I wrapped up first quarter at Kellogg and thought of sharing key lessons from the time here so far. While a lot of stuff mentioned would be biased by my personality and approach, I have tried to keep the filtering to a minimum and offer a framework for any incoming student to use to shape his/her own time at b-school.
There are usually three parts to the b-school experience – academics, social and recruiting. I have put the first two under the bucket “Experience” and classified “Recruitment” separately for reasons explained below.
Given the sheer number of things to take up in a compressed timeline of 2 years, your own definition of what you want out of management education can help get the most out of your experience. Whether you want to focus on academics, meet diverse set of people, get experiential learning (leadership roles, case competition etc.), learn about a completely new field, its up to you. But as with any choices you make in life, this also comes with opportunity costs and being intentional about those choices gives the maximum runway for the efforts put in. I have come across people who wanted to learn things outside their comfort zone or learn from diverse people and didn’t put too much emphasis on academics. They ended up getting their money’s worth primarily because they were clear about what they were seeking.
Personally, I came to Kellogg with the intention of utilizing the academics offerings as much as possible. This is partly influenced by the fact that I didn’t do a good job of it during my undergrad. I was directionless and wasn’t sure what I was trying to achieve. Also, my work experience in young and high growth startups established the significance of learning in academic setting as it always makes for a good starting point.
In my first quarter, outside of core courses, I ended up taking an intense finance course without having any background in finance. And while I struggled with it and had to overcompensate for lack of my knowledge by putting extra time, the delta between my understanding of the field before and after is highest for the course. I didn’t ace the course but that was never the point as my expectation on this front is purely on the learning part of it.
The spectrum of approaches of handling the social aspect of the experience is quite wide as well. Between your section, KWESTies, country/region specific groups etc. the frequency of social interactions is quite high especially in the first half of quarter. I am not a big fan of large-group social outings; for me it is as impersonal it gets. I abide by a simple rule on this: >15 people going to a bar? I am out!
Rather, I value one-on-one/small group settings where there is opportunity for meaningful conversations. Taking cue from an acquaintance who graduated from Kellogg recently, I scheduled 1-2 coffee conversations every week with interesting folks I came across through various avenues. A lot of such conversations resulted in one-off interactions while a few resulted in collaboration for study-prep, recruiting interview group etc. and helped develop meaningful relationships. Additionally, I organized/participated in lots of small group dinners that enriched social experience through some interesting discussions. I intend to continue doing these for the rest of the time here.
Moreover, it is very common to go down the hole of attempting to build social likability in a high caliber environment like this. In my mind that is a fool’s errand and doesn’t have any benefits in the long run. I don’t have a lot to say on it but that you have my sincerest wishes if this is your goal at b-school.
While recruiting is a key part of the experience along with academics and social, but in my mind it makes for a separate section because of the nuances attached to the whole process. If you are here you will certainly get a job/internship, though the approach you take can impact the outcomes significantly.
The 2-year program offers more flexibility if you haven’t completely figured out what you want to do. You can try an industry/role in summer and can re-recruit in second year if that doesn’t work. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to have any direction or starting point in the process. It is OK to be in a situation where you are indecisive between 2-3 things and want to evaluate more closely before making the final choice. The summer intern or an experiential project can help figure that out. But you need to have those 2-3 things shortlisted, no resources would be able to help if you are figuring out between 10 things out there. It is common to come across people who are struggling with identifying the opportunities that they should go after and end up taking a “throw-everything-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks” approach. I think that compromises the outcomes for you in both short and long-term.
My approach to solving for this was taking as much primary inputs as possible to make an informed decision. During the summer before Kellogg I reached out to 50+ people across the roles and industries that I found interesting. One can underestimate how powerful this can be; if you are specific and genuine with your request people are more than happy to help. My success rate was around ~60% (might be a bit skewed as a large chunk of people that I wrote to are Kellogg alums) and that included getting positive responses from people at senior positions across marquee companies.
Specific conversations around the industry, requirement, impact and growth of the role provided high-quality primary data and insights. That helped shortlist 10-12 roles that I am going after for on-campus recruiting. It is possible that I don’t end up getting offers from any of those, but given the clearly defined role and industry target, I can pick pace on the off-campus search for the internship.
One thing that I would highly recommend to anyone going for an MBA is to be clear about what you are seeking from the experience. During b-school, you need to take critical decisions quickly (recruiting does hit you before you think) and the outcomes attached are a function of how clear are you about taking those. While clarity helps in general in life but it becomes all the more critical in b-school when you have invested 2-years and upwards of $200K (not counting the opportunity costs).