September in Chicago brings the first crunchy leaves, chilly breezes, and countless adorable children headed to their first days of school. Boothies, laptops and nameplates in hand, aren’t far behind them. We usually cross paths with the UChicago Lab school’s morning dropoff as we head to our 8:30 classes, weaving through the crowd of tiny humans.
Besides our clear differences in age and fields of study, there’s another contrast to call out between us and the younger students: for the kids, the first day of school is an annual routine whereas most Boothies haven’t set foot in a classroom in several years.
Some of us will glide into the school routine so naturally that it seems as if we never left. We’ll sit, learn, contribute to conversation, and keep up with the coursework, balancing classes, networking events, club meetings, and job interviews with ease.
Not all of us are so graceful. We might struggle with the latest assigned reading, feel intimidated by our first quant-heavy class, or find the flood of new people overstimulating. We may stress about grades and gasp once we’ve calculated how many years it’s been since we took our last midterm.
Still, we all made the choice to return to school. Whether we’re pivoting careers by specializing in a new field, gaining insight into entrepreneurship to start our own businesses, or returning to our sponsoring firm as a manager, Booth and its famously flexible curriculum had something for us. We don’t all learn the same way or share the same goals, but we enjoyed learning enough that we decided to take two years to go back and immerse ourselves in the classroom once again.
Falling in love with learning again is a magical experience.
I really do believe that, even if my grace in returning to the classroom was somewhere between beginner tightrope walker and reckless toddler: not quite tripping, but coming very close to it, while those in view held their breath. In my first quarter I learned from Applied Regression Analysis that it really is worth it to do the pre-course work the professor assigns, from Competitive Strategy that there is more to case write ups than throwing around buzzwords, and from Microeconomics that Chicago economics has so much more to it than any undergraduate economics course taught me. It took mistakes to learn these lessons, and recovery with extra time studying, and I am a stronger student because I struggled. Should you stumble as well, I want you to have the best chance at falling in love with Booth academically by knowing the resources to access to support your success.
Yes you will be surrounded by people who are all the best and brightest of their classes, and the pressure you put on yourself to achieve can take on a new intensity. Thankfully, those same classmates know that learning is not a zero-sum game and they’re interested in helping you succeed. It is rare to find a class that does not have a group component. Could you try to do it all alone? Probably, but that kind of kills the point of going to a business school that stresses teamwork.
There is no shortage of people who want to help you succeed.
Instead, I encourage you to lean on study groups, which will be the core of getting problem sets done, hearing new perspectives on cases, and celebrating the end of a quarter. Working together can help you divide and conquer assignments and explain the formula that you’ve been having a hard time wrapping your head around.
In the case that the entire group is stumped, go to office hours. Professors and Teaching Assistants (TAs) host these weekly outside of class for students to come ask questions, run through practice problems, and receive feedback on presentation outlines. There are no dumb questions and showing up speaks volumes.
When you need a little extra boost in understanding there are tutors. UChicago is filled with brilliant people (including lovely, struggling you), and some of them make their time available for 1:1 (or 1:group) sessions to go over what’s troubling you the most. You can arrange a single session before that big final or make it weekly, depending on what you feel you need.
For anyone reading this and thinking Too academically focused. How will I succeed at Booth if I can’t do math? I have Booth’s most magical three-word phrase: grade non disclosure. If adopted, this policy, voted upon by every new class, deters students from telling employers their grades while recruiting. This means that if a firm asks you about your GPA you do not have to tell them anything. So be brave, take a challenging class, get a B…live a little!
Here’s what to remember: don’t stress, use your network, ask questions, and seek extra help when you need it.
Undergraduate studies at UChicago may be known cheekily as “where fun goes to die,” but you can make Booth the place where you go to thrive.