The UCLA Learning Curve

"I thought I would be entering a bubble when I entered business school. Instead I was made acutely aware of the bubble I had been living in before."

Hi journal readers,

I hope everyone is doing well and not on their nineteenth consecutive breakdown as a result of the economic implosion. It might seem like all is well in the protective "bubble" of business school, but I warn you that school does not provide the protective shell you might be seeking. Quite the opposite. Business school takes you out of your comfort zone and makes you fully aware of the bubble you had been living in before. By exposing you to new concepts, people, activities, environments, and theories, it makes you much more aware of the larger world around you. UCLA-Anderson is an environment that pulls you in countless directions at once, where you feel overwhelmed and exhilarated, motivated and crushed; yet you love every second of it.

When UCLA-Anderson orientation begins, you quickly realize that you are far from home, even if that home is across the street from the campus in Westwood Village, Calif. UCLA-Anderson divides the class of 370 into five sections, this year going by the names of Avengers, Blues Brothers, Cowboys/Cowgirls, Disco, and Elvis. These 70 or so people will join you in your ten core courses over the first year. Still, actual classes are far from everyone's mind as you endure leadership seminars, a ropes/obstacle course, improv classes, countless mingling events, a game day, and the awesome, historic culmination of the two weeks: the ’80s party.

Orientation: Learning the Value of Teamwork

It may sound like summer camp, and in some ways it certainly was, but every event was calculated to prepare us for the start of school. Once that first day hits, there is no grace period for "settling in." The onslaught of classes, clubs, career prep, social events, and new classmates comes fast, and it's up to you to learn how to manage them all. A large part of business school is being in the right place at the right time. Was the Goldman Sachs presentation in B313 or Gold 313? And are they the same room? Will that conflict with my counseling meeting at the Parker Career Management Center? Is that statistics quiz on Tuesday or was that the econ problem set? Which one is a group project? Is the case prep due for marketing the one about the BMW Z3 or contact lenses for chickens?

The beauty of orientation is that it solidifies relationships with your peers and teaches you to work together toward a common goal. It may have happened during an improv game, while you were climbing a pole 30 feet in the air, or during the ruthless kickball game on Game Day, but it happened. The most hardened cynics, perhaps including myself at one point, were shown that the experience to come is as much about everyone else as it is about you. My moment came as I was paralyzed with fear trying to stand 30 feet in the air on a pole the size of a small kitchen stool. Hearing my group cheer and offer advice focused me and helped me overcome my own fear. No amount of lecturing would have been able to do what the activities of orientation were so effective in communicating: the value of working together.

Classes start, syllabi are distributed, and the rude awakening that UCLA Anderson will consist of hours upon hours of Data and Decisions (statistics), Managerial Economics, Financial Accounting, Marketing Management, and Financial Markets sinks in quickly. As hard and as much work as the classes become, they are so acutely related to what is happening in the world, more now than ever, that you are engrossed regardless of your background. And the variety of backgrounds at UCLA Anderson is astounding. People come from all industries all over the world and have intentions of heading to different industries across the globe.

Popping the Bubble

The learning curve from courses might be matched or exceeded by the learning curve from fellow students. As I mentioned earlier, I thought I would be entering a bubble when I entered business school. Instead I was made acutely aware of the bubble I had been living in before.

I have met someone younger than me with three children, a soldier who recently returned from Iraq, and someone whose passions include ultimate fighting and ballroom dancing. Business school shows and teaches why a corporation, in our case the UCLA Anderson Class of 2010, is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts.

No matter how independent you planned to be, you will end up depending and relying on others for your survival. The support system at UCLA Anderson is built to help you present your best self in class, on the job hunt, in club organizations, and with alumni, professors, and peers. For example, UCLA Anderson has created ACT Groups to advise first years on the specifics of the job hunt for their industry. These groups are led by generous second years that have been through the process, and will tirelessly field questions that emerge.

My ACT Group has researched companies, critiqued résumés, exchanged contacts, discussed etiquette questions unique to our industry, and brought in guest speakers to outline what "strategy" and "business development" really entail. Recruiting actually begins before you arrive on campus and takes more time and effort than I anticipated. UCLA Anderson students are as generous here, if not more, as they are in the classroom. The better we all look individually, the better the school looks to outside corporations.

Having said all I have about how much of a time commitment business school becomes, I will add that if you plan it right, there is time to enjoy life outside of school, and in my case, Los Angeles. I have played tennis every week since I arrived; I have been to the beach; I have celebrated classmates' birthdays; I have found a great costume for the Halloween party; I have kept up with every episode of Brothers & Sisters; and celebrated the end of each week with my classmates, as smart and fun a group of individuals anywhere. The potential involvement is overwhelming and you cannot, and are not, expected to do it all. Picking where to commit your time and energy is a hard but necessary evil of UCLA Anderson: if you spread yourself too thin, you risk not really being a valuable part of anything. Five weeks in, everyone is finding their place and choosing where they want to make their mark, both for now at UCLA Anderson but also eventually in their chosen professional path.

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