Taking Stock Of My MBA Experience One Year In

Not long ago, I looked back at my meticulous, color-coded Excel document from 2010 that compared and contrasted the half dozen business schools that I applied to: UCLA, Vanderbilt, Berkeley, Texas, UC-Irvine, and USC. In retrospect, I wish that I placed less emphasis on rankings. Some career paths do require a top-tier MBA, but if you work hard enough, no company is truly out of your reach. It was important to me to go to a reputable, accredited school, but I believe that you don’t necessarily have to have a top 10 MBA to change your career for the better.

I’m happy with my choice of UC-Irvine’s Merage School of Business because I wanted a smaller, diverse program with a great value and ROI after graduation. The alumni database may be smaller than larger programs, but the network is very tight. UC Irvine is also focused on innovation and entrepreneurship, which is important to me. The location in sunny southern California is perfect, but most importantly, the quality of the career center–92% of the class was employed by three months after graduation—closed the deal. Since I’m going to B-school to start a new career, this stat was definitely the one that stood out.

It’s funny to think where my GMAT adventure has taken me so far.
Did the first year go by fast? Unbelievably fast. It seems like yesterday we were in intensive, trying to figure out what this is all about. The first quarter was brutal as we all tried to remember how to study for exams and pay attention in class. Suddenly, it’s June. I have a feeling next year will go by even faster.

Is it hard to go back to being a student? It is quite a jarring change from corporate life. Routines are not nearly as defined, and everything in your life is all over the place. Classes are challenging, especially quant-heavy ones. Also, I do miss having a little bit of money, but there is always time later on in life for money, and it will come! That’s what the summer internship is for — to gain experience and tide you over in the summertime.

Is it fun? Of course it’s fun. The people you meet are mostly all around your age and are at similar points in their lives. Not only are they extremely smart and have incredible work experience, but their diversity means that you are constantly learning new things outside the classroom. There are people that I’ve met that I will always be in touch with, and always be proud to be friends with. Plus, southern California isn’t a bad place to be during grad school.

What have I learned? The words “kanban” and “confidence intervals” will forever strike fear into my heart. I’ve learned a great deal about business strategy, and combining the various components of management in different situations. You’d think I’d have learned it in undergrad, but procrastination still doesn’t help your GPA. My network is at least 3 times the size it was when I entered business school nine months ago. I’ve learned not to settle, not to buy the textbook before you know you need it, not to worry about things you can’t control, and to prioritize what’s important to you. I’ve learned that Orange County is not as dull as I originally thought, mostly because of my discovery of boba tea. Who knew?

The 2012 graduating class of Merage is going into prestigious opportunities at companies like Apple, Disney, Oakley, and Deloitte. When they started, the economy was tanked and many people thought they were crazy to enter a graduate program. We’ve all heard the MBA naysayers, but even with only one year finished, I can say that business school has and will continue to improve the quality of my life.

As for the class of 2013, I’m extremely proud that we got through this, and I will miss seeing everyone each day as they go off around the country to their amazing internships.

Time to celebrate.

Kristen Creager, an MBA student at UC-Irvine’s Merage School of Business, blogs at kristencreager.com.