This July 2015, Chicago Booth MBA Admissions announced that the program would no longer use its classic “Who Are You?” question, thereby retiring the essay that had defined the Booth application process for seven years.
This year’s applicants choose from sixteen iconic and emblematic Chicago Booth images and select the one that allows them to talk about their fit with the program. The question accompanying the images is as follows:
Chicago Booth values individuality because of what we can learn from the diverse experiences and perspectives of others. This mutual respect creates an open-minded community that supports curiosity, inspires us to think more broadly, take risks, and challenge assumptions. At Booth, community is about collaborative thinking and tapping into each other’s different viewpoints to cultivate new ideas and realize breakthrough moments every day.
Using one of the photos provided, tell us how it resonates with your own viewpoint on why the Booth community is the right fit for you.
Faisal Khan, who worked in the Booth Admissions Office while he was a student at Booth is now an admissions consultant with MBA Prep School. He’s well-versed with the admissions committee’s preference for using non-traditional essay questions to help it craft a diverse MBA cohort. He believes the open-ended question style champions creativity (a Booth institutional preference) with the added benefit of bringing the strongest non-traditional thinkers to the AdCom’s attention:
“Part of it has to do with wanting to separate from the quant/financial stereotype of decades past, and part of it has to do with wanting to see what some of the smartest applicants in the world can come up with.”
With sixteen conversation starters about your fit with Booth and every picture meaning something different to every applicant, the creative possibilities seem limitless.
Placing the direction, tone, format, and length of the essay response completely in the hands of the applicants keeps formulaic answers to a minimum as well. Chicago Booth admissions officers are only too happy to see fresh responses that require honest, heartfelt reflection.
MBA Prep School Counselor, leadership storytelling expert, and former Chicago Booth Admissions Officer Esther Choy says Booth admissions officers want to see the real you:
“Many applicants forget that the AdCom is made up of real people, who crave genuine human connections like the rest of us. AdComs see too many what-do-you-want-to-hear responses. What we want to hear is what you have to say! Tell us your story! Be strategic but be authentic.”
This sixteen photographs exercise might seem like a big departure from Booth’s previous application essay. Now, instead of the freedom of a blank page or the blank canvas of four PowerPoint slides, this creative exercise begins with choosing a photograph as the starting point from which the applicant needs to express his or her fit at Chicago Booth. The images available include scenes from inside Booth classrooms, solo and group excursions abroad and at home, several Chicago cityscapes, and a few images with art or architecture center-stage. Each picture connects to Booth’s past and present, and Faisal Khan’s advice is not to let the unusual format intimidate you:
“You still need to convey what makes you unique and what makes Booth the perfect fit – just use the pictures as a catalyst for your creative writing.”
Would-be Booth students can establish a fit with the program by:
- Showing the Booth AdCom that a challenging, unstructured, big picture question is no match for their creative minds;
- Exuding confidence that Booth is the best MBA program for them; and
- Sharing what makes him or her tick and, more importantly, how he or she will enrich the Booth community and the experiences of their fellow Booth students.
As Rod Stewart might say, “Every picture tells a story, don’t it.” Choose the picture and tell a story that connects with the admissions committee and — who knows — one of the pictures in next year’s Booth essay writing assignment might be of you proudly wearing your Booth sweatshirt and sporting a smile as big as Chicago.