My Story: From Beauty Queen to An MBA

I’d thought about being on that stage my whole life and there I was, standing in the moment. It sounds cliché, but I felt extremely fortunate. You can’t help but feel that way. In my heart I always believed I could do it, but to actually have it happen is indescribable. I still get chills when I think about it.

Toward the middle of my year as Miss New Jersey, I began thinking about what I would do next. Business school wasn’t really on the table at the time. My undergraduate degree from Marist College was in communication and I’d spent some time doing freelance work for CBS College Sports Network and the Major League Baseball Network. I also did some public relations work with Nike Communications. Because of these experiences, I considered law school because I thought I wanted to go into sports management or become an entertainment lawyer.

But as the year continued, I saw myself evolve in my role as Miss New Jersey and I knew I either wanted to take the obesity platform to an entrepreneurial level or pursue a career in public relations, marketing, or consulting.

“Your year as Miss New Jersey is done, welcome to business school.” The transition from Miss New Jersey to Rutgers was a huge 180 in my life. It was a swift turnaround with everything taking place in a matter of six months. I studied for and took the GMAT and applied to Rutgers Business School. I really liked Rutgers’ presentation. Plus it was a good fit for me because I’m from New Jersey, it was flexible, affordable, and I could work it into my schedule.

Ashley Shaffer, crowned Miss New Jersey in 2009, is now an MBA student at Rutgers University Business School

My concentration is ironic. I chose finance because I don’t have a business background. While I still enjoy marketing and communications and public relations, having a degree in finance will complement my undergrad degree and position me for a successful business career.

Because I enjoy both public relations and finance, I could see myself in investor relations when I finish the MBA program. But on the flip side, I may choose something wherein I can use my MBA in the sports or health industries. I see myself in the corporate arena and I like the stability factor of having a set job, but I could possibly own my own business down the road, using my MBA for entrepreneurial endeavors with my cook book and the children’s book.

Four words I would use to describe Rutgers are diverse, flexible, challenging, and supportive. While the course work is very hard and very challenging, and the professors expect a lot from us, they’re really supportive and want to see us succeed. The career management office is also extremely helpful. It’s definitely like a small family where everyone is very supportive of one another.

When I first got to Rutgers I was totally intimidated by the number of strong women in my class. They are the most driven, dedicated, and focused group of females I’ve ever encountered.  However, they never made me feel out of place because I was a former beauty queen. They just accepted that I had high ambitions too and were respectful of my past achievements and the goals I now hold for my future.

My professors didn’t really know about it until an article was recently published in the school newspaper. Sometimes I’m sitting in class with a hat on and no make-up, trying to be inconspicuous. One professor said to me, “I didn’t know I was in the presence of a queen.”

Aside from my professors and friends who occasionally poke fun, I try to be a normal person and keep a low profile—as ironic as that may sound.

Since leaving pageant life, there are two things I miss. Certainly having the time to pamper myself and do girly things like hair and make-up and manicures. I also remember and miss the smiles on the faces of the little girls whom I met. It’s funny because you’re out there and you’re on appearances, you’re signing pictures and your hand is cramping up from signing so many autographs. There were times when I just wanted to go home. But in their eyes, I was this amazing Disney princess and the coolest person to them at that moment. It’s a humbling feeling to have young girls look at me in that way and to be a role model for them to look up to.

On the other hand, I definitely could do without the scrutiny that comes with being a beauty queen. I don’t miss the criticisms and the negativity of it all. There’s constant criticism of what you look like and what you’re wearing. And, let’s be honest, it’s a competition so there’s a bit of cattiness that comes with the territory also.

Business school and the real world don’t allow the flexibility to compete, so my pageant days are over. In addition, having already served as Miss New Jersey and competing for Miss America, I can no longer compete for either crown. But I’ll still be associated with the pageant. I’m also a part of an amazing sisterhood of former Miss New Jersey women.

Although my competing days are over, I know I’ll be a part of this for the rest of my life.

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