The Gatekeeper To Chicago Booth

So what are the key attributes you look for in determining fit?

How much time do you have?

There has to be three or four things that are really core, no?

I’ll be honest. If you really want to get to the root of what we’re looking for, I have to take a step back. There is no magic bullet. There is no magic formula. I can state attributes that seemingly are going to look the same as other schools without the context. I’ll try to be brief but it’s something to think about: everything we do here is based on this fundamental notion that the University of Chicago and certainly Booth was founded on a belief that ideas change the world. You can look at the legacy of this institution and the contributions it has made over time and there is this lasting commitment to creating an environment where ideas are at the forefront of what we do.

It’s not just hyperbole or stuff we say. It’s a commitment we have as an institution. If you take that, the issue really becomes how do you translate that in a way that that can be lived out every day.

In order to get an environment where ideas flourish, there are four underpinnings that we really focus on here:

The first is this discipline-based approach. Students who look at Booth are going to see a lot of things related to fundamentals. We don’t have a lot of industry-focused concentrations. The belief is that markets and organizations are connected by these fundamentals: understanding economics, statistics, accounting, and behavioral sciences. They connect everything. If you understand and can break down problems that are unfamiliar into the familiar and build them back up, you will get more lasting and significant idea generation. You can begin to take what is unfamiliar and make if familiar and ask better questions and get the better solutions.

So we look for people who are thoughtful, who are intellectually curious, who like to dig deep and who push for a more profound understanding of material than just the superficial. Again, it’s this routine of questioning and digging deeper and debating issues.

The second thing is this notion of choice and flexibility. For a lot of people, it has become a buzz term: flexibility. This place is built on the notion that the individual matters. Everybody comes in with different skills and aspirations. Everybody has a different purpose for being here.  And so we want students to be able and equipped to fully engage in that process, to dive deeper. But they have to really understand that it is their choice. And the reason for that is that ideas flow in an environment where students have very opportunity to be engaged, not to go through familiar information or relive what they already know, but to take a step beyond. What does that mean? We look for people who are encouraged by that. They love the chase. They are risk takers. They are people who really want to explore issues at a deeper level and subsequently want to get more out of an MBA experience. They are concerned with the experience as much as the outcome. So there is equal weight on the credential as well as the path to get there.

And flexibility means that at Booth there is no lockstep program, right?

Absolutely. You can start taking electives at the beginning or the end. You can totally customize a curriculum. Flexibilty also comes into your decision about what clubs do you participate in? What do your networks look like? What format do you take classes in? It’s everything. People sometimes think of flexibility only in the context of the curriculum, but it is so much more than that. People really design every element of an MBA experience that is completely right for them. That is something that no other school can touch us on. It is a model that has served us well.

The other thing is this notion of diversity. What it means for us is that great ideas are born in an environment where there are many different perspectives and many different fingerprints that touch it. We subscribe to an interdisciplinary approach. We attract students and faculty from all over the world, from all different backgrounds, socio-economic, gender, industry, whatever. The point is we want to have this place that really digs in, debates the issues and thinks more profoundly about stuff. It also presents from a community perspective this respect for a collective diversity and bringing multiple people to the table to solve these problems.

The attributes associated with that is that you want people to have a global perspective, an open mind, who are self-aware, who appreciate the different perspectives and want to bring that in to help solve problems. That is why those things are meaningful to us.

And finally, there is this notion of support. Our dean has this great phrase. He urges people ‘to swing for the fences. We have your back.’ That is what support is for us. We want people to take some risks. We want them to stretch their minds. We want them to get the best possible experience out of their two years here. We want you to get every ounce of positive experience out of this place.

So we’re looking for people who want to take some risks, who are encouraged to step aside themselves and stretch and are open to ask people for guidance and help. It’s this pay-it-forward type of thing: I’ll help you and you’ll help me and we’ll both get to where we need to go together.

How does an applicant make his or her application express those things?

That’s the million-dollar question. Our job is to get that message across, to help people understand that fit is not some random term we toss out there to throw people off. There is meaning behind this.

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