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Real Humans of Chicago Booth’s MBA Class of 2021

Keith D. Johnson, Chicago Booth’s MBA Class of 2021

Keith D. Johnson, Chicago Booth’s MBA Class of 2021

Age: 28
Hometown: Akron, Ohio
Undergraduate Institution and Major: The Ohio State University, Finance

Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry):
After finishing my undergraduate education, I spent two years in the GE Capital Financial Management Program completing rotations within Real Estate, Treasury, and Aviation Services. I then transitioned into management consulting and spent the following three and a half years at The Hackett Group aligned to the Strategy & Business Transformation practice.

Why business school? Why now?
Obtaining an MBA has been a critical component to my long-term career strategy and growth since college. During the initial phases of my MBA journey, I did not have an exact timeline for graduate school or what my specific career plan would be after graduation. Thus, I knew that I didn’t want to make such a big decision on which schools to target until I was clear on my career plan and what I truly wanted to gain from an MBA program.

My professional experience in conjunction with attending numerous MBA events and school visits over the past few years has helped me to solidify my career goals and identify what attributes of an MBA program would best help me to achieve these goals.

Working in consulting has helped me realize my passion for working in diverse teams to solve complex business problems and confirm my desire to build a career in strategy. Furthermore, this realization has also highlighted a few development areas I would like to work on before taking my career to the next level.

Completing a full-time MBA program is essential to improving my development areas and critical to my future success.

While at The Hackett Group, I gained invaluable experience serving global clients and working in various capacities on client engagement teams. However, I still knew that I wanted more experience leading business teams as well as more structured training around analyzing and utilizing data to make business decisions.

Focusing on these areas during my MBA and seeking out experiential learning opportunities when possible would be key to closing these gaps.

Why Chicago Booth? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
There were a few key attributes I wanted in an MBA program that ultimately led me to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. As a proponent of flexibility and freedom of choice, Booth stood out among the other programs in its ability to give each student the freedom set their own path and make their own decisions on which resources and opportunities would best fit their needs.

With my MBA goals in mind, Booth offered the concentrations, hands-on labs, and international opportunities aligned to the skills and experiences I wanted to gain during my MBA. Booth also places almost a third of the graduating class into consulting each year, and I felt the stellar placement would be a tail wind as I recruit for consulting opportunities.

Lastly, I wanted to attend an MBA program within or near a large city with vibrant neighborhoods and diverse communities. Over the years I’ve grown to love Chicago and everything the city has to offer. The Booth community also does a great job of engaging with local communities and businesses to help students make the most of their MBA experience.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2021?
My most valuable attribute is my ability to make a genuine connection with people and encourage them to feel more comfortable connecting with others who may be much different than themselves.

The energy I bring to every interaction and person I meet is contagious and I believe this will positively impact my classmates as they form relationships throughout the program and invest their time and knowledge to each other’s success.

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application?
During my study abroad trip to China my senior year of college, I recited Emily Dickinson’s poem “Because I could not stop for Death” at a welcome lunch in front of my classmates and the Yi community members in attendance.

One of the Yi attendees was an English literature professor at a Sichuan university, and she asked me to come with her to record a set of poems written by English authors at the recording studio on campus.

The fourteen poems I recited would be used during her future classes to help her graduate students hear the recital of the poems from a native English speaker.

Post-MBA career interests?
Management consulting in the short term and then transition into corporate strategy/business development in the long term, potentially within the media and entertainment space.

Advice to current prospective applicants:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process? 
During my five-year MBA search, I invested a lot of time and financial resources attending seminars and prospective student weekends and meeting current students and alumni.

The upfront work of understanding the differences between all the top MBA programs and how each aligned to my career goals greatly reduced the level of uncertainty and stress when it came time to apply. I was able to narrow down my list of school applications to a manageable size and write much more genuine and detailed essays for each school.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
Even though I narrowed down my school list to a manageable size, I still think I should have had more faith in my ability to get into my top choices instead of applying to five additional schools.

I know that MBA admissions professionals and other admit resources tell you to identify a set of reach, target, and “safe” schools, but at the end of it all you should only apply to schools you are seriously considering attending and schools that fit your MBA and career goals. If I had taken my own advice, I would have saved myself the stress of additional essays and interviews.

–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
Although I typically perform well during interviews, I would still skip that aspect of applications if I could; I tend to over-prepare and overthink interviews. Not having to worry about that stress would have been nice.

I do think interviews are valuable in the big picture of your application, but some of them just seemed to confirm the school’s perception of you from what you already stated in your application. Other interviews seemed like they wanted to simply know if I was a likeable person.

What helped me get through MBA interviews was a fair amount of school-specific preparation, interview practice with other MLT fellows, and doing things that helped me to relax and clear my mind. Going to the movies and hitting the gym is what did it for me!

What is your initial impression of Chicago Booth’s students/culture/community? 
Although Booth isn’t known for its culture and community, personally I find it very friendly and genuine. Even before applying to Booth, I reached out to students in various leadership roles on campus and all of them were happy to speak with me and share any information that would help me determine if Booth was the right fit.

I also like how Booth creates and encourages channels of interaction among students, which makes it very easy to meet fellow classmates and allows classmates to reach out to each other for guidance or help.

One thing you have learned about Chicago Booth that has surprised you?
What has surprised me so far about Chicago Booth is how determined so many students and student groups are in sharing their knowledge and helping one another answer questions and provide guidance. Whether its course selection and bidding, buying and selling furniture, recruiting, or just more insight into all things Chicago, there are so many students and staff who want to help you and make you feel like a valued member in the Booth community.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
I’m most anxious about preparing to obtain an internship at one of my target firms. I’m confident in my ability to be successful, but I do believe that I will need to be effective in case prep and make the most of the resources available in the Management Consulting Group student club.

Thing you are most excited about in your first year?
As an avid traveler I’m most excited about seeing more of America and the world with my fellow classmates! Booth has a ton of student-led treks and trips throughout the year that are on my radar.

Posted in: Feature Main, Real Humans of MBA Class of 2021, Real Humans of MBA Students

Schools: U. Chicago Booth

About the Author


Jonathan Pfeffer

Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as Contributing Writer at MetroMBA and Contributing Editor at Clear Admit, he was also a co-founder of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.

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