low grade can serve as a flag. “You’re also using the system to identify a potential deficiency in an accepted student,” adds Kole. “If we took someone who is older and has been out of school for a long time, the score might tell you this person is riskier because you don’t know how they will acclimate. That gives us a flag that when this person accepts, we want to make sure we support them when they come to the school. So academic services gets keyed in.”

Booth claims there are no general quotas that guide admissions. “But we have some sense of what keeps the community vibrant,” says Kole. “If a group is below a certain percentage, they are likely to feel as if they are tokens. Once a group passes the 30% threshold, it has critical mass. There are threshold levels that we really look at.” For the Class of 2012 that entered last year, 35% were female and 33% were international.


Is there a secret in filling out the application and writing your essays? Yes and no.  “We look for sparkle,” says Kole, “and it comes in lots of different forms. A number of years ago when we moved into this building, we had an essay question that asked applicants for proposed mascots. We got a lot of tigers and elephants. Often, the answers didn’t demonstrate any insight into the institution or the person applying, but we did get some that were amazing. One person suggested an explorer, a mountain climber. Why? Because he said, ‘Booth will take me above the clouds, allowing me to reach vistas to see what I have never seen before.’ I can’t quantify that in a number. But that was sparkle. We had another question one time that asked, ‘If you could be anyone for a day, who would it be and what would you do on that day?’ One guy wanted to be the Pope. He wanted to wander into the archives of the Vatican, examine all the art there so he could decide what should be shown to the public.”