Amaris Singer could easily pass for Rory Gilmore, the brainy, sweet and straight-laced lead character of Gilmore Girls. Singer even attended Gilmore’s alma mater, Yale, as an undergraduate. But the Albuquerque native and self-described desert child is edgier, saltier and more business savvy than her TV counterpart – plus, she’ll soon bag a business degree from Gilmore’s first-choice school, Harvard.
Singer, who is between her first and second years at Harvard Business School, could have easily taken a prestigious corporate internship this summer. Instead, she and three classmates launched MBAs Across America with a cross-country road trip to learn from and work with entrepreneurs from all over the nation. “So many people go to big corporate things on the East Coast or the West Coast, specifically New York and San Francisco—and that’s fine,” Singer says. “But we kind of felt like it’s a little bit out of sync for HBS to send all 925 of us to emerging markets to see what business is like on the ground there but to not do anything comparable in the U.S.”
Does Singer have any regrets about her decision to pass on traditional work experience? None so far. “MBAs Across America is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my whole life,” she says. “The places that we’re going—like, we’re the least cool people who are being assembled in these places.” Between such locales as Detroit, Las Vegas and New Orleans, the four MBAs have also had a chance to bond. “Getting to know my teammates better along the way has been pretty fucking cool,” she says.
Now that she’s several weeks in, Singer is reflecting on where the experience will lead her. She’s wary of planning too far ahead. “I have no idea if I’ll get married or have kids or live in Wisconsin,” she says. “Who knows? But I think I will be making an effort to put creative, meaningful ideas into the world and work with people who are smart, collaborative and engaged in what’s around them.” Her goals aren’t necessarily traditional, but Singer stands by them. “They’re all Millennial-sounding ideas,” she admits, “but these are things that I really believe in.”
My mom didn’t graduate from college. Ever since the beginning, she told me that education is the best way to ensure you’ll be able to make your own choices in life. That mentality is imprinted on my whole being. I always felt that undergrad alone wouldn’t be enough. What I struggled with was that in my first few years of working, I could never come up with a really good reason to go to grad school.
I worked for five years before I went to HBS. I started off as a business analyst at McKinsey & Company, but I decided that I wanted to do something that still had a strategic element but was much more creative. I eventually worked at Wolff Olins, a branding agency in New York City.
I was doing things I loved with people I loved—but I also started thinking about starting my own business. Having worked in branding agencies, I realized there’s a big gap between people who are in business and people who are in design. They could be so much more valuable to each other if there were a translator, and I felt like an MBA would help give me the credibility to translate between both. At that point in my life, it also felt like I had both the most to contribute and the most to learn. I was right at that tipping point.
I applied to Columbia and Harvard, but the biggest choice for me wasn’t really between the schools. It was between HBS and transferring to London with my job. A lot of people go to business school because they don’t necessarily like what they’re doing, but I loved what I was doing. I didn’t want to just go to wherever I got in, because I wasn’t certain enough about the whole experience; you can learn about business by just working at one in real life. Harvard made a lot of sense. The school gives you the chance to do things like go abroad and work in emerging markets or get several thousand dollars to start a micro-business. Those opportunities reflected the kind of immersion I was looking for.
A lot of people were pretty persistent in telling me why I should go to HBS. One of them is an HBS alumna I used to work with. When she heard that I was thinking of going to London instead of school, she and her husband, who had gone to HBS as well, called me at the same time. They basically said, “Look, I know it seems expensive. I know it seems like there are all these obstacles, but you will find out that the experience helps you live up to your potential. You might not understand that from reading a pamphlet or knowing what classes you’ll take, but you will not regret it.” How could you ignore advice like that? I just felt like this was something I had to do for myself.