Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Ultra Cool Chicago Essays

Chicago- up close and personal, every question has a hundred answers...

Let me begin with Chicago's 100 word essays. At first sight they seem really easy and you might even wonder how they actually fit into the typical B-School admissions criteria. But think again! These are the most personal questions I've seen. Of course Stanford has a personal question too, but it does not explicitly ask you to get personal, you can choose something not too personal. These essays are different. For example, one essay asks you about a little known part of you. Now most of our traits, most events in our lives are public or they are too personal to talk about. This question calls for a lot of judgement. You obviously cannot talk about, say, the worst breakup you've had or your secret crush :D. This essay is a great opportunity to discuss something that is not directly evident in the rest of your application, some great characteristic that you could not bring out due to lack of space maybe, or a very traumatic situation you faced in your childhood, basically something that is little known for a good reason.

Recommending a book/play/movie to the adcom- this is my favorite question. It shows that they are really interested in getting to know what attracts you, what stimulates your emotions, what kind of person you are. This question will or should give the reader some insight into the way you think and your outlook in life. It's not enough to write up a review/critique here, it's very important to say why this book/play/movie is ingrained your mind, what is in it that made a difference big enough to make it the best book you've ever read.

What value will you add to your study group? This question is a bonus. While answering "Why Chicago", you will ideally write numerous ways in which you will contribute to the school. Now you can concentrate only on extracurriculars and other non-academic contributions while answering "Why Chicago". Your academic contributions can be moved into this essay. You could weave your superior mathematical skills, sharp analytical skills, innovative ideas, out of the box thinking etc. etc. into this essay; 100 words is a lot to do that!

Coming to essay 2, here again Chicago gives you a great opportunity to talk about some issue you are very passionate about. Say you live in a underdeveloped country, I'm sure you would have seen enough to talk about. Or if you work in the non-profit sector, your work will expose you to many such issues. But pick this question only if you have very good evidence to support why you think it is a pressing issue. And because they call it an editorial, I'm not too sure if you can talk about personal experiences here.

I found the question about your colleague's view of you very refreshing. If you are smart you can actually lead the reader to see exactly what you intend him/her to. You can even ask your colleague who spends most of the work day with you to describe you using a list of adjectives and work them into your essay. Or you could ask your colleague to tell you his/her first impression about you and create a story around it- something like "this is the effect I have on people". Or you could use this essay to supplement your career progress by quoting a couple of incidents from the professional realm.

Coming to the all-in-one essay that asks you write pretty much an autobigraphy in a mere 1500 words. Here also they've got pretty philosophical and asked you to describe "the path" that led you to pursue an MBA. You can't obviously leave your career completely out of this essay- Fat Chance, but you can minimize describing what you did in your career. I say this because Chicago apparently has a detailed resume, at least it did last year, I'm yet to check this year's application. Assuming they have it this year also, you can push most of the "What you did" to the resume and actually describe a series of incidents in your life (both professional and non-professional) that have influenced you to seek an MBA. Next they want to know what or who influenced you to apply to Chicago, I guess this is to see what kind of research people do before they decide where to apply. They also have a "Who?" element to this question. You could discuss a role model who is a Chicago alum, the students you met during the school visit, at the info sessions, through discussion forums. It's a good chance to rave about the GSB Community and how well you fit in :-). The remaining parts of this essay address the usual career goals and "Why Chicago".

On the whole, most of your typical MBA essay responses will go into essay 1. The other essays offer hell a lot of leeway for creativity and humor. I had fun writing them. I hope you do too!

Also check out: My take on Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Kellogg essays.