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31Aug/096

Kellogg MBA: The Aftermath (a.k.a. the “Was It Worth It?” post)

Yep, that's me during commencementSo I'm Pamela Ramali, MBA now - officially so since June 20, 2009. Kellogg was an amazing ride, and I will never forget the two years I had there. I learned so much, but as any other Kellogg MBAs would tell you, it's the people I got to meet that made the most significant impact on my experience. Not only do you have an amazing mix of nationalities and backgrounds, you also get to spend your whole days with the smartest, most intelligent, most personable bunch.

It wasn't all glitz and glamour obviously - I am significantly poorer, because the MBA didn't come cheap. I'm also significantly closer to developing an uncanny amount of gray hair, given the amount of stress and work over the past 2 years - not the least of which was the application process. Good Lord, even remembering the number of weekends I had to stay in to do essay revisions makes my inner socialite wannabe hurt.

So was it worth it?

I'm sure you can do all kinds of cost-benefit analysis to justify an MBA, and you can decide for yourself whether the financials make sense. If I could choose all over again, I would still do the MBA - yes, even in the current economic conditions.

  • It was a two year journey of self discovery. I was unsure what to do next, and where to go - all I knew was that I was getting lost in the daily grind. The process was a time for me to reflect on my life, my career, my relationships, and my person. The many different project teams and activities led me to knowing my strengths and weaknesses better than I ever had - and thus allowing me to work on them. There were things I wouldn't have attempted otherwise, but Kellogg was a safe place for me to experiment, try, and do - being crazy enough to offer up my arse for absolute kicking in Finance II, for example.
  • It opened up a whole host of new opportunities. I was feeling restless and - for lack of better word - stuck in my career. I wasn't unhappy, but I was itching to know what else was out there. I had no idea about the options that were available to me, until recruiting started at Kellogg. This is likely not the case for most Americans, but being from a non-metropolitan city in Indonesia, it was an eye-opening experience - I didn't know a single product manager or consultant growing up.
  • It granted me an amazing network of incredibly smart, talented, and good people all over the world. I had drinks with people of more nationalities in my first week at Kellogg than I had all my life prior! There are so  many countries I want to visit now, especially after the excellent trip to Greece hosted by a dear Greek classmate last month. Talk about a global perspective!
  • Then there was the academic learning. I must admit that the quality of teaching wasn't as consistent as I had hoped, but in any educational institution, I guess it is to be expected that some academics are better than others at teaching. The excellent professors were the best I've ever had - the access to such passionate teachers was just invaluable, and it made up for the poorer ones.

A few considerations, however:

  • Despite what a lot of people say, b-school probably isn't the best for extreme career switchers. I found that the jobs I was a great fit for had a lot to do with what I'd done before, i.e. tech, project / client management, etc. I attempted interviewing for a healthcare-focused company as I thought it was a good idea at the time, and boy, did I bomb that interview.
  • Funds are a great concern - and this is definitely as big an investment as I'd ever want to make in post-grad education. There are intangible benefits that you just can't calculate financially however (see list above), and there are always the loans. Yes, even for international students!
  • I'm not sure if it's a good idea to hide under the MBA shell for two years while the economy is not doing so great. The plus side is that hopefully, by the time you graduate, things have fully recovered, and you can go on your merry MBA ways. The danger, though, is that you may be adding a whopping $100k+ of debt onto your already-squeezed financial situation. An MBA is not a get-rich-quick scheme, and as thus doesn't guarantee you - or me, or anyone else - a fat paycheck and a secure management job upon graduation. As with any other path in life, you'll have to work hard for the gain.

I think I want to do an MBA. What do I do?

The biggest help I received during my MBA-exploring process was from alums - specifically this one Kellogg alum, but also alums from other schools I was considering. They gave great insights to the culture and selection process of the schools, and most were very willing to help. It was also very helpful for me to peruse the various rankings to see which schools would suit my personality and career aspirations best, as a lot of them (such as BusinessWeek's) had detailed information about the specific schools, e.g. academics, alumni network, career services, the split of banking vs. consulting vs. tech vs. marketing jobs, etc.

I've often been asked why I chose a US MBA program, instead of one in Asia Pacific, which would have been closer to Melbourne, where I was. The short answer is that the US ones are better. The longer answer is this: even the best rated Asia Pacific MBA program (which was, incidentally, Melbourne Business School when I was applying), was ranked around #40 in the global rankings - and it was dead tough to get into. Now, I'm not saying that rankings are everything - but I could have easily gotten into the  US school ranked #39, given the decrease in competition for schools outside the Top 10, yet I would have had no chance whatsoever getting into Melbourne Business School, given its reputation in the area and the competition from the whole of Asia Pacific. It made more sense for me to expend that effort on the US b-schools.

Finally...

I didn't want this to turn into a "Why an MBA?" or "Which MBA?" post, but since the topic was something I struggled with prior to my b-school application process and starting Kellogg, this is my way to wrap it up, what with the supposedly 20/20 hindsight I now have. I hope this would be helpful to at least one of you 🙂

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