What is the biggest mistake you can make in school? For Chip Chambers, the answer is the pursuit of recognition over learning. Forget that mythical 4.0 GPA, Dean’s List blurb, or Summa Cum Laude designation. These commendations are the antithesis to learning, explains the University of Georgia grad. Instead, Chambers believes, they simply reflect that students can sell what they read and study to the test.
“I find that many students — especially successful, ambitious ones — are the most risk-averse, seeking only to take the classes they need to follow a pre-set, safe, well-trodden path towards a safe, lucrative career.”
“GO OUT AND FAIL”
Instead, Chambers, a 2019 P&Q Best & Brightest Business Major who starts medical school this fall, urges future business majors to focus on what truly matters. That means taking full advantage of the “unparalleled access to information” that few will enjoy again in their lives.
“Forget the grades, the resume-building, and the accolade-hauling,” he advises. “Don’t be an interesting application. Be an interesting person.”
That rebel spirit permeates the Class of 2019. Look no further than Niko Stjepan Martinovic. At Notre Dame, he lived life to the fullest. He completed five internships in New York City and London, eventually landing a job at Goldman Sachs. Following convention, Martinovic played roles in the Wall Street and Investment clubs. Of course, he also competed in boxing and table tennis – when he wasn’t launching two businesses, that is. In other words, he didn’t just read about business. He lived it – and this taught him far more than how to link the various financial statements.
“Do not follow the textbooks like scripture,” he counsels. “Go out and start a business. Dare I say, go out and fail. Failure is the best educator… bite off more than you can chew because, in college, the safety net is that you’re in college and not putting other real stakeholders on the line.”
GOAL OF A BUSINESS MAJOR: LEARNING TO THINK FOR YOURSELF
Katherine Cui came to a similar realization at Boston University. When she joined the business school, her plan was to study hard so she’d “learn everything there is to know.” However, the J.P. Morgan hire gradually discovered that work rarely conformed to the fundamentals and rules she’d mastered in class. Many times, she faced issues that weren’t covered in her textbooks. As she faced down unknowns, she discovered what her classes had truly prepared her to do.
“My value stemmed from my ability to apply the things I did know to various settings,” she explains. “What I learned in school – the theories, the cases, the law – were actually tools I accumulated to help me respond and adapt to real-world circumstances. In business, there is no right or wrong answer, and options are never limited to just a “yes” or “no.” The value of an undergraduate degree in business comes from equipping us the ability to think on our own, to stand firm on our ideas, and to not shy away from paving our own path.”
This impulse to forego grades for growth and theory for experience ranks among the most common advice given by 2019 graduates. Each year, Poets&Quants asks students nominated as a “Best & Brightest” to share the advice they would give to students looking to major in a business-related field. From taking risks to planning ahead, here are 15 nuggets of hard-won wisdom to help future students make the most of the business school experience.
1) Create Your Own Opportunities: “If you don’t see immediate opportunities for yourself to excel, be a leader, gain new skills, demonstrate your worth—create them. Very rarely in the business world are you going to be handed opportunities for advancement; you have to either find them for yourself or create them from the cards that are currently in your hand. Ask your professors if they have research with which you can help. Reach out to local businesses and ask if they take interns. Run for a board position for any club that excites you. I hear so many students say that they want to find jobs or internships, but don’t know how to take the first step because they feel unqualified and as if they don’t have any experience—yet they have been lifeguards, waiters, babysitters, etc. – those jobs teach important skills! Learn them. Hone them. Then go out and show the world how you can apply them to every opportunity that you can create.”
Andrea Goldstein, Tulane University (Freeman)
2) Expect Change: “A business career does not necessarily mean staying at the same company in the same role for the rest of your life. As personalities and interests change throughout your career, there will be opportunities to explore tangential roles in fields that you may never have considered in college. The beauty of business is that any experience in a related or non-related field will prepare you to bring a unique perspective and outlook into a problem.”
Leslie Parra, Babson College (Olin)
“You do not have to know what you want to do the minute you get to school. I was unsure what I wanted to do until I participated in case competitions in each major offered in the business school. Doing this gave me a broad idea of the content of work in each different area, and I think it is a great way to rule out certain majors you may not want to pursue and dive deeper into areas that interest you.”
Paul Chamesian, Rutgers Business School (New Brunswick)
3) Stop Comparing Yourself To Others: “Your journey is simply that – yours! Over the years, I have struggled with my goals not coming to fruition as quickly as others. Being in this mindset has led to a lot of unnecessary stress and extra phone calls home to my parents. Have confidence in yourself, work hard, and the pieces will fall into place as they are meant to be.”
Katie Schuchman, University of Pittsburgh (Katz)
“Never compare yourself to someone else! I know it’s hard not to in the moment when you hear of someone landing a really impressive internship or full-time job, but everyone has their own professional journey. You are not them, and everything will work out in the end.”
Anders Larsen, University of Wisconsin
4) Embrace Life: “Never self-select yourself! This is advice I stand by and give to my peers as I help mentor them throughout college. Entering college, especially business school, students will meet with many opportunities to succeed and grow as professionals. However, you will never realize those opportunities if you don’t push yourself and give yourself a chance. No matter how “selective” an application, school, program or conference might be, you will never get there if you don’t try. I’ve used this advice throughout business school and surprisingly ended up in the most selective spaces across the globe. I was selected as a Forbes 30 Under 30 Scholar, I participated in a week-long summer program at Harvard Business School, and I eventually landed a job at McKinsey. To my freshman self, these opportunities might have seemed unattainable. However, each had one thing in common; they all started with me putting myself out there, no matter the odds.”
Jada Haynes, Indiana University (Kelley)
“My advice is to be flexible and open to new ideas and opportunities. Four years ago, I would have never guessed I’d be going into a career in finance. Don’t be afraid to get involved and try new things. Your value proposition in business is a direct function of the experiences you’ve had. Finally, enjoy the process. It’s easy to become so focused on your next goal that you miss the great experiences you have in front of you.”
Samuel Jacobson, Southern Methodist University (Cox)
“This is your time to take risks and do things that not everyone around you is doing. If you attempt to do anything substantial, you will eventually stumble. It will be a little uncomfortable at first, but if you embrace that discomfort, and allow yourself to grow from it, you will reach much higher than you ever thought you could.”
Lauren Nobile, Miami University of Ohio (Farmer)