However, for Nik Pereira-Kamath, leaving HBS was literally a matter of life and death. He moved to Rwanda to open the Africa Healthcare Network (AHN), where he intends to “establish the first dialysis chain across Sub-Saharan Africa, providing high-quality, life-saving dialysis at affordable cost.” With treatment facilities run down and charging high rates, Pereira-Kamath saw an opportunity to do good and turn a profit. However, he wrestled with the choice to leave for a long time, even consulting with professors to seek other avenues. In the process, he had an epiphany: To make his venture work, he had to commit to it full-time. “If there has been one thing I have learned from my past three months in Rwanda,” he tells The Harbus, “[it is that] there is no way to operate and business and have it succeed if you are not on the ground pushing it forward. Passion drives performance and if I were to leave, I am saddened to admit that it will fail.”
MOST PLAN TO RETURN AT SOME POINT
Such choices come with tradeoffs and regrets. Student loans, for example, come due in some cases. And most dropouts already miss their cohorts. Ethan Bernstein founded Freebird, a travel rebooking service. Although he characterizes himself as “never been happier,” he admits to missing his friends and section mates while he is “swinging for the fences.” Similarly, Alec Lee would’ve enjoyed graduating with his friends. However, he expects to maintain these relationships in the coming years. “We’re adults and I trust the strength of the relationships I’ve made in the last year.”
Of course, each of these students struggle with whether to someday return to HBS. The school offers a five year safety net for students to re-enter, which they can do either during either semester. Houghton, for one, intends to take advantage of this benefit. “There’s a ton of EC classes I want to take and I don’t like the idea of having half of an MBA.” Lee is agnostic on the point. “Most likely, [I’ll return],” he tells The Harbus. “I’m not delaying because I didn’t get value out of RC year – in fact the opposite is true. I got a lot out of it and want to maximize what I get out of EC year. But if I don’t come back it will probably be because I had an even better opportunity elsewhere, so I look at the decision to delay as a win-win.”
Despite her best intentions, Chisa isn’t certain she’ll return to take care of unfinished business. “Five years is a long time and I think it’d be great to return to HBS at some point to incubate my own company. Although every time I talk to one of my mentors, they say that I won’t. I guess we’ll see!”
In fact, The Harbus’ Hind wonders if the current two year structure is even relevant anymore. “Will they come back? Some will. The staggered second year seems like a good ‘breather’ once people have pursued their opportunity. Maybe there’s real value in an MBA completed two separate years in a several year period: you can learn, apply it, reflect, then come back renewed to find another challenge.”
ADVICE TO PROSPECTIVE DROPOUTS: CARPE DIEM
In each case, these HBS drop-offs have found an outlet for their talents and a purpose for their work. Does that mean they’d present the contrarian argument and encourage future students to follow their example? Or, would they attempt to talk them out of dropping out like everyone else? Houghton views it as a personal call, but wouldn’t discount it entirely. “I would remain open to it,” he advises. “I decided in the spring that the best case scenario for me would be if any business I was working on was going so well that I couldn’t come back. That’s exactly what happened and it’s exciting.”
Chisa, on the other hand, warns potential dropouts against following the pack. “I think people assume the world is linear, but it isn’t. Who says you need to do two years in a row? Sometimes, that’s not the best option, given what you have available to you. I learned a lot during the RC, I’m applying some of it, and I’ll go back when I’m ready for more time in the classroom.
At the same time, Pereira-Kamath cautions students to live in the moment and not dwell on the decision. “Do not think about it,” he declares to The Harbus. “I had an unbelievable experience my first year and not once did I seek out advice on deferring. Embrace the fun and make the decision when the time comes. If you start thinking about it, you’ll miss out on an amazing first year with an unbelievable group of friends.”
And Bernstein simply points students to the big picture. “Search for something that makes you truly happy. It probably won’t be the first place you look and it probably won’t be what everyone else is looking at. Then go for it.”
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