Learn how real students navigate their way through the business school admissions process and b-school itself with our What is Business School Really Like? Series.
Meet James, a Ross MBA student with a background in education.
James, thank you for sharing your story with us!
What made you decide to pursue an MBA?
James: Part of me always knew I wanted to get an MBA. My parents were both small business owners and I remember loving talking about the challenges of competing in a changing business environment and how best to provide value to customers. While Dartmouth (my undergrad) didn’t have a business program, they did offer a few Tuck classes for undergrads and I took two of them and they were some of my favorite classes.
In terms of my career, I had worked in education prior, first as a teacher and then as a product manager at an education technology company, and realized there was a lot to learn from the business world in terms of how to make decisions. I’m particularly interested in how organizations can leverage human capital to achieve ambitious goals.
Coming from the education sector where resources (financial and human) will always be limited, I’m excited to explore how organizational design and strategic people development can support those goals.
I also felt like I would be limited in my approach given my background as I didn’t have an understanding of the bigger picture decision-makers were facing. I saw an MBA as that bridge between gaining the foundational business acumen and allowing me to pivot into a field that would allow me to get the hands-on experiences I thought would drive my long term career growth.
Did you experience any bumps along the road to business school acceptance? If so, how did you identify and address the issues?
James: Absolutely. The first time I applied to business school, I applied to five schools and got rejected from every single one.
The first thing I did was take some time off from the frenzy of MBA applications. During that time, I did a lot of reflecting and honing into what I wanted my personal vision of change to be and what strengths I thought I could bring to the table. I also took the GRE again (and improved two whole points!).
At the end of the day, I think my applications the second time around were more authentic and better reflected who I was and what I wanted to do. The second time, I also applied to additional schools through The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management (CGSM) which was the biggest blessing. I hadn’t applied to Ross the first time and only applied on a whim the second time. And it worked!
Can you tell us more about the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management? What resources are available to fellows?
James: The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management (CGSM) is a network for students who demonstrate a commitment to “enhanc[ing] diversity and inclusion in global business education and leadership.” There are currently 19 MBA programs in the Consortium, and, from a prospective student perspective, is similar to the undergraduate Common Application that helps to streamline applications to those member schools.
Once accepted to one of the CGSM member schools, Consortium fellows are offered additional networking and professional development opportunities that prepare them for business school.
Did you take the GMAT or GRE? How did you prepare? Any study tips that sound crazy, but really work?
James: I took the GRE. I took a practice GMAT and those data sufficiency questions were just too much for me.
I took a Manhattan Prep class which, more than the class itself, was really helpful in keeping me accountable for doing the studying (the course pace is about a workbook a week).
The second time around, I used Magoosh which was great because the online question banks could be customized so I could focus on the types of problems that I found most challenging (anything probability/combinations/permutations).
I think I also tried to keep everything in perspective. I knew that what was going to get me into a program was never going to be my test score or my GPA – those were going to be fine and show that I can do the work, but those aren’t the strengths in my application. I instead decided to really focus on the areas where I thought I could control – my essays and preparing for interviews.
Did you participate in any extracurricular activities prior to applying to business school? How do you think these experiences contributed to the strength of your candidacy?
James: My big extracurricular involvement post-college and pre-business school was getting involved with Teach For America’s LGBTQ affinity groups. I led the affinity group when I was in the classroom in Houston and served on the LGBTQ alumni board when I was in Boston after that.
Inclusion and diversity are things that I’m super passionate about and I identify as LGBTQ so doing those things made sense for me. It also fed into professional goals of thinking of how to foster inclusion as a means of enabling people to bring their full selves to the workplace so I think it all “fit” as well.
Did you visit the Ross campus, either while researching schools or to interview? If so, what impressed you?
James: I visited Ross for my interview and it was my first time on campus. The entire interview day was impressive. Compared to some of the other interviews that I did, I really appreciated the intentionality with which the admissions office and the current students approached the day.
At some other schools, it felt like this was just another event on the calendar but you could tell that Ross cared about (and then took action on) making a strong impression on candidates. I think Ross does a really good job at aligning their brand and student culture with the evaluative exercises which helps the adcom make the best decisions but also the accepted students know what they’re getting into.
Ross’ interview style is somewhat unique, as students participate in a team-based exercise. How does this differ from a traditional interview, and what was your experience with the exercise?
James: There are two components to Ross’ interview: a 1-1 behavioral which is pretty straightforward and then the group exercise which is unique. I can’t speak too much to this as I am a group exercise evaluator. Thinking back to my time as an applicant though, I remember not feeling too stressed about the process. Soojin has videos online that helped to ease any worries I might have and, having been through the process and evaluated them, can say that watching those videos are the best prep for it.
What has surprised you most about Ross so far?
James: Coming to Ross, I knew it had a very down-to-earth kind of culture. But I’ve been surprised as to how grounded my classmates seem to be. In classes, no one is trying to impress anyone else or one-up someone which creates this very collaborative and open environment for people to ask questions and share their experiences.
Can you describe REAL and MAP? How have you benefited from these experiences?
James: REAL is the umbrella office that houses all of our action based learning so MAP falls under them. Action-based learning was a huge reason Ross stood out to me. I found out in college that I learn best by doing and wanted a program where it wasn’t just something that you might do in one elective course but was built into the foundation of the program and there’s no program where that’s more true than Ross.
Learning by doing is evident in all parts of our MBA program and it starts at orientation with the Business+Impact Challenge and continues with extracurricular activities like the Crisis Challenge.
In that lens, MAP would be considered the capstone experience as its something all students complete. It’s the last 7 weeks of your first year where teams of 4-6 work with a sponsor to present a strategy to solve some sort of challenge that organization is facing. It’s a way for us to take everything we’ve learned in the core and apply it in the real world. During those 7 weeks, MAP is the focus and takes up the entire courseload so it’s something everyone goes through together.
I’m currently working with a tech startup in San Francisco that’s looking to build out their employee volunteerism program. We’re considering issues of employee engagement and motivation and thinking strategically about how the program can sustain an ever growing organization. We were just in San Francisco for a week onsite doing firsthand interviews and working on our strategy and recommendation now back on campus. Coming from the education space, social impact and volunteerism are important to me so it’s been a tremendous experience being able to think strategically about how to ingrain volunteerism into the fabric of the organization.
Outside of MAP, there are additional curricular opportunities for hands-on learning through courses like the Living Business Leadership Experience and a course working with AT Kearney consultants on operations/supply chain related projects.
And then, typical to all business schools, you can join clubs that work with local business/community partners to get hands-on experience and do case competitions. We also have a number of student investment funds that many of my peers participate in to get that experience.
What do you love about business school? What’s the biggest challenge?
James: Let’s be honest, business school is fun. It’s a two-year time when you get to take a step back from working life and spend time with some incredible human beings. Whether that’s in study groups, lunches on campus, happy hour at a local bar, football tailgate, weekend trip, whatever, it’s a fun experience.
That’s also the biggest challenge – there are so many things to do and options that it can get really overwhelming. I think those who are most successful at business school have found out how to prioritize and say “No” such that they can protect their time and get the most out of their experience but doing that isn’t always easy.
What is a typical day like for you?
James: A typical day is a mix of preparing for classes (working on problem sets, doing readings) and going to classes, meeting for group projects and extracurricular activities, and social engagements. Some of my classmates squeeze in a workout somewhere in the day also, I sometimes squeeze in a nap. During recruiting season, there’s usually at least 3-4 recruiting events during the week and many networking calls in the middle.
Can you tell us about recruitment at Ross?
James: At Ross, like most other business schools, there are two routes: on-campus recruiting and off-campus recruiting.
On-campus is traditionally for the major functions (consulting, finance, marketing, operations, general management, human capital, and strategy) and for companies that have more formal recruiting practices. It involves campus corporate presentations and networking opportunities and is very structured.
Off-campus is traditionally for those with more niche interests or what we consider recruiting with companies that traditionally don’t come to campus. Off-campus is basically how we’ll all get jobs after business school and involves a lot of networking and sourcing opportunities on our own.
What do you think your classmates would be surprised to know about you?
James: Living in Ann Arbor will be the first time since leaving for college at 18 that I’ll be living in the same apartment for more than 12 months – I’m so excited I don’t need to pack!
Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years from now?
James: I hope to still be in consulting and transiting more into managing and developing effective teams. I also assume I’ll be at the point where I’ll be specializing more in my practice and I’m hoping to focus more on strategic priorities that involve organizational capacity and effectiveness.
If you could relay one message to MBA applicants, what would it be?
James: Take a deep breath and trust in the process. If it doesn’t work out the first time, try again – it worked for me. The more you can bring yourself to the process and be authentic, the more successful you will be.
Do you have questions for James? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next What is Business School Really Like? post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!
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