Meet the MBA Class of 2025: Harley Zhu, USC (Marshall)

Harley Zhu

University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business

“I love to smile and laugh except when I have to parallel park.”

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

Fun Fact About Yourself: I’m the first in my family to pursue a high school, college, and graduate education.

Undergraduate School and Major: Yale University, Bachelor of Arts in Economics; UNLV, Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Implementation associate at boutique consulting firm; teacher at Teach For America

What has been your first impression of the Marshall MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far. Tell us your best Marshall story so far. My first impression of Marshall MBA students and alumni is that they are approachable, kind, and supportive. When I was making my business school decision, I cold reached out to several Marshall alumni to ask about their experiences. I was surprised to receive responses from every alum who all offered time to speak with me. I’ve also felt incredibly comfortable walking up to any Marshall student at lunch, introducing myself, and having a great conversation with them. The admissions office does a fantastic job at finding students who are courteous and welcoming.

What makes Los Angeles such a great place to earn an MBA? Los Angeles is a fantastic place to earn an MBA due to its wealth of opportunities to develop professionally and engage socially. Regardless of what industry or function a candidate is interested in, they’ll have a network of ambitious professionals eager to share stories, resources, and experiences. In addition to career progression, Los Angeles is a cosmopolitan city with an endless variety of activities to unwind with. From weekend food tours across K-Town to relaxing beach days in Santa Monica, there are fun experiences for everyone. The weather is perfect too.

Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of USC Marshall’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? Marshall’s MBA small class size was the key differentiator in my business school decision because I wanted to attend a program which offered me opportunities to build genuine relationships with my cohort and my professors. Marshall prioritizes cultivating a collaborative and supportive learning environment for its students, and the relatively small class size is one of the many factors that contributes to this.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at USC Marshall? The course I look forward to the most in the FTMBA curriculum is “Structured Analysis for Unstructured Problems.” This course teaches critical thinking skills in the face of incomplete information. I think this course is a highlight of USC Marshall’s fundamental course offerings because it is applicable to every business professional regardless of what industry, profession, or function they pursue after graduation. You will never have complete information as a leader, so it’s imperative to have the analytical tools to grapple with these uncertain situations.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I developed and instructed the first test preparation curriculum at the high school I taught at during my time with Teach For America. While the schoolwide goal was a 1-point score improvement for all students on the ACT, my students were able to achieve a 6-point score improvement. This opened various opportunities to college access for a group of incredibly deserving students.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into USC Marshall’s MBA program? One piece of advice that helped me and that I would recommend to potential Marshall applicants is this: progressively invest time researching Marshall’s MBA program. It’s difficult to comprehensively understand all of Marshall’s MBA offerings and create connections between yourself and the school in one sitting. Spread your research across several weeks and vary the resources you digest to acquire various perspectives. I found this process to be helpful for me in building genuine connections between my personality, professional ambitions, and student profile to the Marshall MBA program. Investing time into this discovery process will help you authentically translate your “why” in both your writing samples and interviews with the admissions office.


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