The Big Decision Spotlight: Grace Schlesinger ’22

The Big Decision Spotlight: Grace Schlesinger ’22

The MBA admissions journey can be incredibly overwhelming. There are so many things to consider, including “How will an MBA help me achieve my career goals?”… “What MBA programs should I apply to?”… “When is the right time to apply?” Considering the complexity of these decisions, I wanted to take the opportunity to interview one of my esteemed colleagues in the Booth Class of 2022 to hear about her MBA admissions journey. Without further ado, Grace Schlesinger!

Can you give an overview of your background pre-Booth?

I was born in New York City and raised in San Francisco. I did my undergrad in rural Maine at Colby College, where I studied international relations and Spanish. After graduating from Colby, I worked with Teach For America, where I taught first grade in a Spanish-speaking classroom in Denver. After my two-year commitment with Teach For America came to a close, I knew that I wanted to gain a better understanding of how businesses operate, so I pivoted to management consulting with Accenture. After nearly four years with Accenture, I had the opportunity to move to Facebook, where I worked in product operations on Facebook Groups before pursuing my MBA.

What inspired you to pursue business school?

I chose to pursue business school for three reasons. First, both of my parents went to business school (CBS and Wharton), so it was always on my radar. I knew that business school would present me with the opportunity for professional growth and a life-long network of friends, and I was eager to follow in their footsteps.

Second, I felt strongly that I needed to pursue business school to balance my liberal arts background with a quantitatively rigorous environment. While my professional experience had provided me with hands-on operational and quantitative exposure, I wanted to return to the classroom to dedicate myself to closing this academic gap.

Lastly, I found myself at a critical professional juncture in which I realized that I wanted to pivot professionally. I wanted to have the option to switch into investment banking, an industry that is challenging to switch into without an MBA (if you didn’t join straight out of undergrad).

How did you research business schools? What resources did you find most helpful?

Unfortunately, I was unable to visit campuses given the nature of my job at the time, so I prioritized local events to gain a sense of school culture. Additionally, by the time that I was accepted to various MBA programs (Booth, Kellogg, Tuck), the pandemic was in full force, so I was unable to attend accepted students programming in person. As a result, I utilized several supplemental resources to research business schools.

I used school websites to gain a high-level understanding of each program (class demographics, course offerings, etc.) and read articles on various MBA-focused websites (such as Poets & Quants). Following this initial research, I then leveraged my network which consisted of many MBA graduates to better understand differences across programs. I wanted to ensure that I was not inadvertently eliminating any programs that would help me achieve my personal and professional goals. Lastly, I attended local MBA events hosted in my area, which allowed me to decipher each school’s culture.

What factors were most important to you when choosing which schools to apply to?

An MBA is a tremendous personal and professional investment. When considering which schools to apply to, I evaluated programs that would enable me to successfully pivot professionally, broaden my quantitative and financial acumen, and had a supportive culture & community. I wanted to ensure that, when committing two years of my life to an MBA program, I was joining a community where I would experience professional, academic, and personal growth.

How did you decide when was the right point in your career to apply?

Having worked in education, management consulting, and technology, I felt strongly that I needed to go back to school in order to develop my quantitative and financial acumen to pivot into a career where I could see myself long-term. Knowing that I was at a critical professional juncture, I consulted family and friends who had attended business school to ensure that I was making the right decision to accelerate my career. I sought to understand the criteria that they had considered when deciding to apply to attend business school, and how they drove their processes to better understand what made each program unique. Once I had the input of trusted family and friends, I felt confident that I was at the right point in my career to apply to business school.

What was your overall application strategy? How did you prepare for and execute each phase of the admissions process (essays, interviews, etc.)?

After identifying the programs that I wanted to apply to, I made sure that I had each deadline, essay question, and requirements well-organized and documented. I found the essays to be the most challenging, and most rewarding, part of the admissions process. They required a significant amount of self-reflection on my professional goals and why business school was the only path that would empower me to meet those objectives. I spoke with my managers, colleagues, and mentors to brainstorm ideas, and was able to come up with several anecdotes that I felt could be compelling topics for my business school essays. From there, I outlined key themes and takeaways that I wanted to convey in my essays, ensuring that I crafted a convincing narrative for why I wanted to attend business school.

Selecting my recommenders was another critical component of my overall application. I chose two former managers who had provided me with constructive feedback and had been instrumental in my professional development. I shared my professional goals with each recommender, highlighting why I felt business school was the best next step for me. Additionally, I felt it was important for me to explain why I was asking each of them to write my recommendation. Following these conversations, I ensured that they had an understanding of the logistics involved in the application process.

After I submitted my application, I was invited to interview across various programs. When preparing for interviews, I knew that it was essential for me to speak authentically about each MBA program’s differentiating factors. I leveraged the information that I gathered from recruiting events, alumni, and websites to prepare for these interviews, ensuring that I was able to concisely articulate why each program was a strong fit.

What parts of this strategy do you think were most effective and what would you do differently in retrospect?

I thought it was incredibly helpful to attend recruiting events. Those events provided me with an authentic representation of each program while giving me a first touch-point to follow up with (if contact information was provided). Additionally, taking an organized approach to crafting my application and ensuring that each essay was tailored to each specific program proved to be a big value-add as it allowed me to genuinely consider why each program could be a strong fit.

What did you find to be the most challenging part of the application process and how did you overcome it?

Since I was unable to visit campuses in person due to the pandemic, I found it challenging to authentically differentiate each program. Aside from location and program size, schools often talk about their programs similarly. In addition to admit calls, I reached out to connections I had built throughout the application process to hear their stories and rationale for choosing their programs. I wanted to ensure that I really understood each MBA program from the perspective of current students or recent graduates, and I was grateful to those who took the time to share their honest experiences with me.

What resources did you use to inform your final decision to attend Booth?

Across all programs that I was accepted to, current students were gracious with their time and willing to speak truthfully regarding their experiences. Booth quickly became the gold standard and the program that I compared all other MBA programs to during these conversations. Booth’s flexible curriculum with ample opportunities to develop a skillset in finance and community in Chicago differentiated it from all other MBA programs. I came to Booth confident that I was at the best MBA program to support my professional objectives while joining a community that I was excited to be a part of.

What have been the highlights of your Booth experience? How has the experience compared to your expectations?

Despite the unpredictable backdrop of my class’s Booth experience, which is marked by the global pandemic, my experience has far exceeded my expectations.

The Investment Banking Group has served as a wonderful community throughout my time at Booth. Particularly starting school virtually in the fall of 2020, this group connected me with like-minded peers who shared my professional ambitions. At some programs, the Investment Banking Group could perhaps be an independent and competitive community, with ambitious peers vying for one spot at a top bank. However, at Booth, the group provided me with close friends who I could lean on in times of stress, anxiety, and celebration once we each received our final offers.

Outside of professional opportunities, I have had the best time making new friends at Booth. Once vaccinated, we were able to travel to Tulum, Cabo, and Colombia, while also exploring domestic destinations.

Considering your successful admissions journey, what’s your biggest piece of advice to prospective students?

My biggest piece of advice is to spend time reflecting on what you want to achieve in business school. This will look different for each person – maybe you want to expand your network, build out a skillset, pivot into a new industry, start your own business… whatever your goal is, make sure that it is concretely defined. From there, you will be able to identify and apply to the programs that will help you achieve that goal.

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