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  • Writer's pictureLauren Wong

An Intro: Why I got my MBA, how nothing went as planned, & how it changed my life for the better

I’ll be honest - before I applied to business school I never thought I needed a MBA. I was working in entertainment at one of the top studios (NBCUniversal), had witnessed executives who had gotten to their role without a MBA, and thought that since I wanted to become an Entertainment Executive, that if I just worked hard in my job, I’d climb the corporate ladder the same as they did. But then my role with a new department changed that thought. It was a department with an executive team that all held MBAs and I saw how they led with a different type of confidence and experience even when most of them were younger than the typical executive. And so, I made the decision to go for a MBA for the same reason most people do: to acquire that executive energy and move up the corporate ladder faster.

My career goal since my third year of college has always been the same: work in Entertainment. My thought was that if I was going to do anything - it’d be something that uplifted people and brought joy. Although not talented enough for the creative side, I knew I was a hard worker that could execute and deliver results. The hardest part was getting my foot in the door. As luck would have it, I took a contractor role for the Sochi Olympics shortly after graduation. It didn’t pay well but I got my foot in the door and to bolster my income, I also secured a part time tutoring job. Fatefully, within a few short months, I was offered a full time role and although I didn’t need the extra income - I decided to continue tutoring as I found it fit into my work schedule, I enjoyed and was good at it, and more importantly, I felt like I was also uplifting people (in a different way). At that point, in many ways, I felt like I was living my best life - I was working at a major Hollywood studio, my work was interesting, I was making a decent salary for a 20 something year old, and was even making good extra cash from being a tutor with students that loved me. Life was in all senses “good”.

In my fourth year at NBCUniversal, aka my mid to late twenties, cracks started to emerge in this “good life”. Other than a lateral move, I wasn’t moving up in my career, pay had stayed stagnant, and I was feeling restless. In short, I was facing a lot of the same issues my peers were facing: I wanted a path to up my life to the next level. At that time, I had other friends who were pursuing Masters/Doctoral degrees and it seemed like the most “normal” path - especially seeing how my department’s executive suite all had MBAs. With that goal in mind - I looked to applying to UCLA Anderson and USC Marshall part time programs, since it was the best for Entertainment Management and I wanted to stay at my job. As with all other MBA applicants, I started my MBA journey by studying for the GMAT. Gratefully, because of my 4 year experience tutoring students in standardized tests I was able to get a 730 within 2 months of studying. I likely could have applied to other programs but since my goal was Entertainment Management - I knew UCLA Anderson and USC Marshall would be the best. I took 1-2 months to work on my essays, submitted them, did the interview, attended the prospective student events, and in April 2018, I received a letter from UCLA Anderson: I was admitted!

Once admitted to UCLA Anderson my thought was: this will help me move up my career. I had every intention to stay in my role and in entertainment but as fate would have it - that wasn’t in store for me. Going into any MBA program, I think most of us think about what it offers us: education, career development, and of course, the network. Of these all, I think it can’t be understated just how significant that last part is: the network. Besides just making friends, attending business school allows you to meet people that are just as driven as you, but with different goals and stories. Imagine, for my entire career I had thought that my life goal was to be an entertainment executive, but I was meeting and befriending people who were engineers, developers, consultants, and pioneers, starting their own business. More importantly, we were brought together for the same reason - that we had outgrown what we had done before - that we wanted to move up and see what else was there. It was interacting with my classmates that I made the fateful decision to leave NBCUniversal and try my hand in Operations at a mobile gaming company. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was atypical of a MBA student - I wanted change and growth from my career.

During the second year of my MBA my world was shook just like everyone else’s. COVID-19 Pandemic had just started, and on top of that I was having my own issues with my career and personal life. I had joined the part time program of UCLA Anderson thinking that working and attending school would be the best path, but I was suddenly hit with dissatisfaction at work and burnt out from balancing both. I soon was relieved of my job and given my circumstances, especially with my final thesis coming up, committed to school and taking on a schedule and lifestyle as a full-time student. This is when I truly experience my MBA to its full potential.

Combination of life as a full-time Anderson student and working on my final thesis, along with not getting offers during final rounds at top companies made me realize I needed to reshift my strategy and goals. I knew I wanted to do entertainment still but I was no longer sure what exactly that meant. Did I still want to do analytics? Did I want to shift into a new role? Working on my final thesis project made me realize that I loved working with people and solving their business questions - was a more client facing role a better fit? As I plowed through my Final Thesis and reached out to my network, I realized that I needed a role that would explore it all: consulting. And so, even though I was severely behind on consulting recruiting, I reached out to the school asking for advice on how to pursue this. They pointed me to my peers, my classmates who were in that world and I asked them for help on casing and advice on what I needed to do to secure a role as a consultant. Earlier I had mentioned networking as one of the key reasons for attending a MBA. It was at this moment that this proved it. I’m happy to say that not only did I utilize the UCLA Alumni network, but with the help of 7 of my friends/classmates - in two months I was able to master casing, secure an interview AND an offer to Cognizant, a Fortune 500 consulting company, upon graduation. I don’t know if I could have achieved this if it wasn’t for the amazing network one only gets from a MBA.

By December of 2020, I thought my next steps were set in stone. I’d be a Consultant for the CMT practice of Cognizant and move up my career. Of course, life has a funny way of surprising you. Around my last quarter, I decided to do an “eat pray love” trip to Taiwan thinking it’d be my last hurrah before I committed to life as a corporate consultant. However, while I was in Taiwan I started tapping into another part of my career that I hadn’t thought too much of: the education/tutoring side. My time at Anderson (coupled with Covid) had shown me an important thing: the power of network and a network supporting you. I still can’t describe how grateful I am to have met the people I have met from my MBA program and how they changed my life. Being in Taiwan,I remembered what it is that drew me into entertainment in the first place – what it is I really wanted to do: I wanted to support others and uplift them. It was at this time I realized that getting my MBA at UCLA Anderson was such a key part of feeling this clarity.

I went into UCLA Anderson thinking I wanted to do entertainment because it supported and brought joy to people’s lives. In the last year I realized that support and joy can manifest in different ways. My unique experience in tutoring and mentoring over the last 8 years made me realize how higher education can uplift people to a new level. I realized how thanks to the support of peers in not only my MBA but also throughout undergrad and other parts of my life, that I’m uniquely able to support others in reaching their goals. Nothing went as planned for my MBA journey. It was even better. Getting my MBA at UCLA Anderson was more than a Masters degree in Business Administration. It was also a graduation of who I am today. I now realize why the executives with MBAs at NBCUniversal were able to hold themselves with such confidence, why they were willing to be daring, and execute at a level that I myself couldn't at that time. I might not have achieved my “goal” of moving up my career in entertainment, but with my education and time getting a MBA, I learned more about myself and what I truly want to do. As I transition out of entertainment and into a career of higher education coaching - I don’t feel fear. I feel exhilarated, free, and more in touch with myself as I help others reach the point I do. Whatever your goals are for getting a MBA, know this, from the application process to graduating: it will change your life and with the right guidance - help you reach a new point of realization and confidence with yourself.

In short, the MBA offers more than just career opportunities. It's a great way to start a new chapter and develop confidence in all that you do - not just business. If that's what you're seeking than I highly encourage you apply for an MBA.

For more info and guidance on whether getting a MBA is right for you, questions on the different MBA programs, and maximizing your MBA journey (including the dreaded application process),, please reach out to me for a free 30 min. chat where we can further discuss my thoughts on MBA and/or chat about your MBA application journey.

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