Coming back to school was not something I’d ever considered after graduation. I still valued continuous learning, but I was committed to learning and growing outside the formal academic system. I was convinced that I could get the same value attending webinars, diving into masterclasses, and attending networking events.
Many times, you’ll find people who never thought they’d pursue an MBA. Suddenly, one day, they realize its importance, whether it is increased knowledge or a more influential network. Two years ago, I was on the fence about returning for a more formal education. What led me to leave my job and spend two years in business school? Here is my story…
YOUR MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE IS TIME
Let me first tell you a little bit about myself. I am a second year full-time MBA student at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. As an undergrad, I studied music and psychology, with the intent of becoming a high school music teacher. By the time I graduated, I decided to pursue a career in marketing. I have always loved thinking about how people see the world and marketing was a perfect way to monetize that passion. For the past three years, I worked in various roles, learning every facet of digital marketing that I could from mentors, colleagues, webinars, books, and YouTube.
My journey to Tepper started during a conversation with two of my closest friends and mentors. One holds an MBA, while the other earned a master’s in engineering and is now pursuing an MBA. The conversation started innocently enough, with each of us talking about careers and what we were working on. Gradually the conversation shifted to me, as the youngest of the group, and how I was the only one at the table without an advanced degree. The back-and-forth that ensued touched on all the normal benefits of an advanced degree: higher pay, better network, improved opportunities, more hiring potential, and a myriad of other positive outcomes.
One of the key things that stood out to me, though, was the value idea of time. It stuck with me that an MBA might be the best way to use my time to advance my career. I started plotting out what I saw as a likely professional trajectory for myself, with and without an MBA. This included looking at what sort of job I wanted next, what industry was most appealing, and what experience separated me from the type of roles I aspired to hold. I quickly realized that I was most attracted to PMM roles in the tech space. Looking at my profile, and some examples of professional paths I found through a search, I realized that without an MBA, it would likely take me five years to get the same return for my career.
INSPIRATION…FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE
From that conversation, I started to look into programs and study for the GMAT. I considered both part-time and full-time programs and put together spreadsheets that included cost options, projected lifetime value (based on website data), and the value of keeping my job or going part-time. I also examined locations and specialties of individual programs.
From this analysis – and with the initial desire to do my MBA on a low budget – my initial decision was to attend a local university in Cleveland part-time and graduate in three years. I visited the campus, spoke to professors, and was ready to submit my application. I never sent that application in, however. That’s because my older sister put me in touch with an alumnus from NYU Stern. It was a conversation that changed my entire plan.
My initial hypothesis was that the value of an MBA was relatively the same no matter where you go. My older sister, who holds a master’s from Cornell, was determined to convince me otherwise. She extolled the virtues of Ivy League schools, top 20 rankings, and the strength a good program can lend to your personal brand. I was still stubborn and resisted these notions since I knew I would be footing the bill for this myself. The alumnus my sister put me in touch with had graduated from Stern several years ago and, of course, specialized in finance. He immediately put my financial worries to rest, telling me I was underestimating the opportunity. Better still, he added that MBAs were able to pay down their degree in 5 years! The school you go to, he said, can drastically affect the value of your experience and the outcomes you receive. That included the caliber of people you interact with, the shared experience of working and learning together in a full-time program, and the commitment involved can change your experience exponentially.
TEPPER TOPS THE LIST
After this conversation, I threw out my old spreadsheets and focused solely on top 20 schools. I went on campus tours, did virtual tours for campuses that would involve too much travel, met with professors, and honed my application essays. Most importantly, I had conversations with students to help narrow my list and learn about the culture at different universities.
When I interacted with students from Tepper, it instantly moved to my list of top programs. The conversations felt right. Students were authentic and open to sharing their full experience. The students I spoke to were happy to share the best aspects of the program…along with what they sought to improve. They were able to explain how, since it is a smaller program, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved and make meaningful change. It didn’t feel like another pitch of why I should go to this particular school.
I also learned more about Pittsburgh than I ever wanted to know, along with discovering how the smaller cohort really did help everyone to connect on a deeper level. Since I started here, I have become involved in over a dozen clubs, joined the MBA student government, worked on my own startup project, played in a band, and explored my leadership style through our Accelerate Leadership Center.
In my next post, I plan to explore this community more and share what it means to be a Tepper student.
Chris Wendt is a second-year MBA student at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. From humble beginnings as an aspiring music teacher, Chris has built his career as a digital marketing guru and spent his summer internship as a Product Marketing Manager at VMware. Chris enjoys music, whiskey sours, rock climbing, and long walks with his pet FitBit.