Posted on August 2, 2012

Chicago Booth Essay Questions Analysis – 2012-2013

Chicago Booth Admissions Deadlines

Round 1: October 2, 2012
Round 2: January 8, 2013
Round 3: April 4, 2013

Like most B-Schools, Chicago Booth has also gone on a diet this year.  While last year’s two required essay questions (excluding  PPT presentation and re-applicant essay) allowed applicants to use 1350 words, this year they are allowed just 900 words. Apart from the standard ‘Goals’ essay, Booth asks its applicants to write two short -answer essays about their biggest challenge and about something that has changed their thinking or perception. Also, Booth’s unique PPT slide presentation question comes with a choice this year. You may either prepare a 4-slide presentation or write an essay of 600 words about other unique aspects of your personality that have not been revealed in other parts of the application.

Let us look at the questions one by one.

1. What are your short- and long-term goals and how will a Chicago Booth MBA help you reach them? (500 words)

This question remains unchanged from last year except that you are allowed to use 500 words instead of 600 words. A Goals Essay connects past, present, and future i.e. your past work- experience (past), your goals,(future), and the need for an MBA from a particular school to achieve your goals (present).  Schools want to see that you have a clear plan/ vision for the future and you have the ability to convince them of the same by telling your story in an engaging manner.

Past: Begin your essay with a story/ event/ life experience that reflects a passion for your chosen field ( eg. marketing or finance) leading to your Bachelor's degree. Continue your story about your past experience and provide details about how you have pursued your interest/passion and progressed along your career path all these years. Make sure your story showcases your personal and professional attributes. (approximately 100 words )

Future: Then relate your short-term and long-term goals to real-life experiences that have helped you shape your goals. Explain why you believe that an MBA is the next logical step in your career path? How an MBA will bring you closer to the fulfillment of your goals? Also, discuss why it makes sense to do an MBA  NOW and not after 1-2 years?

Short-term goals: Be clear and quite decisive for short-term goals (even if you are not 100% sure.) Show that you have put some thought into it.

Long-Term Goals: It’s ok to be more broad and idealistic for long-term goals, but explain steps (A to B to C) Show sincerity and passion in talking about your dreams. When discussing your long-term goals, please make sure there is a logical connection between short-term and long-term goals. (approximately 200-words)

Present:  Once you have justified the need to do an MBA, explain how an MBA from  Chicago is your best bet at this time? How it will help you achieve your goals? Discuss how you will use their resources to achieve your goals? Be specific in answering the second part of the question -' Why Chicago Booth?' Go online, visit campus, classes, talk to professors, students, and alumni. Discuss the experiences you have had visiting classes, programs, professors, if you can. Make sure there is a connection between your goals and the offerings of Chicago (approximately 200 words)

Lastly, even though the essay prompt doesn't ask you about your contribution to Chicago, include a brief statement about how you are a good match for Chicago Booth’s program?

2. Short Answer Essays:                     

a. What has been your biggest challenge, and what have you learned from it? (200 words maximum)

The Challenge question seems to be a favorite of B-Schools this year. While some schools have specifically asked ‘personal challenge or obstacle’ (Ross), and some have been specific about ‘a challenging work situation’ (Darden), Booth offers you the freedom to choose your challenging experience from your personal as well as professional life. However, the term’ biggest’ indicates that it has to be a huge challenge.

Now narrating all parts of your biggest challenge in only 200 words is nothing short of a challenge in itself. So you need to follow the principle of ‘less is more.’ That is, be as precise and concise as possible and make sure all parts of your story come through clearly

Your biggest challenge story can be personal (eg. overcoming family expectations, or family sickness, or any other family emergency) or professional (a crucial project with limited resources, a need to take an important decision with insufficient information or pressure from the superiors, or lack of cooperation from team members, etc.)

Remember, whatever your story is, it should present you in a positive light, revealing your strengths in the areas of diplomacy, honesty, maturity, ethics, creativity, and integrity. Be honest in providing details of your story, how you felt, what you did, what you said etc. These vivid details of your story would reveal your character traits.

The Structure:  Make sure your challenge story has the following four components:

  • the situation/the challenge  (what challenge it posed for you?) 40-50 words
  • the action, (how you dealt with the situation?) 50-60 words
  • the outcome/result, (what happened in the end ?) 20-25 words
  • the significance. (what lessons you learned?) 80-100 words

Since the second part of the essay question asks you to share what you learned from the experience, it is imperative that you explain at length why that experience is meaningful to you, both in terms of the challenges you overcame, the results you produced, and the leanings you gleaned from it. You may also describe how you are now applying or trying to apply those lessons in similar situations at work. The key here is your essay should eventually demonstrate your growth.

In the following example, the applicant wraps up his challenge story by outlining its significance for him.


“Today I recall XXX as one of my most memorable projects. From a revenue perspective, it was not the biggest project I handled. However, it was the most challenging project in terms of saving my company, and above all, my own reputation in front of unforeseen challenges. The experience taught me valuable decision making and team-working skills that I am now practicing successfully.”

b. Tell us about something that has fundamentally transformed the way you think. (200 words maximum)

This short answer question, like the previous one, is replacing last year’s question “How has your family, culture, and/or environment influenced you as a leader?” Again, the purpose of this question is also to get to know the real you.

When choosing an experience/ story for this essay keep in mind the word  “transformed” in the essay prompt which means ‘ to change somebody or something completely’, so you need to introspect deeply to look for that experience which not only brought about a transformation in your perception but also resulted in altering your way of doing certain things.

You may choose your story from your personal or professional life. However, if you have already discussed a personal story in your ‘challenge’ essay, it makes more sense to choose a story from your professional life or vice versa. This will provide the Ad Com a well-rounded picture of your personality. The story could be about a person (a professor, or a great boss, or any other person) or an event ( a family affair or an external occurrence)  that impacted you so deeply that it completely transformed your way of thinking.

For organizing ideas for this essay, I would recommend the same 4-part structure :

  • the situation  (what was your way of thinking at the time of that experience) (40-50 words)
  • the action, (what exactly happened ? What was your role in that situation) (50-60 words)
  • the outcome/result, (what happened in the end ?) (20-25 words)
  • the significance. (how it transformed your thinking?) (80-100 words)

Please explain the situation, the action, and the result part briefly and focus more on what you learned, and then applied those lessons in a similar situation later.

In both the short answer questions, the idea is to show growth. So your story should effectively show the contrast between your current mind-set and your previous one, so the Ad Com get a clear sense of your “before and after” self.


“This event completely changed my way of thinking, and I realized that an honest person will ultimately emerge a winner no matter what trials and tribulations he/she has to face. Since then, I have never compromised on the principle of honesty in my life.”

3. Presentation/Essay: The Chicago experience will take you deeper into issues, force you to challenge assumptions, and broaden your perspective. In a four-slide presentation or an essay of no more than 600 words, broaden our perspective about who you are. Understanding what we currently know about you from the application, what else would you like us to know?

We have set forth the following guidelines:

* The content is completely up to you.  There is no right, or even preferred, approach to this presentation.
* There is a strict maximum of four pages (presentation) or 600 words (essay), though you can provide fewer if you choose.
* Acceptable formats for upload in the online application system are PowerPoint or * The document will be viewed electronically, but we cannot support embedded videos, music, or motion images. Additionally, all content MUST be included in the four pages; hyperlinks will not be.
* The file will be evaluated on the quality of content and ability to convey your ideas, not on technical expertise or presentation.

PowerPoint Presentation: Chicago Booth’s “PowerPoint question” is still here, but it has been reworded again this year. Last year, Booth wanted you to talk about those aspects of yourself that you have not “already included in your application.” This year they are asking you to broaden their “perspective about who you are.” This might make you wonder, “Aren’t they asking the same thing?” Yes, they are asking the same thing in a different way.

With PPT presentation, creativity is the key- creativity not in terms of technicalities, but in terms of ideas. So here is an opportunity for you to differentiate yourself by presenting an entirely distinct image of yourself through pictures. This PPT slide presentation may be looked upon as an 'optional essay 'asked by other schools- an opportunity to tell the Ad Com what you could not tell in other parts of your application. In Question 1, you have already discussed your goals and why you want an MBA from Chicago, and in  Question 2, you have discussed your ‘biggest challenge’ and ‘something that transformed your way of thinking. Your resume and the application form provide information regarding your past experience, so you need to make sure not to repeat these subjects here.

So how to get ideas for these four slides? Well, be creative and imaginative and use this PPT presentation to portray your unique values, passion, and hobbies. For example, if you passionately pursue a hobby e.g. painting, photography, reading, or singing, etc. you may use 1-2  slides to present details of your hobbies through vivid images. Make sure to use images to help them understand you better.  Remember, it is not a test of your PowerPoint presentation skills; it is a platform to present to the Ad Com those aspects of your personality that will support your candidacy. If you are able to convey your ideas effectively through minimal images, that is fine.

Also, you may use one of the slides to elaborate /re-emphasize your most unique personality trait. For example, if you have an amazing example of your ability to take initiative or to think outside the box, but could not describe it in detail in other essays because of limited space, it is a good idea to tell that particular story through images here. Another option can be to showcase your international experience or cultural adaptability, for almost all B-schools look for international experience as one of the desired assets in their potential candidates. So if you have one, your best bet is to use one of the slides for your most impressive story that showcases your international exposure, global outlook, and cultural adaptability. Also, you may use one of the slides to tell an impressive story of your leadership experience.  You may also use this platform to address areas of concern in your application e.g. low GPA or low GMAT score or gap in job.

Essay: In case you don’t feel comfortable with PPT presentation and are an essay lover, Booth has given you an option of writing a 600 words essay instead so you can effectively use words to paint a well - rounded interesting picture of yourself.             

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)

Through this question, Booth wants its reapplicants to enlighten them in three areas: their future, Chicago Booth, and earning their MBA. Let us take them one by one. Your future is your goal, so in this one year you may likely have realized that your previous goal was not realistic, so you might have changed your short- and/or long-term goals from last year. Do not worry about that, just be sure to show that your new goals are realistic, doable, and match your skills. Next, you should explain how and what you have learned about Chicago Booth since your previous application. Through this part of the question, the school only wants to know that your need of Booth is as strong as it was last time, so you should demonstrate your continued interest in Booth by mentioning any meetings you have had with alumni or professors, any campus visits you made, or any classes you attended, or any other discoveries you have made about Booth. Lastly, Booth wants its applicants to tell them if their thinking about MBA has changed. You may answer this by focusing on the areas you have improved upon since you applied last. Whether you have improved your academic record by taking extra classes, received a promotion, led a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement, or taken on a personal challenge, the key here is to demonstrate that you are now a better and stronger candidate. Your conscious efforts to strengthen your profile and to work on your weak areas in the previous year will prove how determined you are about your MBA.

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