My Story: From Cornell To The Bank Of America

Nathan Towns 2It was a scary place to be, because I’d gotten to that stage so fast that I didn’t know where I could go next. It felt like I’d be stuck there for five to 10 years before they’d even think about promoting me. I also realized that since my skillset was in a specific industry—the for-profit education industry—if I tried to go into any other industry, I’d be back at entry level.

The week I became the director of finance was the week I started the business school application process.

They didn’t really preach the path to business school to us at Cal Poly. I didn’t know what the GMAT was until my senior year, and they pretty much just told us, “Oh, if you get a 550, you might be able to come back to either Cal State or get into some kind of MBA program.” But having worked in the for-profit education industry, I knew I wasn’t going to go back to school if I didn’t get a full ride; I didn’t want to take out $100,00 in loans. Luckily, I found out I could apply through the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which offers members of underrepresented minorities scholarships to the top business schools.

I narrowed my list down to six schools: Cornell (my first choice), USC (a close second), Texas, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, and Indiana. Everything Cornell had seemed to fit me. First of all, I always knew about Cornell, so I thought the school had good brand recognition. I wanted the small class size, and I wanted something of a real college experience: I liked the fact that Cornell was nestled away from the city, so you had no choice but to hang out with your classmates. At the same time, I wanted to work in New York City after school, so I wanted to be close enough to go there for recruiting and interviewing. In the end, I got what I wanted: I was admitted to Cornell with a full ride.

Moving to the East Coast was harder than I anticipated. In all honesty, I visited home about seven times during the first year.

I had seasonal depression the first year—like, I didn’t even want to get out of bed. I think I needed to get away because I didn’t want to be labeled as the person who never left Southern California. The second year has been better, but I did everything in the recruiting process to make sure I’d be back there. I came, I saw, but I’m going back.

It was ridiculously easy to connect with people, though.

I feel like we all came here with open arms. Out of the 275 people in my class, I would say I know everybody by face and at least 180 people by name. The environment is very collaborative, even though we were on a strict curve during the first year. I think we all have chips on our shoulders because we always feel like our school didn’t get a fair chance in the U.S. News rankings. We want to lift each other up because we want to lift the school up.

It’s hard to say what the most important thing I’ve learned at Cornell is, but it definitely isn’t academic. I didn’t have a lot of friends from other countries before I came to business school, and I’ve learned how to interact with people from completely different backgrounds, how to be sensitive to where other people are coming from, and how to really listen instead of thinking I had them figured out.

Business school isn’t really about the classes, especially for people who studied business in college.

I think we gain the most from the leadership and strategy classes—that’s what will help us in the long term. But knowing, say, intermediate accounting? That can be learned from going online and Googling. There’s a big difference between the first and second years, too. The first year was awesome because everyone was taking the same core classes. After that, it’s kind of like, “Do whatever you want to do!” I feel like I’ve been ready to go back to work since I finished my summer internship at Bank of America. Two years feels like a little too much.

After graduation, I’ll be going into Bank of America’s Consumer Banking Sales Management Leadership Development Program.

I’m super excited for the program, because it incorporates so many different areas of the MBA. There’s sales, finance, operations, managing people, being in a client-facing role—I’m really stoked to use all the skills I’ve learned in business school instead of just one.

For the first six months, I’ll be in Charlotte for training, but I should find my way back to Southern California with no problem. That’s just home to me; I grew up there, so that’s where my friends and family are. I miss my mom and dad. My brother is going into his senior year in high school, and I want to be able to get out there for his football games. I can’t wait to be back.

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