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Real Humans of the Chicago Booth MBA Class of 2023

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chicago mba class of 2023Emily McDuff, Chicago Booth MBA Class of 2023

 Age: 28
Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama
Undergraduate Institution and Major: The University of Virginia, Civil & Environmental Engineering and French
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 1 year as an English teacher in France, 4 years as an energy and sustainability engineer in Washington, D.C.

Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now?
My background is in energy efficiency and sustainability engineering, and I loved the work that I got to do in energy auditing, climate action planning, and resilience analysis as a consultant with AECOM in Washington, D.C. What was frustrating about energy consulting is that many of the projects we designed and proposed were never implemented because of challenges with financing, contracting, or negotiations. I decided to attend business school to gain skills in these areas so I can better support and implement clean energy projects in the future. Also, my partner and I had both wanted to pursue an MBA for a long time, and we are now fellow 1Y Boothies together!

Why did you choose Chicago Booth? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
There is a neon sign hanging in the Harper Center, Booth’s Hyde Park campus, that reads: “Why are you here and not somewhere else?” so this question is something that we are reminded to regularly reflect on as we go through the program. I was already aware of Chicago Booth’s strong, STEM-oriented academic program, but something I came to appreciate as I went through the MBA application process that ultimately led me to choose Booth is its pay-it-forward culture. Everyone I met – from students, to professors, to interviewers – not only had an amazing background and story, but was genuinely kind, curious, and helpful. That mentality has only been magnified since arriving on campus.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2023?
What I love about the Class of 2023 is that nearly 50% of our class was born outside of the U.S., and 39% of our class is international. Everyone I have met in our class is not only smart but fascinating, and has so many experiences to share both in and outside of the classroom.

Tell us a fun fact that didn’t get included on your application:
In undergrad at the University of Virginia, I was one of the founding members of an a cappella group called The No Tones, for people who are performers at heart, but terrible at singing. We got to perform alongside all of the “real” a cappella groups and served as a reminder that you should do whatever you want to in life, even if you aren’t the most traditionally talented at it!

Post-MBA career interests:
My long-term dream is to be a Chief Sustainability Officer for a large company or university campus, but my immediate post-MBA career interest is to work on large-scale renewable energy and battery storage implementation, either directly for an energy developer or with an in-house sustainability team of a large company.

Advice for Current Prospective Applicants:
What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
Take the time as you go through your application essays to reflect on your life, connect the dots, and appreciate your journey so far.

–What is one thing you would change or do differently?
Don’t succumb to other people’s dreams for you — apply to the schools that speak to your own heart and interests, and then choose the one that makes the most sense for you; you’re making a major investment in yourself, and you should be the one steering that decision.

–What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
Recorded video responses! It is tough to talk to a screen, so my partner and I pretended like we were having a conversation with each other while the other person filmed the video.

What is your initial impression of the Chicago Booth students/culture/community?
There is a lot of intentionality around community at Booth, which I appreciate in particular after over a year of fairly isolated living due to COVID. I also love that the academic focus here is on learning and growing, rather than getting good grades. We have a grade non-disclosure policy at Booth, which students vote on upholding each year, and this encourages you to take classes you may not otherwise have if you were worried about grades.

What is one thing you have learned about Chicago Booth that has surprised you?
Our classes are all three hours long, which I was not aware of during the application process. Our professors do a great job, though, of keeping the classes engaging and interactive, so the classroom time flies by and it allows us to have more free time during the week for recruitment, study groups, and club participation.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your personal application or admissions process in any way? If so, how?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an accelerator — if you already had an itch to change something about your day-to-day life, you likely had more time and space to reflect and act on that in the past 18 months. For me, I used my time quarantining to take the GMAT, apply to business schools, and take the professional engineering exam. The pandemic pushed me to pursue the next chapter of my education and career possibly earlier than I would have pre-COVID, and it also gave me the time to go through the application process in an intentional rather than rushed way.

What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
Not having enough time to meet everyone I want to meet or do everything I want to do (it’s a good problem to have)

What is one thing you are most excited about in your first year?
It has been thrilling to be in an in-person classroom setting again and to learn from so many subject matter thought leaders. I am taking an amazing elective class right now through the law school called “Law and Economics of Natural Resources” taught by Dr. Richard Sandor, which is all about how to use legal and market levers to drive GHG emission reductions. I am most excited about the chance to learn new things, both in subject areas that I am passionate about and that are completely new to me.

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.