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Real Humans of the UC Berkeley Haas MBA Class of 2020

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Jennifer Nixon, Haas MBA Class of 2020

Age: 32

Hometown: Elkin, NC

Undergraduate Institution and Major: United States Military Academy at West Point, B.S. in kinesiology

Pre-MBA Work Experience: 8 years of active duty Army experience as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot and an officer in leadership and operations positions

Why business school? Why now? I chose to attend business school for several reasons, the foremost being that I didn’t know what I wanted to do in corporate America. I didn’t want to be limited to what many veterans “normally” do (contracting work with the U.S. government) or becoming a pilot for hire.

I wanted to do something completely new, but I didn’t know my options or where to look to find them. I also didn’t want to take a position that might be below my capability simply because I didn’t know what my capability was or because I didn’t speak the language of business.

I thought that joining the work force after completing an MBA would allow me to enter with confidence that I was making the right decision and the knowledge to use the skills I already have in a new and different environment. I have since learned that that is absolutely true. Haas and many other business schools have phenomenal career management groups that help students realize their true potential.

I chose to do it now because it was time for a change in my current career. I had achieved everything I wanted and knew that it was time to go.

Why Haas? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend? In short, I chose Haas because it is a good fit. I belong here. This is a hard concept to describe because you don’t really get to know a school’s culture until you talk to people—a lot of people—about their experiences and decide which ones you want. I took a fairly structured approach:

  1. Location was my first consideration. For Round 1, I only applied to West Coast schools because I wanted to live where I wanted to live. No amount of ranking or reputation would supersede that.
  2. The next consideration was whether or not I stood a chance of getting in considering class demographics and test scores. But then I threw that consideration out the door and applied wherever I wanted. I encourage everyone to do this. Objectively, I do not fit the average demographic of the Haas Class of 2020, but I have something to offer that the admissions committee thought was more important than test scores or age. The vote is still out there on what that is, but everyone out there has something unique to them that is valuable to their future school.
  3. Then I reached out to everyone I could at each school. For me, that meant finding connections in the veterans’ clubs or reaching out to people on the admissions committees to put me in contact with people who might have some insight for me. Chatting with them about experiences helped me understand what life was like at their school. There were notable differences—the Haas community seemed far more tight-knit than others and more excited to help prospective students.
  4. Next, I poured my heart and soul into my applications. I didn’t write about what I thought the schools wanted to hear—I only wrote what I believed. I discussed my ridiculously high ambitions, which I had previously only discussed with close friends as a pipe dream. I talked about how I felt unprepared to enter the corporate world, but I thought that business school would fix that. I talked about losing faith in humanity as the darkest time in my life and how getting it back affected my decisions afterwards. I laid it all out there because that way, I knew that the schools were choosing me and not the fictitious person on the application. And some schools didn’t choose me. But in retrospect, I am glad they didn’t—I wouldn’t have been a good fit! And I know this because I was honest in my applications.
  5. The thing that finally helped me in my decision was how much Haas wanted me. I got different reactions from each school, and some were simply uninterested—which is ok! Haas did things to let me know that it thought I was a good fit. A prominent alumnus called to talk to me about the Haas experience and answer questions about business school and how to make the decision of where to attend. The selection committee for a Haas-based scholarship selected me as a recipient. The dean of Haas called me to answer any questions about the program. Other schools do similar things, but this was the only school that reached out to me so pointedly and aggressively, and that made a huge difference in my decision. The faculty and students know the culture better than anyone, and they seemed sure that I would fit in perfectly at Haas. They were right.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2020? My superpower is to decipher that basic principle in a mess of extraneous information. I have always found that helpful as a military leader and have already found it helpful in the few workshops I’ve attended at Haas and with prospective employers.

I hope that, by doing that, I can help some of my classmates hear through the noise and get to the root of any given situation. Then, they can help me understand the details! I don’t have any background in financial accounting or corporate language, so it will be a give-and-take relationship, I’m sure!

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application? Yoga has been the #1 de-stressing activity I’ve ever done. I highly recommend doing something physical anytime your brain is working in overtime and you can’t focus on the task at hand—like when applying to business school!

Post-MBA career interests? Management consulting and entrepreneurship

Advice to current prospective applicants: 

–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process? Lay it all on the line. If you don’t give each application your all, you’ll always wonder if a given school might have accepted you if you had been completely honest.

Also (if I may have a second), opt for in-person interviews when you can. Playing off the interviewer’s mannerisms and mood can help you make a better impression. Plus, they get to see the real you and shake your hand. It’s harder to forget someone they have met in person than someone they have met over a video call.

–One thing you would change or do differently? I would have visited more campuses before the application process. I did a lot of research, but I didn’t visit any schools before applying. I used my interviews as a chance to see the area, but it would have been nice to have known beforehand.

–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it? Recommendation letters—it’s very hard for me to ask someone to do something on my behalf. But, I picked the right people (a former boss’s boss and my most recent immediate boss), and I’m certain that it helped me get interviews. So I know that it was worth it.

The thing that got me through the awkward asking part was my recommenders’ reassurance that they were happy to help in anyway they could and that they truly believed in my ability to succeed at these institutions.

What is your initial impression of Haas’s students/culture/community? Perfect fit! It is a laid-back campus, much like the surrounding area, but it is also very professional. The students enjoy the outdoors and are all very willing and eager to help the new first-year students.

The culture is very collaborative, and the community is supportive. The students run most events. (There are students on all committees, from admissions to academics.) As a result, I believe they leave school better prepared to manage events and large groups of people.

One thing you have learned about Haas that has surprised you? How welcoming the community is of veterans. Berkeley has a bit of a reputation for being anti-…well, everything. But I have found that not to be true. The veteran community at Haas is very tight and well representative of the diversity of the Armed Forces. The students and faculty, as well as the community in Berkeley, are very supportive and interested in integrating veterans.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year? Academics versus everything else. I will want to do all of the extra-curricular activities but won’t have time. I am anxious that I won’t correctly prioritize things and fall behind academically.

Thing you are most excited about in your first year? Academics versus everything else! While I am anxious, I am more excited about all the opportunities ahead of me! I can’t wait to decide whether to go to a study group for Data & Decisions or go on a ski trip to Tahoe. That is a GREAT problem to have. The opportunities that Haas provides are endless, and I can’t wait to do everything!

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as Contributing Writer at MetroMBA and Contributing Editor at Clear Admit, he was also a co-founder of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.