From Actor To Columbia MBA: How I Made A Massive Pivot — And How You Can, Too

From Actor To Columbia MBA: How I Made A Massive Pivot, And How You Can, Too

My name is Jane Bernhard and I graduated Columbia Business School this May of 2023. It has been quite a journey that involved a lot of self-reflection and hundreds of conversations with generous folks. My goal of writing this piece is to hopefully inspire whoever is reading this and is interested in an MBA — but is second-guessing their capabilities, chances, or value — to believe they can achieve their goals, no matter what background they come from.

I can say with 100% certainty that getting an MBA was one of the best things I have done for my career and my self-growth. However, I am not a typical MBA and I did not have what anyone would consider a conventional background — which I say to highlight that you can both get into a top MBA program without a business background, and you can use the MBA opportunity to pivot into something completely different and unexpected.


I graduated college with a BFA in Musical Theater from Boston Conservatory. A conservatory program is one in which you only take performing arts classes (singing, acting, and dance). This means that I did not take any business courses—no finance, economics, statistics, or any other conventional academic courses.

My career post-college involved acting in many different television series and theatrical productions. While the actual acting part of the career was fulfilling, the volatility of the acting industry was not suitable for the stable life I desperately wanted to have.

Eventually, when I hit my breaking point, I had a mentor tell me I should get an MBA and go into Film/TV strategy. Not knowing how many hurdles I would have to climb to make this change, I decided since what I was currently doing was not making me happy, I needed to make a massive change. I bought GRE books that day and studied for the first ever exam I had ever taken (conservatories don’t have exams — they have performance reviews).

I had so many questions. How do I compete with people who have six years of investment banking experience and have been preparing for an MBA for years? How do I quantify a yearly salary when I didn’t have one? How do I figure out what career path I want to take when I don’t know what paths exist?


From Actor To Columbia MBA: How I Made A Massive Pivot, And How You Can, TooI decided to tackle these questions by meeting with as many MBAs as I could to get a better sense of my options. I networked hard, learned so much from truly hundreds of conversations from other MBAs, and worked extensively on my application. Through the generosity of other students, I learned about what career paths existed and how to position myself.

In short, probably 300 conversations later (no exaggeration) I interviewed and I got in. I quit acting and got rid of my agent and manager that day.

Fast forward to CBS 2021 when I started the first semester: the core. I had literally never opened Excel before I got to business school — and business school requires intense four-hour exams in Excel. The classes were corporate finance, accounting, statistics, economics, strategy, and other quantitative courses. Not only was it my first academic experience like this since high school, but I was also recruiting for summer internships that required years of quant experience that I did not have.

Because of the generosity of my peers yet again, who were literally always willing to help me on any question I had, and due to my determination to make it through, I survived the first semester. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. Luckily, after the first semester, you get to pick your classes. I followed my interests and took amazing classes in AI, VR, technology strategy, leadership, and media.


When I was applying to summer internships, I was trying to find roles that blended creativity and valued a different way of thinking. I had done a case competition of the metaverse space and was really inspired by immersive technology. I saw a role at PlayStation that mentioned creative thinking—the first and only time I had seen that listed. I applied and I interviewed. In my second interview, I decided (without being asked) to pitch a deck I created on what I thought PlayStation’s metaverse strategy could be. Weeks after this pitch, I got the offer and I spent my summer working on metaverse strategy.

I had a transformative experience at PlayStation. I learned and learned and learned and grew. I came back to Columbia and took Sharad Devarajan’s class on VR and AI. It was the best class I had ever taken. I asked Sharad if I could do an independent study with him and he graciously said yes. I spent the semester conducting over 50 interviews with CEOs and Executives at top tech companies (including the CEO of PlayStation, CTO of Animoca Brands, and Director of Product at Roblox) and published a thesis on the metaverse space. I learned from hearing about people’s different perspectives on a rapidly changing landscape and was able to get their advice. I was extremely grateful.

Eventually I was recruiting for full-time roles, hoping to find something in the immersive tech and strategy space that would allow me to move to Austin. Well, here I am in Austin working as an Innovation Strategist at a company called Subvrsive that focuses on immersive technology and marketing.


When I look back, I realize that one thing I did to make this happen was to follow the path that was most inspiring to me at that time. I originally went to pursue film/tv, and now I work in immersive tech and generative AI strategy. I thought I wanted to live in NYC forever, and now I happily live in the suburbs of Austin. Life is fluid and paths are not linear — in fact, I think sometimes the most non-linear paths are the most transformative.

So, yes, you can come from the most random background in the entire world, have literally zero experience in conventional work environments, have no true academic background, and be able to both get into a top MBA program and succeed.

If you are wondering if this path is possible and are unsure of what the future holds, you are in good company. My biggest advice is to talk to people, have 0 ego, go to every speaker session that exists on anything you find interesting, and don’t be afraid to do something totally different than what you thought you wanted to do.

No matter where you come from, your experience matters and is important. It is what makes us unique that makes us valuable. If you’re feeling stuck and you want to do something completely different than you are currently doing, an MBA is a second chance. It is the best career move I have ever made.

Good luck!

Jane Bernhard is a Columbia Business School 2023 MBA grad. She has a creative spark and is actively exploring the relationship between technology and humanity. She currently works at Subvrsive, an Innovation Studio at the intersection of immersive technology and marketing. She did her MBA internship on the Product Strategy team at PlayStation Studios. Prior to Columbia Business School, she was an actor on HBO, Discovery, and Oxygen. Her passions lie at the intersection of immersive technology and AI, ethics, research, and strategy. She graduated as Valedictorian from Boston Conservatory with a BFA. She hopes to leave the world a little better than she found it and give back to her community.

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