Meet the MBA Class of 2023: Sydney McNeal, Columbia Business School

Sydney McNeal 

Columbia Business School

“A recovering child actor using creative thinking to generate and implement new solutions to complex problems.”

Hometown: Montclair, NJ

Fun Fact About Yourself: My first job after college was at a foundation focused on the successful reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals into society in Rabat, Morocco.

Undergraduate School and Major: Boston College, Islamic Civilizations and Societies

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Facebook, High Value Account Manager 

What word best describes the Columbia Business School MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far and why? Invested. Every AO, current student, and alum that I reached out to throughout my MBA application process made me feel that they were genuinely invested in my success and growth. This willingness to invest time and energy into helping a complete stranger make her aspiration a reality was really special.

Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of Columbia Business School’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? The dynamic nature of the core curriculum was important in my decision making process. Knowing that the school is constantly evaluating the demands on recent MBA graduates and adjusting the core to ensure graduates are prepared was important to me.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Columbia Business School? I’m most excited to be involved in the BBSA, Cluster Q, and CWiB communities because I am passionate about increasing the representation of these groups on leadership teams in all industries.

What makes New York City such a great place to earn an MBA? The diversity of the city and the proximity to top companies and leadership teams is hard to match anywhere else.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I could pick a single project or initiative, but honestly, my biggest accomplishment is having worked in financial analytics with a liberal arts degree. It took a lot of work and time to keep up with my peers who did study finance as undergraduates, and I’m incredibly proud that I was able to succeed in that role. That accomplishment taught me the value of adaptability and the incredibly rewarding nature of facing a challenge head on.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? The ways in which the pandemic has changed my perspective are still playing out as the pandemic evolves. So far, it has reinforced the importance of a work-life balance that prioritizes time with loved ones and focuses on projects that have tangible, positive impact. I’ve also realized the importance of having hobbies that force me to stop overthinking, if only for a few moments!

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? I realized that the delta between where I was in my career and where I wanted to be could be bridged with the skills that one learns in an MBA program. I wanted to augment my liberal arts education with skills that are necessary for the next chapters of my career. I hope to use the spirit of my undergraduate education and the tools from an MBA to break new ground for queer women of color in business.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I applied to NYU, Wharton, Harvard, and Yale.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Columbia Business School’s MBA program? Once you’ve done your research on CBS, reach out to admissions and get to know the AOs! Creating a connection with admissions will help them get to know you outside of your application and help you learn things about the school you may not be able to find anywhere else.


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