Here’s a talk with Tom, a SoFi scholar and current student at Columbia Business School. Tom is a U.S. Army veteran who loves b-school so much, that’s he’s trying to extend his education and stay for another year! Read on for some excellent advice about applying to Columbia (or to b-school in general). Thanks Tom!
Accepted: Let’s start by getting some background info: Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad?
Tom: I’m from the Bay Area in California (Newark) and went to the military academy at West Point for undergrad.
Accepted: How did your experience in the U.S. Army lead to you wanting to pursue an MBA?
Tom: I helped with development and created jobs by hiring local nationals in Afghanistan during one of my deployments. I guess that planted the seed. I was involved with the basics of monitoring cash flows, reviewing business agreements, and negotiating contracts—albeit in more simplistic, yet arduous conditions than the confines of graduate school. I also enjoyed managing people, resources, and projects. If I wanted to leave the Army and continue to do those things without taking too much of a step backwards in my career, then an MBA was crucial.
Accepted: Was the transition from military life to student life difficult?
Tom: I don’t think I had a difficult time with the transition. I fully embraced being a civilian and tried not to compare the new environment with the one in the past. Military life and civilian life is completely different—I think those who struggle with the transition often forget about that and want to resist the change as much as they can. I also laid out the foundations of my transition by being proactive with networking and reaching out to various mentors who were more than willing to help me along the way. Months before transition, I did everything I could to prepare myself for what laid ahead. It was like training for a marathon. Transition is a total mental and physical process that requires the same level of devotion.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your experience with SoFi? How did you find the organization? How have they helped you in your b-school journey?
Tom: A fellow veteran & friend of mine recommended that I check out the company. He knew I was interested in working in technology and in the startup scene. I researched SoFi and was amazed by how they were turning an inefficient and antiquated model upside-down. I got excited and after a few phone calls and e-mails, was able to help them out as a MBA student ambassador here at Columbia Business School. They’ve been so great to work with and it’s a model that I’m completely confident in—so much so that I took out a loan through them as soon as I could. This past December, they even hosted a few students at Columbia during an education-startup networking event. It was a great turnout and really started generating the conversation about disrupting outdated models and looking into working either within the social impacting sectors or with startups.
Accepted: What do you plan on doing once you receive your MBA?
Tom: Try to see if I can extend my MBA for another year :).
Accepted: What was your admissions experience like as an “older” applicant? And what is your current experience like as an older student?
Tom: I don’t necessarily feel different as an older candidate. I think we reference old as being more experienced, but younger candidates/students can have or bring the same amount of experience as older ones. I know there’s a perception that older candidates will have a harder time being accepted into business school. I can’t say definitively that statement is true. But if you have relevant experience under your belt and understand your projected career demographics, age shouldn’t be an issue. If you see that it is, then you need to re-evaluate whether business school is the right thing to do based on your timeline (specifically for career changers).
Accepted: What is your favorite thing about Columbia Business School? Least favorite thing?
Tom: The people are amazing, bar none. As a veteran who puts a high standard on personal relationships like those established in the military, Columbia has exceeded my expectations. Whoever said Columbia students are cut-throat clearly never set foot on the campus here. Also, location, location, location! I can see a Broadway play on a random Wednesday night, have sushi delivered to my door in 15 minutes, or jog in Central Park. Plus, it’s pretty cool to say that you live in New York City! Least Favorite—Too many options, not enough time to do them all.
Accepted: Can you share some admissions advice for applicants who may be applying to Columbia Business School (or general advice)?
Tom: Start early! The MBA application process is a journey in itself as you reflect on your strengths, weaknesses, career goals, and personal motivations. Second, schedule on your calendar—literally—an hour or two daily, weekly, or whatever to work on your application. You’ll tend to do it if it’s actually blocked off instead of just mentally telling yourself you’ll do it. Third, Columbia has a rolling admissions policy—it’s always better to submit your application in early rather than at deadlines. Plus, nothing’s better than to have your admission’s decision in before the holiday season rolls around.
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