Admissions Q&A: Chicago Booth’s Kurt Ahlm

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Booth is known for a very customizable and flexible curriculum, where you take the required leadership course and then choose between required courses in certain areas such as marketing and finance? What is the reasoning behind it? What have candidates told you about why it is such an appeal for them?

Our mission is to be an institution that’s creating enduring impact, great ideas, things that really move markets and organizations forward. To do that, we feel that we need to have a place where people can fully engage. Every decision that they make, every class that they sit in, and every opportunity that they are faced with is something that they are purely invested in. These decisions are things are not prescribed. They are things that people are really committed to because there is something that is driving them towards that. When you create an environment where people can choose pretty much every aspect of their experience, you find that you create an environment that is incredibly energized. Students and faculty are fully engaged in the process from what happens in your classroom to what’s happening in your career search to what you’re doing next Thursday night. It is a very vibrant and energized place because people can choose their own experiences.

What that does for people in a practical sense? Think about what you ultimately want to get out of your experience here. Let’s say you come from a liberal arts background and you had very little experience with business concepts. You can tailor a curriculum that’s going to be leveraged heavily on marketing, finance, or whatever. If you have a business background and you have a lot of experience, you might focus on other areas like entrepreneurship or organizational behavior to round out your skill set. If you’re the type of person who is inherently curious and you’re excited to engage, share your ideas, and really push those boundaries, you’re going to find a place that really encourages that. Again, the environment here is supportive enough that we have the mechanisms in place, such as staff and faculty support and general peer-to-peer support, that you’re going to be encouraged to take those risks and really step outside yourself and have an experience that is really distinctive to you. There are not many programs that can offer that same type of experience or return. Ultimately, Booth is a place where people are excited and inspired to learn. They’re not just coming here to get a degree as the only thing. There is more to it than that.

kurt ahlm booth

A young Eugene Fama, a Nobel prize-winning economist at Booth.

Booth has become increasingly popular with recruiters, ranking first in both the Bloomberg Businessweek and U.S. News recruiter surveys in 2016. What are some of the big reasons why Booth students appeal so much to recruiters?

When I talk to students, it comes back to a simple formula. Students come here because they are passionate about learning. They are committed to creating an experience that allows them to take full advantage of all the opportunities in front of them. If I want to be an investment banker, and that’s my primary focus in business school, I can really tailor an experience that sets up me up very well for that. If I’m looking to make a career transition from banking to marketing and I haven’t had a lot of exposure to those concepts, I can dive into that stuff and shape a new path very quickly. So I can shape an experience that makes me very attractive for an internship. That’s not the typical experience. So I find that students here are given every opportunity to prepare themselves very quickly for whatever that next career step is going to be.

We also have an unbelievable commitment to supporting diversity of students here. You have people who have all of these different backgrounds, goals and expectations. You have to have a staff that is very committed to helping people to navigate that and make good decisions. We need to have programming that allows people to shape those experiences and prepare for those opportunities that present themselves with employers.  In career services, Julie is exceptional in having a team that is really cognizant of supporting students through navigating the complexities of what’s out there. You need programming, counseling, support services to help people make good choices. The culture at Booth is very adaptable and agile; it’s nimble in its approach. The purpose is to support the diversity of students who are here and give them all the necessary skills to complement what they are doing in the classroom and the clubs. Those things help to prepare our students in a way that is not commonplace.

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