Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fill in the Blanks

Aaahhh...it's the weekend.  A time for relaxing, sleeping in, eating elaborate breakfasts, and doing a whole lot of nothing.  Unless, of course, you're applying to business school in Round 1.  If you're an applicant then a September weekend means essay writing.  Last year at this time I was trying to get my Kellogg career goals essay down to 600 words from an original draft of 1400.  Calling that process arduous would be an understatement.  From my observation of friends' applications and MBA forums it appears that this year's crop of R1 applicants to Chicago Booth are going through an ordeal of their own: the infamous Power Point.


For those of you unfamiliar with Booth's application, one "essay" question is to fill up to four blank pages with any information you feel isn't covered in the other parts of the application.  For most applicants this question is answered in the form of a Power Point presentation.  Although the PPT is technically optional this year (candidates can choose to write an additional essay on any topic), it is still considered a signature piece of the Booth application.  It is also the part of Booth's application that gives applicants the most fits.

When I was crafting my application this past winter I remember being stymied by the idea of 4 blank pages to fill as I desired.  I'm all for independent thought but a little direction would have been nice.  I tossed around ideas (write ups of my future accomplishments at Booth; a mock newspaper), but none of them felt right.  I looked at a current student's submission but his approach didn't really suit my style.  I agonized over what to include and how to do so.  I will confess that I Googled "Booth power point essay" and wound up stumbling across a link with photo essays for some unrelated competition (I don't remember the website I found).  I definitely found my inspiration that day.  Once the idea for my final submission clicked it only took a few days to put it together (had to do some last minute photography).  I have to admit that that one "essay" made Booth's my favorite application to do.

So having been where many current applicants are I would like to share what I learn less than a year ago:

1) Don't freak out if you still have no idea what to do with your 4 blank pages.  Trust me, when it comes to you putting it all together will be a piece of cake.  You have plenty of time to let the creative process happen.  Do not rush it.  Do not panic.  Even though you have the option of writing an essay I am of the opinion (as are many of my classmates) that a Booth application isn't really a Booth application without the PPT.

2) Follow the directions.  Really read over your application prior to Essay 3.  What have you told the admissions committee?  Do not repeat this in your PPT.  If you've covered it in your other essays, recos, the online app, and resume then there is no need to rehash it in your four slides. If you're looking at your PPT thus far and it seems repetitive with other parts of your application, then you're including the wrong information.  If you want to delve deeper into an aspect of your life (professional, volunteer, academic, personal, whatever) that you may have mentioned elsewhere then that's fine.  Just be sure to bring in new information and a different perspective.

3) Know your audience.  Booth has student admissions fellows do the first read on all applications.  These people are your first screen.  Do you know what students are looking for in applicants? People they would want as classmates.  This is your chance to show why someone would want to be in your study group, or plan a conference with you, or simply hang out with you at TNDC (Thursday Night Drinking Club).  Don't be afraid to show off who you are beyond your professional accomplishments, Captain Save the World mission, and academic pursuits.  Which brings me to my final piece of advice...

4) There is no template.  Please do not think that your four slides have to hit on 4 specific topics.  Do not think that your four slides have to be picture essays.  Do not think that your four slides have to have a theme (although it's cool if they do).  Do not think that the pictures you do use have to include you.  Do not think that your PPT has to look like your friend's/sibling's/coworker's who got in last year.  There's nothing wrong with looking at examples for inspiration.  However, you must be cautious not to internalize what you see as a set of rules for what your slides must be.  As long as your message is clearly communicated it doesn't matter how you choose to convey it.

Okay boys and girls.  That is my lesson for the day.  I hope it was helpful.  Any questions?

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