Welcome to Stern.” A phrase that has been oft repeated to the full-time, 433-strong MBA class of 2009. For the past year, everyone in the auditorium has been consumed by the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), applications process and interviews, with the aim of attending their top choice of business school. In spite of receiving offers from schools and paying for tuition at the school selected, hearing these words from the dean of students, Gary Fraser, makes everything feel real. For the next two years there will be no line manager, no salary and no responsibility other than that which you owe to yourself.
A few months ago I was working in banking, in a role focused on managing interest rate risk across some large portfolios. The previous six years had involved a variety of roles across leading UK clearing banks and, over time, I understood my skills and, more importantly, what I wanted from my career.
My work was enjoyable and rewarding and the team in which I worked had a strong relationship; there was no real driving reason for me to want to make this change. Yet I am now 4,000 miles away in the US, at business school and taking the biggest risk of my life. Why?
Why someone makes the decision to pursue an MBA is difficult to identify and varies from individual to individual. What is undeniable is the fact that everyone considers the costs negligible when compared with the future value of the degree. At any top school a student will spend $100,000 on average, ignoring the opportunity costs, yet every year these schools find themselves vastly oversubscribed.
In my circumstances, my main goals are to switch my career and develop the acumen to provide me with the tools to progress to senior management within my industry. I had been interested in an MBA since my undergraduate degree and had constantly been reminded of its value through mentors in critical moments of my career. An MBA from the Stern School at New York University will offer me access to the profession I truly want and will ensure that I am in a strong position to develop my career.
The cohesion I have discovered at Stern is not driven by the pursuit of wealth, but by that of learning from the faculty, one another and being a contributing part of the class of 2009. With a more intimate class size (approximately 70) compared with some MBA programmes and a culture all of its own, Stern is truly about collaboration and community while studying.
When I began the application process I discovered a general preconception that once the admission hurdle had been cleared there was the opportunity to wind down. However, as an international applicant this was not possible.
There are good reasons why US schools ask international students to apply in earlier rounds, and it has nothing to do with fulfilling class diversity quotas. The fact is, to arrange a move across the Atlantic requires large amounts of work and effort.
Applying to a school in the US will take six months to plan properly for your future.
To enter the US you must demonstrate to the school that you have sufficient funding for your studies, so the school can then apply for your visa clearance. If using a British bank, a few of which provide loans for MBA programmes, clearance of funds can take several months.
Once this is completed, the school begins processing the I-20 form which, once you have it, enables you to go to the embassy for your visa. With waiting lists for visa appointments, this process can take a minimum of three months, but easily longer. The ultimate conclusion to be drawn from this is that the recommendation to apply early is for your benefit.
I, however, applied in the second round and experienced the more torturous process of hastily clearing up my life in England before travelling to New York. It was highly stressful, but the pain involved has now been forgotten and is hugely outweighed by the MBA experience.
Stern’s culture as a school driven by the class community was at the forefront from day one of the pre-term orientation.
The sensation of being an outsider as an international student disappeared with the realisation that a quarter of the class had endured similar trials to be at the school.
For the first two weeks the MBA2s (second year students) took the initially wide-eyed and subsequently very tired MBA1s from evening events to NY hot spots way beyond reasonable hours. The pre-term itself involved preparation for careers, networking events, information sessions on student clubs and inspirational alumni speeches, all hinting of the time pressure and workload of the first semester.
The focus subsequently shifted to the main aspects of business school: education and recruitment activities. A mixture of case-based learning and classic, classroom education more familiar to those from British universities lies ahead.
With classes, meetings, projects, clubs and presentations, my diary has never looked busier in my life. Fortunately, from the friends I made in pre-term, I know hundreds of people are in the same situation. Late night drafting of assignments is not far away. Yet there is a comfort in knowing that not only will I be in good company, but that company will mean that it is actually enjoyable.