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Real Humans of the Chicago Booth MBA Class of 2023

chicago mba class of 2023

chicago mba class of 2023Bryce Wiatrak, Chicago Booth MBA Class of 2023

Age: 30
Hometown: River Hills, WI/Franklin, TN
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Yale University, American Studies
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Wine Industry (7 years as a wine journalist and critic)

Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now?
I was given the tremendous opportunity to spend my twenties travelling the world, tasting and writing about wine, and getting to know my industry inside and out, on a global scale. While I still do have a handful of journalistic goals to check off, I realized I was eager to contribute to the wine industry in new ways, and ideally with my own venture. The MBA seemed like a natural fit to develop myriad skills and to connect with classmates and faculty with wholly different professional experiences. Having spent my entire adult life in a wonderful, but rather niche industry, I felt it important to give myself two years to take a step back and observe how other industries and individuals approach challenges so I can take that newfound knowledge back to the wine industry and innovate.

Why did you choose Chicago Booth? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
Several key factors brought me to Booth. Whereas many of my classmates have many much more practical skills than I do, I knew that for me the strength of the curriculum was my first and foremost priority to help fill in many of my knowledge gaps. Booth prides itself in its academic rigor, as well as the flexibility to cater the program to your needs. Further, I was drawn to the robust entrepreneurial opportunities available through the Polsky Center. The entrepreneurship program takes an interdisciplinary approach that leverages the full resources available across the University of Chicago. The New Venture Challenge alone, as one of the world’s most successful accelerator programs, was reason enough to join. Lastly, I had spent the better part of a decade building a successful brand for myself within the wine space. I knew that I couldn’t go MIA from wine for two years, which left really only a handful of cities in the United States where I could both study and remain active in my industry. Chicago, being one of the largest wine markets with ample trade tastings and a healthy local beverage industry, was among them. 

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2023?
Well I would certainly categorize myself as a non-traditional candidate, I came to business school with profound depth of a domain expertise in wine and beverage. Wine, by its nature, is a renaissance person’s field of study—existing at the confluence of biology, geology, chemistry, politics, economics, history, religion, art, and philosophy. As a journalist, and as a wine journalist, I have been trained to look at situations from so many different perspectives, and I am able to bring that analytical mindset to many new applications in the classroom.

Tell us a fun fact that didn’t get included on your application:
For a musical in middle school, I taught myself how to tap dance by watching internet tutorials.

Post-MBA career interests:
While there are few things I can say for sure, I know with certainty that I will stay in the beverage industry. I am actively pursuing all the entrepreneurial opportunities that Booth has to offer, while also looking at various alcohol marketing internships. Simultaneous to my MBA, I am also a candidate in the Master of Wine (MW) program—the highest certification for the wine trade. The brutal four-day exam this year falls…the week following spring finals. My goal is to earn both the MW and the MBA by graduation. 

Advice for Current Prospective Applicants:
Think long and hard about why you specifically want and need the MBA. The degree is a lot of money and a lot of work, and earning one is not a barrier for everybody. That said, it is an extremely versatile academic experience. For certain applicants who, like myself, had a somewhat delayed MBA epiphany moment and hadn’t spent a half-decade or longer steering their lives in preparation for the MBA, the experience can be surprising and rewarding in such a diversity of ways.

–What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
Study hard for the GMAT—especially if you come from a less traditional background. Like it or not, the GMAT is a very simple, numeric opportunity to prove you can compete with those with more typical pre-MBA careers. It is worth making the effort to do well.

–What is one thing you would change or do differently?
Start your financial planning now. There are so many ways to spend money as an MBA student—and far beyond the mere cost of tuition and basic living expenses. A little financial cushion can go a long way to make the most out of your time in business school.

–What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
It’s been a minute since I was in school last, so going through all the bureaucratic steps of digging up my transcripts, determining semester GPAs, calculating my income at various different points of several jobs, etc. was certainly a rather laborious endeavor. Turning on some Joni Mitchell and pouring myself a good glass of Riesling helped cut through the tedium.

What is your initial impression of the Chicago Booth students/culture/community?
I have been absolutely elated to find such a rich community of students, faculty, and staff that truly embody a pay-it-forward attitude. Even before I enrolled, everyone at the Polsky Center was so accessible and eager to talk with my one-on-one about the resources available. That same spirit extends to so many of the students who matriculate here. Everyone I’ve met is eager to learn of your passions and lend a hand where they can to help you achieve your goals.

What is one thing you have learned about Chicago Booth that has surprised you?
There is an abundance of food available at effectively any given moment. If you don’t want to pay (any more) for a meal during your time at school, you could probably strategize some grand plan with success. There are two weekly student happy hours, too, which offer a great opportunity to relax and congregate with your classmates. 

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your personal application or admissions process in any way? If so, how?
If it hadn’t been for COVID-19, I’m not entirely confident I would have applied to business school. Before the pandemic, I was on the road around half the year or so for work. Once my job was stripped of most of its glamor, I discovered I was ready for more out of my professional goals. Only then did I seriously consider an MBA. 

What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
Accounting. I’m presently taking financial accounting, and, my word, I had absolutely no clue how intricate a world of rules accounting is. I have an immense new respect for all the accountants in my life—and will thank them here, in advance for helping my get ready for finals. 

What is one thing you are most excited about in your first year?
I cannot wait to participate in the New Venture Challenge. Having recently attended the NVC kickoff event, I am both daunted and utterly inspired by the students who have successfully competed in past years. I imagine it will be one of the most challenging and ultimately fulfilling experiences of my life to date, and I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to channel everything I’ve learned in the classroom and in my career into creating something real and new.

Posted in: Real Humans of MBA Class of 2023, Real Humans of MBA Students

Schools: U. Chicago Booth

About the Author

Lauren Wakal

Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.

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