Separation from friends and family. Remembering how to study again. Breaking the back of the GRE or GMAT. Managing the time to apply against the rest of life’s demands. Finding a school that fits. These are the common themes five Consortium students in the class of 2018 shared about the process of starting business school.
Today, The Consortium begins an occasional series following these five students — from starting business school through the two-year process. You’ll meet Alejandro Bolívar-Cervoni (Washington University in St. Louis); Elva Garza (Indiana University-Bloomington); Tite Jean-Pierre (University of Rochester); Tazia Middleton (University of California, Los Angeles); and Tobby Yi (Yale University).
All five agreed the experience so far has exceeded their expectations.
“Even though business school is a test of grit and determination, I have loved every experience thus far,” Elva told us. “I do not exaggerate when I say I cannot wait for the next two years.”
The Consortium posed five questions to the five students several weeks ago. We focused on questions that looked at their experience of starting business school. We weave together their responses below.
What compelled you to consider business school in the first place?
For some, starting business school meant an opportunity to make a career pivot. Tobby said business school represented a chance to expand his world view.
“I saw business school not as a means to an end, but a process with compounding effects,” he said. “Also, I heard business school is some of the best two years of your life. How could I pass that up?”
A Consortium alum, an associate brand manager for a company, actually planted the idea in Tite’s head: “It was a riveting conversation.” That led to an exploration of the consumer packaged goods industry and the specialty of brand management. With time, she realized “that an MBA from a top program, complemented with my experience, would help me become a well-rounded marketer and strategic leader.”
Global experience and exposure in part motivated Alejandro toward an MBA program. “I sought out deeper understanding of other cultures by working with international classmates,” he said. “Taking advantage of travel opportunities—including spending a semester abroad—will also introduce me to best practices when working with diverse, multicultural teams.”
For Elva, the experience represented a personal challenge to overcome statistics seemingly stacked against her. “Ever since reading a staggering stat that Latinos severely under-indexed in post-graduate degrees, I knew I would make it my mission to get one.”
What concerns or hardships did you have to overcome in order to realistically consider business school?
Tazia summed up the overriding concern all five of our students shared: “The scariest part was giving up the security of the life I had built in order to pursue something uncertain,” she said. “Saying goodbye to my clients and friends at work was a lot harder than I expected.”
The next nearly universal hardship: Adapting back into the role of student. They set up study times and created a preparation discipline around preparing for the GRE or GMAT. All five students commented on the difficulty of the test and their need to focus on preparation.
“You are working, volunteering and doing a million other things. Now, you throw in GMAT/GRE prep, MBA research, coffee chats and writing your personal essay,” Tobby said. “You will have to make some sacrifices.”
Tite said striking the right balance requires exceptional time management skill: “Testing for business school is an art form one must practice to perfect, especially if you have work/life responsibilities,” she said. “Every hour and minute of your day has to be accounted for.”
What was the most difficult part of applying to business school?
Here, the GRE and GMAT tests figured prominently again. But they weren’t the only challenges our students called out. For Alejandro, it was the uncertainty of not knowing exactly what was ahead. For Tazia, it was the tremendous time commitment, balancing work, family and “extracurricular” requirements with school research, test preparation and essay writing.
Ah, the admission essays: Tobby and Tite flagged those as a particularly challenging part of starting business school. “It was a tension of the heart and the mind,” Tobby said. “I wanted to display my authentic self and tell the most compelling story, but within the B-school framework.”
Tite found it helpful to vigorously seek out help and recruiting sounding boards during the process, particularly as she visited various campus diversity weekend events.
“I was fortunate to meet some wonderful current students at various schools who graciously offered advice,” she said. “Make the most out of your visit to the Consortium member schools and leverage meeting wonderful people, like those of us on this blog, to help alleviate your stress. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We’re here to help.”
Admissions counselors speak often about “fit”—finding the B-school that fits you. What were you looking for? Why did your choice ultimately meet those needs?
Tite spoke poetically of the need to visit not only the campus, but the outlying community. “I had to seek out what factors make it a place that I could spend the next two years of my life — roughly 730 sunrises,” she said. She recalls being “surprised and delighted” by the level of diversity in Rochester, where she landed.
Diversity was key to all our students, along with class sizes and a sense of “shared success” and a team culture. Nothing substitutes for personal visits to campus, Elva said. “Visit every school you have on your list — and then visit those you never considered.”
Tobby expected to be challenged in ways that went beyond textbooks and management theory.
“I wanted schools that could push me to grow,” he said. “I looked for schools that really demonstrated a diverse class that could challenge how I thought about myself, the business and the world.”
“Fit,” Tazia said, “is everything.”
How has your experience so far lived up to (or fallen short of) your expectations?
All five of our students felt overjoyed by the experience so far.
“The collaborative culture is exactly what I was expecting,” Tazia said, “with students always willing to help other classmates.”
They spoke of the immediate growth they experienced during their transition and while launching into classwork and the broad exposure to so many points of view: From industry perspectives, to corporate job functions to diverse perspectives.
“My favorite project thus far was delivering a presentation introducing myself to my class” and sharing the experience of cooking in a tiny, studio apartment kitchen, Alejandro said. “I motivated my classmates to learn to cook.”
Most appreciated the value of connecting with other Consortium students — both within and outside of their programs — ahead of starting business school. “Although I’ve only known my classmates for a few months,” Tite said, “it genuinely feels like I’ve known this great community of people for years.”
PICTURED ABOVE: The Consortium follows five students starting business school through the entire two-year process. From left: Alejandro Bolívar-Cervoni, Elva Garza, Tite Jean-Pierre, Tazia Middleton and Tobby Yi.