The Sloan Journey
Financial crises, historic elections, and a "flat as a pancake" world—what a time to be in business school! Sure, the world is constantly evolving, but at no other time in recent history have the financial, economic, and geopolitical dimensions been so closely tied (and so volatile), and I am excited to be witnessing it all through the lens of MIT Sloan and the impressive scholars who teach and research here.
My journey to MIT Sloan began a short18 months ago as I sat down to draft my essays. It seems silly to think of 18 months as a short time, but that's exactly how much time I have left here and to think my journey is half over (when the real fun has only just begun) is bittersweet. My down and dirty advice for the application process is this: The application is a marketing tool and as with any good campaign, a consistent message is key. Focus on the story you're telling and choose recommenders who believe in that story and can add specific examples. Write your essays with that same story in mind, but also be mindful of what each essay asks for and make sure you address those points as well. Lastly, go into the interview (any interview for that matter) with the confidence that they want you as much as you want them and you'll do great. Besides, once you're in, the real work begins!
Some classmates took their acceptance, quit their jobs, and traveled the world. That must have been nice. I spent my summer working, then left my home in Los Angeles in mid-August to head east in search of real seasons and something called Pre-Term (the transition week before orientation where everyone re-educates themselves not only in the fundamentals of statistics and economics, but also in what an educational environment feels like).
Next up was orientation, a deeper dive into the world that is MIT Sloan, but more importantly an introduction to my core team, the five other people I would become intimately connected to over the next few months. The expectation isn't that you become best friends with your core teammates, although that often happens, it's that you learn to work together to support each other and be successful. Orientation includes a number of team-building activities to help us manage this expectation.
Always a skeptic, I have been surprised by the effectiveness of these activities. My team rocks! We work hard to get our assignments done, focusing on optimizing work product with minimal effort, while being conscientious and supportive of each others' needs and goals. Our group discussions are highly productive, striking a good balance between gaining a better understanding of the concepts being tested and getting to a better answer. I could not imagine going through the "Core," as the first semester is referred to here, without this amazing and diverse (not to mention hilarious) group.
The core at MIT Sloan is an intensely paced immersion into the fundamentals of business education widely referred to as "drinking from a fire hose." What isn't commonly mentioned is that you are in control of the spigot. In my opinion, the volume of classroom content is not overwhelming, not by any means. On top of that, the administration is very conscientious of the "big picture" and they work hard to spread the deliverables across the 18 weeks.
Were midterms hard? For sure, this isn't Gymboree, it's MIT. Even the former accountants I know didn't ace the accounting midterm. However, success here isn't measured in the grades received, it is in the mastery of the concepts, because my eventual success, the success out in the real world, won't be because I got an "A" in Organizational Processes, it will be because I am able to apply the concepts from OP in a real business setting. This is the very nature of the education here, providing the tools, not the rules to be successful in any challenge.
In life, there is rarely a silver bullet answer, so much depends on the context of the situation, and MIT Sloan teaches you to discern the important aspects of the context and to apply the intelligence accordingly. Where I think people get into trouble, as I am finding myself, is managing all of the extracurricular opportunities, from clubs to external projects to the barrage of company presentations.
While my peers and I are busy managing classroom deliverables, the clubs are actively recruiting for membership and leadership positions, the community is looking to tap into the collective intelligence that comes in year after year, and companies are holding numerous presentations and coffee chats to gain access to top MBA talent. Lucky for me, when I was asked to write down three things I hope to get out of my time at MIT Sloan, gainful employment wasn't one of them! Of course I want a job, and when recruiting season comes around, maybe my tune will change, but just as death and taxes are the reality for all of us, so is getting a job after business school. Maybe that is optimistic thinking, especially given the state of the economy, and I'm not advocating that getting a job is easy, but I would argue that the need to pursue practical, value-adding experience is even more appropriate in this volatile time.
I'm a career-changer hoping to gain more experience in the areas of interest I want to pursue, namely innovation management strategies and the practical implementation of sustainable business models. As such, I took a leadership position in the MIT Innovation Club, joined a Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development project team working with a new business model in Tanzania, and recently joined a project team heading to Thailand in January to help a small company analyze its competitive advantage and develop a go-to-market strategy for a new distribution channel.
With all these activities, I don't have much time for the traditional company networking events. My approach isn't the path for everyone, so I appreciate that MIT Sloan tries to support all of these paths effectively. Of course the career office works hard to bring in top companies with proven MBA recruiting programs, but if you're interested in something outside this model or don't want to make a decision before you've had the opportunity to really explore the options (as is sometimes required), the support for that path exists as well, you just may have to work a little harder to tap into it. Personally, I wouldn't want it any other way. I am no stranger to the road less traveled and I think the more you put into something, the more you get out of it. Nowhere is this more evident than at MIT Sloan where the culture epitomizes "doing" as a means of learning and there is more support than you can ever ask for, the key is remembering to ask.