Forster-Thomas Essay Coach Rafe Tennenbaum on how to answer Booth's MBA Essay questions.

 

Essay 1: What are your short- and long-term goals, and how will a Chicago Booth MBA help you reach them? (600 words)

Out of the gate, a simple and straightforward Goals essay question with a reasonable length -- thank you, Booth!

Aim to write 300-400 words on your goals, and the remaining 200-300 on Why Booth. Any less than 150 words on Booth is a mistake; you need sufficient space to convince them that you know the school and you like it.

 

Essay 2: At Chicago Booth, we believe each individual has his or her own leadership style. How has your family, culture, and/or environment influenced you as a leader? (750 words)

This is certainly an unusual question, but when it's answered well, it provides an extremely valuable sense of your leadership pedigree -- a tradition of core values and a background of stepping to the forefront.  None of which should be surprising, since after all this is the University of Chicago we're talking about, located smack in the middle of the Midwest.

Sometimes the Booth leadership essay can look like a brick wall towards which your candidacy is racing at 100mph.  It forces you to ask what your "leadership style" is (whatever that means) and where you got it.  It might strike you as tough to answer, particularly if you have little seniority in your job, or if you feel whatever leadership experience you have got  was earned through a combination of working your butt off, learning from your screw-ups, and sheer dumb luck. 

The first thing to do is to find those examples when you led. Remember, don't confuse "leadership" with "being a boss."  Leaders find opportunities to lead whatever the situation -- it can be setting an example, or taking a moral stand, or taking on the toughest tasks -- it's really about stepping up. 

If being asked, "What influenced your leadership style?," doesn't make sense to you, have another think.  Most of us learn about leadership from a family member – a parent, or a grandparent, or an aunt or uncle who took an interest.  Sometimes we've learned from an activity our families made sure we did.  If you were taken to figure skating classes starting when you were a toddler, and one of your instructors took an interest in you and helped you develop, there's a pretty good chance you gained a lot of knowledge and understanding of what it takes to lead by this very significant person who spent a lot of time and effort showing you how to get better, how not to give up, how to practice, and maybe even how dedication to a pursuit or a discipline is good for you.

Some things to avoid: writing about Gandhi, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, or Kim Kardashian.  All had inspiring messages (or a good body), but if you try to answer this essay with historical or social lessons, well, congratulations! You've probably just turned an important business school essay into a ninth-grade term paper.

 

Essay 3: Considering what you've already included in the application, what else should we know about you?  In a maximum of four slides, tell us about yourself.

Don't be intimidated by that famous Booth Essay 3 -- in fact, the single most important thing you should do with this essay is make sure to relax and have fun with it.  The more you enjoy coming up with an idea and putting it together, the more entertaining it will be for them to read -- and, if you do it correctly, the better idea of you it will give them.  The wonderful thing about Booth #3 is it gives you complete freedom to come up with whatever format you'd like, so long as it'll fit in four slides.  Are you a baseball fan?  Maybe baseball cards will work for you.  A musical theater enthusiast?  Think "Playbill."  Once you've found the medium that precisely fits your passion, you can use your knowledge of the genre -- whether it's a tourbook, a celebrity gossip magazine, or music CD covers -- to find opportunities to tell Booth about yourself. 

What do you want to tell them?  Well, it's not about your GPA or how good you are at your job; they know those things already.  Passions, hobbies, friends, family -- this question is kind of asking you to show off your personal warmth in a kind of homey way.  Remember when your best friend or significant other put together that scrapbook and proudly handed it to you on your birthday?  It's something like that, but without the naughty words.  You're pulling together all the things you like about yourself -- the very same things that would make people say, "Wow, this person is pretty cool, I would definitely want to have a cup of coffee with them -- or maybe even invite them into my office to discuss the possibility of going to the very business school where I work."  Don't forget the pictures, either – candid photos of yourself smiling and looking charming or enthusiastically pursuing your pastimes definitely belong here!

For more information, see our 2011-2012 Chicago Booth MBA Essay Guide.