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Real Humans of Texas McCombs’ MBA Class of 2021

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James Buckley McGrath, McCombs MBA Class of 2021

James Buckley McGrath, Texas McCombs MBA Class of 2021

Age: 33
Hometown: Pretoria, South Africa
Undergraduate Institution and MajorUniversity of Pretoria (Accounting) and University of the Free State (Finance)
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Auditing and Financial Management in the Steel Industry, 9 years

Why business school? Why now?
I believe in the value of challenging myself and exposure to other highly motivated and ambitious people. I really loved managing my team before starting my MBA, but I had this voice telling me that I should be doing more.

My brother graduated from Columbia Business School and the maturity and growth he showed over his two years in B-School convinced me to open my GMAT books one cold June day in South Africa and make my dream a reality. I wanted to shift my career to consulting to allow more client facing work, especially where I could continuously have meaningful impact on the decisions of others.

B-School seemed like a perfect way to fast track my experience, knowledge and ability to lead teams, while allowing me the opportunity to gain exposure to consulting firms. I have always been a little too introverted for my liking and challenging myself to engage with so many new people daily seemed like a great way to gain confidence and strengthen my ability to connect with others. I also really wanted to learn from people with a different background and broaden my views.

Why McCombs? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
I can say a lot about the schools ranking, the vast network of alumni (from McCombs and University of Texas), the great experiences with staff during recruiting season, the clubs, the value for money, but, when I saw there was a B-School in Austin I was ready to send my application.

The food, the people, the outdoor activities, the entertainment, the ease of getting around and the great cycling really makes this city a place where you can further your career while living in one of the most remarkable locations anywhere in the world.

While writing this I am a little over a month into the program and my cup overflows with all the exciting activities I have experienced, and everything in scooter range! I was very excited about joining the Graduate Consulting Group and doing an MBA+ project to help me prepare for my summer internship, and talks hosted by the Adam Smith Society really intrigued the free market believer in me. And a last little caveat which I can now confirm, the barbeque is worth it!

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2021?
Being on the older side of the class I do believe I bring a bit more experience to the group and perspectives that some of classmates had yet to consider. I also believe that I am very lucky to bring international experience to my cohort which I believe really adds to the value of work performed by the group.

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application?
I spent more time than I care to admit trying to translate my University results to a US GPA format, and I still don’t think it translates accurately.

Post-MBA career interests?
Strategic consulting, corporate finance and a long-term goal of general management.

Advice to current prospective applicants:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process? 
Even though the application process was incredibly tedious at times, I still really appreciate the times I spent reflecting about how I wanted to describe myself to the admission committee. This investment really organized my priorities and validated the commitment I made to myself to further my potential to others.

I know it is annoying answering multiple schools’ essay question but trying to copy paste from other applications really negates this benefit. I would suggest you take your time and really think about why you are doing this and actually answer the question of the school you are applying too.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
I would trust my management team at work more in my application process. During my GMAT studies and application process I didn’t tell any of my leaders that I am planning to do an MBA and in a way the guilt of feeling like I am betraying them really got to me at times.

When I finally told them that I got accepted they were so incredibly supportive and understanding. There is always a balance to be maintained but I believe most individuals respect that you are trying to better yourself.

–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
GMAT, the time commitment between work and trying to have a life made the time I spent studying frustrating. I enjoyed the content covered but it was a hurdle I wanted to cross as soon as possible.

What is your initial impression of McCombs’ students/culture/community?
I am sometimes surprised by how much my classmates really love having so many new people around them and hearing about their story and their future goals. I initially feared that B-School students would be incredibly competitive, but I feel McCombs has more of culture of trying to make sure everyone finds their spot in the sun.

In no way does that mean that expectations of contributions are low, but the motivation to work hard and succeed seems to be one of shared ambition, essentially a focus to bring recognition to our class and McCombs as a whole.

The career management team is really motivated to make sure that students are prepared for the path ahead and find the role that they want to end up in. The resources available to every student to prepare you for the two years ahead can get a little overwhelming at times but I have full confidence that if you trust the system you will get where you want to be.

One thing you have learned about McCombs that has surprised you?
Following on from the previous question I was really surprised by the support given by career services in preparing you for contact with employers. The red carpet is rolled out for us we just need to do our part to make sure we get on and keep walking.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
The introvert in me still has a little sigh every time I think about the networking events with so many people having millions of discussions around me. But that is why I am here.

Thing you are most excited about in your first year?
I am looking forward to that first internship offer, knowing where I stand now and what I need to deal with to get there makes me very excited about that moment. And being someone that has played fantasy football with a group of friends back home, I am very excited about following the UT Longhorns this year.

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.