Excel Monkey (The Traditionalist) Applies to Booth

Two years ago, I was in the same place as many of you: putting together my applications and thinking seriously and strategically about my career goals and how getting an MBA would play into them. I liked my company and loved my job as a professional investor, but always had the idea of an MBA floating around in my brain.

To recap, I was a pretty traditional candidate*. I double-majored in Economics and Psychology at a well-regarded East Coast college, had 4 years of work experience in financial services, held a leadership position at a local non-profit, and was an active alum for my alma mater.

What I didn’t have were crazy awesome stories, like my friends who served in Iraq flying military aircraft, or were Peace Corps volunteers, or worked in six countries after graduation. I worked anywhere between 50-80 hours per week trying to predict which stocks would outperform their indices, modeling business forecasts in Excel, and presenting investment recommendations to internal clients. I was proud of my work, but let’s be real, my ability to model out pricing for integrated commodities chemical manufacturers wasn’t the type of work that would save lives.

And you know what? It’s okay.

Over the last few years, many articles have focused on off-the-beaten-track non-traditionalists looking to change the world; making traditional applicants a little insecure about what they bring to the table. Of course those applicants make headlines! Their stories sell, appealing to people looking for compelling narratives; they make news precisely because they’re new and unlike other applicants. What’s completely overlooked is that by far and away, business schools are full of people like you and me: bright, ambitious young professionals in traditional fields that recruit talented undergrads and train them to be good at analysis and getting stuff done.

So how did I get in? It came down to narrative, or in the terminology of admissions, my “story.” It was how I broke down my professional decisions and actions and goals, then built them up to explain: (1) who I was and (2) why I belonged here. My goals were conventional: I wanted to be an equities analyst covering emerging markets, ultimately running my own hedge fund. But I made them make sense in the equation of me + MBA from Chicago Booth.

This is how I usually explain my path:

(1) I had worked in equity research for almost three years, and realized that almost all senior analysts and portfolio managers had a CFA and an MBA from a top school.

(2) If I wanted to ever be a portfolio manager, I had to get an MBA from a school that was particularly strong in finance, and had good connections in the buy-side (not i-banking) world.

(3) Applications went out to Booth and two other schools, all in the second round.

(4) During the latter part of the process, I visited all three campuses and talked to students and alums.

(5) I visited Booth, got to know the community that I’d be joining, and just fell deeply in love with the mix of intellectual rigor, go-getter energy, and fantastic mix of achievement and modesty. To me, entrepreneurial means a combination of independent thought and willingness to take risks. In that respect, Booth is one of the most entrepreneurial places I’ve ever been lucky enough to be a part of.

(6) I bought a 1-way ticket to Chicago.

The lesson here is not to say that there is any one way to apply or to tell your story. It’s more about thinking carefully and articulating clearly your reasons to come to Booth. Every single day I’m walking up and down the stairs at Harper, I see a sign that reads “Why Are You Here and Not Somewhere Else.” That’s the question applicants should be asking themselves at this stage in the game. The better the answer, the more prepared (and more fulfilled) you will be here at Booth.

Linda Yan


*Caveat: in my profile, I am somehow listed as a Krav Maga world champion. This is a lie perpetuated by my friend Ignacio. The last time I hit someone I hit myself trying to make a grilled cheese sandwich. 



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