Thursday, December 4, 2008

School Culture & Fit in the application process

“Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game - it is the game”

- Lou Gerstner

As a DSAC co-chair and an international student, I get many opportunities to interact with applicants across the world. Some of the most common questions are about the “culture” at Chicago Booth:

· How would you define the culture at the University and the business school?

· How does the AdCom determine fit with the school culture?

· Could you give me some examples or incidents that exemplify the Chicago (Booth) culture?

· And the more blatant “How did you show the AdCom that you were a good fit for the school?”

As a former applicant, I understand where these questions are coming from, but obviously there are no fixed answers – trying to define culture based on my worldview or experience here, is likely to be irrelevant to someone who ‘sees’ through very different eyes. This question is also fascinating because Chicago Booth has its cultural roots in the University (of Chicago) with its own spirit of inquiry and famous intellectual traditions.

Based on my discussions with other students, here are some sources that have helped us understand what the Chicago (Booth) culture is about:

1. Economics as a contact sport: George Papajohn’s famous article from the Chicago Tribune is one of the first prescribed readings for Bob Topel’s Microecon class and what an article it is – it nails down the rush and thrill of the Chicago economics right on – available from The Chicago Tribune archives (Paid link)

2. University of Chicago Record – This is the official record of the speeches that accompany the graduation ceremony at Chicago Booth; as someone who wandered in my 1st year all over the campus and read about five different University related publications, I found this 2007 issue inspiring for the following reasons:

a. In Page 9, Prof. James Schrager underlines the importance of strategy and Chicago’s perspective on it… Starting with Ed Wrapp’s take on the subject, he goes on to describe how to use all that we learn in a world filled with “mystery and intrigue”!

b. Roger Altman (MBA ’69, Chairman, Evercore Partners) talks about how life’s defeats rather than successes have taught him a lot and therefore mean the most to him. Starting with his first sales experience that literally sank to his being fired by the Clinton administration, Altman makes his point with brevity and wit.

c. And finally in Page 10, Drew Tyler Dir, an undergrad student presents Anne Bogart’s argument that “the act of creation is inherently an act of resistance against our own death. To fight entropy, then, is to have the audacity to introduce something new into a universe that resists our very existence… and the single most important thing we can do as human beings is to confront the great heat death of the universe and to defy it. For four years, you’ve been doing just that - talking, writing, collaborating, creating - fighting entropy ten weeks at a time. Today begins the fight of your lives. Life naturally pulls us down toward death, but today you graduate; and today, entropy meets the University of Chicago. This is your graduation. This is your fight.”

3. The Chicago Approach: There have been quite a few distinguished professors who have laid out the Chicago approach to management education. Allen Wallis and James Lorie developed a 10 year plan called the “Chicago Approach to Business Education”. Later, Harry Davis and Robin Hogarth’s “Rethinking Management Education: A view from Chicago” built on the topic – these papers exemplify the school’s approach and are likely to provide useful insights.

4. Student blogs: Quite a few students and professors write blogs; known student/ alumni blogs are available as links on the DSAC site and can yield detailed information not only about classes and professors but can act as a window into the thoughts of the student body here. Professor’s blogs are usually independent and googling any famous professor will usually yield enough links/ information to form an opinion of his or her research and academic beliefs.

5. Chicago Booth Magazine and journals: Researching Chicago Booth journals, magazines and alumni award winners can be particularly helpful - what does the research say: Does it validate current beliefs? Challenge? Confront? Which parts of their Chicago experience do alumni enjoy the most? And what do they say about these experiences?

6. Chicago Alumni And Students: Nothing ever compares to hearing it from the Maroons' mouth... both alumni and students who have been through the Chicago Booth experience could be the best possible sources of finding out about the school and its culture. Many students, self included, were convinced about their choice of school after hearing either alumni or current year students hold forth about their experiences. We would strongly encourage you to reach out to alumni or students through the many available forums - the Admissions staff, the discussion boards, interviewers etc.

So with all this research done, what do you think we are like? Intense? Intellectual? Interesting? Whatever you decide, you may find it useful to form a clear idea of what a school stands for – not only will this bolster your application and your interview interaction, but will also help you decide on the critical “fit” between you and the schools you apply to.

We hope you found this post useful – in case you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to us at

Want to discuss this topic some more? Head on over to the Chicago Booth Discussion Forums