Admissions Director Kurt Ahlm and MBA student Lauren Polo field questions on strategies for landing a spot in the No. 1-ranked program
The No. 1-ranked University of Chicago Booth School of Business (Booth Full-Time MBA Profile) is known for producing number crunchers.Students want you to know that there's more to learn at Booth than that, wrote Lauren Polo (screen name: LaurenPolo), a second-year MBA student, during a live chat event in which she and Kurt Ahlm (screen name: KurtAhlm), senior director of admissions at Booth, fielded questions from an audience of prospective students and Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Francesca Di Meglio (screen name: FrancescaBW). During the hour-long chat, the two reflected on the entrepreneurial spirit of many in the student body, the Booth real estate program, and how the admissions committee views various parts of an application. Here are edited excerpts from the event: Kwabena: How can an applicant stand out during the admissions process? KurtAhlm: There is not one thing that you can do—no magic formula or special sauce. The best advice I can provide is to know yourself and have a strategy on how you want to convey that sense of self through the application. If you do this and have a strategy on how to communicate your story, you will create your own unique signature. CharlesFrederick: What is the best way to prepare for an interview with Chicago Booth? LaurenPolo: I find that candidates are best prepared when they have a clear vision of why they are pursuing an MBA at this point in their careers and can articulate why a Booth MBA in particular would enable them to best pursue their short- and longer-term goals. Compelling candidates are comfortable discussing their professional and personal experiences and can highlight both leadership and team-based experiences. Of course, being prepared means that a candidate's personality shines through. Jason_Qiu: As a 36-year-old with 10 years of work experience as a professional in sales and marketing, do I stand a chance at getting into the full-time MBA program? KurtAhlm: At Booth we greatly respect diversity. We want people from different backgrounds and sets of experiences. Therefore, we recruit people of all different ages and experiences. What is more important for us is why now is the best time in your career to pursue an MBA. Kwabena: What makes Chicago Booth different from other business schools? LaurenPolo: I will actually take this question from the student's perspective. Chicago Booth has a global, vibrant community of passionate individuals who bring incredible breadth of diversity, interests, and experience into the classroom. Faculty truly engage the students in the classroom and encourage them to "challenge everything," leading to a pretty transformative academic experience. Moreover, Booth's flexible curriculum enables each individual to tailor his or her individual experience. I think being able to customize your MBA is a differentiating feature of the program. Outside the classroom, Booth students are really an integral part of shaping the community, from forming extracurricular groups to hosting conferences to giving back to the Chicago community. Booth encourages its students to really "own" their entire MBA experience, creating a unique experience for its students.
triste: At how much of a disadvantage are those who are applying in Round 3? KurtAhlm: Round 3 tends to be more competitive than the first two rounds because we admit students as we go. However, we always have space for talented students who really demonstrate a strong fit with Booth. Therefore, the rule of thumb is to apply when you are most prepared. If you need to apply in the third round, that is fine. Sid2011: How is the mood on campus? LaurenPolo: There is a lot of positive energy and activity here on campus. You certainly see many first-year students in suits because summer internship interviewing has officially begun. There is optimism from the students about summer opportunities because many companies are on campus to recruit this year. I think one of the most unique features of the Booth community at this time though, is the sense of collaboration among students—second-year students helping first-year students prep for interviews or first years supporting each other through the process. Generally, students are back after winter break and reenergized by classes—particularly second years as they are entering into their final couple of quarters. scottbw: Have any rejections for Round 2 applicants already been released? KurtAhlm: No, these decisions will not begin to be released until our mid-decision deadline, Feb. 16. Jason_Qiu: My GMAT score is 680 (Q51/V30/AWA 4.0). Is this score too low for Booth? KurtAhlm: The mid-80 percent [range] of admitted students for the GMAT is from 640 to 760. We evaluate everyone on the full merits of their application, not just a GMAT score. yuppie: Does Booth prefer candidates to visit campus if invited for an interview? KurtAhlm: If you have not had an opportunity to visit campus, then I would absolutely encourage you to take the time to do so. Interviewing on campus can be a great way to experience our culture firsthand. However, from an evaluative standpoint campus interviews and alumni interviews are weighed the same. rsilver: What is a typical week like for a Booth student, both in and out of the classroom? LaurenPolo: There is no "typical" week at Booth, but every week holds a mix of academic experiences, extracurricular [activities], and socializing. A student will generally take three to four classes per quarter and spend time outside the classroom preparing for classes, often with a study group of three to five classmates. Moreover, most students are involved in a mix of student groups—professional groups and special-interest groups, among others—which hold events, conferences, treks, panels, consulting projects, or simply social gatherings. I am a LEAD facilitator and an admissions fellow, so I dedicate a lot of time to both of those. And I relax with members of the Wine and Epicurean clubs. For example, I went to a wine and cheese tasting event last night. Of course, at night and on the weekends, there is the city of Chicago to enjoy.
sbroderick: Lauren, have you participated in on-campus recruiting yet? If so, how would you describe the process and your experience? LaurenPolo: I have a unique perspective because I participated in on-campus recruiting as a second-year student but pursued more entrepreneurial endeavors for my summer internship. Looking for entrepreneurship opportunities meant that most of my job search was off campus and happened a bit later in the year than the typical on-campus recruiting. Career services did an incredible job in both the on- and off-campus experiences in supporting me in my endeavors. There is, of course, more structure in the on-campus recruiting season, including corporate conversations, networking opportunities, coffee chats, and other avenues to develop relationships with companies. For any type of recruiting, once application deadlines near, career services (and fellow students) help you prepare for the cover letter and résumé drops, as well as the interviewing experience. PreetiRG: What is the most unique aspect of Booth's MBA program? KurtAhlm: Chicago Booth really respects the individual in this process, and we give our students every opportunity to tailor their MBA experience to address their specific needs and expectations. This reveals itself in all aspects of our program, from the classes you take to the networks and friendships you make to where you live. At Booth we do not prescribe your path; we advise and support you in creating that path for yourself. BlancheNewyork: How interested is Booth in students who want to pursue nontraditional careers in areas such as social entrepreneurship? LaurenPolo: Very interested. I am proof that Booth values all types of students—both in terms of the backgrounds that they come to school with and their interests post-MBA. I spent nearly six years in investment banking before Booth, but have immense passion for and interest in social impact and entrepreneurship, particularly in the area of urban education. I wrote about these interests in my application and spent my summer realizing those interests, working with a startup focused on educational gaming. Booth formally supports social impact and corporate social responsibility in some of its curricular programming—for example, the social entrepreneurship course taught by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship faculty—as well as its student groups, such as Net Impact, Giving Something Back, Chicago Global Citizens, and others. RahulRamaswami: Do you have an idea of how many college seniors are admitted directly to the MBA program? What do you look for in such candidates to make up for the lack of work experience? KurtAhlm: For students coming right out of college, we would like to see some familiarity with the professional world, be it through internships, starting your own business, etc. I don't have a specific percentage, but I can say the number of students applying to MBA programs right out of college is growing. PreetiRG: If I applied in Round 2, when will I know if there is an interview opportunity? KurtAhlm: Our mid-decision release date for Round 2 is Feb. 16. Invites to interview will start to be released shortly. RVicencio: Does having entrepreneurial goals put you at a disadvantage with business schools and later for the job hunt? LaurenPolo: I would argue that having an entrepreneurial spirit makes you an asset to a company. Entrepreneurs develop the ability to think creatively and strategically, to adapt to very fluid and dynamic situations, and to be resourceful. They are passionate people who are motivated, determined, optimistic, innovative, and self-initiated, and who have ideas about how to best serve the needs of consumers, markets, etc. I find that many larger companies often pride themselves on having "entrepreneurial cultures" and welcome individuals who thrive in such an environment. There are a number of students at Booth who are interested in entrepreneurship. Students have found tremendous value in the entrepreneurship faculty, classes, and resources, such as the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship, and feel that it has helped them build a more well-rounded skill set. In fact, [entrepreneurship] is the second largest concentration at Booth. AJ2011: Is there a chance to reapply and possibly be accepted into the program? KurtAhlm: Yes, in fact, we find many reapplicants are quite successful the second time around. shanghaied_flip: I'm curious about the international relations joint degree. Other than the additional essay and the sample of previous research that an applicant needs to submit, are there any other differences in how applicants for this program are evaluated? KurtAhlm: I would just emphasize that you should really be able to sell why you think this joint degree is particularly valuable to you in reaching your goals. XiaYu: Are some parts of the application weighed more than others? KurtAhlm: No, we take a very holistic view of the application and use each piece of information to construct a greater sense of [the applicant's] overall fit with Booth's culture. AJ2011: I'm in my mid-30s and I'm looking to increase my knowledge in finance. Is there a place for older students at Booth? LaurenPolo: I think the benefit to a program like Booth for people of any age is the ability to really customize your MBA experience and build on your academic and professional experiences in a way that consistently adds value to what you already know. For example, I came from a pretty strong finance background and I was able to directly take a higher-level finance course in the winter quarter of my first year. Even within Booth's foundation and breadth requirements, there is flexibility to take classes that you will find challenging and will help you achieve your short- and long-term career goals. From a personal standpoint, I know a number of students at Booth who matriculated in their mid-30s. HuiWei: Given the current economic situation and the difficulty in getting into the private equity business, will those who set it as a career goal be at a disadvantage in the admission process? Will it sound less realistic than other goals? KurtAhlm: No, we want you to be honest about what it is that you want to achieve. There are many people at Booth pursuing careers in PE, and they are quite successful. The important thing for you in the application process is to help us understand why PE is your goal and what it is about Booth that can help you realize it. Thomas11: What would a student interested in real estate gain from attending Booth? LaurenPolo: A Booth MBA is a broad-based degree—the program teaches you how to think, and that type of analysis and thought-process is really industry-neutral. That said, there is a class focused on real estate investing as well as faculty members doing research in the discipline. There are many students here at Booth who are interested in real estate and have organized a student group dedicated to understanding and pursuing careers in the industry.