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Real Humans of the MIT Sloan MBA Class of 2023

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sloan mba class of 2023Austin Cole, MIT Sloan MBA Class of 2023

Age: 28
Hometown: Springfield, Ohio
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Brown University, Development Studies + Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 6; consulting, philanthropy, nonprofit

Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now?
I decided to pursue an MBA now because I wanted to build off the experiences that I already have in a few different fields mentioned above, and take the two years to learn and explore how to pull those experiences together, sharpen my skillset, and set myself up to have a long and impactful career. Now felt like it was the right time in my career to take a step back from full-time work and spend time learning, growing, and becoming part of a different community. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to deepen my management and technical skills gained so far in my career, while also experimenting with innovative business and operating models that might contribute to a more sustainable future. Particularly given the inflection points around social, economic, and environment justice and sustainability that it feels like COVID-19 has accelerated, I felt like I could not wait any longer to go back to school.

Why did you choose MIT Sloan? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
First off, the people that I met at MIT Sloan (students and alumni) were the most down-to-earth, creative, and varied set of business school students that I interacted with during my application and admissions process.
I also really love MIT Sloan’s focus on experiential learning.  One of my major reasons for coming to business school is to explore innovative models for solving entrenched social issues. One of the Action Learning Labs is call Sustainability Lab, and through that I’m looking forward to working directly with companies that are grappling with challenges that embrace the complexity of business, climate, and society. I think what sets MIT Sloan apart is here is the readily available ability to get practical experience working closely with organizations who are trying to solve real business problems in real-time.
Lastly, the flexibility that MIT Sloan provides (in courses and extracurriculars) I feel is unmatched among similar business schools. I have many different interests that I’m hoping to explore in business school, and I felt as though Sloan offers the most diverse potential academic experience among peer schools and provides us the opportunity to participate in other clubs and activities at other schools/departments at MIT. For all these reasons, MIT Sloan was my first choice and I’m ecstatic that it’s worked out.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2023?
I have a relatively unique background compared to many of my classmates. I’ve done academic research on racial justice movements and alternative economic development models, I’ve worked in management consulting, and I’ve spent tons of time working with on in nonprofits. To me, this is important because I want to use my education and this platform to practically transform our social and economic systems to be more just, sustainable, and egalitarian. I also believe strongly that none of us can do such transformative work on our own – it takes community and it takes dreaming up and implementing this that don’t yet exist. In the business world, we talk a lot about competition, but I’m most interested in building out new forms of business and economic activity that are built off of collaboration and expand what we think is possible for solving entrenched issues. I am trying to bring this perspective into every class and everything that I do at MIT Sloan and in the broader business school community.

Tell us a fun fact that didn’t get included on your application:
I have several nieces and a nephew that I love immensely and when I told my 6-year old nephew that I was going to a school “where they build things,” he asked me to build him a robotic T-Rex (his favorite dinosaur). I couldn’t say no so I’m in the market for some creative robotics engineers to help me keep my word.

Post-MBA career interests:
After graduation, I plan to work towards supporting solutions to racial and economic justice challenges that affect the most marginalized individuals and communities, particularly in US cities. I’m especially focused on building or expanding economic models that can solve labor market, housing, finance, and climate justice issues that make it difficult to reduce poverty and the racial wealth gap. I’m particularly excited by opportunities that combine inclusive local production, democratic forms of business (like cooperatives), participatory budgeting/planning, and non-extractive finance. I’m not sure whether this means I will be working for a startup nonprofit, joining a public entity in a large city, developing a social innovation incubation ecosystem, starting my own project, but I’m hoping to figure that out over the next couple of years! 

Advice for Current Prospective Applicants:
– What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
Talk to as many alumni and current students as possible. At MIT Sloan, everyone that I reached out to got back to me and was willing to share advice and experiences. I think that is the best way to both understand the school better, and figure out if it’s a place you could see yourself at. Also, ask other people to read your essays! That is so critical and if you can get in touch with current students who are willing to support on that front, I think it was the most important part of making my application successful.

– What is one thing you would change or do differently?
I would build in more time to adjust my applications to different schools. Although your core “story” likely won’t change too much, every school is different and the best applications are tailored to the specific goals and specialties of each school. I definitely spent much more time than expected making tweaks to essays, because of word counts and changing framing slightly.

– What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
I wish I could have skipped asking for recommendations. I’m pretty averse to asking people for help and repeatedly bothering them to worry about deadlines. But obviously you need recommenders! What was helpful for me was (1) the support and advice of my partner who encouraged me to get over my anxiety about asking for help, and (2) working with my recommenders to have conversations about why I wanted to go to school and make sure that they were really clear about how they could add value to my application. Making their jobs easier is a good way to make it feel like less of a lift, and it also greatly improves the comprehensiveness of your application.

What is your initial impression of the MIT Sloan students/culture/community?
Over the first month or so, I’ve found the community here to be remarkably open, collaborative, and supportive. In every class, club, or social activity, I find myself surrounded by humble and ambitious classmates. I can’t say that this was a shock because for me this was one of the main reasons that I chose to come to MIT Sloan; however, it has been wonderful to see the values of this culture and community stay true in reality.

What is one thing you have learned about MIT Sloan that has surprised you?
I’ve been surprised to see just how much MIT Sloan students and faculty deeply embrace a creative and entrepreneurial mindset in and out of class. As someone who is coming into business school with varied experiences (mgmt. consulting, nonprofits, philanthropy) but hoping to pursue more ‘nontraditional’ post-business school opportunities, I’ve been encouraged to meet so many Sloanies who are open to pursuing new ways of solving challenges, are motivated by a desire to fulfill their professional and personal goals beyond a narrow set of jobs, and are trying to solve some of the most persistent issues of our time. There are plenty of people pursuing traditional paths, but I’ve been excited to see so many people trying to make their own path.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your personal application or admissions process in any way? If so, how?
Absolutely. Like many people, COVID-19 has been both a disruption, as well as an opportunity to think more intentionally about how I approach work and life. During my application process, I was moving between 3 or 4 different cities (I actually filmed my MIT Sloan application video just before hopping on a plan to permanently move back to the US from the UK). That experience, as well as my previous experience moving between countries and/or jobs led me to focus a little bit about my strengths in adaptability / versatility.

From a more long-term perspective, COVID-19 has shown me that I don’t need to waste any time waiting to do the more aspirational things that I want to do with my career. I don’t regret any of the experiences that I’ve had, but I certainly had prioritized less risky career moves v. wholeheartedly pursuing my passions (both long-term and near-term). For me, these passions involve being in service to my communities and working to a world that is more just, sustainable and egalitarian, so the devastation that we have seen with COVID-19 was absolutely a motivating factor to start more directly dedicating myself to these goals. In general, I also understand better that not every career step I have will be perfect, but as long as I’m being true to my values and keeping my long-term goals in mind, then I can find both fulfillment and balance.

This has all led me to focus my application on my dedication to focusing specifically on racial/economic justice and entrepreneurship/innovation during my time at MIT Sloan, which is why I only applied to a few schools that I felt might support my ambitions in this area.

What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
I most worried about taking advantage of all the many opportunities that are already being thrown my way. It may be cliché to say that we are drinking from a firehose, but it is the best analogy. Two years seems like a long time, but after arriving at school it’s become obvious how quickly things move forward. There is an abundance of choice, so I’m currently trying to figure out how best to prioritize the time that I have!

What is one thing you are most excited about in your first year? I’m really looking forward to participating in the Sustainability Summit at Sloan next semester. I believe really strongly in using the platform that I’ve been fortunate enough to access to bring in voices that aren’t typically heard in MBA spaces, and I’m especially excited to help push our conversations around sustainability and business forward through crafting a new and unique space.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.