Monday, April 22, 2013

School Ties

One of the questions that I am often asked about Booth from prospective students and recent admits is, "If there are no cohorts and students live all over Chicago does Booth really have much of a community?"  According to Poets and Quants' article Chicago Booth vs. Kellogg, "The school purposely lacks core cohort groups and has no residence halls for its MBAs, factors that make it harder for real community to occur. Some Chicago students say the school still lacks the camaraderie you’ll find at many other b-schools, especially Kellogg, and that some students graduate from Chicago with only a handful of people they would call friends."  I've also repeatedly read comments like, "the flexible curriculum does not allow for bonding," and "Booth is a commuter school."

There is a lot of information about Booth on the web.  However, in my opinion much of it is misinformation disseminated by people who heard something from someone who knows someone. So does Chicago Booth have much of a community?  I think that the first step is to define what someone means by community.  Kellogg is known for having a strong community, but so is Tuck and these are two very different schools. So what's the standard.  I think that there are two main ways to define a school's community: tight-knit and engaged.

I will say upfront that Booth does not have a tight-knit community.  However, I would argue that neither do schools like Kellogg and Wharton (both of which are known for having strong communities).  When people say a school's students are tight-knit they often are saying that everybody knows one another.  Everyone goes to the same parties and bars and the class does everything together.  That's the type of community that schools like Tuck, Johnson, and Haas foster.  However, these schools also have class sizes of under 300 students. I'd argue that when any class has more than 400 students it's impossible for the students to be tight-knit by that definition.  Tuck students know all 275 of their classmates at least by name.  I too can say that I know roughly the same number of classmates by name.  However, I have about 300 additional people in my class. When you think about knowing over 200 people in 6 months' time then you start to understand that that's a lot of people and knowing over 300 more is virtually impossible. 

So then if a school isn't tight-knit by the above definition does that mean that it does not have a strong community?  Of course not!  One of Kellogg's claims to fame is its distinctive student culture. However, that sense of a Kellogg community comes as a result of engagement.  And I will vehemently argue that Booth has a community that is just as strong based on this metric.  "Bullshit!" you say?  How can I possibly claim that when students live all over Chicago and so far from campus?  That's impossible because there is no core curriculum nor cohorts.

First, I need to clear up some common misconceptions, the biggest one being that Booth students are dispersed all over Chicago.  No, most students do not live in Hyde Park near Harper Center.  Yes, the vast majority of us commute anywhere from 15-30 minutes to campus.  However, over 80% of students live within a 2 mile strip of the downtown neighborhoods the Loop, South Loop, and Streeterville. Heck, over 60% of students live in three buildings that are often referred to as the dorms (Millenium Park Plaza, Columbus Plaza, MDA).  Even in the South Loop it is impossible to sneak in and out of 1130 Michigan Ave without running into someone from Booth.  Just because Booth students do not live in close proximity to the school does not mean that they don't live in close proximity to one another. 

So what's up with living downtown?  It's probably the same motivation that drives Wharton students to live in Rittenhouse Square instead of University City where Huntsman Hall is located: lifestyle.  MBAs aren't like typical grad school students.  Most graduate students enter their programs immediately after undergrad.  MBAs have been out of school for at least 3 years (some of us even 10+ years) and have become used to living a certain way.  If we have the opportunity to maintain that lifestyle (lack of income and debt be damned), we're going to do it.  Hyde Park is lovely, but most of us just aren't about that 2.5 kids, Sunday at the park life quite yet.  Chicago's public transportation makes it easy to commute to school and we have lockers so that we can keep the stuff we need on campus to avoid extra trips. Given these conveniences we choose to live where the Chicago's night life does. 

Now that we've cleared up one myth, let's address the lack of cohorts. Technically, Booth does have cohorts.  In fact I just participated in a cohort scavenger hunt on Saturday (no babies were harmed during the event, but some were subjected to awkward holding).  However, cohorted learning is only in place for Booth's one required course, LEAD, which takes place during orientation and the first 4 weeks of the first quarter.  After LEAD there are a few big cohort based activities like Golden Gargoyles and Leadership Challenge, but for the most part cohort activities are spearheaded by cohort members and the graduate business council (i.e. cohort trivia, cohort t-shirt day, etc.).  Although students aren't required to be at these events there is always a very healthy turnout (it could be a function of the free food and drink that is always offered). 

I think this illustrates the beauty that is Booth.  At it's core this place is an exercise in free markets.  Everything is driven by students' choices and Booth students choose to be actively involved with the school. I have yet to go to any event that wants for participants.  The "Running of the Bulls" (annual Booth vs. Kellogg basketball game at the United Center) sold out in an hour.  Demand for Winter Formal resulted in 100 extra tickets being released.  The tech trek required an application because there wasn't enough capacity for all of the students who wanted to attend.  The list can go on and on.  Even without the typical structures to build school loyalty and student body engagement, students are so tied to Booth we often struggle to excoriate ourselves from the "Booth Bubble." Chicago is a virtual treasure trove of people yet most of my classmates struggle to spend time with anyone who isn't a Booth student.  I have friends that I've known for years living in Chicago and I think I've only hung out with one of them one time. After ending our Valentine's Day with a McDonald's picnic on her living room floor one of my friends and I vowed to go explore Chicago's happy hour scene without 250 of our closest classmates.  Thus far the closest we've come is LPF (Liquidity Preference Function) at Underground Wonder Bar with only 150 of our closest classmates. Everything from Friday night parties to week long spring breaks to summer internships always seems to include classmates.

With a city as large as Chicago it would be easy for us to leave Harper Center and scatter amongst the throngs only to see one another for classes and recruiting.  However, that's not what happens.  There is more activity going on at Booth than any person can keep track of and the majority of it is student run.  My spring break trek to Africa - organized by the Chicago African Business Group.  My winter career trek to NYC - organized by the Media, Entertainment, and Sports Group.  Follies - student written, produced, and performed.  Booth students choose to invest their time in making sure this community is thriving.  There is an overflow of people clamoring to participate in Admit Weekend, career services, admissions, and more.  Oftentimes these activities require hours of work and we still want to to do it.  I think this speaks volumes to the ties people have to Booth.

I will readily admit that although Booth has a very vibrant community it is built differently than at other schools.  The flexible curriculum is not conducive to having prolonged avenues for socializing (i.e. dorms, curriculum cohorts, etc.).  In allowing people to pick their classes, schedule, and professors (and study groups within those classes) it's very much so a choose your own adventure kind of place. Booth is set up so that students aren't interacting with the same people day in and day out.  Booth fosters breadth of socializing, but it's up to the individual to determine where to seek depth. One of the best consequences of this breadth is a greater sense of cohesion between the 1st and 2nd year classes.  This is the very opposite of the structure at most schools where the depth of socializing is built into the program and it's up to students to seek out a wider breadth.  Truth be told the breadth was difficult for me at first. I felt that I was meeting a lot of people but not really forming deeper relationships.  I wasn't doing on campus recruiting so I was always interacting with different people but not spending significant time with anyone.  It wasn't until ski trip when I had a week of consistent socializing with people that I started really making friends. The opportunities to really bond with people are all over the place at Booth.  However, it might take a little patience and being proactive to figure out what those opportunities are for you.

I will tell any prospective student how much I love being here, but I will also say that it isn't for everybody.  If you really like structure and aren't looking to try something different then Booth isn't the school for you.  If you tend not to be proactive in getting to know people and don't like feeling somewhat uncomfortable at times then you probably shouldn't be here.  However, if the bevvy of choice appeals to you or you want to try a social environment that is different from what you're used to then this might could be the place for you.  


Anonymous said...

Extremely well-written; and 100% consistent with my welcome weekend experience at Booth. It is a lively community of people who live and travel in Boothie clusters at all times. You guys wore me out; in a good way. Anyone who doesn't think there isn't community at Booth really hasn't been.

Anonymous said...

Great post. As a fellow Boothie, I cannot agree more with you.

Anonymous said...

I'm a prospective 2014 applicant researching/identifying my schools.

Thanks for providing an insider's perspective on the 'Booth Bubble'. I always had very high regards for the so-called Quantsy/analytical nature of the school/MBA.
But the last paragraph in your post is how I was perceiving Booth to be and hence wasn't keen on pursuing booth.

You have crystallized my opinion about that may be I would be a deer caught in the headlights @ booth.

Great school and great post though... Couldn't thank you enough....

Good luck with your recruiting and future.

hamm0 said...

Well said, cheet. I've heard you and others talk about how Booth is different, but this is a very comprehensive explanation.

After reading this, I'm not sure it would be the best place for me, but i'll continue to search.

Sanket said...

Now, we can get a fair idea WHY you could have got into Chicago Booth.

A typical analysis expected from a Chicago Booth student - filled with profound questions, amalgamation of diverse perspectives but still not leaving the core and independent exegesis.

You have really alleviated some of the critical doubts about Booth community. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your well written 'spot the difference'...really helps us to understand booth :)

Anonymous said...

Well said...Just came back from a campus visit and all i can say is, can't wait to be a Boothie.


Novocaine said...

Offers an interesting perspective - I am waiting to see how does the Booth experience turns out for me.

Jumsumtak said...

Great insightful post cheet!