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Spotlight on Student Life: Armed Forces Group


Join our live chat with current students from the Chicago Booth Armed Forces group (AFG).Participate in a discussion about their Booth experience and how it has made an impact on their careers. Learn more about how the panelists navigate academics and recruiting, as well as the dynamic and supportive community at Booth.

 Chat Transcripts

How are Booth's Admissions and Financial Aid teams at working you through the various hurdles involved with GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon funding? Positive experience working with VA and university?

* Michael Sanchez: Hey Great Question. The Booth financial aid team doesn’t really specialize in GI Bill specifics. There is a great employee at UChicago that handles everything VA related for the entire University. She makes the process very easy and pretty much handles everything for the entire time you are here. The Dean of Booth, Dean Ragan, just announced that starting next year; Booth is increasing its Yellow Ribbon contributions for those that qualify to cover all tuition expenses. This was great news!With respect to working with the VA, all of that initial work is done before starting at Booth and while you are transitioning out of the military. The VA is pretty good at making things painless with respect to education benefits once you are properly enrolled. Once you are enrolled, you simply work with the woman on campus that handles all of the VA education benefits for all veterans enrolled at UChicago.


Guest: Thank you very much for putting this together. I wanted to start by asking if there were any specific parts of academics that you felt a significant gap in coming from the military. And if so, what do you recommend doing in the next couple of months to mitigate that?

* Alex Panosian: I was cognizant that I had less exposure to finance as a topic and to some technical skills like using excel to build models and power points slides. I did an online Coursera accounting class for some basic familiarization and did the Booth pre-MBA accounting class, which was great and really increased my understanding of how the financial statements work together. Based on taking those classes seriously, I actually felt ahead of some of my peers on that dynamic once classes actually started. Overall, I found the technical skills just come from being here and working through case examples.


Guest: Thanks for taking time to answer our questions!  If any of you have families, could you please comment on the transition to Booth from this aspect?

* Alex Panosian: Thanks for your question, when my wife and I moved to Chicago my son was 4 weeks old (6 months when classes actually started). Thankfully, I got here very early and that gave our family plenty of time to adjust to the new city. Having a child does change the dynamic a bit because the nighttime social events are less desirable for me. That is where the AFG is great, because there are quite a few vets that have kids or that are in serious relationships and want to do other social things. Honestly though, it is awesome because my schedule is so flexible and that lets me spend a ton of time with my son, which is a priority for me. I try to take one day during the business week for him and I to just explore and check out Chicago. Of course, after graduation all our schedules will be much busier, so I’m incredibly thankful to have that time now.


Guest: Is the Tech Trek done on a yearly basis?

* Aviv Shalgi: The Tech Trek is done every December right before Winter break. Most of the participants are 1st year students, but it is opened to everyone so sometimes there are 2nd year students joining as well.


Guest: What is the process for getting integrated with the AFG in the fall?

* Alex Panosian: Hi, getting integrated into the AFG is very easy. If you come to first day, we will have a table for you to come talk with us. Then, during the summer, the co-chairs will start to send you information on pre-MBA internships/fellowships. Typically, we also send out a survey to gauge your career interests. For some of the more established paths like consulting or banking, we have primers set-up to get you geared up as quickly as possible. That also goes out during the summer. Once school starts, we meet everyone at the student group fair during orientation. Then all the events and mentorship from 2y’s begins. There is an incredible amount of support from other vet students.

Guest: I would like to know about tech courses in Booth? Is there a strong offer of courses related to tech management?

* Aviv Shalgi: There is a wide variety of classes that are relevant for students focusing on Tech (myself included). Classes are mostly found under the underlying topic that is taught, so strategy, entrepreneurship, finance, M&A, etc. You can look up the curriculum on the Chicago Booth website for more information.


Guest: Why did you choose Booth versus other MBA programs?

* -Michael Sanchez: Hey great question! There are many reasons why I chose Booth over other MBA programs. The main things for me were that I loved Chicago as a city more that Philadelphia. Also, I am a little older and I really valued the fact that I could choose my own schedule and course of study. The flexible curriculum is one of the main things that separates us from other business schools.


Also, I realized after attending Booth and speaking to some of my friends at other business schools that Booth truly is the most academic MBA school in my opinion. This is something I value tremendously. The academic rigor is excellent and second to none. That is not to say that we don’t have fun here at Booth. I am going on a class ski trip in a few weeks and Israel for spring break with 100 other Boothies. The school is great and really does have it all, both from an academic perspective and fun perspective.


Guest: For those of us that will be interviewing, is it preferable to come to campus for the interviews? Are there any tips you had in regards to interview preparation specific to Booth?

* Cristina Ochoa: Hi! If you are able to come to campus for an interview, you will be interviewed by one of our Admissions Fellows, who are second year students. Don't worry if you are unable to come to campus. We will help arrange an interview in your city with a Booth alum. In regards to interview prep, just be as relaxed as you can be. The interview should feel more like a conversation than an interview. We really want to know why you think Booth would be a good fit for you based on your experience and future goals.


Guest: If I have a period of time during the interview window when I will be unavailable because of military training, would it be too presumptuous to inform the admissions committee of these dates - or better to wait for a possible invitation to interview and then work to adjust?

* Eddie Pulliam: It is best that you wait until you get the invitation.


Guest: How big is the AFG? How often do you meet?

* Alex Panosian: The AFG has approximately 85 members. Roughly, 50 are U.S. vets, 25 IDF, and the rest from a few different countries. Regarding events, there are regular meetings across different dynamics. We try to have informal meet-ups where students and alumni are invited downtown once a month or so. Then we also have regular recruiting support events. For example, with the vets interested in consulting we had two workshops and a formal mentorship program to facilitate case prep. We have a dining-out every year that 200 people attend, which is our largest event. We have a Blackhawks game coming up in a few weeks that we are very excited about. We try to have many touchpoints.  


Guest: Is there a specific admissions rep that is the main P.O.C. for veterans? I have found this to be the case at a couple other programs and it proved helpful.

* Kelsey Bergren: Hi, thank you for joining our chat today. Yes, Donna Swinford would be the admissions point of contact, for veterans.


Guest: Which aspect of your military experience have you leveraged the most throughout your transition to business school?

* Michael Sanchez: Hey great question! I think that we as veterans really know how to manage our time and responsibilities more so than others. The first year of business school, you will be very busy getting acclimated to classes and recruiting for internships. Many of your non-veteran classmates will be highly stressed, but as a veteran, you will have an upper hand on dealing with this stress and balancing out your life. Also, many people can be shy during class and not want to speak up. Veterans love speaking up and providing great discussion points. Finally, vets here at Booth know how to hunker down and get the job done and are frequently relied upon by non-veteran classmates to provide some structure to study groups.


Guest: What kind of relationships does AFG maintain with industry that help during the recruitment process? Does the Booth veterans network stay active after leaving?

* Aviv Shalgi: That’s a great question. The AFG network is very strong with alumni. We have at least 4-5 face-to-face events with current AFGers and alumni throughout the year (mainly in Chicago) and alumni are super responsive to existing students’ requests (connections, recruiting advice, case prep, etc.) through our joint GroupMe chat.


In addition, the AFG co-chairs organize small group ‘Lunch & Learns’ together with 10-15 firms each year from various industries (in addition to their wider-scale corporate conversation for the entire class), so our vets could have an easier time communicating with these firms, asking more questions, or other types of questions, and networking with the companies of your choice. In these meetings, we usually bring vets working in these firms together with Booth alum – so student vets could get a wider picture of the roles and the company.


Guest: Any recommendation on neighborhoods to live for vets with families?

* Alex Panosian: There are a lot of great neighborhoods in Chicago. With a family, I would recommend living outside of the loop (heart of downtown) so you can get a bit more space. I’m in the South Loop and there are 4 other vet couples that live in my neighborhood. The West Loop is also great, so is Streeterville.   


Guest: What would you say is the best element about being in booth?

* Alex Panosian: There is a lot that I love about my Booth experience. As I mentioned earlier, I really appreciate how much flexibility we have. That’s allows me to set my own schedule and to take the classes that are more relevant to me. The people are also great. Everyone is very collaborative and supportive. It feels very “Mid-West” in that way. Coming from a team environment my entire life, that was very important to me and Booth has exceeded my high expectations on that front.    


Guest: Did you notice anyone struggling with the flexible curriculum, which could also be viewed as a less structure?

* Aviv Shalgi: I haven’t seen anyone struggling with the flexible curriculum. The main reason is that you have a lot of supporters throughout Booth who are there to help you navigate that flexibility – whether these are Academic advisors, Career advisors (who are considered faculty) in addition to 2nd year students from the various clubs or that take an active role to help 1st year students figure out what the right path is for them and how to tailor your path within Booth.

Also, keep in mind that some classes have prerequisites, which help you add structure to your path, since you know you need to take 1-2 classes before taking a specific class you’re interested in or are looking to build your skills at.  There are always choices to make and priorities you’ll need to consider when designing your classes (like with anything else in life), but you’ll have many supporters to help you figure out what is the best path for you personally.


Guest: From a leadership perspective, what has been the most rewarding program/resource/experience that has helped you to translate your military leadership experience to the business world?

* Michael Sanchez: Hey great question! I am very biased, but I love being a co-chair for the Armed Forces Group (AFG). Booth is great because you are free to do as much or as little as you want. I have fellow AFG co-chairs that are also leading other students groups. Long story short, veterans are everywhere on campus leading many different groups, from the Rugby team to the Both Vegan club. You will have a chance to really branch out and lead whatever group or team you like, as long as you want to and put in the effort.


Guest: What kind of volunteer opportunities are there through Booth?

* Alex Panosian: Booth has a “giving something back” club that facilitates volunteer opportunities regularly. We also have a program that facilitates your participation at the board or advisory board level of a local non-profit. That is a great program that allows you to understand what it’s like to be on a board while also supporting a good cause. Finally, the Booth brand is very respected throughout the city, so if you are passionate about something, I would encourage you to reach out to them, mention you go to Booth, and they will find a place for you. For example, I’m passionate about lacrosse, so I reached out to an organization that mentors kids through lacrosse in Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods. When they heard I was from Booth, they were very excited to add me to their advisory board.     


Guest: Other than AFG, what are you involved with outside of classes?

* Aviv Shalgi: I personally am also a co-chair of the Jewish Business Student Association (JBSA), and am an active member of the Entrepreneurship & VC club and the Tech club. I’ve also participated in the UofC Innovation Fund (the VC fund of the entire university investing in ideas coming up from students, faculty and alumni of the University of Chicago). And obviously, there are a million social events, one-off guest lectures, get-togethers, etc. that also take a big portion of your time.


Guest: For admitted students, when can we expect to get the list of pre-MBA internship/fellowships? Is there someone that we can reach out to now to get that info so we can start applying?

* Michael Sanchez: Hey great question. The Armed Forces Group usually sends out a newsletter around March with Pre-MBA fellowships. We will send this to you shortly. A couple of quick plugs though, many of the top consulting firms’ like McKinsey and BCG offer these fellowships. Also, many investment banks like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs offer similar pre-MBA internships. I would simply google these things to find out more info. Finally, Booth is offering a pre-MBA internship where you get a chance to work with an early to mid-stage startup the summer before you start school. It pays a stipend of a few thousand dollars. I did this program during the pilot run in the summer of 2016. It was awesome. I got out of the Navy in June and moved to Chicago early and had one of the best summers of my life. Summer in Chicago is great! Look into this during First Day.


Guest: Have any of you participated in Student Small Business Consulting? If so, how has it helped you and what types of projects are available?

* Alex Panosian: The Business Solutions Group is a group that facilitates consulting projects with local firms from a variety of industries and sizes. Last year, we had clients from a fast-casual restaurant that has 25 locations, a hog distributor, a cancer research fund, a few start-ups, etc. Lots of variety. My first year I was a team member and this last fall I led one of the teams as an engagement manager. One thing I’m proud of is that during my 1Y my team won, and 3 of our 5 members were vets! It’s a great and relatively low-risk way to get exposure to consulting, meet with recruiters, and develop some relatable stories to eventually discuss in your interviews.


Guest: I am really into sports. Are there any kind of clubs or activities related to sports?

* Michael Sanchez: Hey great question! Booth has many sports clubs that travel around the country regularly to compete with other MBA programs. The Rugby team is led by several vets and probably has the most vets. Those guys have a lot of fun and travel a lot playing other schools. Additionally, off the top of my head, we have teams for soccer, tennis, basketball, women's rugby, and many others.


Guest: In the event I receive an opportunity to interview, are there downfalls to interviewing off campus? I’m located in San Diego and have a relatively volatile work schedule over the next couple months.

* Michael Sanchez: There are no downfalls to interviewing off campus. The main difference is that when you interview on campus you will interview with a current 2nd year student. When you interview off campus you will interview with a Booth alumni. Both the current Booth student and alumni will submit the exact same feedback form to the admissions office. The admissions office does not view these interviews as different.


Guest: How does selecting classes work? Given the flexible curriculum, do students often get there first choice of class/professor?

* Aviv Shalgi: Since the curriculum is completely flexible (excluding LEAD in the fall of your 1st year), the selection of classes is done through a bidding system, where each student is assigned 2,000 points per each class that you’ve taken this past quarter (and you start school with 8,000 points if I’m not mistaken for your first quarter) and you choose which classes, at what times, with which professors to bid on. You have past bidding results, professor and class evaluations and each class’ syllabus so you could figure out which ones you want to bid on a single point versus thousands.

As for the choice, that really depends on your bidding strategy and preferences. I personally have always received the classes I chose to bid on in Round 1 (there are 6 bidding rounds in case things didn’t work out as planned in the first rounds). It very much depends on your preferences – you usually have to give something up since there aren’t enough points to get everything –flexible on the time (morning vs. afternoon) etc.


Guest: What can you tell us about the interview process? Do you have any advice?

* -Michael Sanchez: For the interview, definitely spend 2-3 weeks preparing by doing mock interviews and going over the big ticket item questions. These are questions like walk me through your resume, which pretty much means give me your 1-1.5 minute elevator pitch. Make sure you have this initial elevator pitch down smooth and cold. If you do it makes the rest of the interview flow and you start out on a confident high note. Other than your elevator pitch, have a couple standard stories or anecdotes down as well. Practice these with your friends. Practice answering some of these questions. Poets and Quants has a pretty decent interview guide that is worth looking at. Practice some of those questions.


Guest: For veterans that are eligible for the G.I.Bill, but not Yellow Ribbon, are there, additional funding options that you recommend exploring to help cover the costs of the program?

* Michael Sanchez: Hey great question! Booth does offer some merit-based scholarships and minority scholarships. If you have less than 100% GI Bill coverage, I would explore some of these options with Admissions. Additionally, if you have a VA disability rating, I would look into the VA's vocational rehabilitation program. It is a separate pot of money that the traditional GI Bill. If you would like any more information on this, in particular please go to the Booth Armed Forces group website and reach out to us.


Guest: How does LEAD works?

* Aviv Shalgi: LEAD starts a few weeks before the actual classes start (right after orientation). You’ll be assigned to a cohort of about 70 students from your class, and within the cohort to a squad of 8 students. Your cohort will meet once a week on campus for LEAD to talk about various leadership and management aspects. In addition, the entire class goes to Wisconsin for a LEAD weekend early on in the fall. The class ends about half way through fall quarter.


Guest: Are there any veterans in AFG that also serve in the Reserve or National Guard? Does this service have an impact on their course schedule or work?

* Michael Sanchez: There are a few current Booth vets that are in the reserves - Army and Navy vets. It does not really impact course schedules or work because they only have to drill once a month on the weekend. If you would like to speak to any of them please reach out to the AFG on our website and we can definitely put you in touch with someone.