Monday, May 13, 2013

Tradeoffs and Compromises in the 90-Hour School Week

As he sails past midterms in the final quarter of his first year, Josh Hirschland reflects on his experience dealing with a common (and fortunate) problem at Booth:  too many opportunities for too few hours in the day. Read on to find out how he has made the most of his year.

After you’ve been admitted to Chicago Booth (Congratulations!!), you will receive several guides detailing the ins and outs of student life. One of these handbooks will helpfully outline what a typical schedule looks like—how much time you will spend in class, on homework, on recruiting, and so forth—which, when you add it up, will account for between 79 and 105 hours per week. And upon looking at that, and you will say, “That’s crazy; that must be wrong.” And you’ll forget about it.

Until you get to school and you realize that it’s accurate.

For those incoming students who see business school as a vacation from work, the volume of requests that are made of your time as a student can be jarring. Between classes, homework, guest lectures, recruiting, extra-curricular activities, mentoring and leadership opportunities, social engagements, and the daily requirements of being an adult human being, there are literally dozens of things going on at any given moment. And with just 21 months to spend at Booth, every activity represents a trade-off—a deliberate choice that must be made.

Some of these tradeoffs are obvious: most students can only participate in one summer internship before accepting a full-time position, so it’s important to think long and hard about what experiences will help you make an informed choice about your post-MBA career. The bathroom scale is happy to remind anyone who forgets about the opportunity costs associated with going to a happy hour instead of the gym. And the rapidly diminishing balance of many students’ bank accounts is black-and-white (or, more accurately, black-and-red) proof of the positive correlation between short-term international travel and long-term Ramen consumption.

Other examples are more hidden. While Booth’s flexible curriculum and vast array of courses is part of the school’s unique draw, and the chance to take classes at other schools within the University was one of the things that sold me on Booth, with just 20 classes to take between enrollment and graduation, many students find themselves having to choose among award-winning professors in their final year. And though students are encouraged to get involved in a wide range of clubs, it is nearly impossible to take leadership positions in more than a couple without sacrificing quality and foregoing many of the rewarding experiences that come from being a co-chair.

My own experience is living proof of these tradeoffs. Last quarter, I was fortunate to have interviews at fascinating companies located in three different time zones, but each time I got a callback, I found myself having to cross plans off my calendar. As great as it was to save some money and catch up on sleep by having a low-key spring break, it was hard to see photos being posted to Facebook of my classmates sunning themselves on the beaches of Mexico or hanging out in Tel Aviv. And though I had to push marketing strategy back for a quarter, I had the great opportunity to take Building the New Venture with Professor Deutsch.

But the rewards have far outweighed the tradeoffs. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview at most of my top choice companies this year and am excited about my internship this summer at Groupon. While I haven’t made every Booth social event this year, I have been grateful to be able to spend a lot of time with my girlfriend. And while I would have enjoyed spending more time with the Epicurean and Marketing Clubs at Booth, being heavily involved with the Dean’s Student Admissions Committee (DSAC) has allowed me to meet some really amazing prospective and current students.

The best thing about Booth is the overwhelming number of amazing opportunities the school offers and the freedom that students have to chart their own paths. But the flip side of all that amazingness is what Booth students refer to as the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). At a school where economics is held in high regard, it is fitting that the student experience is marked by being able to efficiently allocate your scarcest resource—time—to get the highest level of return. Booth offers so many great opportunities, but getting the most from the experience means focusing on those things that are most meaningful to you. And looking back on my first year, I am happy with the choices I have made!

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