Ask just about anyone, and you’ll hear that a big part of a full-time MBA program is the networking. Entering Booth with a non-traditional background (I worked in urban turnaround schools for six years), I had no idea what this meant. Networking with companies? With classmates? With alumni? With big name professors? Honestly, the prospect of constantly mingling with a motive with any of those audiences sounded intimidating.
A year and a half later, I realize I had it all wrong. For the most part, it’s not the small talk that will last, or get you ahead, or anything like that. Rather, my Booth experience has been defined by the unique opportunity these two years provide: the time and space to build genuine relationships with a ton of really smart people, coming from and going in all different directions. Below, I’ve captured three ways I’ve developed what I consider to be the most important dimension of the Booth network: long-lasting connections to my classmates.
For me, it started with my Random Walk. I flew to Belize with a group of 15 incoming-Boothie strangers before school began. The first day, we huddled together making small talk while we waited out hurricane rains. By the last day, we’d swam with sharks, gone scuba diving, taken over a night club, and made it through a crazy underwater cave adventure we weren’t sure we’d survive (highly recommend: Belize ATM Cave Experience). These were my first friends at Booth, and even as our circles have widened, I still consider all of them my people. Second year, I was lucky enough to do it again, leading the Greece trip, and forming connections with 13 first years that won’t fade anytime soon.
Next, recruiting for an internship, and then preparing the Class of 2020 to do the same, broadened my network of Boothies more than anything else. It wasn’t glamorous. Last year, it was networking crop circles and endless hours of practice cases. This time around, it was leading communications for the Management Consulting Group: being the person nearly half the first-year class got instructions and sign-ups from weekly (sometimes daily) as they pursued an internship. Many people come to business school to pivot into a different career or function. Navigating the process of making that happen, and getting through the tough stuff together, connects you to each other for the long haul.
Finally, in the backdrop of my Booth experience is Millennium Park Plaza (MPP). Picture a building, right downtown in the middle of Chicago, across the street from the Bean, filled with Boothies. It’s not a dorm (I have my own one-bedroom apartment!), but it’s as close as you probably get for 700+ adult students. In my experience, this hub has been the center of social life and study group time. In addition to everything that happens at the Harper Center, MPP is where my community developed. The Netflix afternoons on the 21st floor, the late-night group cramming in study rooms on the 37.5th floor, and the pre-TNDC get-togethers on every floor— these shared experiences of actually living together have fostered connections totally unique to my two years here at Booth.
When it comes to “creating a network,” the best surprise has been how naturally it happens. By the time I graduate, I’ll have spent two years here making great friends in the classroom, on treks, through professional groups, and at home at MPP. I know those friends will go off and do big things– whether it’s someday leading and innovating in the largest companies in the world, or changing the game with their own brand new ventures– and I’ll be lucky to have them in my circle.