Applying to Chicago Booth

The University of Chicago Booth School of Business (formerly The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business) has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance over the past few years, thanks in part to Edward Snyder, who assumed the Dean’s position in 2001. Snyder and his administration have worked hard to promote the Booth’s strengths while addressing some perceived weaknesses.

Its strengths are impressive, including a roster of Nobel laureate faculty members – six as of last count, more than any other school – its high number of well-placed alumni, its strong international brand name, and its top-flight reputation with recruiters. As for weaknesses, for years the school had a reputation as a top-flight MBA program, but one that tended to turn out grads who were quant-heavy and not as well-rounded as grads from Chicago’s peer schools. The school has also faced a perception that the Booth students are somewhat less involved in the school than those at other top programs, partly a result of the school having to compete with all that the city of Chicago has to offer.

The school has improved its reputation on all fronts, partly through curriculum changes and partly because of a beautiful new facility. A grade-nondisclosure policy, put in place in 2000, has taken the edge off of grade competition. Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD), a mandatory course for first-year students, helps students develop their leadership, teamwork, and communication skills. The school has also branched out beyond finance, emphasizing the strength of its marketing and general management programs, among others.

The school’s Charles Harper Center (formerly the Hyde Park Center), opened in 2004, has become the center of the school’s full-time MBA program. Chicago has done a lot of work to encourage its students to hang around, and it shows. Students love the new facilities, which include a number of public spaces and group meeting rooms. The schools realize that facilities only go so far, however, and that the most important ingredient for a cohesive student body is the students themselves. Given that, the admissions office will continue looking for applicants who demonstrate a willingness to get involved with meaningful extracurricular activities. This is something to consider if you are looking closely at Chicago.

One part of the school’s reputation that is unlikely to change is its rigorous academic program. No matter what type of student Chicago tries to attract, it is unlikely that it will lessen its emphasis on hard finance and quantitative skills. Finance is still the most popular area of concentration out of the 13 offered. One noteworthy aspect of the school’s curriculum is its flexibility. LEAD is the only required course in the entire program, with students choosing from a menu of courses to satisfy their core curriculum needs. This level of flexibility truly sets Chicago apart from other business school learning models. Keep this flexibility in mind as you think about how you might fit with the Chicago program.

One area that has received greater academic emphasis in recent years is entrepreneurship. Started in 1996, the school’s New Venture Challenge (NVC) has grown to become an annual tradition. Teams of student entrepreneurs work on business plans over a six-month period and three rounds, with the entrants also taking classes and workshops on the subject of new venture development. The winning team is granted $50,000, as well as one year of support in ARCH Venture Partners’ business incubator. If you are interested in entrepreneurship, the NVC is a great chance to get hands-on experience as well as extensive coaching.

Insider Information

As Chicago has climbed to the top of business school rankings again, it has attracted a broader applicant pool, some of whom may not be a great fit with the school. The obvious benefit is that the Chicago admissions office can choose from an even stronger, more diverse pool of applicants. But the school’s challenge is to figure out who really belongs at Chicago, as well as whom really wants to attend. This is evident in the school’s main essay question, which explicitly asks applicants, “What or who influenced your choice of schools, and how specifically will Chicago help you succeed?” Don’t take this question lightly. First, be honest with the admissions committee (and with yourself) about why you are considering Chicago. Then, be sure to demonstrate your fit with the program and how you will contribute to the school’s community.

What Makes Booth Different?

  • Flexibility. With only one required class, Chicago Booth most definitely takes a different approach to the process of getting an MBA. They do foster training in the “language of business” as they call it – the fundamentals of economics, statistics, and finance – however the unique setup of the program means that students determine how they will meet the requirements of the degree. Chicago Booth is not a prescriptive environment, and the emphasis on – and appreciation for – ideas makes it a place for mavericks and renegades as well as more traditional types.
  • A Quant Focus – Not Just on Finance. Chicago Booth possesses a strong reputation for its rigor, focus on analytics, and expertise in finance and economics – and marketing. The finance and economics faculty members at Chicago Booth are outstanding, led by professors such as Eugene F. Fama, whom many call the “father of modern finance”. Chicago Booth is both deserving and proud of its “quant” reputation, but that tends to overshadow strengths in other areas Chicago Booth has been actively improving over the last decade. Not surprisingly, when a Chicago Booth admissions representative is asked, “What’s the one thing that applicants should know about Booth?” the answer will often mention Booth’s strengths in academic areas outside of pure finance – particularly entrepreneurship and marketing.
  • A Part-Time Program – That’s Bigger than the Full-Time Program. Chicago Booth is a big school, with about 3,500 active graduate students enrolled at any one time. (This compares to under 1,000 at Stanford.) The bulk of these students come from the two parttime study options (one Evening program, one Weekend program), totaling about 1,400 students between them. Another 1,100 students make up the full-time program, with about 550 students per graduating class. This compares with an intake of around 800 each year at Harvard. The balance of Booth’s students are in the EMBA and PhD programs and are found around the world at Chicago Booth’s other campuses. Unlike other schools, full-time and part-time Chicago Booth students often interact, since they sometimes take courses together.
  • An Emphasis on Employment. Perhaps nowhere else is the focus on getting a job as strong as it at Chicago Booth. As part of their application assessment, the admissions team carefully examines applicants’ career goals to ensure that they are achievable. And the school offers significant support to its students, both during their educational experience to construct a practical curriculum, and throughout the job search process too. The big difference? There is also a front-and-center emphasis on getting industry to hire Booth graduates. Right in the middle of the Chicago Booth front page is a button that says “Hire an MBA.” And Booth often seems quicker to publish current placement data on graduates than any other school (we have often felt that some schools were dragging their feet in releasing this data once the downturn hit). This access to data is also evidence of Chicago Booth’s commitment to transparency. Every top business school offers career services to graduates, however the support for and emphasis on successful placement out of the program is more significant at Chicago Booth than you may find elsewhere. We feel that this focus on graduate success is a key factor in Chicago Booth’s #1 position in the rankings in recent years.

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