Follow by Email

Who's been keeping up?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why apply to B-School? The events of last weekend

When I think back to how I arrived at this decision to apply to business school, 2 key events stand out in my mind. 

Numero Uno: Halloween 2010. I was dressed up in a home-made costume as a certain creature from my country of origin, and I happened to talk to the only guy at the party not wearing a costume.  I was unenthused, which takes a lot (c'mon, what kind of person cannot find a ratty t-shirt, pair of khakis and belt, a random purse lying around, sunglasses, fake plastic baby, grow some facial hair, and go as Zach Galifianakis from the Hangover?) but intrigued because he was wearing tweed.  

I remember two main things from the conversation.  One was that he kept bringing up his employer (OK i get it. You work for a large, powerful corporation hQ in the PNW. You work with numbers. You like Excel.)  When he mentioned he was in the process of applying for an MBA, my mind started to wander.  Living in the PNW, I do not often encounter people my age applying or giving much thought to the MBA, as the attitude in my city is quite laid back and anti-corporate big-business and mainstream things. 

I had gone back and forth with the idea of an MBA earlier, but never gave it serious thought because I didn't know whether it was a right fit for me.  I'm pretty far from that stereotype of a wall street hotshot iBanker, though I like my suits and power lunches.   I also recalled needing something called "work experience", but I was 2+ years into my job.   Here was some guy who obviously, was not creative enough to put together a Halloween costume, yet he was applying to the top programs?  The tiny competitive side of me that I typically suppress kicked into gear, and I told myself that as soon as I got home, I would start my research.  This began Phase 1 of my contemplation towards applying, involving checking out numerous books from the library, running up late fees on said books, visiting school websites, visiting schools themselves, asking people questions, and doing internet research.

Numero Dos:  Last Saturday, I attended a diversity event at the Stanford GSB, which I had been accepted to several months prior.  I was working overseas for the last two weeks and unsure if I'd be able to attend in time, as my flight arrived home late Thursday night, and generally being very indecisive as to the point of not making travel reservations.  On the trans-pacific plane ride back, I made up my mind that I needed to go.  Friday morning at 8am, I check the Delta Skymiles website to see if I can redeem my miles. What would have cost 45,000 miles when I checked weeks ago now only cost 25,000. Was this a sign? I think it was!  Rental car was only $39 including taxes...this was looking pretty good.  Friend in Bay area is cool with me crashing on couch? check!  12 hours after booking the ticket, I was headed to the airport directly from work.

I was counting on this experience to help me decide, once and for all whether getting an MBA and getting one now would be the right timing.  It's silly to think that one day can really sway you towards one direction or the other, but this experience did not fail to deliver.  From an amazing alum speaker, to student panels, a joint degree program that was a perfect fit, a lively class experience, super cool alums and just being on campus, I was wooed. The opening presentation hit me hard right away - innovation. idealism. Do you want to change the world? "Yes that's me!" I wanted to jump up and say, and probably about 90% of the other attendants did too....the coffee had not kicked in for the other 10%.

I guess when it comes down to it, I had three main reservations:

1. How will an MBA help me in what I want to do?  My background is in education and I've always dreamed of running an educational organization, but I wasn't convinced that an MBA was the RIGHT path for me; it was just one route of many.  BUT it was a darn good one.
2. $$$ and time. Calculating the ROI and wages forgone, I estimated I was giving up two years salary and adding another two years tuition & costs, a grand total of, in my mind, close to $300,000. Could I get to where I wanted without the MBA and living as a starving graduate student?  I heard horror stories from Readers Digest as a young, impressionable child and did not want to subsist on cans of tuna for two years.  I had become accustomed to the life of nice things, travel perks, and eating un-expired food.  BUT I guess I have my whole life to enjoy those things ;)
3. Leaving my job and the PNW. As those close to me know, I love my job dearly. I love what I do, I love the ideals I hope we're working towards, and I love my company and co-workers and clients. BUT something inside of me is convinced that this is not the right place for me long-term, and my industry is so niche that I'm unsure of whether I'd be able to easily and successfully transition to another career in a different field.  

So that all seems a bit gloomy, until I pondered the 3 reasons why an MBA and NOW would be right for me on the plane ride to California

1. No matter what, an MBA will open up doors for me. Regardless of what job I pursue, it will teach me how to manage PEOPLE and RESOURCES.  If I ended up working at a school, it would help. If I ended up directing a non-profit, it would help.  If, somehow, I end up in Corporate America, well. Let's just say I'd have one more thing to chat about over lunch in addition to college basketball.
2. I've been working at my company for 3 years, 4 when I apply. I've had some amazing experiences, but it will be much much harder to leave when I'm older.  Not to mention there's a ton I want to do before settling down and starting a fam.
3. I miss school. I miss learning, meeting people, exploring ideas, everything that comes with being in school. I'm an experiential learner, while I love to study and abstract concepts, I learn by action, projects and doing. I want to meet equally enthusiastic people who have big dreams of how they will shape the world.   I want to travel the world with classmates, have summer internships again, learn about entrepreneurship, and maybe even attend the occasional theme party (they have those right?)  To be given a problem and be asked to find a solution.  This all sounds a bit idealistic..but well that's me!

So in the 1.5 hour plane ride, which a half hour was spent reading over the case study for the mock class, jotting down notes in the margins (nostalgia!) and highlighting (oh highlighter my dear, I've missed you so!) I came to a realization.  It was a mini-epiphany, one of many I had on the trip.  California is only 1.5 hours away. It is in the same time zone as my current city.  I could even drive my belongings down, and I would have no excuse to call my mother or friends.  In short, it was really, not that far or distant!

Now who knows where I will end up, for all I know I could end up on the East Coast or Midwest, or even Singapore/France.  If my job has taught me anything, it is that flying is really really quick in the grand scheme of things.  I could be asked to fly out to Asia, book my tickets the next day, and be there two days later (this exact same thing happened a few months ago).  While I may be leaving my dear city in the PNW, its the same thing I've been used to doing on my trips, only this venture would be a bit longer (1 year, 51 weeks to be exact).

The other mini-epiphany I had, in addition to wow, Alaska Airlines is really punctual compared to United and wow, their snack cracker mix is kind of addicting was that I missed, dare I say, studying.  The case was okay - modeled after an Indian tech company but the issue at hand - how to retain their talented employees was fascinating.  I felt a curiosity spark running through, and I couldn't wait for the class.

There were many other mini-epiphanies throughout that visit that culminated in one grand, awesome feeling that I still can't shake.  The realization of all the wonderful opportunities and doors having the MBA could open, as well as an extensive network of like-minded people, who apparently also like to get married (they recounted stories of attending lots of each others' weddings as the one thing that makes GSB unique).  Random coincidences relating to my undergrad alma-mater which made me wonder if this was a sign.  Understanding at a much more heightened level what such programs could offer me, and what I could offer them in return.  In short, I came to understand that people who apply and are accepted into top MBA programs will still do amazingly on their own, no doubt about it, they already have!  Having such a degree and experience just accelerates that trajectory of success, and makes it so much more intense.

Sometimes I chide myself in being impulsive, in buying that crazy pair of shoes because they are marked 85% off and because they could be fun to wear in a few months when it's warm out, in ordering something without knowing exactly what kind of meat (or substance is in it) but because I like the way it smells, and in choosing my cat from the shelter without evaluating all the other options (Samuel if you are reading this, I have no regrets).  But this was one impulse decision (booking the last minute ticket) that was really not that impulsive after all, but a wonderful build-up of events, and perhaps a slight nudging from somewhere (thanks for listening to my prayers, God!!) that will motivate me to get serious about this journey!

So it begins....!!!!


  1. Your answers to Por Que MBA miror exactly what I'm thinking and feeling. You've expressed everything that's going through my mind.

    Oh, and I too have a thing for tweed.