The Second Year of the MBA

Around this time last year, I volunteered to be in a video and share some advice to the incoming MBA class. I had just finished my last final for the year and the only thing between me and a few precious weeks of vacation was this video. Begrudgingly, I walked outside to the filming area just outside of PACCAR Hall and clipped on the mic, and tried to remember what I was going to say. I looked to the videographer for a cue, and the exchange went something like this:

Videographer: “First off, can you introduce yourself?”

Me: “You’re filming right now? Okay…Hi my name is Nelson Tang, and I’m a first-year MBA here at Foster and I’m focused on marketing.”

“You’re a second-year MBA.”

“I am?”

“Yep, the first-years will see this in the fall. Go ahead again when you’re ready.”

That was my first “uh oh” moment (though I didn’t actually use the words “uh oh”) when I realized that I had only one year left in my MBA experience. It’s the feeling you get when you are deeply involved with something (or watching Netflix) and suddenly you realize it’s 3am and you still need to finish that project before your boss gets into the office. I didn’t have that feeling again…until earlier this week, when I realized that I only have 4 weeks left. We had so much time left, and suddenly none at all.

Let me try to recall what happened:

Fall Quarter

October outside of PACCAR October outside of PACCAR

As a second-year, coming back to campus after the summer internship felt like a reunion. There was a lot of buzz at PACCAR Hall this first week, as second years swapped stories about their experiences and summer vacations while helping the new batch of first-year MBAs get settled in. After getting to know some of the first-years, you start remembering what it was like to be in their shoes and you can’t help but notice how much you’ve changed after one year in the MBA. I think this feeling lasted about a week before Fall recruiting and extracurriculars went into full swing.

Fall Recruiting

One key benefit of being in a Full-time MBA program is that some of the larger companies start recruiting MBAs almost a year before they graduate. This serves as a talent ‘arms race’ where these companies get the first look at the largest pool of MBA applicants before they can accept offers from competing firms. From a student perspective, this leads to a tough choice. Do you go back to the firm that you interned at (if you were offered a full-time position after your internship), do you apply to the limited pool of companies that recruit early, or do you wait until Spring Quarter for all the full-time positions to open up?

For me, this led to a lot of sleepless nights, some soul searching, and a bevy of spreadsheets filled with decision matrices. I had no idea that there were so many options to choose from. I bounced around from career path to career path, and it seemed like every week I’d have a new flash of insight. On Monday I would know in my gut that my passion is in Corporate Finance, but by Friday I’d have learned that my real goal in life is to be a Product Manager. By the following Monday I’d realize that I want to work in Operations for the rest of my life. This went on for a few months. After a generous deadline extension, I accepted an offer to join Intel’s Finance team. Suddenly, those finance electives next quarter are looking really interesting.

Clubs and More

In the ‘advice’ video, I was asked about the right number of clubs to join in your first year. I thought folks should just join a bunch – your interests will change over time and you should explore as much as you can. Club leadership is an entirely different matter. I was only a board member on two clubs (the Foster Veterans Association and the Outdoor and Sports Industry Club), but I gained a deep respect for the amount of effort that it took to organize and execute meaningful events for our members. In addition, I committed to a lengthy alpine climbing course with The Mountaineers, and I decided to bring back the Annual Challenge for Charity Rainier Climb. These last two activities would consume many evenings and weekends to come.

Winter Quarter

Outdoor and Sports Industry Club members at Snow Basin, UT after the Salt Lake City trek! Outdoor and Sports Industry Club members at Snow Basin, UT after the Salt Lake City trek!

After three short months we arrived at winter quarter, which I barely remember because of the great snow season we had here in the Pacific Northwest. Fall recruiting had ended and there wasn’t much in the way of full-time hiring going on, and the first-years were busy with the internship hunt. The highlight of this quarter was getting to work alongside first-years to help share the burden of organizing club events and extracurriculars. My absolute favorite club event of this quarter was the first-ever Outdoor and Sports Industry Club trek to Salt Lake City, where we visited Backcountry.com, Black Diamond, Petzl, and Park City Mountain Resort. We saw firsthand what it was like to bring some of the industry’s most iconic brands to customers, and met with many key leaders in these companies to talk about strategy and their career paths.

If it ain't raining, we ain't training! If it ain’t raining, we ain’t training!

The other highlight of this quarter was building the team for the 2016 Rainier charity climb. Over 40 busy MBA students took part in the training regimen for a chance to be a part of the final climbing team, which meant a lot of weekends and mornings devoted to team workouts and hikes. I’m still amazed that we would get so many people to take the time out of their busy schedules to go run around Green Lake in the rain!

Spring Quarter

Spring in the Quad

And so we come to spring quarter. For many second-years, this is the chance to relax (word of advice: don’t take 17 credits this quarter) or to focus on the full-time job search. The folks who delayed their full-time job search have an endless amount of options to choose from in the spring, which shows that many of my fears turned out to be unfounded.
Second-years are hard to find this quarter. Some people graduated early, some folks are taking only evening classes, and others are only on campus one day of the week. The first-year class assumed the mantle of responsibility for the clubs, so there is even less for the second-years to worry about. We’re even starting to meet some members of the Class of 2018, who will be starting their MBA journey in the fall. The cycle continues. I not-so-secretly tried to find out who the strong climbers were so that they’ll help with the Challenge for Charity Rainier Climb next year.

And suddenly, there’s only 4 weeks left. It’s both exciting and sad to be so near the end. After this, it’s back to the ‘real world’ and the rhythm of the workweek. It’ll be great to stop thinking about homework and team projects on the weekends, and it’ll be really great to make money again. On the other hand, there won’t be any ‘meet-the-firms’ or pub clubs either. There won’t be that day to day interaction with the Class of 2016 anymore. Everyone will go off to different parts of the country and start their post-MBA careers, and thoughts of finals and team projects will eventually fade and be reborn as rose-colored memories.

Fortunately, the great thing about being in a small program is that it is a pretty tight group. When we go back to the real world, we’ll be able to leverage all the friendships and connections in this program to help each other solve problems. I feel like I can reach out to just about anyone in this program and they’ll answer. Time will keep flying by and I may eventually forget a lot of the course material, but I won’t forget about the people here.

Looking back to this last year, it’s no wonder that time seemed to move so quickly. You transform a lot in the 18 months of the full-time MBA program, and I have to say that a lot of my growth occurred during the second year of the program. Today, I only have 4 more bittersweet weeks to say that “I’m a second-year MBA,” but I’m really looking forward to being able to say, for the rest of my life:

“I’m a Foster MBA Alumni.”

A version of this blog article was posted on the Foster ‘Inside the MBA Blog

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