University of Chicago requires PowerPoint for admission

Rose Martinelli, associate dean for student recruitment and admissions at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business stands in the Gleacher Center lobby in Chicago on Friday. Charles Rex Arbogast, The Associated Press

AP

Rose Martinelli, associate dean for student recruitment and admissions at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business stands in the Gleacher Center lobby in Chicago on Friday. Charles Rex Arbogast, The Associated Press

By Justin Pope

At business meetings the world over, PowerPoint-style presentations are often met with yawns and glazed eyes.

But at one of the world’s top business schools, such slide shows are now an entrance requirement. In a first, the University of Chicago will begin requiring prospective students to submit four pages of PowerPoint-like slides with their applications this fall.

The new requirement is partly an acknowledgment that Microsoft Corp.’s PowerPoint, along with similar but lesser-known programs, have become a ubiquitous tool in the business world. But Chicago says so-called “slideware,” if used correctly, also can let students show off a creative side that might not reveal itself in test scores, recommendations and even essays.

By adding PowerPoint to its application, Chicago thinks it might attract more students who have the kind of cleverness that can really pay off in business, and fewer of the technocrat types who sometimes give the program a bad name.

“We wanted to have a freeform space for students to be able to say what they think is important, not always having the school run that dialogue,” said Rose Martinelli, associate dean for student recruitment and admissions. “To me this is just four pieces of blank paper. You do what you want. It can be a presentation. It can be poetry. It can be anything.”

Online applications are already the norm, and it’s not uncommon for colleges to let students submit extra materials such as artwork. Undergraduate and graduate applications also are beginning to ask more creative and open-ended essays.

Partly that’s to better identify the students with a creative spark. Partly it’s to fend off the boredom of reading thousands of grinding, repetitive responses to “Why is University X right for you?”

But asking for four electronic slides appears to be a new idea.

Chicago’s new requirement could be called corporate America’s final surrender to a technology that, in the name of promoting the flow of information, often gums it up by encouraging bureaucratic jargon and making colorful but useless graphics just a little too easy to produce.

Nonetheless, PowerPoint has become the lingua franca of business meetings worldwide. Its 500 million copies are used (or misused) in 30 million presentations per day, Microsoft has estimated. PowerPoint is so common in the business world that “it’s actually your word processor,” said Michael Avidan, a second-year Chicago MBA student, who reads applications for the graduate program and helped it do a dry run. His slides were a play featuring a Greek chorus questioning him about his application.

“When you apply to business school,” he said, using a buzz word for the best a student has to offer, “it’s only natural that your ‘deliverables’ be in PowerPoint.”

Martinelli acknowledges one reason for the requirement is that students will inevitably have to master the technology in their jobs. But she said students won’t be judged on the quality of their slides. Rather the slides are an outlet for judging the kind of creativity the business world needs.

The PowerPoint presentations will be the last part of the application the admissions office considers its decision.

“This can determine whether or not you get admitted,” Avidan said. “Here you are. Show us.”