A Guide to Completing The Chicago Booth MBA Application

Chi town! You’re headed for Chicago Booth, so you can call it that now, right? If anything, at least don’t call that delightful tailgating game “Cornhole” anymore.


Photo by Greg Walters

It’s “Bags,” ok?

But before you can completely go all Chicagoan, you need to get into Booth. And before you do that, you need a stellar MBA application. And that’s going to take more time to cook up than a deep-dish pizza.

Chicago Booth’s application is fairly typical of many other top business schools, with the exception of a few key questions including that (in)famous PowerPoint optional essay response. So let’s take a look at what makes Booth’s application special and what you can do to get a special gold star on top of your app.

Chicago Booth MBA Application GMAT or GRE Scores: The “How Many Times Did You Take the GMAT (no, really, be honest)” Response

After all the requisite fill-in-the-blanks on your addresses and jobs, you’ll get to the page asking for your GMAT or GRE scores. You’ll also see a question asking how many times you’ve taken the GMAT. A lot of students break into a cold sweat when they see this question, but the good news is that Booth actually likes it when you take the test more than once (but not more than three times). It shows your commitment. Interestingly, even though you can submit GRE scores for admission to Booth, the application does not ask how many times you’ve taken the GRE, an oversight perhaps, but an interesting loophole for GRE test-takers or those applicants who want to take a stab at both the GRE and GMAT.

Chicago Booth MBA Application Activities Section: The “Tell Us About Your Hobbies” Response

After listing your major activities resume-style, you’ll have a bit of free response space to share hobbies and areas of interest that are important to you. USE THIS SPACE. Chicago Booth, perhaps more than many other top b-schools, is particularly intrigued by what you do outside of work and how you are going to be bringing these extracurricular experiences to the Booth community. So don’t be afraid to think outside the box here and be unique. What you list here doesn’t have to be formal, structured activities: competitive knitting, free climbing, duct tape art, transfeminist research, and costumed marathon running all count. The Booth program is flexible and self-directed: don’t be afraid to have some personality and be someone who knows what he or she likes.

Chicago Booth MBA Recommendation Letters: The “Why Did You Choose These Two Recommenders to (Hopefully) Champion Your Way into Booth” Response

You have to do more on this page than simply input your recommenders’ names and email addresses. You need to write a short response on why you choose your recommenders. In part, this allows you to provide Booth with some helpful context to understand your recommendation that your recommender may neglect to provide, such as how long you have known each other and the nature of your relationship. But like every open-ended response on the application, you should make sure to think about this space strategically. It is not (I repeat NOT) another essay, so don’t annoy them with too much text. But this could be an opportunity to remind the admissions committee of some important detail about yourself, your accomplishments, or your goals. For example, “Dr. Joe Smith was instrumental in helping me discover how I could combine my interests in linguistics and marketing when he mentored me during my senior year independent research project in Chile.”

Chicago Booth MBA Application Essay: The “Pick Your Favorite Picture and Make a PowerPoint (or Maybe Write an Essay)” Response

Chicago Booth has one of the most refreshing or most agonizing essay questions, depending on your perspective. For years, students were invited to submit a PowerPoint in lieu of an essay, leaving many Booth hopefuls wondering exactly what the admissions committee was looking for in such an odd format. This year, Booth changed its question to a new photo-inspired response. Visual innovators, never fear, you still have the option of submitting a PowerPoint, but more traditional folks also have the option of writing an essay. The new question (see below or on this PDF if you prefer) asks applicants to choose one of sixteen Booth-related photos and explain how it shows Booth is the right fit for them. Cleverly, Booth has ensured that you have to write an essay that is specific to Chicago and not a template copied and pasted from your other top ten b-school essays. But more importantly, they are requiring you to address the idea of “fit”, which is very important to Booth.


So how do you address a question like this? Well, first of all, I suggest you forget about the pictures for a moment. There’s enough variety here that you can find a photo to mold to your particular message. Instead, start by listing the experiences and influences that have been most important in shaping you and your path to business school. Then cozy up with the Booth website and other material on Chicago Booth. You need to make sure you understand this community really well in order to write a compelling essay on why you are a good fit for Booth and Booth is a good fit for you. The admissions committee is going to be carefully examining whether or not you understand Booth’s curriculum and values, and if you don’t, well, it’s not going to look good.

Figure out what you want to write about and THEN look at the pictures. Find ones that either literally or metaphorically connect to the theme you want to develop in your essay. Make sure you find out as much as possible about the picture. #13, for example, is the roof of the Charles M. Harper Center, and if you have done any research at all on Booth, you should probably know this.

Be creative here; think deeply. Don’t say something like “The guy in #6 looks like he’s having an adventure on his time off. I, too, like to participate in adventure sports when I am not in school or working.” Maybe you could meditate on the significance of including a banner of Chicago Booth amongst the other essential survival items you might need for such an environment. A story will always help; anecdotes from your own life that tie into one of the pictures will help your response not seem so forced.

And then there is the PowerPoint option as well. If you go this route, you should think about it as a slideshare presentation that doesn’t have any audio or multimedia (they are going to turn it into a PDF). So have compelling visuals, but also have some text. They need to understand why you are showing them what you are showing them.

Bonus: EssaySnark helped identify that guy in picture #16, in case you were interested.


Because personality is so important on the Booth application, I suggest that you get feedback from people you trust not only on the essay but on the entire application. Have them tell you what is jumping off the page about you–whether it is positive or negative. Make sure what they learn about you is what you wanted them to learn, and if it’s not, go back to the drawing board.

See some tips on how and where to get feedback on your writing.

For official information, visit Chicago Booth’s admissions page. Pro tip: the Booth Insider Blog is another great resource to get a good sense of life at Booth.


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