One hundred twenty nervous GW MBAs (GW Full-Time MBA Profile) entered an academic classroom for the first time in 4.6 years (on average) on Aug. 17, 2009. "Hi, welcome to the GW MBA program," said the dean. "If you haven't already, you probably should find yourself a summer internship. They are a little harder to find these days than they used to be."
O.K., it wasn't quite that dramatic, but if there was a single takeaway from GW's MBA Institute—a two-week mid-August orientation to the Global MBA at the George Washington University School of Business—it was probably that if you think the application process is over now that you are an MBA, think again. We're just getting warmed up. The main focus of your next two years should be identifying, applying, and obtaining your ideal job, and you should start now.
It is great to hear that message on Day One, and it's fabulous that at GW we have a huge career center that is there to help you with all aspects of your career search. Sure, two years from now I am going to measure the return on my MBA investment by the company's name on the office building I enter, and the title underneath my name on my business card. But for me, and I think most people, there are a combination of reasons that we are getting an MBA, and it isn't all about the job at the end of the tunnel. There are many aspects that are calling—actually screaming—for my time. I call these the four C's of an MBA: career, class, clubs, and community.
Al Gore spoke at GW the other night. He asked students to raise their hands if they are studying to prepare for a career to respond to the challenge of climate change. My hand proudly shot into the air. I am focusing on a unique, yet highly important aspect of a new energy economy: the measurement, quantification, and reduction of carbon emissions. This industry is new, exciting, and will be full of opportunity, and I have immersed myself in the study of the consequences and opportunities of a national cap-and-trade system on business. My accounting background, education at GW, and pure dedication to the issue will help me position myself to be a leader in making the business case for greenhouse gas abatement. But exploring such an emerging field comes with challenges. I went to New Orleans for the National Black MBA fair and was met with bewildered stares from HR representatives recruiting MBAs for traditional internships in finance, marketing, or operations when I told them I can help them save money and reduce their environmental impact. Quite frankly, MBA students are further ahead of the curve than Fortune 500 organizations when it comes to identifying the opportunities presented by a carbon-constrained economy. Yet I remain steadfast in my conviction to have a career dedicated to fighting climate change. The only challenge for me is determining whether my impact can be greatest working for a major organization, a nonprofit, or as a consultant, entrepreneur, or even in a government position. I know what I want to do, but I still need to determine how I want to do it.
GW's program is small. There are only 120 full-time students. We are broken into three cohorts of about 40 students for our first-year core courses. The benefit is that we get very small, discussion-driven core classes. And after just 10 weeks I know everybody very well. The drawback is that there are very few elective options during our first year, so we all have to wait until Year Two to start diving into our focus areas.
Classes are taught on a module system. We have four seven-week modules during the first year. I just completed my first module and took classes in leadership/organizational behavior, business ethics, international business, statistics/probability, and communications. Module Two is microeconomics, human resources, marketing, and more statistics. There are also accounting courses in both these modules, but as a CPA, I automatically placed out of these courses, and decided against adding new electives so I can better concentrate on career and extracurricular activities. Each professor has free rein to teach classes any way he or she chooses. This results in a pleasant mixture of lecture-based, case-based, and team-based classes.
Clubs are by far my favorite aspect of the MBA program. The opportunity over the next two years to take advantage of student clubs, case competitions, academic and professional conferences, and to truly focus on the areas of business that excite me is a luxury I will not squander. In fact, I believe the learning opportunities that exist outside an academic classroom are more beneficial to me than developing the core finance, marketing, statistics, operations, and leadership skills I will obtain inside the classroom. So you will find me at the annual Net Impact conference and case competition, working on projects that have everything to do with my career goals but nothing to do with my class requirements, and anywhere in D.C. the carbon community is gathering.
Let me say this: I could not have asked to be surrounded by a better network. My classmates could not do more to ensure the success of each other in every class. Despite the challenge we are up against in an economy where internships are scare, there is zero competition for jobs. Our alumni network, though small, truly goes all out to help us. This is evident by the alumni career adviser I have been paired with as part of our mentorship program. We aren't yet a top-25 program, but everybody, from the current students to professors and from alumni to our administration, is truly united to help us get there. For me, this cohesiveness is more valuable than the cutthroat competition that might exist at other graduate programs.
I thought the biggest adjustment going from being a professional to a student was once again getting used to having to do work outside the office. I used to value being able to leave my work at the office each night and not have to worry about it until I returned in the morning. I knew, as a student, I would always be on the clock and I would never have time to relax. But, quite frankly, I have absolutely no problem with the time commitment of business school. In fact, I love taking advantage of every opportunity that is available to me. The struggle is finding enough time to do everything I want to do and prioritizing responsibilities. Never before had I used a planner. Now I have a Google (GOOG) calendar and Google task list that has me booked solid for two months out. Measuring both the importance and urgency of tasks is critical to ensure I'm spending my time in the right places.
Here are a few tips I have about the MBA admissions process. But keep in mind these tips probably go against everything a prospective MBA student is being told or is thinking. The more and more you get sucked into the admissions process and the more you overthink and try to strategize the process, the less and less success you are going to have.
You are doing much more harm than good if you start thinking about what the admissions office wants to hear, rather than truthfully explaining your goals and rationale for getting an MBA. Throwing away money on expensive admission consultants who have zero idea of who you are is a gigantic waste. Spending thousands on GMAT tutoring is crazy. I bought a few books, dedicated myself to studying, took the GMAT once, and was happy with my score. The one thing that was incredibly helpful for me was having two close friends who were going through the MBA application process at the same time as me. One is now a first-year student at Duke and the other is in Georgetown's part-time program. It was extremely valuable to have friends to be a sounding board, help study for the GMAT, and read and comment on each other's essays. But even if you don't have friends going through the process with you, seek out the help of the people who know you well. But save your money for tuition or the opportunities you will have as a student. Or spend your money on campus visits so you can truly identify which school is the right fit for you.
Finally, if a school doesn't accept you because your career goals don't align with its strategy, or you don't fit into its culture, then that probably isn't the right place for you anyway. I realize it's difficult to do this. It was difficult for me. By nature, an MBA student is competitive and a measure of success is getting into the highest-ranked program that you can. It was extremely hard for me to turn down admissions offers at some top-ranked business schools. But ultimately I'm at GW because my career goals align perfectly with GW's focus on developing globally minded and ethical business leaders who want to create sustainable solutions to pressing world issues. And to date I couldn't be happier with my decision.