Donna Caramello (this is a composite based on real, successful Booth applicants I’ve worked with) is thrilled beyond words: she just received the Accepted email from Booth MBA. I recalled how frankly annoyed she sounded when I suggested she consider Booth. “It’s hardcore finance! And I’m trying to get OUT of finance! I’m all about innovation and entrepreneurship, you know that,” she’d said.
When we discussed program selection, MIT, Columbia, and Haas were no-brainers for her reach or stretch targets. All appealed to her in different ways. But she hadn’t checked out Booth – she had fallen for the outdated stereotype. She didn’t know that Booth’s community, culture, and academic program would also be a great fit for her. I just wanted her to give it a look. I often advise my MBA clients to take a look at programs they hadn’t considered. Frequently my clients find these programs appealing, and sometimes my suggestions turn into their first choice and the programs they ultimately attend.
Donna Caramello grew up in affluent Chappaqua, New York. She attended Hamilton College and majored in sociology. She found she enjoyed the stats required for the major more than she’d expected and took some additional stats and probability courses. She loved the academic experience overall, she said, and always felt excited when taking her seat in a new class. Her hard work and diverse course load earned her a 3.55 GPA, which would have been higher if she hadn’t been so busy socializing, volunteering in a literacy program, and skiing. Influenced by peers, she interviewed with investment banks early in her senior year and accepted an analyst role in a NYC investment bank after graduating.
She thrived professionally and, through contacts, after two years moved to private equity. There, she had increasing involvement with portfolio companies. She saw a lot of employee dislocation post acquisition and largely ineffectual – or halfhearted – attempts by her company to address it. During her third year there, her father died. This personal jolt caused her to self-reflect, and she realized that while she was successful, she’d “gone along” rather than thoughtfully directed her career.
At work she saw a need for an enterprise that would reimagine and invigorate the concept and practice of training for both individuals and organizations as rapid change became the norm. She envisioned a service that would prepare people to become independent repositories of cutting-edge skills, knowledge, and capabilities sought after by rather than supplicants to organizations. She wanted to start such a venture, either right after b-school or after a short stint at an ed-tech startup. To prep for b-school she took the GMAT and scored 720.
Why I Saw the Fit Between Donna and Chicago Booth:
First, she fit Booth’s embodiment of and commitment to “3 freedoms”: academic freedom, the freedom to take risks, and the freedom to define one’s impact on the world.
- Academic freedom: Donna’s academic record, while not featuring a stratospheric GPA, shows that she not only values but knows how to make the most of academic freedom. She explored widely, and when a new topic captured her attention, she often followed up with another course or two. The result was diverse pockets of depth beyond her major, which broadened her thought process. The Booth adcom wants people like Donna who will truly optimize the great academic opportunities it offers.
- Freedom to take risks: Donna has not taken many major risks so far, but her goals represent one. When we discussed this aspect of the program, she told me that she also is a fearsome skier, known among her pals as an “insane risk taker.” She thought it probably wasn’t what Booth really meant. I told her it sounded just right! Why? Because it was fueled by passion and she had some interesting things to say about taking insane risks as a skier.
- Freedom to define one’s impact: Donna is taking a dramatic career turn precisely because she intends to define her impact on the world.
Donna also would mesh with Booth’s “Student Experience” which it defines as focused on “intellectual culture” and “community culture.”
- Intellectual culture aligns with the academic freedom discussed above. For Donna, it also means that she will receive the most rigorous analytic training and enjoy an abundance of resources via the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which integrates the intellectual dimension with practical experience and exposure to individual experts and practitioners.
- Community culture reflects what she loved about attending a small liberal arts college, as she is a natural contributor. Not in a flashy, dramatic way, but as someone who, whatever she is doing, thinks and has something to say, considers and enjoys others, and usually prefers a group effort or activity. She is hungry to share her thoughts and concerns from her PE experience that shaped her goals, and she is determined to lure newbies to the slopes. She will of course continue volunteering, either with literacy or with a new focus.
Donna’s Decision to Apply to Chicago Booth:
It took some convincing, but Donna did agree to explore Booth’s program. She was amazed that this renowned “finance school” had the perfect culture and academic offering to meet her entrepreneurial learning needs. A visit to the campus and classes cemented her interest in the program, and her excitement about it enlivened her application essays and interview. Although she was running from rather than to finance and had a slightly lower than average GMAT for Booth, Donna’s ideas, personality, goals, and clear capability won over the adcom. I too was thrilled – but not surprised.
Takeaways for today’s MBA applicants? There are two main ones for different parts of the process:
- All top MBA programs are well-rounded, beyond what the conventional impression may suggest and in different ways. Make the effort to look at all possible options, to allow for a “pleasant surprise” in discovering fit – I’ve seen this serendipity happen often when someone looks beyond the obvious.
- Look at and listen to how the adcom and students define their program’s qualities, culture, and mission. In developing your application respond specifically to these factors to show you belong, at your target program and specifically at Chicago Booth.
Cindy Tokumitsu has advised hundreds of successful applicants, helping them gain acceptance to top MBA, EMBA and other business programs in her 15+ years with Accepted. She looks forward to helping you too!