Meet Chicago Booth’s MBA Class Of 2020

University of Chicago’s Hyde Park Campus


Make no mistake: the Class of 2020 is joining a school with momentum behind it. This year, Booth tied with Harvard Business School in the U.S. News & World Report, buoyed by a 97% placement rate for the 2017 Class – not to mention average starting pay packages of $200,415. The school also scored high in its annual surveys with core constituencies. In the Bloomberg Businessweek employer satisfaction survey, Booth ranked 3rd overall – and 10th in student scores. Booth’s career services ranked 5th and 7th in the Financial Times and Economist satisfaction surveys. In U.S. News, its finance program ranked 2nd only to Wharton. By the same token, the school’s executive and part-time programs ranked 1st and 2nd by U.S. News – a tip of the hat to the level of top-to-bottom quality in the program.

This momentum is expected to surge thanks to the increased generosity of Booth alumni, says Stacey Kole, the school’s deputy dean for MBA programs. “The arrival of Dean Madhav Rajan last year has sparked flood of giving, much of which is directed at scholarships,” she writes in a statement to P&Q. “The gifts in the past 12 months include $75 million from Amy Wallman, ’75, and Richard Wallman, ’74; $10 million from Dave Liguang Chenn, ’00$5 million from Raymond Svider, ’89; and $5 million from Rattan L. Khosa, ’79. These Booth alumni have made new scholarships, fellowships or student programming enhancements a key component of their gifts.”

Such gifts have also enabled Booth to attract blue ribbon faculty. Notably, the program recruited renowned behavioral economist Sendhil Mullainathan away from Harvard University. However, it isn’t just the money where Booth’s 50,000 strong alumni network comes into play, Kole emphasizes. They are also heavily engaged, taking Booth’s ‘pay it forward’ philosophy with them long after graduation.

Stacey Kole, Deputy Dean for Alumni, Corporate Relations and the Full-Time MBA Program at Booth

“Booth has more than 70 active regional alumni groups around the world—helps students achieve their dreams. For example, the annual Booth 20/20 event invites graduates back to campus to share their successes and challenges with incoming students. Alumni are also actively involved in helping students explore careers and create new business ventures.”


Matthew Corcoran can certain vouch for that. So far, he has been impressed by a “collaborative team environment” that fosters grown and helps students “achieve more than they could on their own.” Before he ever set foot on Booth, it was the sense of community from Booth alumni that impressed him.

“Booth linked me up with multiple alumni with similar backgrounds and I was blown away by the responsiveness and helpfulness of Booth’s alumni network.”

When it comes to current programming, Kole is particularly pleased with the Start Up Summer Initiative, which Booth is expanding after a successful two year pilot. “The program offers incoming students who are curious about entrepreneurship the opportunity to work for a Booth-led startup during the summer before they begin their MBA studies, she adds. “More than 70 members of the Class of 2020 interned this summer around the globe.  This truly unique program is unmatched and showcases Booth’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The continued growth of this initiative, along with financial support for tuition, encourages more risk-taking on the career front.”

Ask the Class of 2020 about what sets Booth apart and you’re bound to get a series of unexpected responses. John Tracey touts the program for being unconventional, a culture committed to action and never afraid to challenge the status quo. Thus far, Grace Zimmerly has been struck by its “general unconcern for the beaten path.” In fact, she has experienced an undercurrent of openness, which values students from across the spectrum of academic and professional backgrounds.

“While we may have a steep learning curve in certain areas, MBA candidates from nontraditional backgrounds have fresh perspectives and unique experiences to share. Booth’s approach to both academics and culture makes it clear that that’s treated as a given.”


Then, there is the matter of Booth’s flexibility and customization – which received the most praise from the Class of 2020. Technically, LEAD is the only ‘required’ class. However, students must also take one class each in the areas of finance, economics, and statistics. Even here, first years choose their courses and aren’t required to follow a set core curriculum. As a result, they can load up on courses that interest them immediately. Aside from giving them a head start on internships, it speeds up their career transitions to boot. Rather than being restricted to their 591 classmates, they are taking classes with second years early on and first years the following year – potentially tripling their network (and that doesn’t count the EMBA courses in which many full-time MBAs enroll).

Artwork in a first floor study area at Booth.

In short, students are trusted to tailor their coursework, giving them greater control over their education and schedule. That made quite an impression on several first years like Allie Can Lei, who has very specific goals during school and plans after graduation.

“Booth’s flexible curriculum is a huge draw,” she admits. “Given different backgrounds and priorities, it is important to be able to customize our classes and schedule to maximize what we want out of these two years. Personally, there are specific classes I want to take in a certain order, while being able to allocate time for myself to work on my start-up.”


Booth may also boast one of the most laid back campuses too. The Harper Center, the hub of MBA activity, features a world class contemporary art collection. It fosters a stimulating atmosphere where, true to the school culture, students are challenged to think differently about what they see on the surface. By the same token, Booth may be one of the friendliest business school campuses, particularly when it comes to faculty-student relationships. One reason: the faculty is highly accessible, with many holding office hours 5-6 times a week. These interactions go far beyond office visits, says Stacey Kole.

“Big name faculty will go to lunch with students,” she explains in a 2018 interview with P&Q. “That happens because they’re all going to lunch anyway and they’re in the same physical space. The fact that we have one main home for our faculty, and it is also the home of the full-time program affords a level of interaction that very much fits our culture. This place is about ideas. We ask faculty to do brown bag lunches and 300 students will turn up… That dynamic happens here in a way I would argue just doesn’t happen in other programs.”

Long known for being the most academic rigorous of MBA programs, Booth has increasingly become defined by its sense of community. For Daniel Carlini, that started long before LEAD, when the A.T. Kearney consultant was busy making the move from his native Brazil. Being out of the country until a few weeks before the beginning of the classes, I was lagging behind in the process to move to Chicago (get a visa, get an authorization for my dog to travel, finding an apartment, etc.). But I could count on my classmates to help me with the whole process, giving me tips and facilitating my process.”


University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

What’s next for the Class of 2020? With a new women’s rugby team starting up, Grace Zimmerly is looking forward to trying something new…and sticking it to the Kellogg ladies in the process. Ricardo Johnson, an investment manager from South Carolina, plans to tap into the Svider Private Equity Program – not to mention several other investment-themed clubs and competitions. In contrast, Matthew Corcoran is counting the days until Booth’s Global Social Impact Practicum (GSIP), which will take him to India to handle a social impact project.

At the same time, some classmates are scaling back their ambitions. Allie Can Lei, for one, is focused on being “a more mature and thoughtful individual.” At the same time, Grace Zimmerly hasn’t settled on the means…but she certainly knows the long-term goal.

“I hope to have a career that requires solving increasingly challenging problems, but also constantly gives me new skills and shows me new ways of thinking, but I’m not closing any doors,” she says. I’m always happy when I manage to surprise myself.”

What led these professionals to enter business schools? Which programs did they also consider? What strategies did they use to choose their MBA program? What was the major event that defined them? Find the answers to these questions and many more in the in-depth profiles of these incoming MBA candidates. 

Student Hometown Alma Mater Employer
Vanessa Buie West Des Moines, IA University of Minnesota University of Chicago Hospitals
Allie Can Lei Singapore Tufts University Twitter
Daniel Carlini Recife, Brazil Instituto Tecnologico de Aeronautica A.T. Kearney
Margaret (Maggie) Carton Chicago, IL University of Chicago Ariel Investments
Matthew Corcoran Wisconsin Rapids, WI University of Notre Dame U.S. Department of State
Rei Fukushima Kagoshima, Japan University of Tokyo JX Nippon Oil & Energy Asia Pte. Ltd.
Ricardo Johnson Orangeburg, SC Howard University Schroder Adveq
Toby Mills Venice, CA UCLA Goldman Sachs 
Ankita Panwar Meerut, India Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur Sequoia Capital
Sarah Russell Laguna Beach, CA Cal Poly San Luis Obispo HP, Inc.
John Tracey Baltimore, MD United States Naval Academy Ascent Technologies
Grace Zimmerly Waterford, PA Yale University New York / New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA)


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