You hear people talk about choosing to go to a certain school because of their amazing alumni networks. My school, for one, boasts the likes of Steve Jobs, Emilio Pucci, James Beard, Gary Snyder, Larry Sanger (co-founder of Wikipedia), and Ry Cooder (musician). Reed’s alum vary widely in what they commit their passions to: technology, science, writing, music, art, fashion design; but they tend to be pretty good at whatever it is they set their minds to. (A note on hanging propositions: Flannery O’Connor, whom I wrote my senior thesis on, used them often and well and wrote about the acceptability of their use in her letters. I clearly follow suit.) I expected that the same would apply–that Reedies are good at what they do–when it comes to business and business schools.
And so I tapped into my alumni network. It was as easy as logging in to view the directory of graduated Reedies, searching for location by city (in the case that I was looking for a current student at one of my target schools), and skimming. Immediately I found someone who is currently at one of my target schools. I emailed her. After reading about how Career Services can help Reed alumni, I sent off another email: Apparently I am eligible for career counseling for up to five years after my graduation. It’s been four. Awesome. The Career Services office ended up setting me up with a phone call with a career counselor; and per my disclosure regarding being interested in either entrepreneurship or consulting, gave me the contact information for someone very active in the consulting field.
CALL NUMBER ONE
I’d worked with this particular career counselor before, as a junior and senior at Reed. He gave me one awesome piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten: When you’re in need of a letter of recommendation, make sure you ask whether your prospective recommend-er is willing to write you a strong letter of recommendation. Duh. I’ve supervised enough (mediocre) people by now to know that if someone puts me down as a reference without asking my opinion on the quality of their work, they just might get something less than stellar. Anyway. Good advice.
And so I had a call with Don. We’ll call him Don. (In the name of fairness and confidentiality, I won’t be revealing the names of the people I’m speaking to in this process.) Per the advice of the lovely woman who helped me set up the call, I sent Don my resume and a draft of my statement of purpose prior to the call. Fixing these up were good exercises, and I expect that they’ll serve as starting points as I’m pulling my admissions applications together. Don offered to review both and get back to me with feedback (no time to read because he’d been in meetings) and asked how else he could help. I learned that, though versed in the many types of programs that Reedies go onto after graduation, my MBA and admissions-process questions are best directed at the admissions officers at my target schools. The way that Don was really best able to help was by sending me a list (not accessible by me) of alumni who had gone to the MBA programs I’m looking at. He also, based on the profiles of the schools I’m targeting, recommended a few other schools to look at–and offered to resend the alumni list if my list of target schools changes.
My next call was to a student in one of my dream programs. Before I explain how this call went and what I learned, I need to take a step back and explain my emotional state. Ever since I had my aha moment that I’d like to get my MBA, I’ve been extremely excited, driven, and willing to stay up late and get up early in order to do my research after putting in my regular 40 hours a week at the day job. The clarity and focus I’ve been experiencing have been tremendous. My excitement has also been hedged by the realization, as I explained during the post on my aha moment, that I’m trying to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. And I’m not a practiced high altitude climber. I don’t do math. I don’t work for a name-brand firm. I work for a family business where all of my supervisors have been family (i.e., direct-supervisor recommendations are OUT). And so when Don asked me about my GPA (good for Reed–but not stellar) and then told me that the schools I’m looking at are a “stretch,” I felt crushed. I started to question my capability, my aptitude for this caliber of excellence. I started to feel, as I’ve so many times felt (and then got over) in business, like an imposter. What’s a girl like me doing thinking I could go to a top five business school? I’m not smart enough. My resume, while impressive, isn’t that great. I only built the marketing department for a scientific services company; I didn’t launch a profitable start-up or help bring clean drinking water to Sierra Leon. And so my call with Sarah, only a couple hours after Don’s crushing (and yet reasonable) statement that dream schools are a stretch for me, began with me already feeling self-conscious and in over my head.