Common myths about the flexible curriculum and cohort system

Anyone who reads about Booth is sure to stumble upon two key differentiators: our flexible curriculum and our cohort system. Through discussions with dozens of prospective students, I’ve noticed that they tend to love the former and show some concern about the latter. When I was applying, I too shared a lot of these feelings. But I’ve also noticed that both of these Booth trademarks are all-too-often misunderstood. So here’s my take on what the flexible curriculum and the cohort system really mean to Booth students, and why I wouldn’t want them any other way.

MYTH #1: The flexible curriculum means we can take WHATEVER classes we want to take.

Even with the flexible curriculum, we are required to take classes within certain subjects. We all must take three foundational courses and courses in six out of seven functions. Yes, we have some flexibility here. For example, coming from a background in accounting, I chose to take a class in Financial Statement Analysis rather than Introductory Accounting. But ultimately, most of the courses I took were the same as many of my classmates – Marketing Strategy, Operations Management, Microeconomics, to name a few.

Don’t interpret this the wrong way. Getting this breadth of knowledge across different subjects is useful. My undergraduate degree was in business administration so I had already taken Marketing and Operations and Micro, but I found the courses at Booth to be quite different from what I had previously taken, and still challenging.

In my opinion, the true benefit of the flexible curriculum lies not in being able to take whatever courses you want to take, but rather, taking the courses you want to take WHEN you want to take them – starting from your first quarter at Booth.

Coming to Booth, I knew I wanted to start my own company. In my first Winter Quarter, I took a course called Building the New Venture, where I got to take my business idea through its first hypothetical 18 months. This class forced me to research a ton about my business – how to incorporate, who is my competition, what is the cost to produce my products, and so on. Nearly all of this research went into my Feasibility Summary, which I wrote in order to apply to the Social New Venture Challenge – a course I took in my first Spring Quarter. In this first Spring Quarter, I also took a class called Entrepreneurial Selling, where I came up with a toolkit for how to sell my products to boutiques. Over the summer as I participated in my “internship” with the Polsky Accelerator Program, I pulled out this toolkit and used the email templates I had created to sell my product to boutiques. Ultimately, my business went from just an idea to launching our first product line within a year, and it’s hard for me to imagine that would have been possible without the flexible curriculum.

What about if you’re planning to go the more traditional route of interviews and internships? The benefits of the flexible curriculum are the same – you are able to get real life experience and fill the gaps in your knowledge BEFORE you start your interviews and then your internship. So if you’re a career switcher with a liberal arts background going into investment banking, you can take Financial Statement Analysis and Corporate Finance to build up your knowledge on all the fun finance terms and valuations. If you want an internship in brand management or consulting, you can take a course like the New Product Development lab to get real life experience working with a real client on a real project. If you want to go into marketing, you can take Marketing Strategy and Data Driven Marketing. I could keep going, but hopefully this makes my point.

I’ve heard over and over again that Booth students always seem the most prepared and most knowledgeable during their internships. Sure, maybe that’s a bit of selection bias, but I think we also have the flexible curriculum to thank.

MYTH #2: Booth doesn’t have a cohort system

Because of our flexible curriculum, we are all taking different classes and we can’t go through first year classes with our cohort. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have cohorts here at Booth. On the first day of orientation, all students are placed within a cohort of about 60 students and then a smaller squad within the cohort of about 8 students. We go through LEAD and career services with our cohort and compete in quarterly competitions with our cohorts.

MYTH #3: It will be harder to form close friendships at Booth because I don’t take all my classes with my cohort

I think a lot of prospective students (including myself a couple years ago) worry that they won’t form as close of a bond with their classmates without the more intense cohort system that you find at other MBA programs. But I’ve found the opposite to be true.

When you start at Booth, there are literally endless ways to meet your classmates: Random Walks, LOR, student groups, group work, informal get-togethers. I guarantee you will be asked to join at least a dozen GroupMe’s within your first couple weeks, filled with your classmates looking to get to know you.

While I’ve made some great friends through my cohort, I’ve also loved being able to take classes with other friends outside my cohort and even in the second year class. I find that this flexibility and the opportunity to take classes with different classmates have allowed me to meet more people and form closer friendships.

In summary: I encourage you to embrace these differences rather than let them worry you. I would never want to change them. And I can assure you, you won’t either once you experience them for yourself.

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