I thought I didn’t make sense as a Booth candidate: I was young, didn’t have a consulting or finance background, and had never been to Chicago. I lived with my parents, had just paid off my undergraduate loans, and was restless in early COVID confinement.
It was May 2020, and nothing had made sense since that February. A mentor gave me a nudge. Schools had extended application deadlines. I was thinking about applying in the fall anyway. Why not now? Why not me?
Booth was the last school to call with good news and I almost didn’t pick up the phone. The euphoric moment was followed by a very Booth-like number crunching on school options and finances, a family health emergency, a deposit, a roommate match, and hesitancy if I should move to Chicago at all.
It was the shortest and longest summer. It ended September 1, 2020, when I stepped off a plane at O’Hare into a humid and rainy Chicago day. What followed were two years of life-changing experiences.
There were ups and downs. The realization that I was going to have to buy lemons for the first time in my life instead of picking them from my family’s tree in California. The thrill of walking into my first apartment. The irrational humor my roommate and I found in how our apartment was so empty it echoed, even with our pile of cardboard boxes from Amazon’s finest (read: cheapest) furniture. The exhaustion of hours upon hours of Zoom orientation, classes, networking, study groups, recruiting seminars, mock interviews, and happy hours. The coolness of Lake Michigan’s water on my feet for the first time.
Not everything you will read here will be about my perfect experience. That is because there is no perfect experience, no matter what Poets & Quants tells you. Behind every success story is at least one breakdown where the information overload, imposter syndrome, recruiting rejections, or test anxiety got the better of us. Maybe it happened to some more than others. Maybe your friend’s cousin’s ex’s best friend said they made it to graduation without ever questioning their worth. Good for them. That’s not this kind of story.
I chronicled many of my best and most difficult moments on this blog. I relearned how to be a student in the first fall when I went from being the top student in my undergraduate major to average for the first time in my life. With trial and error I managed overcommitting myself to extracurriculars so I could recruit, make friends, and sleep enough to maintain my health at the end of the day. I struggled with imposter syndrome when recruiting went sideways and found out I wasn’t alone.
More importantly, I learned how to put myself back together again. I learned to ask for help and lean on others when I needed it. I embraced the value of a tight hug from friends that were strangers only months before.
I found a great community and wrote about my mixed identity, spent the summer working with an innovative startup, took a once-in-a-lifetime chance to live and study in Barcelona, and fell in love with Chicago. I helped friends share their stories throughout the year and will continue to do so over the next couple of weeks.
There were stories that didn’t make it to the site, like my experiences being a LEAD facil, leading a Random Walk to Portugal, successfully re-recruiting for my dream job (and friends who celebrated with me), and connecting with strong Booth women in circumstances I never thought I’d encounter. There was eating croissants in Paris, exploring ruins in Rome, practicing Spanish in Oaxaca, and dancing samba through cobbled streets in Rio de Janeiro. There were friends made in study groups, LEAD squads, snowy scavenger hunts, pick up soccer games, happy hours, coffee chats, practice cases, and MPP elevator rides.
All of these stories, the inspiring and the challenging, were unforgettable parts of my Booth Experience. They were humbling, but they helped me build back even stronger after the times where I felt like I was falling apart.
Now graduation is approaching, I’m preparing to give my family a grand tour of Chi Town, and my apartment is regaining its echo as I sell my furniture before moving. It’s poignant. It’s exciting. It’s a little weird. But I feel ready for my next chapter as I iron the regalia I’ll don next weekend. Hopefully by then I’ll remember which side the tassel goes on.
Coming to Booth was one of the best choices I’ve made in my life.
Though I am leaving Chicago, I hope to carry its lessons with me, the ones from classrooms and beyond. There is not enough space to list all of these lessons here (and I feel that with this length I am already overstaying my writing welcome), but now that I’ve received the “What did you wish you knew?” and “What advice would you give?” questions a few times recently, I will include my highlights here:
- Reach out for help when you need it. Notice that this is not an “if.” Everyone hits their wall at some point. Whether it’s recruiting, academic, or family stress, if you’re struggling, you’re not alone. Booth will have resources for you; lean on them.
- Everything will be ok. It’s easy to get a little caught up in comparisons when you’re surrounded by absolutely brilliant people. Remember that what feels big now may not matter in a few years (see #3). And just because you don’t get an offer from [MBB / bulge bracket / big tech / fancy PE or VC firm] doesn’t mean you won’t do well.
- Say yes to things you care about. Notice that I don’t say “everything.” I tried that and it left me exhausted, but when I was more selective about what I said yes to I was energized and excited for what was next. Figure out what matters to you and go for the experiences it invites you to have.
- Grades don’t matter. You probably won’t believe this one until after your first quarter, but on behalf of 2Ys I promise it’s true.
- Have at least one all-white outfit. I know, I know, this is weirdly specific. But trust me on this one, you will use it several times before graduation. See proof of one use case below.
If you find yourself here or somewhere else, make the most of your time. It will be over before you know it and I hope that, when you find yourself at the end of your journey, you stand proudly there with new friends and memories worth keeping. Here are a few of mine: