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When speaking with people who are considering applying to an MBA program, one of the most common questions I receive is “What makes an application competitive?” Some people inquire about what information is most relevant for their resume, while others worry about the gravity of their admissions test score. Before we get into the details of what the Chicago Booth application consists of, it’s important to note that we take a holistic approach to application evaluation — meaning no one piece is more important than another. Okay – let’s create your best application.

Know your goals

It’s critical to define your goals before you even begin putting your application together. Why are you considering an MBA? What do you hope to achieve with an MBA degree? Are you looking to advance in your current career, explore a new field or pursue an entrepreneurial idea? Write down your motivations and goals for doing an MBA and be sure to bring these to each piece of your application for a clear, strategic approach.

The nuts & bolts: Resume, transcript, essay

Your accomplishments and educational background help us determine your ability to manage the rigor of the program and the value you will bring to the classroom environment. To assess this, we look to your professional resume as a snapshot of career achievement. Rather than providing a bullet list of your job duties, frame your resume in terms of outcomes. Think about ways to quantify the impact you’ve had and tell that story on your resume with examples of what you’ve created, saved, or achieved.

This is also an excellent opportunity for you to share who you are outside of the office. If you sit on a board, participate in any civic organizations, or speak at conferences—list that here. Be sure to make these points specific and interesting and highlight how these unique items may add value to the Booth MBA classroom.

As an academically rigorous institution, we want to make sure you can handle the coursework. Academic transcripts give us some indication of that. Transcripts are required for any post-secondary courses you have completed. When submitting your transcript ensure everything is included – we are looking for course names, credits, marks or grades, class rank (if provided) and dates of enrollment.

As a global program we are very familiar with educational systems across the world and will assess your application fairly and equally across the applicant pool. A few low grades is no cause for panic, but, if you have a poor academic track record you will want to strengthen your application with the other elements of your application.

The essay is a chance for us to gain a better understanding of you, your self-assessment and your aspirations. We want to know why you’ve selected Booth, what you hope to achieve, and why this program is the right fit. This is your chance to sell yourself. Be bold. Be confident.

The essay question is:

Why are you seeking an MBA from Chicago Booth and what unique knowledge and experiences do you hope to contribute to the program?

Remember, we know about your accomplishments from your resume. The essay is your chance to expand on your unique story by connecting the different pieces of your application. For example, tell us why you received that promotion. Share with us a possible gap in your skills you are hoping a Booth MBA will fill. Describe the value you will bring to the experience of your classmates.

We encourage you to have someone read your essay, but don't give them the question. Ask them to identify the question based on your answer to ensure you are getting at the right response.

In addition to the compulsory essay above, you can share any additional information that you feel would be helpful for the admissions committee to know in a one page optional essay. This is the time for you to explain things like gaps in your work history or a semester of poor grades. It’s also an opportunity for you to tell us anything that you feel is important about you that can’t be addressed elsewhere. You can also use the optional essay to fill in more details about hobbies, passions, family.

As it is optional, we urge you to ask yourself how relevant the information is and what it will add to your application.

We hope these admissions insights help you in creating your best application. We are also here to support you and encourage you to contact us if you ever need help throughout your application journey.

Lisa Koengeter

Director of Admissions and Marketing, Chicago

Based in Chicago, Lisa writes about the Executive MBA community, the Chicago Booth women’s network, and admissions updates and advice.