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Real Humans of the Harvard Business School MBA Class of 2023

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harvard business school mba classNikki Patel, Harvard Business School MBA Class of 2023

Age: 26
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, Ross School of Business, BBA
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Morgan Stanley Institutional Equity Sales & Trading (2017-2019), NFL Media Strategy & Business Development (2019-2021)

Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now?
I was raised to believe that education is a priority and was crucial to obtain opportunities, so pursuing an MBA was always a part of my plan. Specifically, I want to develop my executive strategic / critical thinking skills and business school is a great way to do that, whether it is through the case method or your classmates that have very diverse backgrounds. I decided to go now because I believe in order to extract the full value out of an MBA you need real-world experience. By working multiple years at two very different companies, I felt like I had enough insight and experience to contribute to my class and get the most out of the MBA experience.

Why did you choose HBS? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
The biggest factor was the people. Throughout my professional career, those who have supported and guided me the most are HBS alumni. I think that just shows how the HBS community is not just about their own success, but also the success of others. There is a strong sense of giving back and making a difference, and that is exactly the type of community that I want to be a part of.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2023?
The most differentiating contribution that I have is my experience working at the NFL during a critical time, both from a business and cultural perspective. I helped negotiate the long-term $100B+ media-rights distribution deals that cemented the NFL’s status as the most valuable property on TV, as well as introduce the sport to the streaming age. Additionally, I was also at the NFL during the George Floyd / BLM protests which ignited a need for change within the organization. I helped advocate for change by incorporating DEI practices within our business operations by getting management to allocate a portion of our in-house venture funds to create an accelerator for BIPOC / Women led startups. As a result of my efforts, I was selected to be a member of the Media and Business department’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion council. This experience taught me how to effectively change culture and further validated my view that in order to run a successful organization you have to put equal weight on DEI as you do on other key business operations. This is a perspective I plan to bring to the Class of 2023.

Tell us a fun fact that didn’t get included on your application:
I spent 3 months in Thailand this summer becoming a licensed skydiver and training at a Muay Thai camp.

Post-MBA career interests:
Entrepreneurship / Venture Capital in the Sports, Media, and Entertainment industry.

Advice for Current Prospective Applicants:

– What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
Since I was working a demanding full-time job, I gave myself enough of a runway to complete my application so that I would not have to conduct a parallel process (e.g., work on essay at the same time while I was studying for the GMAT). For reference, I allocated about 4 months to the GMAT and an additional 3 months for my essays.

– What is one thing you would change or do differently?
If there is any chance that you would like to get an MBA in the future, study and take the GMAT second semester of your senior year in undergrad. You may think you are busy now, but trust me, life gets even more hectic when you enter the working world. You will save yourself time and stress, and you might have an advantage because you are already in “study-mode.”

– What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
The GMAT. It was extremely difficult studying while working, but the thing that helped me get through it is taking breaks to ground myself by spending quality time with family and friends. They are my rock, constantly reminding me that I can do it and it will be worth it. Looking back, I can promise you it is worth it!

What is your initial impression of the HBS students/culture/community?
Inspirational. I am constantly in awe of my classmates and all the things they have accomplished in such little time. I am excited to learn from them. The HBS campus itself also has so much history and to walk the same halls as some of the great business leaders I look up to, it really inspires me to work hard and make the most of my time here. 

What is one thing you have learned about HBS that has surprised you?
The efficacy of the no-electronics policy in the classroom. I feel like as a generation we have been addicted to technology and forget how distracting it can be. Having no electronics in the classroom really forces you to be present, and as a result, you are more focused and are able to learn more.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your personal application or admissions process in any way? If so, how?
The pandemic has been tough on everyone, especially those that are close to someone who is elderly / at risk. My grandfather’s health was declining this year and I really wanted him to see me get into HBS since I credit a lot of who I am to him. This was the reason I pushed to apply round 1. The advice is obviously submit when you are ready, but I am really glad I did because he passed away from COVID a few days after I received my acceptance letter. It was truly special because he got to see his “American Dream” come true. Now it’s important that I live on to be the CEO he always believed I could be. 

What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
There are so many opportunities, resources, and activities that you can take advantage of while you are at HBS. I am most anxious about properly allocating my time and making sure I feel like I had the best experience at HBS. I think to help remedy this, I will have to be diligent in prioritizing. 

 What is one thing you are most excited about in your first year?
Getting close with my sectionmates. I believe in the power of a chosen family and I am excited to continue building that here. It seems like everyone else is too! 

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.