One Class To Another: The Best Advice


There’s no one way to choose a business school. Some applicants craft intricate formulas that quantify every variable. Others shop around for the best package. And a lucky few ‘just know’ when a school is right after their campus visits. Alison Mehlsak didn’t draw on a complex point systems or faint gut feelings to choose the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business for her MBA. Instead, she relied on the “Holy Trinity.”

Alison Mehlsak, University of Virginia (Darden)

Alison Mehlsak, University of Virginia (Darden)

No, we’re not talking about the religious entity. Mehlsak’s trusty trio involved the three criteria most critical to her decision. “In my case, it was: 1) Educational Experience, 2) Location, and 3) Job Prospects,” she explains. “Within your three, typically any single school or job can deliver fully on two of them, and you’ll need to make compromises on the third. Being honest with yourself…is critical to giving yourself both boundaries and flexibility.”

In fact, Mehlsak has applied this rule of three to simplify her internship and employment decisions too. “Being Jewish, I never thought I’d believe in any kind of Holy Trinity,” Mehlsak cracks, “but this one has worked wonders for me.”


The “Holy Trinity” is just one of the best pieces of advice from Poets&QuantsBest and Brightest MBAs of 2016. As part of our survey of this year’s top second years, Poets&Quants asked nominees to share the best advice they would give to a prospective MBA student.

When it comes to choosing a business school, Austin Ayres, a Deloitte consultant from Southern Methodist University, urges students to reflect deeply on why they want to earn an MBA. “Far too often,” Ayres shares, “I find that students lean on an advanced degree when they are unsure of where to go next in their career. While I’m not saying this is bad, I have found that my most successful classmates had a clear goal when they came to business school. They knew that they had certain experiences and strengths and needed to enhance them with the skills learned in an MBA program to further their career.”

SMU's Austin Ayres

SMU’s Austin Ayres

In Ayres’ case, that meant adding the business vernacular and strategy components to his strengths in leadership and communication – skills he had honed as a Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy. Over his time in Cox’s MBA program, he learned that his clarity and focus appealed to employers too. “Employers love to see pathways of purpose,” Ayres adds. “Why did you go somewhere and what did you learn? That creates an extremely strong statement that lets interviewers know you are serious about your career and the decisions you make along the way.”


Once candidates commit to business school, several grads urged their successors to plan ahead. Amid the torrent of core coursework, social events, recruiter visits, and club activities, it can be easy for first years to get lost observes Yale SOM’s Sarah Esty. And she would know: Esty earned a dual degree program with Yale Law School – the top-ranked legal program in the country. In an environment where “you’d need two or three MBAs to do it all,” Esty says, planning ahead is key to getting the most out of business school.

“If you’re not sure what you want to do later or what skills or experiences you want to take away from the program, it can feel overwhelming to have to choose what doors to close, but having a plan for what you want to do allows you to confidently pick and choose how to invest your time so you’re not running between so many different things – you never get to enjoy any of them.”

Echoing Esty’s sentiments is the University of Minnesota’s Sara Moret, a Bain recruit who helped nearly 40% of her first and second year classmates with their job hunt. She views the summer as the time for incoming students to cross off those simple tasks that can be distracting (if not daunting) come fall. “Take the summer before business school to pause: What gives you energy? What are you passionate about? What are your greatest strengths? Then, start networking with low-risk contacts who will be honest with you about the industry. If you want to go into marketing, talk to a friend who has done marketing before. Just find a safe space to answer some of your early questions so you can come to campus ready to dive in.”

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