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MBA Journal: B-School Update

Taking Business School in Stride

The best advice I could ever give a business school applicant would be to surround yourself with people who know the process. After unsuccessfully applying to business school, I knew that I needed help. Luckily, someone informed me of Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT). The organization's mission is to increase the number of minorities at the C-level. MLT's program, MBA Prep, introduces minorities to the MBA and assists them with the application process. As a participant, you are assigned a personal coach, who works with you to identify your passions and crafting "your story." My coach, Holly, was absolutely amazing. She was so inspiring. In fact, she was one of the major factors in my decision to apply to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (Booth Full-Time MBA Profile).

"I think you would be a great match for Booth," Holly told me, and I knew she was right. I had long admired the school's collaborative culture and its flexible and quantitatively rigorous curriculum, but the idea of applying to "the best business school in the galaxy" was very intimidating. With the support of my family, friends, Holly, and the entire MLT organization, however, I applied to Booth and was accepted.

Quitting your job and moving is a big deal for anyone, but when you are married with a one-year-old son, it's an even bigger deal. Will my spouse find a job? Will we be able to sell or rent out our home? What will we do after graduation? My husband, a Navy reservist, and I had discussed our plans and felt the good far outweighed the bad. And just when we were ready to make the move, my husband was notified he was being deployed to the Middle East for a year. I wasn't sure if I could handle all the responsibilities of being a parent and school. I seriously considered staying put, but my family volunteered to assist me, and I made the move to Chicago.

Building Teams

At Booth, all first-year MBA students are required to complete an orientation program, Core. The program begins with Leadership Outdoor Experience (LOE), two days of fun, yet challenging, team building. Speaking of teams, it is at LOE that students first meet their cohort and squad.

The incoming class is divided into cohorts of 60 people, and each cohort is divided into squads of seven or eight people. My squad (aka Squad Awesome) consists of three women, five men, three international students, and a variety of personalities. Because we are such a diverse group, there are always differing opinions, but I like it because it forces me look at things from another person's point of view.

One of the most interesting parts of Core was course bidding. At Booth we bid for courses. As a first-year student, you are given 8,000 points (which may sound like a lot, but it's not, especially when some courses go for more than 7,000 points). You can use as little or as many points as you like to obtain your desired schedule and, like AT&T wireless minutes, your points rollover. Each quarter you receive an additional 2,000 points for each class you complete. If you're lucky, you can get all of your courses during the first phase. However, that's not the norm. Most people were still bidding in the third phase. It's really a chaotic process, but it's fair.

Application Headaches

Nothing prepares you for business school like the application process. The time-management skills I developed to navigate the application process successfully have been so beneficial to me during the first quarter of business school. When classes first started, everything seemed manageable. I simply went to class, met with my study groups, and came home to complete homework. Then recruiting started.

Now, my typical day starts at 6 a.m. Since I live downtown, I take the train to Hyde Park and arrive on campus shortly after 8 a.m. I have classes only two days per week, but there is always something going on that requires me to be on campus. There are study group meetings, lunch & learns, corporate conversations, coffee chats, company dinners, etc. Most days I don't leave campus until after 8 p.m. Once I get home, I "Skype" with my husband, who is currently serving in Kuwait (before he left we made an agreement that we would attempt to communicate with each other every day). After our conversation, I prepare for the next day.

So far this has been a fun, yet demanding, journey, and I am excited to see what else is in store for me.

Urshala Brown-Bowles is enrolled in the full-time MBA program at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business with an expected graduation in 2011. Earning an undergraduate degree in computer science in 2000 from Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, Brown-Bowles' last position before starting business school was as a senior software engineer at L-3 Communications.

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