When it comes to his educational experiences, Brandon Ngai has always blazed his own path.
At age 16, he was a freshman student-athlete majoring in aerospace engineering, while also competing on the University of Illinois men’s gymnastics team. He was the youngest known athlete to compete at Illinois, and then became the youngest NCAA champion on record when he won the national pommel horse title at age 17. He went on to become the youngest MBA student ever at Gies College of Business at age 20.
“It definitely is a little weird, but it’s normal to me,” said Ngai, now a second-year MBA student. “When I was 14 years old, my junior year of high school, I took part-time classes at the community college with students who were 21-22 years old. It doesn’t take long before it becomes normal, and people view me based on the quality of my work and performance instead of my age.”
Ngai’s performance inside and outside the classroom speaks for itself. He was a three-time NCAA All-American, 2016 NCAA champion, and 2017 Big Ten champion. The Sacramento, California-native believes he had a realistic chance to compete for Team USA in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo; but instead of extending his gymnastics career, he was ready to focus fully on his professional career.
“I was getting tired by the end of my senior year,” said the three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection. “It wasn’t the gymnastics itself; I was just ready to move on to other things, whether that means a career or continuing my education.”
Ngai chose to continue his education – not by furthering his aerospace engineering studies – but by enrolling in the MBA program at Gies College of Business.
“I realized the engineering industry wasn’t for me. At the same time, I found aspects of business very interesting,” he said. “I decided earning an MBA would help me pivot my career, combining a business foundation with the quantitative skills that I learned through engineering.”
Finance and capital markets especially struck a chord with Ngai, but he was almost too late to enroll in the Fall 2018 cohort. With only two weeks to study for the GMAT, Ngai scored 740. That put him among the top 3% in the nation, and it would’ve been good enough to get into any business school in the world. He chose Gies Business.
Ngai never took any formal business courses during his undergraduate education, so he entered Gies Business with a fresh slate. He plans to pursue a career in the insurance or asset management industry. He served as a catastrophe modeling intern at AXIS Capital inside the University of Illinois Research Park, and he completed a summer internship with USAA at their corporate office in San Antonio, Texas.
“Gies Business is extremely career-driven. Career outcome is the number one priority here,” he said. “The amount of support we get is incredible. My MBA cohort of about 50 students has a dedicated career advisor, who works directly with us. They provide a great sense of urgency and great support to help us land great jobs.”
Ngai is well on his way to landing a great job. He’ll likely join the 91% of Gies MBA graduates who get a job within three months of graduation. The averaging starting salary for the Class of 2018 totaled $91,500. When he graduates with an MBA at only 21 years of age, Ngai will join more than 64,000 Gies Business alumni worldwide. It’s a family he is proud to be part of.
“It’s definitely going to be special,” Ngai said. “Over the last semester, I’ve reached out to a lot of Gies alumni, and they’re always so helpful. They’re willing to sit down with me to talk about careers and help me connect with other people in the industry. That’s been extremely valuable to me, and I hope to someday be that same resource for other students.”
The Gies MBA is truly a transformational experience, and the program is always searching for qualified candidates with exceptional backgrounds. For more information, visit mba.illinois.edu.
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