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Opening Doors and Expanding Career Possibilities

A student uses the Graduate Student-at-Large: Business program to put the finishing touches on his Chicago Booth application.

Written by Philip Baker
man with glasses

Hear from a former student who, by taking two business classes through the GSALB program to enhance his application to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, set himself on the path to an exciting and fulfilling career.

John Waller graduated with an undergraduate degree in accounting in the late 1980s and took an investment banking position at what was then First Boston (now Credit Suisse). Excited by the work he was doing, it did not take him long to realize that the colleagues he looked up to and whose jobs he aspired to all had one characteristic in common. They had all gone to business school. The decision was therefore pretty simple, John says. He would go to business school too.“I quickly chose UChicago’s businessschool as the one I wanted to go to,” he says. “It was still the Graduate School of Business then and wasn’t called Booth yet. Not having the best GMAT scores, and since my undergraduate grades weren’t perfect either, I wasn’t too surprised not to be accepted the first time I applied.”

Proving He Had What It Takes

After not being accepted after applying his second time either, he found himself at a pivotal point in his life. Now 1992, he keenly felt the significance of what his next step would be. As chance would have it, a friend of his, who was then a student at Booth, told him about the GSAL program and how through it he would be able to take actual Booth classes without prior acceptance to Booth.“This was exactly what I wanted,” he says. “I knew I could do the work, I just needed to prove it to the admissions people at Booth. So, after being accepted into the GSAL program, I enrolled in an accounting class at Booth. I got a B for my final grade and remember thinking to myself, ‘B’s aren’t going to get me into Booth—I need to buckle down for the next class.’”He did just that for the statistics class he enrolled in next. In fact, he recalls hardly missing a single problem across all the problem sets he completed that quarter. In this way, after applying to Booth his third time, he went in for his interview withproof that he’d be able to cut it as a student there. He was duly accepted.

Life-Changing Program

After graduating in 1995, John worked as a consultant in Poland on a State Department project organized by the MBA Enterprise Corps. It was also an opportunity to travel around central and western Europe, he says. Upon returning, using the Booth job board, he took a position working in mergers and acquisition for a small firm that grew enormously during his seven years there.After deciding that he might prefer a slightly smaller environment, he left and set up his own M&A firm and named it Plaisance Advisors—after the Midway Plaisance park nestled within the University of Chicago campus.“Almost everything I’ve done in my career I could not have done without business school at UChicago,” he says. “Take that a step further back and it’s the GSAL program that sits as the pivotal point setting me on my way. The GSAL program literally changed my life. That’s what opened the door and gave me a broader sense not only for my career possibilities, but for the whole world.”

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