When I started my search for a professional degree, there were many factors I had to consider. Most were very obvious: cost, time, and location. However, several important ones were unexpected and more nuanced: What do I want to do with my life?; How will this degree help me achieve my personal and professional goals?; What soft and hard skills will I gain?; and What kind of network do I want to build?
For a long time, I was stuck between getting a law or an MBA degree. Those two were the only ones that fulfilled both of my needs. Both will give you strong collaboration and teamwork abilities, written and verbal communication skills, and foundational knowledge for leadership and management. It wasn’t until I dived deep into each program where the MBA program became the clear winner.
I have a very non-traditional background. I’ve never worked in a typical business or corporate setting before as I was enlisted in the US military and then served as a teacher overseas. There was a huge gap that I needed to fill, along with a pathway to transition back to the United States. The MBA was perfect for closing that gap because that’s what it is designed to do. Even more, it provides specific depth in areas that are very valuable in the job market and applicable to almost any position or role. Since most people pursuing a two-year MBA program are career pivoters, the MBA was the obvious choice for both the short- and long-term.
However, it wasn’t until I started my MBA program at NYU Stern that I realized how good of a choice that I made. I had done extensive research on the program, talked to current students and alumni, and visited the city and school multiple times before making the commitment. That said, there is definitely a huge difference between an outsider looking in versus being on the inside. The key to a good program is one that meets and exceeds all of your needs and expectations. I usually set a high bar for myself, and was pleasantly surprised at all of the offerings and opportunities at Stern.
I’m the type of person who learns by doing. Stern offers multiple experiential learning programs, which are called Stern Solutions projects or courses. Here, you’re not only learning, you’re doing. For example, Tech & the City gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a successful early-stage tech company and learn the ins-and-outs of growing it. It’s a great way to experience what it’s like to work in a startup without all of the risks. I got to see the daily tasks of founders and investors and how they make decisions based on the very little information they had and all the problems with scaling up. Growth versus profit was always at the forefront of meetings. It was a great experience because you have skin in the game. Your decisions matter, the research you did was crucial, and the presentations to investors for more funding determined if the startup continues or dies. I got to peek inside the VC world and was completely surprised at how things operated.
For me personally, I also wanted to be in a client-facing role where I’m able to help a company with big picture strategies and innovative solutions. So the Stern Consulting Corps was very ideal for what I was looking to achieve. In this program, I was able to help a real growing digital and technology company find solutions on how to tackle the challenges of remote work in the face of a global pandemic. I got to see the internal and external data, do extensive market research, and come up with viable solutions.
This was one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever done because I was so out of my element and felt lost. Thankfully, I had a very strong and supportive consulting team led by professors who were former MBB consultants. I gained a lot of knowledge and experience from this, especially learning how to communicate with clients, deciding where and when to push back when requests are out of scope, and applying strategic frameworks to my thinking and approaches. These were incredibly useful skills that I would advise anyone to pick up.
Where experiential learning really came in handy is when the client wanted to continue doing in-person sales. However, the entire world had shifted to a virtual one and they never established an online network; thus, they were falling behind the competition. I learned how to communicate with the client and push back on what they wanted versus what was best for them. We convinced the client through extensive market research that a B2B email campaign was the fastest and lowest cost solution for their needs.
Stern enables MBAs to specialize in up to three areas, either broadly or narrowly. With one of the largest selections of elective courses, there’s something for everyone. I chose Finance, Strategy, and Business Analytics. Finance was an obvious choice because of the strong finance faculty and curriculum. For example, I was able to study under Professor Robert Engels, a Nobel Laureate, and learn about volatility. I have been able to apply these learnings to my own personal investment portfolio with great success. For example, during the meme stock and crypto craze, I made a healthy profit applying the VIX.
Strategy was important for someone like me to understand how to approach complex problems with viable solutions. I’ve been able to develop key frameworks and the steps necessary to unraveling and understanding the problem before even starting to innovate. During consulting and product management interviews (where cases are given), I made sure to ask the right questions and understand what the root cause of the problems I was being presented. This allowed for a more robust solution and an easy pathway to solving the case. Without this specialization, I would have gone into these interviews blind and down the wrong path.
Lastly, business analytics gave me the technical skills I needed to perform well during my summer internship. I worked for a major technology company in product management. Part of the job requirement was learning things such as business intelligence, machine learning, AI, and database management. The coding coursework and practical projects in Stern’s curriculum allowed me to hit the ground running and perform well in my role. I was given 2 months’ worth of Product Management training and SQL was a major requirement. Due to the business analytics specialty, the training was mostly refreshers, and I was able to cut my training time to half and start on my internship project earlier, which eventually led to a full-time offer.
These are just a few of the main reasons why I chose the MBA and why it was the right choice for me. The MBA doesn’t just prepare you for your career post-MBA, but for a life-long professional journey. Looking back on my two-year MBA experience, I’m starting to see that in the new job market, firms are looking for people who have both the depth and breadth of skills and knowledge so they can be versatile in their roles. With Stern’s experiential learning and specializations, I am more than ready for my new career as a Product Manager in Seattle.
Bio: Phan Hoang, a first-generation Bostonian, is a second-year MBA candidate at NYU Stern School of Business. Prior to business school, he was an enlisted in the United States Air Force serving in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions worldwide. He has also taught internationally in countries such as Honduras and China. He is currently working in Product Management during the summer.