Mod Note: Each day we'll be posting the top WSO forum posts of 2014. This one was originally posted on 7/5/14 and ranks #15 for the year by total silver banana count. You can see all our top ranked content here.
I recently completed my first year at Booth and felt compelled to share my experiences and advice through a follow-up post to: To Anyone Considering an MBA
It would take me forever to do a complete synopsis of my first year. As such, I'm going to hit some of the highlights and turn this into in a Q&A session rather than a lecture. So questions welcome. And for those of you who lack the patience to read through the post, the summary is that b-school has been amazing and truly lived up to the high expectations that I had set prior to matriculating.
The first important thing for people to realize is that the MBA is an individual journey. You complete it alongside hundreds of peers, but your experience is uniquely yours. Everyone has their own reasons for pursuing the degree. For many it is to explore new career opportunities or land that much-coveted job at. Others are looking to establish a professional network. Some put a priority on academics and challenge themselves through classes. There are those that are simply looking to enjoy themselves. Finally, there are people who have no idea why they are there and are figuring it out as they go.
Before It Began
So, on to my story. I took a little over three months off before orientation and traveled extensively, both internationally and domestically. It was easily three of the more enjoyable months of my life. Nothing compares to the peace of mind that comes with having absolute freedom over your schedule while not having to worry about the future. I was able to connect with friends and family I hadn't seen in forever, read books, and pursue hobbies that had fallen by the wayside when I was working. After six years of working, it was exactly the mental reset I needed. I encourage everyone that isn't cash-strapped to leave to take at least a month off. It is worth every moment.
Regarding the social aspect to Booth, I'm going to borrow from a post I made a few months ago on another thread:
The MBA is crafted in such a manner that you design your own experience. If you want to be academic to the exclusion of all else, you can certainly fade into the shadow of your 600 classmates only to be seen at class and study groups. You can also choose to be hyper social and attend what is daily or even twice daily social events, taking advantage of Booth's grade non-disclosure and doing the bare minimum to get a B (which is usually about 15 hours a week, including nine hours of class time). People self-select. One's impression of the social aspect of b-school is more a reflection on him or herself rather than the school as a whole. This is true for EVERY top business school. Some examples from the past 10 days:
Two weekends ago, more than 100 Booth students rented RVs and drove to the Kentucky Derby for the weekend. They partied all weekend, grilled food, played games, watched and bet on the horse races, etc. Despite this being one of the most "American" experiences during the MBA program, there were tons of internationals South America and Europe.
On Thursday, Booth held its weekly TNDC (Thursday Night Drinking Club). Essentially, this is an unofficial club where a few students reserve an entire bar each week and hundreds of students always show up. It happens every week, even during finals.
On Friday, Booth students performed the annual Follies, a three hour set of skits that poke fun at b-school life. Before the event, students attended the weekly Liquidity Preference Function where they had free food and drinks. More than one hundred students participated in Follies and hundreds of people attended LPF and Follies.
On Saturday, the Jewish Business Student Association reserved the roofdeck of a bar and held an afternoon party to celebrate Israel's Independence Day. More than 125 people attended.
On Sunday, the Armed Forces Group (military vets from all countries) organized a full-day outdoor paintball match. I don't have a final count but more than 100 attendees I believe.
Meanwhile, many people were out of town as a large group of second years had organized a weekend trip to Miami to hang out and have fun.
I'm not even cherry-picking dates or events here. This is literally what went on in the last week and doesn't include any of the athletic events, house parties, trips, and other things that people do on a weekly basis. The number of opportunities to partake in social events at Booth exceed the amount of time you have in your schedule. I'm assuming that the same holds true for other top MBA programs, but you're way off base if you think Booth kids lock themselves in their rooms all day and study
From my understanding, Booth wasn't a fun school 10+ years ago. The majority of students lived in Hyde Park and focused on academics. This has been completely flipped on its head in recent years. Most Booth students now live close together in downtown Chicago and place a high degree of value on social activities. The student body definitely has "nerdy" undertones - it is hard not to with a class full of professionally accomplished 700+ GMAT scorers. However, we still have our fair share of people who like to rage and blow off class to go play volleyball at beach.
The Value of Academics
Academics is probably the area that I have been most disappointed with. As someone who didn't have an undergrad finance degree, I was really hoping to broaden my knowledge base beyond what I learned at work. Unfortunately many of the classes have deep seeded roots in theory that are only marginally applicable to the real world. For example: after taking "Investments," I still don't know what a Swap is, but I can certainly tell you how to identify and profit from a mispricingif one were to exist. This is prevalent not just in some of the finance courses but many of the international business and strategy courses as well. Not every class is theory-driven as I've already found a few to be quite useful in PE. I suspect it is similar at all of the top schools.
The saving grace to this is simple: Grade Non-Disclosure. GND is a closely abided by policy that prevents every student from disclosing their GPA or GPA-like indicators to employers. Similarly, employers are forbidden from asking students about their marks. The result is incredibly powerful. I have no idea who is getting As and who is getting CS, and it really doesn't matter. This enables students to either take challenging classes or focus their efforts on getting a job without worrying about consequences. Whatever your reason, you don't get penalized in recruiting for leading a balanced life. And for those who enjoy hitting the books, we have distinction designations for the top 5% and 20% of the class.
You Want a Job?
Now onto careers. This is probably the most talked about subject for MBA students. The whole degree is surprisingly career centric, particularly for those interested in investment banking or consulting. In fact, both of these paths have an overwhelming amount of events and requirements that include networking, meals, one-off conversations, and info-sessions. Starting in week two through the entire first quarter the students are faced with an onslaught of recruiters from every institution under the sun. Pretty much everyone that puts in the effort ends upor elite boutique in the geography they want. A lot of people seemed to have about three internship offers each when recruiting was done.
For those conducting off-campus searches, your ability to succeed is up to you. I spent very little time looking for an internship but found all the alumni that I contacted to be extremely helpful in sharing information or connecting me to people I wanted to speak with. The Booth network is surprisingly strong in PE, albeit less-so as you expand outside of the Mid-west and the country. When combined with my existing network I found that I had a 1st degree connection to pretty much any fund that I was interested in learning more about. Pretty powerful stuff as the school continues to build in reputation.
At this point I've probably written too much and lost 99% of readers. But remember, what I have shared is a small glimpse into my experience. Everyone has their own.