In 2017, when I began the MBA application process, I never thought that I would be in Madison, Wisconsin, at the start of my final semester in business school in 2021. No one would have ever considered a global pandemic to add to it. In a very tough year, I can still say that I am very grateful and hopeful for the opportunity to enhance my educational and professional experiences at Wisconsin.
I began my career in educational non-profits to live out my goal to give back to the same communities where I spent my younger years. I advised and coached students in their careers, leading to college and STEM pathways. Those were some fantastic formative experiences that built my interest in ensuring that others reached their goals. I also became interested in understanding the organizations where I worked. There is a considerable responsibility in managing non-profits that best optimizes the experiences and services that an organization can provide to its beneficiaries. At times, this was easier than said than done, mostly amidst a recession when I began my career. I kept the curiosity for management in the back of my mind as I moved through different roles. It became clear that I wanted to merge these experiences into a strategic HR business role as my next step. That story has other meaningful twists and turns, but in the spirit of reflection in my last semester, here’s what I wish I had known before starting this journey to an MBA as a career changer/enhancer.
- Many students are changing or enhancing their careers in some way when they attend business school. I’ve said this many times to prospective students: there is no such thing as a “non-traditional” business student. I believed that I was at a disadvantage because I had never had any corporate business experiences. Guess what? We all have varying degrees of business knowledge. While you might have had some great relevant experience, we are all here to elevate that knowledge to a new level. #levelup
- You bring so much to share with your peers already. I learned so much from my peers with previous experiences in marketing, finance, and technology. Their experiences enriched my experiences. I brought skills to the table that also elevated my team. I am confident, organized, and can usually bring peace after conflict and alternate viewpoints to our work. When it came to asking questions during consulting cases or working within groups, my professional facilitation skills as a counselor came in handy. Also, I’m a life-long learner and love to find out things I don’t know. As a researcher and a copy-editor, once I gained more knowledge in HR, I brought that insight into cases where people issues were part of the discussion. Your strengths will shine.
- Your MBA journey can then lead you to other areas of interest. The “change” for you will continue to evolve. While I had some direction into my next steps after business school, I was surprised about the areas that stood out to me that have enhanced my learning. Some of my favorite classes are very much directly related to the world of strategic HR, but I have a new appreciation for marketing, finance, entrepreneurship, and economics. During my internship, I learned about the power of marketing and communication in change management. I decided to take an additional marketing course to continue to solidify that understanding. I’m also confident that my role as a teaching assistant for entrepreneurship courses has given me a much better base for future personal ventures. How great is that?
- Look around, and share with others when you might be struggling. Yes, business school was still new to me, which meant learning a lot at once. I was overwhelmed by everything. Classes were new again to me, as I had not been a student in several years. Applying and interviewing for internships was what I did in my free time, and I just kept my head above water as a teaching assistant. It can be tempting to think that everyone has it all figured out. Share your sentiments with your peers, new friends, and, yes, staff. I am so grateful for all the support I received in my first year. It made the transition so much easier. You’ve got this; seek the help you need.
- Enjoy the experience to the fullest. I am so grateful for the football games, the tailgates, the TAPS, and all the speaker events I attended. As much as I liked my courses, learning and developing relationships from those social activities is truly valuable. While the pandemic has cut those short for us in the Class of 2021, I’m glad I could build those relationships with my peers to feel like when we meet online or in-person (in the future), we can still count on our shared experience as Business Badgers. It goes by too fast. U-RAH-RAH, WISCONSIN.