From Aerospace to Ann Arbor

After months in Wait-list Limbo, an aerospace industry worker jettisons his dream of being an astronaut and accepts an offer from Michigan's Ross School

The scene: a private jet repair facility in Geneva. My demeanor: frustrated, slightly livid, and severely jetlagged!

My four-year career in the aerospace industry took me to many corners of the world, including such exotic locales as Berlin and Knoxville, Tenn., and at that moment Switzerland. While the travel perks were numerous, I couldn't have cared less that I had a picturesque view of the Alps through the bay doors. We were on a deadline and our airplane wasn't fixed!

Fifteen minutes later, however, my attitude would soon change, as a hastily planned phone chat with Jim Hayes, the Ross School of Business assistant director of admissions, commenced in a small, sunlit conference room away from the pounding of hammers and the riveting of, er, rivet guns. Jim didn't need to hear what was going wrong at that moment, nor did I feel all too inclined to discuss it. This was our moment to talk about goals, dreams, and why I wanted to give up trips to Europe just so I could save impoverished children in Africa.

Belated Interview

"Wait, wait, wait…rewind a little bit there…WHAT?! You're giving up your childhood aspirations of becoming an astronaut? All those trips to Space Camp and eating dehydrated food just for practice are going down the toilet? And how much are you taking out in loans again!?!?"

Fortunately, Jim wasn't that inquisitive—my parents were perfect mock interviewers, by the way—but he was good. Through the standard business-school interview protocol—and he didn't even know he was accomplishing this, how sneaky—he convinced the both of us that Ross was where I needed to be for the next few years.

Here's something I might add to this otherwise rosy scene, however: This exchange occurred about four months later than I expected. Was I stuck in a remote village (or my home state of South Dakota) with absolutely no communication with the outside world during the application season? Mmm, not quite, but you could almost consider the seemingly endless state of Wait-list Limbo in which I was mired as a very, very similar experience.

An Opportunity to Reconsider Yourself

From my discussions with other MBA applicants, I discovered that the wait-list period can be an incredibly lonely, frustrating, and trying experience; however, the staff at Ross were quick to respond and candid about information, so I never needed to send an update claiming I had just hunted a rabid polar bear just to see if they were still awake in Ann Arbor. In some ways, though, Wait-list Limbo was, well, what I imagine limbo is supposed to entail: an opportunity to reconsider your ways and redeem yourself. But it's also a bit like the limbo game: a painful test of dexterity usually performed around a group of inebriated partygoers!

I took the two months between my wait-list placement and "the call" to reexamine why I was choosing to pursue an MBA. I recalled the very moment I decided working with businesses in Third World countries was my professional aim. It happened during a simple conversation over Mexican food with a former colleague in the aerospace industry, and we had both experienced our frustrations with the nonprofits with which we had volunteered. Whether it was through overpriced, one-week "construction" trips or PR shoots of malnourished children that only served as donor brochure fodder, we realized the approach to any Third World issue must be accomplished with a humanistic and economic perspective.

Every business school that had my file (and my application fee) knew this, so I needed to dig a little bit deeper. The soil of my past was inundated with moments of joy and confusion over the plight of the developing world. I knew it was beyond my capability to do something and feel completely satisfied with the result. I needed the tools, I needed the expertise, and I needed to investigate these issues with people who knew tons more about it than I did. And I needed it now.

Communicating Through Haiku

During that limbo, I realized I had never shed a tear about airplanes or rockets. Not once. And while that was a powerful affirmation of my MBA pursuit, it was difficult to verbalize that to my closest friends and family, so I communicated my end goal through my blog,, in the most easily understood literary form possible: haiku.

Rocket scientists Get to play with log'rithms Nonprofit stuff, huh?

Rest ain't what I need But my heart aches at the sight Of people hurting

Third-world struggles Make my heart speed up like a Wombat on steroids

Sometimes I will sing And douse my fries in ketchup Sorry, seemed to fit…

Jeffrey Sachs (the bomb) Got me all stirred up about Passion for the kids

Plus, I don't think I Make a good engineer, see I have skills with girls!

Tearfund and others Want to be like Michael J And Clorox their skin

Er, I mean, they want To help end poverty and Other bad things, like lice

I want to consult Them to help out their drive to Smash poverty, pow

But lice is something I've come to call my best friend Makes my hair shiny

Oh, and I like planes But most people in the world Can't afford to fly

I like to fly, but That job's for someone who likes Math more than his mom

A Four-Second Decision

Now, let me be clear here: I'm not suggesting every wait-listed applicant will suddenly start communicating in haiku; that's your prerogative. But it will most definitely force you to consider your options. I started an application for the Peace Corps while now-future classmates were securing housing for the school year, all the while consulting a new nonprofit in the Seattle area.

Life progressed at the pace I chose, yet each new opportunity presented its own set of questions. One, in particular, came up so often it almost screamed at my consciousness: "Do you still want to uproot yourself for an MBA?" Every time, in varying tenor and tone of voice, the answer was constant: "Absolutely." If you find yourself on a wait list, or reapplying, or just generally in a pickle, take the time to reflect on why you're plunking down the cash to get your MBA. If the admissions director calls in June, then it won't take long for you to make a decision (I took about four seconds). You know this is where you need to be…or not.

Over the next two years in Ann Arbor, I imagine one of the happy-hour discussions will focus on our location during the admissions interview. With a wry smile and a hint of confidence, I'll happily boast: "Geneva. Airplane hangar. Fixing an airplane. Totally knackered. Beat THAT!" And then…we'll limbo.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.