What Happens When You Apply To Booth

Stacey Kole, deputy dean of the full-time MBA program at Booth.

This year’s questions seem more straightforward. Applicants are asked to write 300-word maximum answers to the following:

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

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

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

Then, you’re asked to write up to 750 words based on the following statement: “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.”

THE FOUR-PAGE POWERPOINT PRESENTATION THAT TURNS SOME APPLICANTS OFF.

And finally, there is the four-page Powerpoint or PDF that is a required part of the application. Purposely, there’s little guidance on what to do, merely this vague statement: “At Chicago Booth, we teach you how to think rather than what to think. With this in mind, we have provided you with “blank pages” in our application. Knowing that there is not a right or even a preferred answer allows you to demonstrate to the committee your ability to navigate ambiguity and provide information that you believe will support your candidacy for Chicago Booth.”

It was Ahlm who had the idea for this portion of the application. He jokingly says it came to him when he hit his head on the bathroom sink in his home. “This is an exercise that very much captures the essence of what Booth is about,” he says. “Having an ambiguous problem with many moving parts and being able to come up with a strong compelling solution. It was designed to allow someone to bring an application to life. The Powerpoint adds a lot of color, texture and depth to the application.”

It also apparently turns some applicants off. “It leads some people to not hit send, which is a perfect outcome,” believes Kole. “Because if they are frustrated and feel they don’t know what to do with those four sheets of paper, they are not going to do well here. If that’s too much ambiguity for them, it’s good that they find that out before they apply. A lot of admits say they fell in love with the place through that process.”

An example of successful execution? When Sarah McGinty of the Class of 2010 submitted her Powerpoint slides to gain an acceptance from Booth, each of the four pages was a visual. There were two pictures of her family, a picture of her reading, a poster from a dual-career couples’ event on work/life balance, and then she drew a see-saw with her passions—surfboarding, movies and tennis—on one side. On the other were logos of the different places she had worked.

At Booth, roughly half of the applicants are invited to interview, though this can vary according to the quality of the applicant pool. The admissions staff does little more than one percent of all the interviews. Mostly, they take about 30 to 45 minutes and are done on campus by students or off campus by alumni.  “The interviewers have a fair amount of freedom,” says Ahlm. “It needs to be conversational. We want to make sure there is an honest and open dialogue that takes place.”

Typical questions:

  • What is your motivation to obtain an MBA?
  • What do you really want from my MBA experience?
  • What can you bring to the Chicago Booth community?
  • Why is Booth the right place for you?
  • Can you clearly articulate your career plan and future goals?
  • How do you plan to use the MBA in your career?

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.