Meet Chicago Booth’s MBA Class Of 2020

It is called the only class you’re required to take at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Leadership Effectiveness and Development – or LEAD for short – is the cornerstone of the Booth curriculum. Think of it as the embodiment of Booth’s “Trust Your Students” and “Pay It Forward” culture. It just comes with a twist: The course is taught by second year MBAs, not Booth’s decorated faculty.

In reality, these facilitators – or “facils” – are culture carriers. Carefully chosen and trained, facils create and teach the LEAD content in two quarters, the longest course in the Booth handbook. Broken into 60 student cohorts, the course opens with an outdoor ropes exercise and concludes with a leadership challenge. In between, first-years roll through hands-on exercises related to such topics as team dynamics, diversity, ethics, and interpersonal communication. In the process, facils practice leading, setting the bar for what’s expected for those who follow…including the next crop of facils.


It is a rite of passage that drew several members of the Class of 2020 to Hyde Park. Allie Can Lei, a Twitter sales strategist, looked forward to bonding with her classmates at LEAD. Grace Zimmerly, who most recently worked inside NYPD headquarters, appreciates how the LEAD approach is more inclusive, “expansive enough to include experiences outside of the VP – associate — analyst structure.” For Vanessa Buie, a general surgery resident at nearby University of Chicago Hospitals, LEAD was the missing piece in her training. ’

“As a physician I do not believe our training gives enough emphasis to developing hard leadership skills,” she admits. “I am looking forward to learning more about myself, how my personality and behaviors impact the way I lead, and ultimately how to become an effective and inspiring leader.”

Chicago Booth graduation

At Booth, leadership comes in all forms. John Tracey, a U.S. Navy platoon commander, led a security mission in Central America with a tight deadline and limited resources. Similarly, Matthew Corcoran, a foreign services officer in the U.S. Department of State, learned to adapt to unfamiliar – and dangerous – terrain when he accepted a two year tour in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was despite possessing no experience in the region, let alone any command of the language. Then again, Corcoran wasn’t the only member of the 2020 Class to step out of his comfort zone.


“Right after graduating college, I decided to take improv at Second City,” shares Maggie Carton, a research analyst who is awaiting the results of her level III CFA exam. “I took Level A through Level E at Second City, preforming three shows live for friends and family. Improv pushed me out of my comfort zone. I usually like structured presentations that are planned carefully in advance. Improv forces you to let go and think more about your improv ensemble than yourself. Since then, I have tried to embrace a “yes, and” attitude.”

In other words, you never know quite what to expect from the 2020 Class. Going in, Grace Zimmerly expected business school to be an all-day round of talks about IPOs and P/E ratios. Instead, the talks veered into areas that she never would’ve expected. “If I had to define the common factor across my classmates, it would be intense curiosity, broadly applied,” she explains. “No idea is too off the wall. And while that kind of intellectual openness can be terrifying, it’s also exhilarating. Boothies are an idiosyncratic bunch, in the best way possible, and that contributes to an active and fast-paced learning environment.”

Idiosyncratic? Vanessa Buie uses a five cent word to describe her classmates. She calls them “full” – as in “full of life, energy, passion – you name it, they’ve got it, in abundance.” Maggie Carton is equally enthusiastic about her peers. “The classmates I have met thus far are kind, welcoming, passionate, and ambitious. A killer combination!”


Atrium of the Harper Center, the main building of the Booth School of Business

Speaking of combinations, you’ll find class members with rich lives that don’t conform to script. Buie, for one, was a Minnesota Vikings cheerleader before joining medical school. While serving in the Congo, Matthew Corcoran took a stab at being a boat captain traveling up the Congo River. In fact, Corcoran has already visited 50 countries, a list that is strangely missing both the United Kingdom and Mexico. Perhaps he could swap stories with Sarah Russell, an HP engineer with a similar wanderlust. “As an avid traveler, I have found that the three most helpful phrases to learn in any language are “Hello”, “Thank You”, and “Cheers!” – So far, I have managed to pick up these phrases in 11 languages (and counting!).”

Travel isn’t the only form of adventure that appeals to these first years. Ankita Panwar lists surfing, sky-diving, scuba-diving [and] canyoning, among her hobbies. She’ll find a kindred spirit in Toby Mills, a Goldman Sachs associate who has “surfed, skied, skated, and snowboarded in the same day.” Think that’s pressure? Try being Maggie Carton. “I was a driver in a Presidential Motorcade – I have never driven so fast in my life!”

If there is a theme in the Class of 2020, it would be this: They aren’t afraid to take risks. Take Matthew Corcoran. After seven years in the U.S. State Department, he headed off to New Mexico to lead a Congressional campaign for his college roommate, Paul Moya. Then there’s Grace Zimmerly. Before enrolling at Booth, she worked on the New York-New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which is managed by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Here, she quickly realized that it took nearly six months to turn over fatal overdose data to leadership. She quickly reduced this lag to 18 hours. In the process, she was able to provide real time data needed for law enforcement for “allocating resources, developing timely and actionable strategies, and identifying emerging threats.”


It is students like Zimmerly who increasingly fit the Booth profile. They are problem-solvers who apply a data-driven, analytical approach to identify patterns, and develop tools that offer clear decision-making pathways. That’s exactly what Zimmerly is determined to build upon during her next two years at Booth.

“We need people who understand the minute operations of our companies and institutions and society as they are,” she says. “However, we also need people who can look at that status quo, break it apart, and rebuild the pieces into something better… Regardless of sector, management and leadership in the modern world needs more creative thinkers and effective actors. I think those are some of the most important skills that the modern MBA education provides – it’s not just economics and corporate finance anymore.”

In other words, Booth is a place to use data to solve the toughest problems. This multidisciplinary, analytical approach has long been Booth’s calling card, even as it has sometimes been reduced to a “finance school.” It is a methodology that appeals to the never-satisfied; it requires constant testing, revision, and defense – and often produces the longest-lasting solutions that touch the largest swath of stakeholders.

Chicago Booth students in class. Courtesy photo

“Of the many factors that made Chicago Booth my ideal business school,” writes Sarah Russell, “the one that was most important to me was Booth’s emphasis on an analytical approach to business. Coming from a highly technical background, I found this methodology to mesh well with how I approach my current industry challenges. Starting my MBA marks a big shift in my career, and Booth’s style of teaching allows me to draw upon and expand what I have already learned in the engineering industry.”


Chicago Booth has traditionally ranked among the most popular business schools for applications. That remained true during the 2017-2018 cycle. Like most business schools, Booth experienced a drop in applications. This year, the number of applicants fell by 9% to 4,289 – a number more in line with the 2013 and 2014 classes. Despite this, the full-time program grew by 11 students in the 2020 Class. It also cut the number of applicants who were tendered offers, reducing its acceptance rate to 22.9%.

Such fluctuations had little impact on the 591 member class. Average GMATs actually rose a point to 731, just a point shy of Stanford GSB and two points above Harvard Business School. To put that number into context, it is a 16 point improvement over the 2013 Class. That said, Booth’s median GMAT fell 10 points to 730. Average GPAs, however, barely changed, slipping just a hundredth of a point to 3.60.

Another improvement came among women. The percentage of women in the 2020 Class rose two points over the previous class. Even more, this 42% represents a seven point improvement over the 2011-2015 classes, which were stuck on the 35% mark each year. The percentage of minority students also climbed four points. Still, the Class of 2020 (as a whole) will be remembered for a steep drop in international students – and Chicago Booth was hardly immune. The percentage of international students tumbled six points to 30% — the school’s lowest mark in over a decade. Overall, Americans account for a 70% share of the class, followed by Asia (13.4%),

In previous classes, business-related majors enjoyed a slight advantage in being accepted. However, that shifted slightly with the Class of 2020. Here, business majors compose 24% of the class, down five points. This five point swing was made up by engineering, which jumped from 19% to 24% over the previous year. True to the school’s economics roots, economics majors represented the largest segment of the class with 25% — the same as the previous year’s class. The percentage of liberal arts majors rose three points to 15%, with physical sciences students taking up another 7%.

Professionally, consultants account for nearly a quarter of Boothies at 24%. Statistically, that leads the class, though that is due to how Chicago Booth segments its classes. If financial services (21%) and private equity and venture capital (9%) were combined, these students would represent 30% of the class. Students with backgrounds in non-profit and government (9%), technology (9%), and healthcare (6%) also represent significant blocs of the incoming class.


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