The more admit weekends I’ve been to over the past year, the more I realize how different each school’s culture actually is. Although many students come to town with similar career paths — consulting, banking, finance, marketing — the school culture usually take the lead at these weekends and so the divergent pieces of the programs really stand out. This past weekend, I joined a couple hundred admits at Kellogg’s admit weekend (DAK). And it was definitely an interesting couple of days!
I was personally admitted to Kellogg last year — alongside Kellogg’s class of 2011 — not this year. But because I’m in the JD-MBA program and began my program at the law school, I’m actually a part of the Class of 2012. That means that this year’s admitted students will be in my graduating class. So despite a pretty heavy course load at law school last week, I headed out to Evanston to attend as many events as possible.
The weekend was not only the perfect chance to meet dozens and dozens of classmates, which is something I thoroughly enjoy, but it was also a chance to really get a feel for the culture of Kellogg and for MBA programs in general. And I feel like I had a pretty interesting perspective on things, given I’ve spent all year in law school, which in my opinion is completely different. Here’s a quick summary of the themes I saw this weekend.
Diversity Reigns. Similar to what I saw at many of the admit weekends last year, the people at Kellogg are really diverse. Admits not only came from Chicago but they also came from all parts of the US — both big cities and small ones — and all corners of the globe, all with a common purpose — to choose the right MBA program. Although on the surface there was a bit of commonality in the career paths of the admits, after doing some probing, everyone definitely had very unique career experiences and insights. I met students who worked in consulting, investment banking, investment management, private equity, start-ups, family businesses, technology companies, government agencies, political campaigns, marketing departments, and in a wide variety of other roles. And even within this categories, there was a pretty wide range of experiences. For example, in the consulting industry, I met folks both from the big three firms, and also from at least 15 or 20 other firms, including start-ups and middle market firms. And many of the consultants had traveled extensively around the world to serve clients in places like Dubai, Mumbai, London, New York City, and Barcelona. I found it pretty interesting to learn about people’s career experiences.
Academic theory has suggested that at times too much diversity can threaten a community’s ability to work communally. While the argument might have merits in some environments, the theory doesn’t hold at all in business school, especially at a collaborative place like Kellogg. At Kellogg, all the activities are run by students, including DAK. And so in my opinion, student leaders tend to do a pretty good job working together and bringing people on the same page. All of the sessions over the weekend were run by teams of five or six, and I was particularly impressed how most groups worked seamlessly together and how members were pretty good about jumping in when a teammate needed help.
That said, I did notice that some of that diversity seemed to get funneled out a bit in the recruiting process. Although a number of students came in with unique backgrounds and even more unique dreams for the future, many first years ended up recruiting for similar industries and companies. At Kellogg, like some of the other top schools, students interviewed for marketing, consulting, banking and finance. But this funnel is certainly not unique to Kellogg.
On one hand, I think these industries are great launching pads for a wide variety of careers — they equip you with the hard and soft skills to become better managers and leaders and often give you the credibility and experience to progress more rapidly. But on the other hand, I also think there is merit in pursuing your career passion earlier than later. Because the path to success is often long and hard, I think some people might be better off picking jobs that they are committed to from the start, engaging in activities where they will thrive in spite of setbacks, and undertaking leadership positions that allow them to be creative and implement their biggest ideas.
It’s A Small World. My experience at DAK also reminded me that the world can be pretty small sometimes. But this was not really a surprise. Technology and social media certainly brings all of us closer than we’ve ever been. And over the weekend, I met a number of people I had pretty close connections to. I met the twin of someone I knew years ago at Stanford as an undergrad. I had a long conversation with an admit who’s good friend is the current roommate of my old college roommate. I re-connected with a girl that was in my sister sorority back at Stanford. I chatted with a student who is related to a section mate here at the law school. And I even spoke with multiple people who had been followers of my website (thanks for following!)
It was definitely a lot of fun to meet and network with such an interconnected crowd. For many, the idea of networking induces negative emotions, as people too often think of networking as self-interested schmoozing, passing out business cards, and hoping to find a job. But to me, that’s a pretty superficial view. For me, it’s all about meeting people, learning from their experiences, getting new perspectives on things, and most importantly being equally willing to do a favor rather than take one. In my case, I’m usually more willing. Imagine if everyone had this mentality!
Questions. Answering questions also seemed to be a big theme at the admit weekend, and admits had a great venue to ask lots of questions about the school. And dozens of first years came out, armed both with information and with time to answer the questions. And so the most curious folks benefited most, especially given the experienced pool of Kellogg students.
But I noticed this year, even more than last year, that some admits also enjoyed doing a lot of the talking. While talking is not necessarily a bad thing and although I’m also a big talker myself, my opinion is that having that mentality all the time doesn’t always work so well at these types of events. Given first years have so much to offer, admits definitely lose out by not listening more. Further, admits always run the risk of coming off a bit too arrogantly if they don’t take the time to listen. The first year students are there specifically to provide information about Kellogg, and so not listening doesn’t give them a chance to do what they came out for.
I personally think there’s incredible value to asking lots of questions. For one, there are so many aspects to learn about Kellogg, and that’s also true for many other schools too. So the more quality questions you ask, the better. And even aside from the chance to learn something new or to hear about others’ perspectives, asking questions also provides one of the best venues to engage in genuine conversation. And so my opinion is that asking good questions, and doing so in the spirit of collaboration and generosity, is one of the best ways to get past the formality and really connect with a person. I found this happening quite a bit this past weekend.
Habit Of Decision-Making. At most admit weekends, there are some people who have made up their mind to attend a school, and others who are still deciding. At DAK, I found a good mix of both, though definitely more people still in the decision-making process than I had anticipated. Some admits were still waiting around for other schools to get back to them. Others were waiting on Kellogg for financial aid information. A third group was so happy to get in, they hadn’t thought much about the decision. And a fourth group was relying on their DAK experience to decide.
To me, that whole decision-making process about school is also indicative of MBA programs. Business schools, as first evinced in the case study system, are venues that facilitate constant decision-making. Every single day, you have to decide how much time to spend in the library, how much time to prep for upcoming interviews, and how much time to spend out at the local pub celebrating with friends. And in some classes, there is the case — the cases often revolve around CEOs or other leaders who face adverse circumstances and have to make tough decisions, sometimes quickly. And so the student is put in the seat of the decision-maker and has to think through that decision. Sometimes with a lack of information. Sometimes in the midst of uncertainty. And usually with little or no experience (we’re just MBA students!). Schools like HBS and Darden use the case method a bit more than Kellogg (according to students I’ve met), but Kellogg is a great general management and leadership school and I’m personally looking forward to some of the case-based classes there.
From my experience this year, MBA programs are more welcoming of this style of decision-making than law schools are, both because these types of decisions are more common in business and because a lawyers job is to mitigate risk not utilize it. And so MBA programs prepare you with a willingness to take risks. To calculate those risks based on information and analysis, yes, but to take them. That said, the admitted students at Kellogg are pretty lucky. While some may see it risky to take on loans to get an MBA, it’s certainly not very risky getting a Kellogg MBA in the process.
Clubs Will Be King. It was also clear that clubs are a pretty important part of Kellogg. Clubs give students a direct way to dive into various industries, functions, and other interests during school. On one hand, this access allows them to learn about different things they’re interested in. On the other hand, it also allows them to gain access to critical information that could facilitate a student’s progress toward their ultimate career goals. But maybe more important than nature of the clubs and the information the clubs may have, club membership also provides an ideal venue for students to work on their leadership skills. Because most activities at Kellogg are run entirely by students, student leaders are accountable to organize events, meet with other student leaders and with administration, and execute agendas, for all events on campus. At DAK, I was very clear how much work it took to pull this off.
Although some people tend to underemphasize this experience in the application process, I personally think that in the right environment (i.e like at Kellogg), organizing events and activities is a great way to practice your leadership skills. In my own experience before Kellogg, I’ve spent significant time doing similar things in the community. Doing so, I’ve come to learn the power that comes with planning, organizing activities, setting priorities, and achieving goals. Especially when you’re 100% accountable for the results. And the good news about Kellogg is that you have the Kellogg brand backing you up, and that you can lead in a safe environment with classmates.
What About Leadership? So what do all these issues mean for MBA students — future firm managers and world leaders? That’s a great question, and I don’t have the perfect answer. But one trend I do see is that there is definitely a change in the leadership skills that will be most effective going forward. And while there are certain leadership qualities that will always be critical – the ability to influence others, create change, build consensus, and rally people to action — today the ability to lead in more diverse environments, to listen to the perspectives of others, to understand and collaborate with different cultures, and to maintain a broader perspective are also important. Leaders will need to use these abilities become more adept at developing relationships in the high-growth yet still shrinking “small world” that is developing.
And in the end, my personal opinion is that leadership will continue to have more correlation to the ability to connect with others, to exchange information, and to build new relationships. What do you think?