Most MBA Applicants …

… apply to business school the same way. They have very similar backgrounds, use the same stories, focus on the same parts of the applications and hope to get into the same schools. Most MBA applicants are smart but here is the problem


Most MBA applicants apply to the same business schools and dont think as much about fit

Most MBA applicants write about making a difference but won’t consider a job in that field post-business school

Most MBA applicants are more eager to get high paying jobs than to do what they are passionate about

Most MBA applicants are persuaded heavily by money when it comes to choosing school and careers

Most MBA applicants don’t focus enough on the essays and overall story when applying

Most MBA applicants talk a lot about leadership roles in their applications instead of leadership experiences

Most MBA applicants aren’t afraid to embellish if it will help get them into school

Most MBA applicants don’t write a clear compelling story about who they are in their application

Most MBA applicants get rejected from more than one school


Fortunately, if you like reading my blog (and not blogs about “odds” of getting in), then you’re probably not like most MBA applicants



Thursday, August 30th, 2012 Admissions, Business School No Comments

One in a million

… is a dangerous concept. It describes the one thing that we think we want more than anything else. Sometimes it’s a job. Other times it’s getting into school or meeting that special someone. But sometimes can counting on  one in a million can be a dangerous thing?

The chances of a high school student eventually playing basketball in the NBA? One in a million (probably worse).

The chances of a person becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 Company: the same odds.

On the positive side, it gives you a WIG to pursue and allows you to go after something you believe in and to give it your all.

On the other hand, many would say that  one in a million doesn’t even exist. That multiple jobs that could be your dream job and multiple soul mates are out there–not just one. Further, it’s dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket. You might get nervous when game time comes, have trouble performing, and miss out on other opportunities all because you thought there was only was that was meant for you.

In the end the consistent and extremely focused pursuit of a specific goal is dangerous. It makes sense, when the work you do will also prepare you to succeed in other outcomes. So if you’re taking steps to become a CEO and your school, practice, and skill helps you become a great entrepreneur or Managing Partner, then perfect.

On the other hand, if you ou put all your eggs in one basket and live a life in relentless pursuit of a singular outcome that leaves you no other options if you fail, then maybe you should think twice. If your happiness depends on just one NBA draft five years from now, then that’s giving a whole lot of power to a single event not in your control.

On the other hand, I believe that some things are worth going after: jobs, schools, careers and significant others. So I propose that the closer you are to having a One in a Million, the more you have to stack the deck more and make the game shorter.


Wednesday, August 29th, 2012 Business School No Comments

(Good) Habits > Diets

Quick fix diets NEVER work.  They don’t work for losing weight. They won’t help you get a quick promotion at work.  And they certainly don’t work for quitting bad habits.

I know what you’re thinking. That sounds funny — every person I know has tried at diet at some point.  Well, me too. Four people in my family are on diets right now. And they’ve all lost a lot of weight. So let me tell you why it won’t work for any of them.

The reason they don’t work is because the diet has nothing to do with what they’re actually trying to do. The aim of a fad diet is to change the outcome not to change habits. And before long, weight loss (e.g. the outcome) will plateau because you can only lose so much weight. Then they’ll return to eating junk food again when they don’t see immediate results.

You see it happen all year long. Every New Years eve thousands of people spend hundreds of dollars on 30 day diet programs. They purchase memberships at fancy fitness centers so they can squeeze into the new swimsuit in a few weeks. They stop eating for a month so they can look good at their wedding and fit in their wedding dress. They buy special gum as a quick fix to stop smoking in two weeks. They work harder than ever for one month hoping to get that quick promotion. But in the end, they crash. The diet not only doesn’t work but often times it also backfires and you’re worse off than when you started.

But (good) habits are what matter.  Habits are what build great careers. Habits are what make Olympic athletes. Habits are what can make you a morning person even when you’re not.  And habits are what will help you not only lose weight but also keep it off.

Habits make you better tomorrow than you were today. That’s because the key to becoming world class at anything is consistency not a quick fix.

The only way to stay in shape is to go to the gym every morning.

The best way to get promoted is to stay an extra hour at work every day, all year long.

They only way to become a world class blogger is  to write every day.

If you want to become a better free throw shooter, you have to shoot 100 free throws every day this season.

And if you want to win an Olympic gold medal, time to start your training regiment today.

In the end, the secret isn’t some fancy technique or quick-fix solution. Instead, the secret is doing it consistently over time. To lay one brick at a time, which will eventually turn into a wall.

In short: (good) habits > diets.

Monday, August 27th, 2012 Business School 5 Comments

Fifteen more minutes

I am leaving on a trip Sunday morning, and the mere thought of going to the airport got me thinking. It got me thinking about the power of 15 more minutes. Let me explain.

There are two ways most of us generally travel.

The first is what most of us do. You think about your flight time, map out your trip to the airport and then leave on time. Along the way, you do your best to avoid traffic, repeatedly checking your smart phone to make sure you’re on track. But by the time you walk inside, you’re five minutes behind. You consider cutting the security line but you don’t … losing more time than you thought.  By the time you get through security you realize you’ve another five minutes, maybe even ten. So you take throw your computer inside a different part of your bag, get repacked as fast as you can and pick up the pace. Many of us can’t get that food we were craving, some of us are forced to start jogging, hoping … praying the doors haven’t shut. In the end, you barely made your flight.

The second way is to leave for the airport 15 minutes earlier. We don’t rush because it feels so early. You don’t spend time checking your clock and never once did you consider jogging, let alone running.

If you travel the first way, you’re sure to get stressed out. Sure you’ll maximize your time but you’ll also maximize chances of missing your flight, sweating by the time you get to your seat and not having enough space for your carry-on.

If you travel the second way, you don’t stress. There’s no chance of missing your flight. And if you want it, you can grab a bite on the way.

So what’s the lesson you ask? It’s probably different for everyone. But here are three:

  1. First, is the importance of buffer time. Even just a little can change your entire day.
  2. Second, the easiest thing to do is to do what we’re supposed to – in this case leave on time. But sometimes doing a little extra can make the difference.
  3. Finally, the easiest way to deal with chaos and all the stress that comes with it, might just be to avoid it altogether.

So the next time you have a flight … or better yet … any important appointment, meeting, due date or deadline, consider getting started just a little earlier.  In most cases, option #1 will be the most tempting but option #2 will be better.


Friday, August 24th, 2012 Careers 2 Comments

Hurry up and wait …

is a classic thing that happens to most of us. It happens when for part of the time you are working as hard as you can to get something done, but then once you finish, you have to stop and have to wait wondering if hurrying was ever worth it.

Think about it.

Movie crews hurry to finish setting up but then they wait for the director to finish the scene before scrambling for the next scene. Authors hurry to finish their books and blog posts, but then wait for someone to comment on it or give you a book deal.  We hurry and sign the contract, then wait for the lawyers to send their comments and revisions. And government officials — they are even worse than lawyers. You write a memo or brief as fast as you can to give to your superior, just to turn around and wait for hours just to be able to have a meeting with them.

But it’s not just a business concept. It also happens in our personal lives.

We apply to MBA programs or take the Bar exam, expending every bit of energy we have. But then we wait for months to get the result back. Or we call a girl that we like, leave a voicemail and sit around waiting for her to call us back, wasting hours in the meantime.

And in the end, many of us spend as much of our time waiting as we do working.

I propose that the best way to fill up that waiting time is to work on something else. Build in time for new projects. Set up time to revise old ones. And work on things you care about.  Not only does it help to pass the time, but it means you are continuing to work on your craft and getting better at things you care about.

And more importantly, for some of us, it helps you take your mind off of the stakes of what you’re waiting for.


Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 Careers 2 Comments

Thunderstorms of noise

Over the past two weeks, we’ve had at least two thunderstorms in Chicago. And loud ones. A new friend of mine in Dallas also told me about thunderstorms they were having. Her comment got me thinking about all the noise around us today.

Today, the noisiest storms that we hear don’t come from the sky. Instead, they come from all the soundbites raining down on us every single day.  As the amount of inputs go up — more emails, calls, texts and ideas –more people are fighting for your attention.

This is especially true as our lives are becoming busier. Work weeks are increasing. Some of us have two jobs. And we’re all getting more Facebook friends and Twitter followers than ever.

One way to get past this is to simply ignore all the noise. Turn off your phone. Don’t reply to all the emails. Don’t sign in on Facebook. But I get it–that’s easier said than done.

Perhaps a better way to do it is to decrease the noise and increase human contact. Find your goods friends and people that you want to know better and interact more with them. And over time do more of that, while turning down the volume for the noise.

In the end, the experience you have with someone you trust and like is far more important than random messages on the screen. Especially as some messages that weren’t even meant for you in the first place.  Today’s huge surplus of electronic messages means that human interactions are less frequent but more important than ever.

So the next time you need advice, call your friend don’t email them.

And the next time you’re thinking about texting someone you like, try calling instead. He/she will appreciate it more.

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012 Business School No Comments

Your friends’ friends

I recently got back from a pre-wedding celebration outside of the US. Not only was the trip fantastic but I also really connected with the people I met on the trip. The whole thing reminded of something really important.

One thing I learned on the trip was the importance of your friends’ friends. Think about: your friends are usually your friends because you have some common interest, either professionally or personally. It’s usually both.

But if you think a bit more, you’d realize that your friend could say the same thing about his or her other friends. This means that it is probably that this person’s friends also have similar interests to you. And in some cases, you’ll have a whole lot in common. Similar interests. Similar stories. And similar criteria for making good friends.

So in some cases, your friends’ friends could make great friends for you too.

In my own recent experience on this trip, I found this to be true. Not only did I like every single person on the trip but I also fond a lot in common with them, despite our differences in location. We had similar friends in common. Went to similar schools. Had similar beliefs not only about careers but also about other non-professional issues.

And when they all came to Chicago this weekend, it was like the trip before never ended. We connected when we saw each other. We caught up on the past few weeks. And at the end of the night we all split off to reconnect again .

And that’s precisely why I’ll be meeting up with two of them again when I travel to the east coast in about a week.

So I propose the idea that it’s important to connect with some of your friends’ friends.

On one hand, you never know who you might meet. On the other hand, you always know that the chances are high that you might have a lot in common.


Saturday, August 18th, 2012 Leadership No Comments

Talking things through

One of the best ways to thing through decisions is to talk things through. It might sound simple but it can be powerful. Especially if you talk to someone that knows you well or to someone that knows more than you about the decision you are making.

Think about it:

It will force you to talk about a decision you may be avoiding.

It’s almost certainly going to get you thinking about new information you failed to consider.

You’ll definitely gain new perspective on the things, ideally from someone much more knowledgeable than you.

The more proactively you think about the issues before, the more likely you’ll come up with something insightful.

Sometimes, the person across the table might be the smartest person you know, but the real benefit still doesn’t even come from hearing them. Instead it comes from talking with them, telling them about your decision, confiding in them and seeing how they think about the problem.

Because in the end, there’s usually not a single answer to the question. So the smartest people aren’t racing to find the one and only-one right answer. Instead they have the courage to admit what they don’t know, understand that their mentors or colleagues might not know it either, but that they can help them look at the landscape of choices and think about the options ahead.

So the next time you’re deciding about career options, graduate school, or anything else, try talking things through.

You’ll be surprised at what you can come up with.


Thursday, August 16th, 2012 Business School No Comments

Doing the things you need

In today’s hyperactive Internet driven culture, it’s easier than ever to do anything – log on the net, check email, message your friends, get interrupted with work—except the things you really need.

Like figuring out your schedule.

Making a touch decision.

Persisting through to speak to a live person.

Ten thousand things can get in the way of doing these things, every single day. And if you’re not in the mode of being productive, it’s hard. And these distractions can set you back hours, if not more.

But the things you need are the most valuable. They can’t be bought on Amazon, can’t be given to your assistant, and can’t be put off much longer.

How do we get some of these things done sooner?


Wednesday, August 15th, 2012 Leadership No Comments

Business doesn’t like law, law doesn’t like business

It’s true much of the time. Think about it. Ask a business person a legal question and here’s what you’ll hear, “that sounds like something the lawyer should deal with. I don’t have time to think about such small details. I’m a big picture person.”

The lawyer is just the opposite. She responds, “the details can make or break the whole deal. But business, that is just nonsense. It’s just guesswork and unpredictable.”

Because the business person does not like law, that person will inevitably fail to consider all the risks, or think about what’s possible with a little more time, planning and leverage. Especially with game-changing ideas that require more attention.

Because the lawyers don’t like business, that person holds back, relies on a rigid roadmap, follows the existing path and may never understand how big an idea might be if they just embrace ambiguity.

You see these personalities play out all the time in business school and in law school.

On the other hand, what if a person could do both: combine the detail orientation and ability to see risks with the ability to understanding the market, hedge on the good risks and scale their idea.

Just a thought.

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Tuesday, August 14th, 2012 Business School No Comments


I love quotes. Good quotes are not only fun to find but they can also be uplifting when you need them and inspiring to read if you find them at the right time. Some of my favorite people online feel exactly the same way. Cory Booker posts quotes at least a few times a week on Facebook. Fred Wilson tumbles a lot of quotes from the web. And Seth Godin includes quotes in many of his blog posts.

Like these guys I also like to think about quotes when I can. One place I like to put quotes is on Twitter. Like Fred, I also recently began to Tumbl quotes that I like and sometimes I’ll even put them in my blog posts.

A few quotes have recently come to mind, in no particular order:

1. One quote that I was recently reminded of last weekend was from Steve Jobs, whose quote on attention to detail/quality is good for anyone in business; or anyone that wants to go to graduate school.

You got to make the back fence that nobody will see just as good looking as the front -Steve Jobs

2. Here is another quote that I recently found online.

I am strong because I am weak.
I am beautiful because I know my flaws.
I am a lover because I am a fighter.
I am fearless because I have been afraid.
I am wise because I have been foolish.
And I can laugh because I’ve known sadness.

3. And here is a quote from one of my favorite songs:

If I were of the highest cliff, on the highest riff And you slipped off the side and clinched on to your life in my grip, I would never, ever let you down

What are some of your favorite quotes?



Saturday, August 11th, 2012 Business School No Comments

Purpose of school

I’ve been thinking a lot about the purpose of education these days. And I’m not the only one. Every year thousand of people think about it, while they are taking entrance exams, trying to get into the best school they can. Then again when they’re taking professional exams. Trying to learn as much material as they can to go work in certain professions. In my view, the purpose of school often gets entirely lost.

Think about it. The purpose of education is to learn and to get access to more information and opportunities. Not only job opportunities but opportunities to travel the world, learn about new cultures, and explore new ideas. To find your passion, not only professionally but also academically and culturally. And in the end, to come up with new ways to contribute to society.

But today, more than ever, that is being lost. Today, every one of us is forced to think longer and harder about loan papers and assess how much debt we have to pay back.

We feel pressure to land six figure jobs to stack up with our classmates or at least lead us into the Promise Land of status and wealth. To go into finance, law firms or the best hospitals in the world to ensure that school was a good use of our time. Dont’ get me wrong, all that is great – competition, rigor and some level of screening.

But that’s not the purpose of school.

Given the time and money being invested, not only by students but also by taxpayers, we should be thinking more about this.  Every student and parent should be pondering. And every taxpayer should be chiming asking about it.

What is school for? Are we doing it right?  Are students learning? Are we better off? Or is the hyper-competitive system burning out some of our best and most independent thinkers? 

Truth be told: I don’t know the answers either. But if you’re not at least thinking about it, maybe you should be.


Thursday, August 9th, 2012 Business School No Comments

Having a sponsor

In today’s multi-dimensional, interconnected world, success in business is harder than ever before. Not only do you have to be hardworking, smart and a little bit lucky, but you also need as much help and support as possible. In fact, some people say that there’s nothing more important than having support if you want to make it to the top. I propose that one really good way to do that in business is to have a “Sponsor”.

I know what you’re thinking: What exactly is a sponsor? And how does a sponsor differ from a mentor?

Mentors, are what most people tend to have. They are people that offer friendly advice. They offer career conversation when you need them and sometimes before you need them. Not only will the tell you about their own experiences but when possible, they will give you as many tips as they can.

On the other hand, a sponsor is someone who uses their own power and influence on their protégé’s behalf. Not only do they advocate for their performance but often times for their next promotion. Sponsors also help their protégé understand what they can do at a company, make connections to senior leaders; become more visible; and open up career opportunities. In short, sponsors pull you up to the next level.

On the other hand, not having a sponsor means that you don’t have people fighting for you when it counts. You might have people making decisions about your career who don’t know who you are or who have no real vested interest. And as a result, it can be harder to get on a key project, harder to get support if things don’t go as well as you hoped, and harder to learn how things work at the company.

But don’t just take it from me, take it from VPs I spoke with at Aon, SVP at Amex and another executive at Google, all of whom had the same opinion.

In short, if you don’t have a sponsor yet, think about how you might be able to find one.

Sunday, August 5th, 2012 Business School No Comments

The importance of timing

Sometimes, there is nothing more important than good timing. When you’re applying to graduate school. Trying to find a new job. Hoping to get a promotion at your company. Or even looking to meet that special someone. No matter what the activity is, sometimes, timing can make all the difference.

When timing is bad, there might to be far more school applications than ever before, a boss that doesn’t want to put in a good word for you, or a gatekeeper at work that won’t help you get in front of the person you need.

On the other hand, when timing is good, everything you need can work in your favor. That gatekeeper will get you in front of the senior person at work. There’s an extra seat in the class because less people might have applied. Or your boss is having a good year and wants to see you succeed as much as he wants to do well himself.

I have a personal example from just this weekend. Small but a perfect illustration.

I was in an airport in another country. I was about to make my way back to the US and was mistakenly given a middle seat even though I was assigned an isle. But by the time I noticed, there was little I could do given the organization of the airport at the time.

But we just so happened to make our way toward the gate a few hours early to make sure our flight was still on time. Nobody was at the gate and the plane before ours was a bit delayed. We were about to make our way back to the cafeteria to wait out our flight there, since there weren’t enough open seats for all of us at the gate.

All of a sudden, a gate attendant speaks over the intercom, “Everyone that needs a seat change, come by the gate so we can get your seats finalized.”

The timing could not have been any better. At that moment, I was about two steps from the gate. So I walked over and got in line, just before watching about 40 other people do the same. I told them about my mishap, and not only do they stick me in a window seat but it just so happened to be next to one of the guys I had went on the trip with.  And they told me, there were only 2 window seats left, and that I was lucky to get one of them.

It reinfored the idea, that sometimes timing can make all the difference.



Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 Careers No Comments

Build things in

Have you ever thought you would do something a week or two from now, but it turned out that you didn’t have the time? Or maybe you were too tired so didn’t feel like it? But in retrospect you would have been much better off had you gone through with your original idea?

It can happens to every single person I know.

Works get busier than expected, so the dinner you had planned next week, never got finalized. Your feeling down after a few bad incidents at work, so you opt not to go to the event because – and you don’t have to since you never bought the tickets.  And in some cases, you have so many things on your mind that you just forget the outing that you hoped to remember to do the following week.

In retrospect, sometimes you be much better off if you just scheduled the trip in advance. Bought the ticket. Committed to someone else that you’d be there. Not rely on the hope that you buy them later. Because when things get busy or when you get down, not only do you start to forget about events, but sometimes you just skip them because you don’t feel up to it.

I propose the idea that sometimes (not always but sometimes) it’s better to build things in. To buy a flight in advance. Commit to someone you’ll be there. And mark it in your calendar now.

Because if you don’t build it in now, chances are you won’t do it later.


Sunday, July 29th, 2012 Business School, Careers No Comments

Now what?

What do I do now? That’s the question people a lot of people are asking themselves.  MBAs that just finished business school. Law students that just finished the bar exam. Friends and colleagues that finished their big project that kept them captive at work.

Often times, we encounter big taks and we have to go face to face with really hard work. And the harder the work the busier we all become.  And I suspect that the trend never really ends. But  every time there comes a point where it all comes to an end. Life has to go on. And we have to figure out what to do next.

In most cases that’s easy with a little advanced planning. That’s why most people plan trips after a big exam. Family vacations after your big project at work. Places you’ve always wanted to go if you decide to finally quit the job you’ve always wanted to quit.

But what happens when the work is harder than you thought? When time slips away? Then you find yourself asking, “now what.”

Advice from someone smart that has been there: “Enjoy your freedom. It’s not going to last.”

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Thursday, July 26th, 2012 Business School, Careers No Comments

It’s not half empty or half full

It’s not, “is the cup half full or half empty?” It’s “is there anyone around who’s thirsty & needs a drink?” -Cory Booker

Powerful quotes need to be spread to the world. They need to be told in person, online, and anywhere people can see or hear them. This is one of those quotes.

Most people complain about their cups being half empty.  A smaller group of people consider themselves optimists and say, “no my cup is half full.” Then most of the rest of the people like to debate, which one is better.

Instead of any of those options, I propose we stop debating and take Cory Booker’s advice. That we find someone that needs a drink. And give them the water.

Saturday, June 30th, 2012 Leadership No Comments

MBA Internship Success

Thousands of MBAs finished their first year of business school just last week and went off into the workforce to start their summer internships. Some of them went into consulting. Others into banking and finance. And another group went to marketing, operations, general  management and a variety of other positions. But no matter which industry people went into, most of them do have two things in common. Not only do they want to do enjoy the experience but they also all want to  get an offer at the end of the summer.

Sure, it might still be early, but there’s a lot of things you can do now to make sure you get your offers. But don’t take it from me, take it from this great article I found on  See the MBA advice they gave.  I did this morning and it looks pretty solid to me.

CLICK HERE for the BusinessWeek article. See below for the first few lines.



Avoiding MBA Internship Blunders

By now everyone living in the world of MBAs knows that the summer internship is really a two-month interview to determine if the candidate fits in well at the company and merits a full-time job offer.

“If a student completes the internship without (a) acquiring new skills, (b) developing a list of new contacts and professional relationships and mentors, it was time wasted,” writes Vicki Lynn, senior vice president for client talent strategy and employer branding at Universum USA. “The internship is an opportunity to grow and develop professionally, add to skill sets, and acquire mentors and references—for the next opportunity.

But like any opportunity, an internship can also be a potential minefield. Mistakes that can sabotage any hope of a future with the employer are shockingly easy to make. Here are seven of the biggest blunders MBA interns make and how to avoid them:

Mistake No. 1: Partying Too Hard

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the BusinessWeek article.

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Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 Business School, Careers No Comments

Graduation Ceremony

On Saturday, we had the final event as students here at Kellogg: Graduation.  Just like last year, this year’s commencement took place at the Northwestern football stadium. The ceremony started at 5pm (students had to arrive a bit earlier to get ready) and went until about 7pm.

Dean Blount gave the first speech, right after hearing a word or two from the University President Martin Shapiro. Dean Blount’s theme was changing the status quo.   She opened by discussing the changes that had taken place in the past few years, some for better and some for worse. She noted,  “Being a Kellogg graduate is being a leader who raises the status of a room when you walk in, and not just the status of yourself.” “So go out, thrive, and raise the status of every room you walk into.” And of course, she ended by reiterating her theme of thinking bravely.

 * Photo from Kellogg website:

Rosalyn M. Brock, Chairperson of the NAACP, and a Kellogg alum, delivered the keynote. Her key message was to focus on how you can look back to help others once you make it in your career.  She noted that a lot of people did the same for us many years ago, and with our Kellogg MBAs, we’d have a great privilege and opportunity to do the same.

 * I had the chance to chat with the speaker in a private setting just before graduation

Afterward, we had a professor deliver the remarks on behalf of the faculty. Then the FT KSA President gave remarks as did the PT KSA President.  After that, the Kellogg staff spent about 90 minutes announcing over 850 names and handing out diplomas.  And 700pm on Saturday 6/15 officially marked the end of our time at Kellogg and in the JD/MBA program.

Quick note:

I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading about Kellogg, Northwestern Law and the JD/MBA program on The good news is that unlike many MBA blogs, we won’t stop here. From here on out, I’ll still be writing, and later this summer we’ll be changing things up a bit. Stay tuned.

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Monday, June 18th, 2012 Business School 1 Comment

Our MBAs 25 Years From Now

As recent grads from business school, we all can’t help but wonder how the next few years will be. And how they will be different than if we hadn’t chosen to come to business school, or to Kellogg. Will we be happy? Will we make enough money over the next two decades? And will it be more now that we went to business school? And will we be married, will we stay in touch, and will we be glad we went through the journey? While those questions are undeniably hard to answer, one recent survey did get some good information from one class of MBAs 25 years ago.

In short, members of the Harvard Business School class of 1968 were asked 85 questions about their professional and personal lives years after graduation. Alums were asked if their lives have been easier or harder than expected, whether they were happy and how they thought about business school and life in general.

I’ll note that I can’t speak for the survey in any capacity. Not the methodology, result, legitimacy, accuracy of the reposting online, validity or anything else about the survey.  Rather, the reposting and analysis was created and posted on a website called, Poets and Quants.  And I simply reposted here as I know a number of my readers will find it interesting.

Below is the result of the survey and an analysis. The results were originally posted here  at this link:


Can an MBA from a top school make a big difference in your life?

Just about all the applicants to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and other top business schools in the world believe that’s the case. Otherwise, they wouldn’t quit their jobs and attend a prestigious school in a two-year MBA program that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the research largely conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council shows that the vast majority of MBAs have no regrets. GMAC’s 2012 survey showed that 95% of MBAs and business school alumni rated the value of their degree as outstanding, excellent, or good. Nine out of 10 alumni say their graduate management education prepared them for their chosen careers.

Aside from such vague macro data, however, there’s generally little information that reveals what really happens to those who earn an MBA from a top school years after they’ve entered the workforce—until now. Poets&Quants obtained the results of a survey of Harvard Business School’s Class of 1986 that was done for its 25th reunion last year.

Members of the class were asked 85 questions that yielded revealing answers about their professional and personal lives at mid-life. Alums were asked if their lives have been easier or harder than expected, whether they believe America is a better place to live and work now, and if they ever had to hire a defense attorney. They were asked how they met their life’s partners, whether they divorced or stayed married, how much money they make, and what their personal net worth is.


Because the answers were only intended for the class and not the public, the results are extraordinarily candid and frank. Some 271 members of the class responded to the survey, representing 35% of the total class and 42% of the alums for which Harvard had current street or e-mail addresses.

This is a class that has endured three recessions, including the recent economic collapse that has been the most severe downturn since the Great Depression. It is also a class that has seen vast changes in the world of work, from the sizable impact of international competition to the growing use of technology in every aspect of life. The class has seen dramatic upheavals in societal and cultural norms, from marriage and divorce to the decline of Corporate Elite and the rise of the entrepreneur.

In the year the class graduated, Ronald Reagan was President and Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in history. A gallon of gas cost 89 cents and the average income in the U.S. was $22,400. A Tandy 600 portable computer cost $1,594 (Apple had only introduced the first Macintosh computer a year earlier). Computers ”were so heavy we all needed help getting them into our dorm rooms and since we were the first class in the history of HBS to have computers, the spreadsheets were incredibly buggy,” recalls Pamela Meyer, one of the ’86 women who made up 24% of the class.


The result of the reunion survey is a fascinating profile of a class, a rich mosaic with both substantive and frivolous facts. Some of the more telling tidbits:

  • Even Harvard alums are not immune from downsizings and firings. Some 47% of the class said they had been involuntarily dismissed from a job, while 13% said they have been fired twice and 4% reported having lost a job three times in their 25 years since graduation.
  • Sex isn’t a very high priority for the Class of 1986–at least not that they are 53 to 55 years of age. Just 3% of the alums say they want more sex. The highest priorities? Time (31%), health (18%), and peace of mind (13%).
  • More members of the class have hired personal trainers (43%) than therapists (41%) or cosmetic surgeons (7%).
  • Slightly more than one in four alums have gained 11 to 20 pounds since they wore their cap and gown. Some 15% put on 21 to 30 pounds, while 5% tip the scales with weight gains of 31 to 50 pounds.
  • A third of the class (33%) admitted to having slept with someone whose last name they didn’t know (37% for men, 17% for women).
  • One in four own 25 or more pairs of shoes (58% of the women and 15% of the men).
  • One in five (20%) have skydived, while one in three (32%) completed a marathon.
  • About 21% met their spouses at their undergraduate schools, while 14% found their spouses at Harvard Business School (12% in the same Class of 1986 and 4% in the same HBS section). Another 12% met at work.
  • The Class of 1986 apparently wasn’t into the bar scene. Only 3% of the class met their spouses at bars. Some 6% said they met at a party, and 4% met randomly on a plane or in a taxi.
  • Some 14% of the class is divorced, with another 1% separated. About 5% divorced and remarried.
  • Some 18% dated someone they met online, but only 3% of the class married the person they met on the Internet or by some “other commercial means.”

The survey addressed most of the obvious questions any applicant would want to know, including what contribution did a Harvard degree make toward a successful life, how much money does an HBS graduate make 25 years after graduation, and how much personal wealth can a Harvard MBA accumulate in a quarter of a century. The answers are all here as well and they are eye-opening.


For a group that has lived through three recessions, including the worst since the Great Depression, the Class of 1986 is doing pretty well, thank you. The median annual income of a ‘86er last year was $350,000. Slightly more than one in four class members reported annual income of $1 million or more, while 8% of the class said they earned more than $5 million last year.

The median personal net worth for the class was a heady $6 million. But that number only tells a small part of the story. Some 19% of the class reported net worth between $20 million and $100 million. About 4% of the class said their personal net worth exceeded $100 million.

As for other material toys:

  • Nearly one in eight (77%) owned a second car.
  • Four in ten (42%) owned a vacation home.
  • One in four (25%) owned a boat.
  • One in ten (10%) owned a full or fractional share of a private airplane.

What about the hard luck cases? About 8% said their personal net worth was below $1 million, with 3% in the under $400,000 bracket. Some 5% said they were making $100,000 or less last year. Asked if the post-2008 recession caused them to “consciously economize or otherwise had a tangible impact on your lifestyle,” only 18% of the class said “yes, meaningfully.” Some 41% answered “yes, somewhat,” while the 40% said “no.”


Very few members of the class are traveling on the rocky ground, to paraphrase a recent Bruce Springsteen song. About 36% of the class founded a company that eventually employed 25 or more people, and an extraordinary 14% have been climbed into the C-suite at a Fortune 1000 company with the title of chief executive, chief financial officer, or another C-position.

How did their lives, 25 years later, match up with their expectations of what would happen? When asked how similar or different has life been from what you expected, only 17% said it was pretty much what they expected. Some 24% said it was “different,” 12% said “extremely different,” and nearly one in ten (9%) checked the box with the statement “What the hell just happened the last 25 years?” The largest single group of the class, 38%, said life has been “reasonably similar with a couple of curve balls.”


When asked if life had been harder or easier than expected, only one in ten (10%) of the class said their professional lives have been easier, while 16% thought their personal lives have been easier. A surprising number of Harvard alums believe their lives have been more difficult than they ever imagined. Some 38% said their personal life was harder than expected, while 30% said their professional careers have been harder. (Some 46% said their personal life has so far turned out as expected, along with 59% for their professional life.)

As for the bottom line answer to was the Harvard MBA worth the sacrifice, the class was understandably in agreement that the degree was an important ingredient in its success. Only 1% of the class–three of 271 respondents–believed their Harvard MBA was “not a particularly productive use of my time or money.” Nearly half (48%) described it as “one of the best decisions of my life.” Another 34% said it was a “very important contributor to my career.” Only 13% admitted that going to Harvard for an MBA was “a responsible move professionally but not a big impact on my overall life.” On a less serious note, 3% of the class agreed to the statement “when I meet people who went to Stanford, I am secretly envious.”

What did the class find to be the most valuable part of getting an MBA from Harvard? Some 28% of the alums said the top answer was the “ongoing professional credential” of the degree, while 22% said it was “placement in job after school” and 21% said it was mainly the “education.” About 13% believed the degree’s primary benefit was the “personal self-confidence” it bestowed. One in ten (10%) identified “classmates for social reasons” and 6% said the “network of alumni professionally.” Some 3% said it was “something to drop into cocktail party conversations.”

How much did the degree actually change their lives? Just 8% of the class believes their lives are not at all different by having a Harvard MBA. Some 46%, however, said their lives were “somewhat different,” while 40% said their lives were “materially different” as a result of the degree. Another 5% agreed with the statement “I don’t want to think of my life without HBS.”


One of the most interesting questions asked of class members was what would they have done if Harvard had turned them down for admission. Eight of ten members of the class (82%) said they would have gotten an MBA from another school. The largest percentage of ’86ers, 27%, said they still would have gone to business school but were uncertain which school they would have attended. However, about 19% said they would have gone to Stanford, 9% to Wharton, 6% each to Chicago Booth and Dartmouth Tuck, 5% to Nothwestern’s Kellogg School, and 4% to MIT Sloan. About 4% of the class said they would have continued to apply to Harvard until accepted.

Politically, the Class of 1986 is the complete opposite of the old adage “Those who are not liberals when young have no heart.  Those who are not conservatives later in life have no head.” The class reported a strong preference for Reagan in 1984 and then Obama in 2008, even compared to popular vote totals. Some 63.5% of the class backed Reagan versus a national popular vote of 58.8%, while some 64.3% backed Obama, versus a popular vote of 52.9%.

Most of the class thinks it was lucky to graduate from Harvard when it did. More than half the class believes that America is not a better place to live or work than it was when they graduated in 1986. Some 21% of the class thought the country was “significantly worse,” while 37% said it was “slightly worse.” One of four of the class, however, had a very different view. About 18% said America was “slightly better” than it was and 7% said it was “significantly better.”


Five common themes emerged when class members were asked what advice they would give others. The most common was expressed in such quotes as “follow your passion, “the money will work itself out,” “pursue what is most fun to you,” “do what you love” and “enjoy the ride.”

Oddly, though, the second most common theme appeared to be in conflict with the first. “Focus on making money earlier,” advised one ’86er. “Ignore that pursue your passion stuff,” said another. “Make more money,” added one ’86er. “Get promises in writing,” advised another.

A third theme evolved over the importance of picking a spouse. “Be more careful in choosing a spouse,” warned one’ 86er. “If he seems like a jerk, he’s a jerk.” Said others: “Marry someone else…a screwed up marriage screws up everything else.” And finally one obviously burned class member put it simply: “Get divorced now!”

Many members of the class wished they had taken more risks. “Trust your gut….take some career risks…be more ambitious…think big…there is never a good time” were among the comments.

And finally, many alums emphasized the value and importance of family. “Spend time with your children,” advised one. “There is nothing more rewarding than investing in your children,” said another. “Time will fly by and your children’s lives will never be repeated.”

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Saturday, June 16th, 2012 Business School, Careers 2 Comments

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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