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Rebecca Thomson is a nationally known speaker and influencer with over thirteen years experience in the real estate industry. She is Principal at Thomson Real Estate Group and provides sounds consulting on high-level organizational decisions, C-level hiring, and strategic planning. She is also a Chicago Booth Executive MBA student attending classes at the downtown Chicago campus.

There I went lugging my box of Kleenex from room to room as I battled a particularly unsavory summer cold (compliments of my 6 month old son). Not exactly the first impression I had envisioned for the start of my Executive MBA Program at Chicago Booth, but the blend of excitement and anxiety succeeded in overriding sleep deprivation and a compromised immune system.

A colleague once told me that being a part of the Executive MBA program was the best gift she’d ever given herself.  One year in, I concur.  What astounds me is how fleeting it is.  The past year has flown by and before I know it, it will be over.  I’m jealous of the students who are just getting started with something that is going to profoundly change their lives.

As a Boothie, you will be surrounded by some of the most interesting, funny, successful, talented individuals from around the world.  The Booth faculty and curriculum all contribute to this being an elite MBA program but your peer group is what makes this experience transcendental.  The first week of the program – Kick-Off Week – brings together all first-year students from the Chicago, London and Hong Kong campuses and provides the starting point for many close relationships to follow. Here’s my advice for networking with 240 of your new closest friends in one week:

There’s an app for that

WhatsApp is the place where everything happens in the Executive MBA Program. Whether it is people planning a run, grabbing a drink, or staying in-touch during Kick-Off Week and beyond, this is an essential part of student-to-student communication. 

A head start pays off

Doing as much of your reading in advance so you can have more free time in the evenings during class week really helps you get to know your classmates.  I was admitted closer to our start date and was beyond stressed about the Financial Accounting course (Did I mention I was an English major?!) and still had plenty of reading to do. I arrived early every morning, ate a quick breakfast, and tried to get a jump start on the next day’s assignments.  It worked out well!

Bond with your study group   

The sooner you can connect with your study group, the better.  I was fortunate that mine hit it off and we bonded over cocktails and great food at an intimate group dinner at a Chicago steakhouse.  We were all very different but developed a profound appreciation and respect for one another.  Being upfront about our expectations was critical and the groups that thrived communicated well and struck a balance between studying and socializing.

Avoid your hotel room

Plan to stay up late and get up early.  For some of these people, the next time you will see them won’t be until Elective Weeks during the second year. Make the most of it by getting to know as many people as possible and dedicating the time to hang out.  Yes, you may want to crawl back into bed but fight the urge; you only have this one week!  Trust me, you will be glad you did.

Ask for and offer help  

Financial Accounting was far from my area of expertise and I remember anxiously cramming for that first quiz.  I was amazed at just how supportive this group can be.  Some of us can crush a paper and others think in numbers.  Everyone is here to grow and evolve and we are all in this together.  Asking for help and offering it up when you have expertise or someone looks a little stressed can go a long way towards really crystalizing relationships.

Soak it up

You will make friendships that will benefit you professionally and be personally rewarding in this program. This is the gift you are giving yourself and it won’t come without sacrifice. Leverage the program to grow as a person, to expand your network, and to bring some fun into your life.