- 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
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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
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.
Take the time to understand every component of the application and
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
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
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.
Have a stellar answer to the question, “Why Booth?”
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
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?”
Make your long-term career goals clear
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
Talk to current students and alum to express ongoing interest
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
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.”
Test the waters and boost your resume by enrolling in Booth’s
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
“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
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.”
Embrace and explain your application “weaknesses” when necessary
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
Here’s a full transcript of what Franklin wrote in her
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.”
Don’t be afraid to get personal in your essays
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
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.”
Seek out “Shape the Class” recommendations from former students
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’
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.