- Nearly 4,600 students apply for admission to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business each year, according to its deputy dean for MBA programs Stacey Kole — but the acceptance rate is only just above 20%.
- And it’s getting more competitive. While other full-time MBA programs saw declines in the number of applications received for the 2018-2019 school year, Booth’s applications increased 3.4% from the previous admissions cycle.
- Business Insider spoke with five current students and former graduates as well as deputy dean Kole to get some insight into how to get into this prestigious program.
- One trick of the process the experts said is being able to clearly answer, “Why Booth?” They also recommended testing the Booth MBA waters in the Graham School’s GSAL program first for a competitive edge.
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In recent years, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business has received between 4,100 and 4,600 applications for its MBA program each year, with an acceptance rate that hovers just above 20%. But it’s only getting more competitive: According to Booth’s deputy dean for MBA programs Stacey Kole, who arrived at Booth in the spring of 2004, applications for the 2018-2019 school year increased 3.4% from the previous admissions cycle, while she said other full-time MBA programs saw declines in the number of applications received.
It makes sense. After all, Bloomberg Businessweek just put Booth at No. 4 in their 2019-2020 business school ranking. And while it’s also the second oldest business school in the world (the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School is the oldest), Booth continues to innovate, offering new initiatives that can’t help but attract applicants with varying post-MBA career aspirations.
“We have options for STEM-designated concentrations, an accelerated three-year JD/MBA joint degree program, and our Civic Scholars Program for students coming from, and returning to, the social sector,” said Kole. “We’ve also rolled out several new leadership courses that allow for one-on-one coaching and opportunities to develop into the leader you wish to be.”
Sound compelling? Kole, plus five current students and grads, shared with Business Insider exactly what it takes to gain a coveted Booth acceptance letter.
Booth admits new students in the autumn quarter only and categorizes its application into three thematic focus areas: curriculum, community, and career.
“At Booth, we take a holistic approach to candidate evaluation,” said Kole. “We don’t pre-assign weights to application components and no single component dominates others. We seek to see the whole person, instead of just an academic record or resume bullets. We consider what you say about yourself and we listen to the insights of those you believe know you well. It is our assumption that you curated a portfolio of information to capture who you are as a person and, in keeping with that assumption, our admissions team considers everything a candidate submits (inclusive of recommendation letters) to build a full understanding of you as a candidate and assess your potential for impact with a Booth MBA.”
At the time of submission, Booth asks for a GMAT or GRE score (the school does not have a preference as to which one you submit), two letters of recommendation, your academic transcripts, a professional resume, responses to the essay questions, and an English language proficiency test score, if applicable. A full overview of the admissions process is available here.
Think strategically about your application. Morgan Franklin, who applied in the fall of 2019 and will graduate in June of 2021, chose the GRE over the GMAT, for example, because she believed she’d perform better on a test less driven by math.
As a second phase of the process, if a candidate is invited to interview with Booth, they incorporate the interview report into the entire evaluation when making a final decision on a candidate.
This year’s application includes two essay prompts:
- How will the Booth MBA help you achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA career goals?
- Chicago Booth immerses you in a choice-rich environment. How have your interests, leadership experiences, and other passions influenced the choices in your life?
“Compelling candidates draw natural connections between their individual ambitions and how they plan to engage within the Booth community,” said Kole. “The stellar applications reveal an understanding of who the candidate is, what they hope to accomplish with their talent, and why Booth is the place to make that happen.”
Scott McIntosh, who applied in 2010 and graduated in 2013, spoke with current and former students to get their insights into the program, looked at the course offerings and identified classes that looked interesting to him, and reviewed the many clubs and activities available through the program. All of this information, he said, helped him make a strong case when asked, “Why Booth?”
Use the application as an opportunity to let Booth know what you hope to accomplish with your MBA.
“I come from a background in finance and want to use my time at Booth to pivot into tech and entrepreneurship,” said Emily Creedon, who applied in the fall of 2018 and will graduate in June 2021. “Though this is not a totally unheard of path and objective, it’s one that falls in the minority when it feels like every other person at business school is targeting consulting and banking. Booth’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship was a big reason I wanted to attend Booth. Having done my research on Polsky and the strong entrepreneurship course offerings, I was able to clearly explain what my path has been, why I’m interested in this as a new challenge, and how Booth’s offerings will help me get there.”
But don’t worry if you don’t have a specific goal in mind. “Your motivation could just be to learn more to apply to your job,” added Valentina Freeman, a June 2015 Booth graduate. “You don’t need an over-the-top revelation for why you need to go to business school.”
Getting to know the Booth program and the school’s culture will, if nothing else, help you connect the dots for your own MBA ambitions, but it will also demonstrate ongoing interest.
“I did not know until I was beginning my interview process how critical it is to talk to students and alum,” said Franklin. “When you interview, your interviewer is going to be analyzing you to see if you’ve taken the time to see if Booth is the right place for you. Reading articles online about programs and experiences is great, but nothing can beat someone that has been there or is currently going through the process. Talk to admissions officers so they’ve seen your face or name prior to seeing your application. Schools like to see lots of touch points to gauge your interest.”
Booth offers many opportunities to demonstrate interest. “We host information sessions, fairs, and other student- and alumni-hosted events in locations around the world,” said Kole. “There are also virtual touchpoints, such as online live chats, webinars, and our ‘Connect with a Student‘ tool, which is available on our website and allows applicants to connect directly with current students who represent diverse backgrounds and interests.”
Booth offers a certificate program through the University of Chicago’s Graham School, GSAL (graduate student-at-large) that helps you take Booth courses before being accepted at Booth, something both McIntosh and Freeman took advantage of.
“This was a great way to get your feet wet, explore the coursework, and get a sense of the workload before embarking on the tremendous commitment of pursuing an MBA while continuing to work full time,” said Freeman, who applied for the part-time/evening MBA program around 2012. “These classes count as credits toward your degree once you are accepted into the MBA program. Including your performance in these courses can also help your application, as it’s a great way to demonstrate that you’re capable of thriving in the program.”
McIntosh agreed that enrolling in this certification program was a great primer for his MBA. “This allowed me to get an idea of what being a Booth student would be like, and it indicated to admissions that I was serious about the program,” he said. “It also helped me get a head start on my courses prior to being accepted.”
The Booth admissions process is competitive, and most, if not all, applicants have exemplary backgrounds. So, if you have a weak spot on your application, make sure you explain why.
“I came from a non-traditional background in sports media, which is quite different than many of my peers that come from traditional consulting or banking backgrounds,” said Franklin. “And I thought I was going to be a dentist while in college, but my science grades determined otherwise. If you feel that it’s necessary to write an addendum to your application, do it. I used that space to explain why they would see quite a few poor grades and what I learned from that experience.”
Here’s a full transcript of what Franklin wrote in her application addendum:
I was an English and History major, however you will see the complete pre-med course load on my transcript. I had a life-long dream of becoming an orthodontist, and was committed to seeing my pre-requisite courses through in hopes of attending dental school. Although I did competitively well on the DAT and applied, my science grades were clearly not stellar and affected my overall GPA negatively. Without my science courses, my academic performance was high, my major cumulative GPA was a 3.67. I am confident in my ability to perform at the highest academic levels. Unfortunately, it took me until graduation to realize and accept that science was not where my strengths lay, and not a career path that was right for me. So, I had to dream a new dream. Completing an MBA program is the next step to fulfilling that dream.
Age was a factor Freeman had to consider when trying to prove her value to admissions.
“I was fairly young when I applied at 24, so I knew I needed to leverage the unique experiences I was able to achieve early in my career,” she explained. “I was the youngest consultant at my firm to be entrusted as a case manager and very quickly began to manage millions of dollars’ worth of business. I knew I’d reached a point where I needed graduate-level training but, more importantly, I was in a position where I could connect what I learned in business school directly to my client engagements.”
Kole said that it would be a missed opportunity if applicants did not use the essay to express what drives them.
“We’re curious what motivates a candidate and how that influences their MBA path,” she explained. “Our students have the freedom to pursue learning opportunities that will further their unique goals and, at Booth, there are endless ways they can choose to arrive at that end goal. So, it’s important for candidates to help us understand how they plan to maximize their time at Booth.”
Creedon wrote in her essay about a time she faced a crossroads in her life.
“I wrote about when I quit a coveted job at Goldman Sachs and how the decision has shaped me and helped me grow into the person and professional I want to become,” she said. “I was deeply honest and didn’t try to sugarcoat the emotions and experience. I think this helped my application stand out.”
Franklin made the essay into what she describes as a personal manifesto (you can read her full personal statement here).
“It took me months to get it to its end product,” she said. “I even joked with my friends and family that, if I were to die tomorrow, they could read my personal statement as my eulogy. I can look back at it and use it as a guide for what I’ve done and what I hope to accomplish at Booth and beyond.”
Booth offers alumni, current students, and faculty the opportunity to share insights about candidates applying to Booth through their “Shape the Class” program, which is a supplementary recommendation letter that’s ultimately attached to your application file but considered less formal than what’s required in the full application.
James Wang, who applied at the start of 2018 and will graduate in June of 2020, explained that “Generally speaking, applicants will have their current and former managers fill out the traditional letters and will likely use current students or alumni they know to fill out one of these supplemental ‘Shape the Class’ recommendations.”
He had at least two alum whom he’d formerly worked with in a professional setting write these additional recommendations on his behalf, and gave them a few ideas of what to include based on projects they’d worked on and skills he’d shown in the past.
“I had a good working relationship with these alumni, and I would obviously advise applicants not to ask anyone for a recommendation who does not know much about you or that you have a negative working relationship with,” Wang said.
Freeman recommended specifically sourcing recommendations from graduates. “Strong recommendation letters help, especially if they are from someone who has finished the program, as they know what it takes to succeed,” she said.