Mentorflare: The Do’s & Dont’s of Grad School
Mentorflare is a series of discussions with leaders at Cloudflare and guests in the technology industry. The purpose for Mentorflare is to provide mentorship to students interested in learning about Cloudflare, staying connected and interested in future opportunities. We want to empower students and those early in their careers with our resources.
Hi everyone and welcome to another live episode of Cloudflare TV. Thanks everyone for tuning in.
Those of you who are online, we're so excited to have you today.
I'm Ellie Jamison. I've been at Cloudflare for two years now and I'm on the recruiting team.
Today we'll be talking about the do's and don'ts of grad school and I have with us six interns currently taking their internships in grad school at Cloudflare.
This is our third segment of MentorFlare. So MentorFlare is a series of discussions with guests at Cloudflare and leaders at Cloudflare and the whole purpose of MentorFlare is to provide mentorship to students interested in learning about Cloudflare, staying connected with the industry and learning about future opportunities here at the company.
So with that I'll let our six interns introduce themselves and talk about their backgrounds a bit and then we'll jump into the discussion.
So Andy let's have you go first. Hi everyone my name is Andy Zachrich and I am going to be a second year at Berkeley Law this coming fall.
I did my undergrad at UCLA and so I'm a proud double UC student. I'm from a small town near San Luis Obispo called Arroyo Grande and but I'm currently quarantining in beautiful Berkeley.
At Cloudflare I'm a legal intern which means that I'm helping out the legal team with a variety of projects in a variety of different legal fields and just to break the ice a little bit my first job ever was a prep chef in an Italian restaurant where I was in charge of the salads and desserts.
Hey guys I'm Arielle.
I went to undergrad at the University of Florida and now I'm a rising second year MBA at the University of Chicago Booth.
I'm quarantined back in my hometown of Miami, Florida.
Here at Cloudflare I'm working on a project for the 2020 election alongside the marketing policy and analytics team.
It's what Cloudflare calls the Athenian project which protects democracy, election integrity, and voter data for state and local governments.
My first ever job I was a child model which luckily happened before the Internet became more widespread.
Hi there my name is Kevin. I definitely wasn't a child model but I am doing my best as a law school student and master's of public policy student.
I'm with Andy at the UC Berkeley School of Law as well as at the Harvard Kennedy School and I have the great pleasure of being a legal intern at Cloudflare working on everything from election laws in New Zealand to labor laws in Singapore and China.
My first job was a busser at a Mexican restaurant called the Agave Grill and my claim to fame or infamy was removing someone's plate before they had even been served.
So as you can tell it wasn't exactly a great fit. Hey everyone my name is Rohan and I am on the special projects team here at Cloudflare.
It's a very vague sounding team but basically I work on things like corporate strategy and M&A so helping the company think about potential acquisitions.
I did my undergrad at University of Chicago and I'm currently doing my MBA at NYU Stern and kind of keeping the trend going of humble beginnings in food service.
My first job ever was actually taking the drive-thru orders at my local Wendy's right next to my high school so that definitely resulted in no embarrassment for me whatsoever which is great.
Hi everyone I am Aika, first year MBA at Stanford GSB. For my undergrad I went to Emory University.
I am originally from Kazakhstan and I am now working from home in Palo Alto.
Here at Cloudflare I'm super excited to be working with special projects team this summer on helping them with development of tech partnerships.
Howdy everybody, this is Aditi and I'm from India and that's where I did my undergrad in computer science.
I am currently a master's student at Carnegie Mellon University and my major is computer systems and I'm quarantining in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and at Cloudflare I'm super excited to be a part of the load balancing team and I'm an assistant software intern and I'm working on a customer-facing feature.
It's been pretty good so far and my first job was actually a content writer at a website built by a couple of friends.
Didn't do quite well though so yeah that's about me.
Great, great. Thank you all so much again for being here.
I'm really excited to hear all of your different perspectives. So we can jump in.
The theme of this session again is the do's and don'ts of grad school. This is really for anyone who's ever thought about going to grad school, anyone who's in grad school or maybe someone who's already graduated from grad school you can relate to some of these stories.
So with that we can jump in. How did you decide that grad school is the right path for you and I think we can also start with Andy and go around in the same order.
Okay well I always kind of had in the back of my mind that I wanted to be a lawyer.
I'd done a mock trial in middle school and high school and then I went to college and it kind of went out of my mind and I was sort of just enjoying UCLA and then my sophomore year I watched one of my friends go through the application process and that same year I had an internship with a city attorney and at that point I sort of realized this is what I think I want to do and so that's when it really became concrete and I started taking the steps to apply.
For me like Andy I guess my story also started relatively young.
It was in high school and my mom used to take me to borders and she'd say pick any book you want and I'd come back with this stack of 10 business books and she'd be like really?
I just I loved reading articles and watching TV segments about businesses and then I would share these articles with my friends and nobody really seemed as excited about it as I was and then more recently when I visited business schools I sat in on classes and what I saw was students who were passionately discussing these topics that I've been fascinated by for so many years and that's when I really solidified my decision to pursue the MBA.
For me I like to think that I grew up on a pretty steady diet of the West Wing which is full of lawyers and public policy people and they solve problems and they get stuff done and so that really appealed to me and so naturally I started getting more involved in politics and community organizing and things like that and suddenly I realized that everyone around me either had a JD or a Master's of Public Policy so I figured I may as well cover both of my bases and just go after both degrees.
My girlfriend will tell you I just wanted as many letters after my name as possible.
For me you know honestly I was kind of flip-flopping between if I wanted to go to grad school or not.
I think you know I was really interested in working in tech and I had been working in tech for about four years in total before I started applying.
I was working at different startups at different sizes and things like that but what got me interested in applying and committing to applying was learning what different kinds of programs that are available so you know beyond the general MBA for instance the one that I'm doing is a specific MBA targeted towards people who are interested in tech.
It's a tech MBA and it kind of follows the career trajectory of like someone who's interested in working technology and you know the program is split up into things like learning how to build a product and how to go to market with the product and so it's very much more focused on that kind of thing and learning that that kind of program is out there was definitely interesting to me and I think you know just getting a chance to kind of further my education in tech in like a non-work environment I think was also something that I thought would be valuable for me and so that's kind of my journey into grad school.
So for me MBA is something that I always wanted to do at some point in my career as international student in the U.S.
During my undergrad was the time when I was still adapting to the U.S.
educational system, the culture and I was very much focused on academics.
MBA is a very different experience, it's very social where you get to focus to so many things beyond just academics and your classes and that was important to me.
It's also probably the last time I will be in school full-time in my lifetime so I wanted to have those two years to myself and have fun, meet new people and as for the timing I chose to apply to business schools at the time when I felt that at work my learning curve was not as steep as it was in the beginning and I missed being in the room full of people who had very different perspectives on the same opportunity or problem and I felt like business school is an environment where I could regain that and I definitely one year into the program I could definitely confirm that my hypothesis was right.
So I agree with Aika on that like I was working in tech previously and initially I was learning a lot and but soon after I plateaued and I just felt that I wasn't challenging myself enough.
I wasn't probably, I wanted to do more interesting stuff and though that was not enough for me to like push myself to you know go to grad school however one day I was just reading a technical paper written by one of the CMU professors and that just set it off for me.
Right off the bat I knew that I wanted to learn more and you know the idea of like reading papers by some authors and actually meeting them in person that's so inspiring and that's what has been incredible.
Yeah that's that's been my journey. That's great thank you. I know that people have so many different reasons for grad school so I really appreciate all your different reasons.
I think one of the first things that people consider when thinking about applying and possibly going to grad school is taking a gap year especially for undergrads that's what you know you consider.
So how do you feel about taking a gap year?
Is there a do? Is there a don't? What are the two different perspectives there?
I can start us off because I did not take a gap year so I might be like a little bit on the extreme end of the spectrum.
I do think a lot of people take a year or two or maybe more for business school but like I was saying earlier I had known for a long time this was what I wanted to do and it's pretty hard to do law related things without having a law degree at least in a really meaningful way and I had the capacity where I took the LSAT my junior year and I had the resources to be able to study and apply while I was a senior so I didn't really see the need to wait a year or two unless I had a really solid opportunity for growth in that gap year and nothing materialized so I went ahead and I started school at Berkeley the year after I graduated from UCLA.
I don't necessarily think it's disadvantaged me in any way.
I think I was more ready to tackle the academic challenges because I had just graduated four months before but it's also a really individualized decision so I think you kind of need to sit down with yourself and look at your options and think about if you want or need the extra time or if you're unsure on what grad school is actually what you want to do because you do need to be really sure and so maybe a gap year could help you figure that out too.
Yeah so I uh oh sorry about that. Sorry Kevin go ahead. No no worries I thought I'd just share the the yin to Andy's yang on the law school perspective so for me I definitely agree that you should position yourself such that you're in an opportunity or in a position to say no so I also applied to law school straight out of undergrad and I got in but I ended up deferring for three years and the reason I deferred was that each time I thought I had identified a fun opportunity to learn more about myself as well as learn more about what I wanted to get out of law school so my own path enabled me to take some jobs that I'll never be able to take with a JD for example it's unlikely that Governor Kate Brown of Oregon will hire me with a JD to be her bag boy but that was my first job out of college and so that opportunity to follow in a governor's shadow was super unique but if that opportunity wasn't available then I probably would have been on the same K through JD path as Andy.
Just to add to that for business schools it's slightly different it is expected for you to have at least two years of experience most of my classmates on average have four to six years of prior work full-time work experience and the reason for that I think is because most MBA programs are experiential rather than theoretical and students are expected to bring in personal perspectives from their past experiences to classrooms and learn from each other as much as we learn from our faculty members.
Right definitely I know grad school applications or admissions they look for many years out of college in that experience so that definitely makes sense.
So once you decide whether or not you're going to take a gap year and you make the decision to apply to grad school how do you pick a school?
Okay so I think I can give some pointers on that but then it's very personal but this is what worked out for me.
I think initially step one would be to be very clear about what you want.
Grad school is a lot of investment so it's you need to have a clear picture about what you're getting yourself into.
If you're a person who does not like research and you're going into a program which is extremely research heavy you might end up dropping it and that's not going to help anyone.
So especially speaking for engineering there are a lot of programs that are you know research heavy some of them are very industry oriented they prepare you for the industry right from the start.
So you need to figure out what you want, what aligns with your goals, what is it that you want.
I think that brings to my second point which is research.
Research a lot about the programs that you are interested in.
Be objective about it. You need to know what your profile is and what the chances are of you to actually get accepted in that school.
It is very important to also network with faculty and more often than not they do reply.
I mean if you have interesting ideas and you just shoot them an email they might just respond to you.
So talk to alumni, talk to people who are currently taking classes in that school, in that program.
Do your research. I mean it might be silly but something as simple as location might actually impact your decision.
So the third point which is I think very crucial is finances. You need to know how to work around your finances.
If you have a tight budget look for opportunities like RATA.
Are you able to apply for financial aid? Will you be getting scholarships, fellowships, stuff like that.
It's important to, it's okay to be ambitious but you should know what's going to work for you and also like a general tip whenever you're making a list of the schools that you want to apply to just have a balanced list.
Have like ambitious colleges and also you know safe places.
Like if you suppose don't get into your top choice you should not be devastated.
So it's okay to have a back plan. So those are the top three things I think.
Absolutely. Those are great points. For me after doing all that research into schools my final deciding point was actually the interviews.
You picked my dream school based on my research but when it came to the interviews it was a different story.
Remember that when they're interviewing you you're also interviewing them and at any of these top schools you're going to receive a great education.
You'll learn from fascinating professors. You'll network with brilliant peers wherever you are but it's the interview that you can use to determine which school's personality fits most naturally with yours.
Absolutely. I wanted to go back to Aditi's point about finances and talk a little bit about cost because I think cost is such a big factor in considering going back to school.
So Andy I know that you have experience with scholarships so I'd love to hear a bit about your perspective on the cost of paying for law school.
Yeah definitely. So I actually had to make a really hard choice when deciding on a school between my top choice dream school kind of school and where I am now which I absolutely adore after being there for a year but was a lot more affordable.
What I was really considering is I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do when I graduate and so I didn't want to limit myself by taking on 280k in loans and then have to take that high-paying job that maybe I wasn't as interested in.
So there are ways to lower the costs.
So some of the things I did for example is I researched really heavily into the cost of living and I still ended up in a really expensive place but because the tuition was lower I can afford to live here.
You can also negotiate scholarships so for example I told Berkeley I got xyz amount of dollars at this school can you raise this amount.
So similar to how you negotiate a salary as long as you do it respectfully and accept that they might say no you can definitely try and negotiate the money.
And then another tip that I would have is I would definitely make sure you keep the interest in mind.
This was something that someone who had been sort of a mentor to me actually told me to do is calculate out all of the interest because when you look at like I think it's gonna cost me 60k by the time I graduate versus 280 at the other school.
When you look at those you're like oh it's 200k like this is more money than I've spent in my entire life on anything so what's the difference.
But then when you calculate the interest over like a 10-year payout it's so much more money like it's an extra seven percent each year so I would definitely do that too.
So in conclusion cost is a big factor if you're not quite sure what you want to do it really lets you leave your options open if you can go to a lower cost school.
I promise you probably won't get a worse experience and make sure to calculate the interest.
Great yeah I didn't know that you could negotiate with the different schools so I think that that's really valuable piece of advice.
So moving forward I wanted to also talk about the application process and Rohan I want to hear your perspective on applying to business school.
Yeah I'm happy to give that and you know my business school peers can also definitely jump in but I would say broadly there's a few factors that I think are the most important no matter kind of what school you're applying to just generally across the board.
One is definitely the GMAT so for those of you don't know the GMAT is kind of like the business school version of the SAT or the ACT that you may have taken to get into college but basically it's another standardized test you know the law school has the LSAT a lot of grad schools use a GRE.
The business business school is also typically GRE actually but the GMAT is kind of traditionally the test that's most often used for like aptitude assessment for business school and so I would say that is a score that actually can matter quite a bit.
You know like Aditi said you have to be kind of objective in where you're going to apply to and often your GMAT score can kind of help navigate or kind of narrow down where you're going to apply to or where your best chances are and so with that in mind I mean it's a test that I found to be actually quite challenging.
I took it a couple times and I think it's very normal to take it a couple times I think on average people take it at least twice maybe thrice but you know it's something that you should definitely plan for study for you know there's a lot of resources to help you there's classes there's a whole like booming economy on like business school like GMAT mentoring and coaching and stuff so that's one part of it and I think one of the hardest parts of it but the other parts of it are definitely focused around your undergraduate GPA which is important for anything but I would say honestly the most important part and what can overcome anything that you may think is deficient in terms of your GMAT score or your GPA or anything like that it's kind of the story you're trying to tell about why you want to go to business school so kind of having that in line in terms of like okay I started off in this role and I got this college degree because I thought it'd help me with this job what I found out at my first job was that I'm you know more of an A type person and so I pursued a role that would allow me to do that and now I'm going to go to business school to kind of learn more about managing people and how I can do that better and I want to you know really uplift people in different roles and help them succeed so you know I'm not saying that's the best story but it's a story that kind of navigates how you're thinking about your career it communicates that you're serious about your career and kind of the trajectory you want to have and it also talks about why you go to business school and what you think that'll do for you and so the story is really important there and then it's important to kind of supplement that story with references I would say that business school typically you're looking for professional references so either people who were your managers or if you have the opportunity to manage someone under you that's always a great reference as well and so I think that you want to make sure that you pick someone who knows you the best both like in the office and out of the office I know it can be tempting to kind of pick who you think is the most highest ranking person that you know so I know a lot of people when they're applying to business school talk a lot about on like online forums and stuff like that like hey I'm going to try and get my CEO or my CFO to write me a reference because they're an alumni at the school it's going to make a huge impact it's going to carry me into it but what happens is that person may not know you that well and then the reference may not be that strong it may come off as generic it may be you know kind of filler and it may not really help your application that much keep in mind that you know the people who are reading your application it's their full-time job so they can tell like when you have kind of phoned in reference versus when someone is you know earnest about your growth and your career in a reference letter and so you want to pick someone who you think can obviously speak highly of you but can speak you know most truthfully of your skills and how you can grow and why they think you'd be a good fit at that school and I would say kind of probably the final part is what Ariel touched on earlier which is your interview process so a lot of schools can differ in kind of how they use the interview and how the interview is meant to be viewed for instance I know that like at Harvard it's done by the admissions committee my interview is done by the admissions committee at NYU and so that's kind of a different dynamic than schools that may do it with an alumni from the school and that can sometimes I've heard be a lot more casual be a lot more intimate and you know there's no like set list of questions that they're trying to get through and then some schools even do like a group process so I know Penn is known for this where they have you sit in like a small group of people and you kind of do an interview that way but that's another part of the process that you know that's a chance for you to kind of talk about yourself outside of kind of a more formal application but also learn more about the school.
Definitely I think that's really good advice because most people going back to your references piece I think a lot of people would lean towards reaching out to the highest ranking person that they know but getting a reference from someone who's really seen you grow I think goes a long way so thanks for that.
Aditi I know that you took the GRE and you're in a master's of computer science so what was your application process like?
Yeah so I'm I'm majoring in computer systems just credit to this but yeah so the application process is pretty straightforward as Rohan mentioned you just need to take the GRE and if you're an international student like I am you'll also have to take the TOEFL or any equivalent English proficiency test and that's about it and I mean once you're satisfied with your score you can just go ahead and apply.
Of course GPA, references, previous experience, research all of that is extremely important but I think another thing that is really important is your essays and your statement of purpose because that really shows who you are and as Rohan mentioned everything should tie together.
I mean you're trying to convince the other person as to why you're a good fit so it's important to not just talk about what you have achieved till now I mean it's okay to have a technical SOP.
I had a very technical SOP but you also need to mention what you intend to do in the future and like what are your plans and goals.
It should really reflect your strengths basically so yeah that's extremely important and some of the UCs they also require an additional essay called the personal history.
So your SOP again should not be your resume. It shouldn't come off too like bland so similarly your personal history it can be a little less technical maybe you could share some struggles that you had or you could talk about you know you could just talk about simple things that help you grow as a person.
So yeah these two essays are extremely important.
I mean yeah you might even like land good opportunities like a fellowship or like scholarship based on your profile yeah and which is reflected in your SOP so that's one point I'd like to add.
Great. Kevin what was it like applying to law school and do you have any general advice for people applying to grad school?
Yeah I won't dive too much into the specifics of law school because there are hundreds of thousands of blogs on how to ace the LSAT or now depending on the school the GRE.
So instead of walking folks through logic games I'll tell you about a little tip for how to make the most of your status as a student.
There are a few things more powerful than starting off an email with hi I'm a student can you help me out.
Few people will say no to wanting to help out someone especially who goes to the same school.
So I actually played a game I called the LinkedIn challenge when I was an undergrad and whenever I went to a new city I scrolled down my LinkedIn connections and looked for anyone who also went to the University of Oregon and if I thought they were interesting I said hi I'm a duck you want to get coffee and probably 80 percent of the time the answer was yes and so by virtue of just going out and meeting as many people as possible I got to better understand how they ended up where the heck they are and through those conversations really began to think more thoroughly about my own kind of personal narrative that Aditi was talking to where when you hear other people talk about where the heck their story came from and why they pursued that career path you'll be better able and better practiced to say this is who I am this is what I've done and this is where I want to go and schools will find that really compelling and convincing.
And you'll probably get a free coffee. Great awesome so I think that we can now transition into the Q&A section of the session so before this I reached out to about 1500 students and asked them to submit questions to our six speakers ranging from anything about grad school or the application process so I think we can go ahead and get started.
So the first question is it more important to balance coursework with extracurriculars or is it better to just take as many courses as possible?
So I can hop in and answer this because I did a lot undergrad I'm also assuming that this person is asking specifically about undergrad so that's how I'm going to answer this question.
So one of the really hard truths I think about applying to grad school is that a lot of other really smart people are applying and so you can't necessarily just rely on your hard stats to get you into good schools like your GPA and your GRE or your LSAT or whatever the test is that you're taking really matter but your experiences outside the classroom could really be that deciding factor for an admissions team who's looking at two applications that have similar hard numbers on them.
I like I said earlier I did a ton in undergrad. I was the captain of my school's club soccer team.
I was an editor for our foreign affairs magazine where I got to interview really cool people like Adam Schiff and Steve Mnuchin.
I was in the line dancing club. I tutored athletes. I studied abroad in Rome.
I did a bunch of stuff and in all of my law school interviews I got asked about all of those things.
Even now when I interview for positions I'll get asked about all of those things even though I did them two three years ago and I really genuinely do think that it was these things that might have pushed my application forward at a school where maybe I was kind of in like their 25th percentile range for maybe like hard numbers but I had done all of these cool things and I'd taken advantage of all the opportunities that I could at UCLA.
So while it is really important to make sure that your grades stay high if you can do other things that you find interesting outside of that and really enjoy then I would definitely try and do them because I do think they can help with your application and it also gives you a good experience just as a person to get out and do things and meet people and it helped make my experience at undergrad really great.
So I would recommend both in your application to grad school and just because it's really fun to do these kind of things to go ahead and do as many extracurricular activities as you can without sacrificing your grades.
Andy I'm sure you get this question all the time but as a follow-up what was one of your most memorable or just favorite extracurriculars because it seems like you're involved in a lot of very interesting things.
Yeah so I got a little bit of flack for this when I was an undergrad but I played club soccer my whole time there and that was like probably the most of my time.
It was maybe not the most I think I worked more but it was like 10 to 15 hours a week and people would be like you want to go to law school why are you playing so much soccer but it really helped keep me sane and that's where all my friends were and it gave me a lot of good leadership experience too.
So I guess another piece of advice is don't stop doing the things you love because you don't think it wouldn't look as good on an application.
Like do whatever interests you most and then you can kind of always talk about it in a way where if it was a growth opportunity for you, you can always frame it like that on an application.
Definitely great. So thanks for that Andy. We can go to another question.
Let's see what type of goals do you need for grad school to make sense?
Okay so some points that I had touched upon earlier.
Yes it is important to know where you stand and what is it that you are looking for.
If you want your career to move in a certain way, you need to identify how to go there, how to reach there.
So as I said a lot of introspection is one thing. Second would be something as simple as working in a research lab or working with a professor or taking up certain courses or meeting with super talented people.
I think grad school for me has not just been academics.
I've made so many connections, met with super talented professors, people and living in a different country altogether has been a life-changing experience.
So I think your goals could be varied as varied as that and it is okay to sometimes not know exactly what you want.
I mean if you're kind of exploring and you just want to wing it, it's fine.
Just choose your track.
Don't choose a vertical if you're interested in like tech. Choose computer science rather than you know going for robotics or going for networks or something very vertical because you might end up in the wrong field.
So yeah I think that's it like for the goals part.
Great does anyone want to add to that one? Okay yeah also finances, also finances.
Yeah definitely. Okay so the next question is there room to be entrepreneurial while in grad school?
I'll flag this one with a massive caveat to start which is something you learn quickly if you didn't learn it already in undergrad is that time is finite and that becomes very apparent at grad school.
So walking into grad school I think it's really important to know if you're the kind of person who likes having a side hustle.
Make time for your side hustle and know that you're going to have to cut time out of some other things.
So I'm the kind of person that loves to be involved in my community and trying to solve problems and unfortunately studying torts and things like that doesn't exactly lend itself to scratching that itch.
So I knew I needed to make space for my entrepreneurial spirit I guess you could call it during law school.
And so I've been building toward launching an organization called No One Left Offline since I started my graduate schooling.
And so both at the Harvard Kennedy School and at Berkeley I've used my graduate education as well as the network to build out that idea.
And so if you're going into graduate school with an entrepreneurial idea in mind I'd say yes there is time but you have to make the time and you're going to have to sacrifice some other things.
And the other exciting part about having an idea for a non-profit or a is grad school is kind of like a mini incubator in and of itself.
You're surrounded by smart people who want to change the world who want to do big things otherwise they wouldn't be doing something as crazy as more schooling.
So if you can find other people that are just as crazy as you then it makes that entrepreneurial activity even more fun and you're probably going to find some professors and mentors who want to help you out along the way.
So in my case there's a professor named David Eaves out at the Harvard Kennedy School who's been a big assist to me in launching No One Left Offline.
There's folks like Eric Stallman at Berkeley Law who are well versed in the technology field who have also helped me out.
So make the most of the fact that if you're not the kind of person who's just trying to get good grades then there's a really good chance to find really unique people to help get your entrepreneurial idea off the ground.
Shout out to those people that you mentioned if they're watching. Does anyone else have any experience with being entrepreneurial in grad school?
Yeah I'm happy to add to that.
I think one of the great things Kevin mentioned is while you are at the grad school you have this immense and really like the time when you have the exposure to a huge network of mentors who are your professors or your peers and then the wider network.
So for us say at Stanford it's not just a business school.
You have an exposure to engineering school, med school, law school and it's really that environment of collaboration where you can reach out to each other and exchange ideas and that's how great entrepreneurial startups are built.
And also I think it's one of the factors that you should think about when choosing a school to apply to.
So for example I can speak for my experience at Stanford.
A lot of classes we have are very experiential and a lot of startups that were built at Stanford were actually built during those classes.
So some of them are classes like Startup Garage.
That's a business school where over the course of two quarters you build out, you first kind of test your idea and then build out an MVP.
And I know a lot of alums who went and ran with these ideas after graduation and built great companies.
Another great class that is run in engineering school and you can also be part of it is Lead Launchpad where a very similar idea when you come with an idea and there is a group of amazing professors and mentors and external advisors who come and spend all the time that they have with you and this is the time where you can nag them with all the questions that you might find silly or you know you don't know who to ask and this is your time.
So I think if anything this is the time to be entrepreneurial while you are at school and you have access to all these amazing resources.
Absolutely that's great advice.
What was the name of the first class you mentioned, Startup Brush?
It's called Startup Garage, yes. Okay, got it. Great, awesome. Thanks for that.
Okay, so moving on to the next question. Were any of you international applicants?
Yeah, I think I can do both.
So both of us are international students. Do you want to share, I think there are more questions about being international, but is there anything you want to share now about being an international applicant?
Well, it is a little hard to like adapt.
I mean, but initially though, I am homesick at times, but it's been great for the most part.
So a lot of new perspectives, everything is so different.
Yeah, but it's been great. Yeah, for me, I applied as an international student and I think I was lucky because MBA is a very, it's in general, MBA programs are built to be international.
So 47% of my class is international and it's, I see it as my asset and an asset to MBA program in general rather than a liability because literally whenever we have a class discussion on any topic you think you know nothing of, there's always somebody in our class who worked on this specific program at the other end of the world and they have a direct exposure to it.
And I think this is the diversity we all are super privileged and lucky to get exposure to.
And I think it's also one of the facets that I think one could leverage as international in the way you tell your story, why you want to pursue a graduate degree as international student.
I think this is something to definitely cherish.
And while there may be difficulties in terms of definitely adapting to a new environment, being able to find new friends, you are away from home always and there is an extra pressure of culture shock, just general cultural differences.
And while that is very, very true, I also think it's definitely an asset and it's just the mindset, it's the mindset.
Like if you come in with a mindset that this is your asset and this is your unique perspective you bring to classrooms, to your peer discussions, to professor discussions, that's how the world will see you in return.
Absolutely, definitely. I have a lot of respect for you two being international students.
So just really happy that you're here.
So next question is, are references more important than GPA for grad school admissions?
I imagine this answer is different depending on law school or business school.
So let's hear it. So I guess I can speak a little to law school, but in the whole, it's really similar to what Rohan was saying earlier.
Law schools do prefer professor recommendations usually, so that's something to keep in mind if you are thinking about applying to law school.
But again, just ask the professors who know you the best.
Probably my best letter that I got was from a professor who I had studied abroad with.
And so when I did a quarter in Rome and he like came with our class and that we weren't ever in the classroom, we were walking around talking about ancient Roman monuments, eating lunch as a class, dinner as a class.
So he got to know me really well as a person. And when you read the letter, it's really reflective of that.
And I think those kinds of letters are a lot more meaningful.
And if you don't have those kind of experiences that are organic like that, you can also kind of make them like Kevin was saying earlier.
Professors love to talk about their work. They love answering questions like they signed up to teach for their profession.
So they do want to share those things with you.
So I'd really focus on making genuine connections with your professors because when they can speak to you, not just as a student, but also as a person in a reference letter, it really helps the school understand a little bit more about who you are.
And it really makes the reference letter more genuine and just a better letter.
Yeah, I would say for business school, it's a lot of like what I do thing, which is that you definitely want it to be a genuine letter.
You want it to be a letter that really speaks to different facets of you, not just as an employee or as a worker, but you want to make sure that the person is aware of as much of your personality as possible because you want to display as much of your personality as possible in your application.
One thing I would say is like, definitely take the time to think about who you're going to select for who you want a reference from, because there's by the time you're applying to business school, you're going to have had the opportunity, hopefully to make connections with a number of people.
And you only need really two references for most schools, I would say.
So it's important to think about who you're going to ask for reference.
And it's also important to kind of talk to them beforehand.
So give them kind of a little bit of context of, hey, this is the kind of step I'm thinking about making in my career, in my education.
This is why I think it makes sense for me. And I would love to have your reference.
Because I think that you've seen me in this moment, or you see me grow in this way, or we work together on this project that I talked a lot about in my application was really important for me in coming to this decision.
And so I think that kind of giving them that reference that sorry, that framework beforehand helps for them to craft a letter that kind of matches the story you're going to tell, you know, again, you want it to be consistent with your story, first and foremost, if your whole thing is, I'm a big picture person, and I want to work on how I think about details.
If you have a reference letter that says like, oh, you know, this person is really, really detail oriented.
And like, they're really good at that.
And that's why I love them. And I love having them work for me.
And, you know, they could be better on big picture stuff, then someone who reads the application is going to start seeing that and say, well, that doesn't make sense.
This is inconsistent, like, which one is a thing? Like, do they think that we want someone big picture?
Do they think that we want some detail oriented?
Are they trying to game the application? Did they pick a bad reference?
And so you don't really want that to be in lingering, like issuing applications, you want to make sure that your story is consistent throughout and that the references you choose, kind of, you know, not only echo that story, but also, you know, raise a profile of the story and talk about your story from a different person's perspective.
Great, definitely. Okay, so the next question, I think is very relevant.
Due to the COVID pandemic, a lot of our classes and internships to support grad school applications have been canceled.
How should I become more flexible to these challenges?
This is a hard question. Yeah, I'll try to take a stab at it.
So, you know, everyone's adjusting in some way or another.
And it certainly requires a level of resilience that we didn't have to exhibit before.
I'd say there's three things I learned in adjusting to the event cancellations in the online classes.
And that's one, stay engaged, fully immerse yourself in the online classroom and be an active participant in online events.
Two is manage your expectations, know that we're in the midst of a pandemic and things are not going to be the same, but we can still work together to make the most of our online interactions.
And finally, the third point is maintain a constructive and positive culture.
So if you see a way to improve the experience, offer your feedback and always be optimistic too.
I think I'd like to add to that.
A lot of talks and debates have been going on whether international students should join grad school at this time.
Well, given the current economic and health situation, I think it's okay to defer.
It's okay to take a step back and don't put your health at stake, your physical and mental health.
You don't want to go through something right now, what you're not prepared for.
So it is okay.
Life is still going to go on. If you have other alternatives, just stick with it.
Yeah, peers are fine too. So let this settle down for us. Also with regards to international students, I think there's a lot of unrest and uncertainty going around with regards to visas and stuff.
So I'm not sure if this would be the best time.
Like if you have the opportunity to defer your admissions by one year or at least six months, then go for it.
I mean, I would do that if I were in your place.
If not, it's also important to look at schools that are, you know, waiving off tuition.
Some schools are also waiving off GRE, GMAT requirements. So if you think that is something that might work for you, you can give it a shot.
But like in the light of recent events with travel ban and visa issues, I'm not sure if now, right now would be the best time.
Maybe let it settle down and see how it goes.
Great. I think that that's really valuable advice, especially for international students right now.
Okay, so we have a couple minutes left. So I thought it would be a good idea to just go around the table and give your final tips and advice.
Andy, we've started with you in the past. So let's start with you again.
Okay. I think the biggest thing I struggled with my first semester that got much better my second semester was I stopped doing the things that I knew I needed to do to keep myself sane, which is obviously sounds very counterproductive.
But when you start at a grad school, you're kind of like, okay, I'm going to totally focus on being a student.
I'm going to go to all these events. I have to make all these new friends.
I have to move to a new place. So there are a lot of other challenges that maybe get in the way.
But I had stopped playing soccer for that semester, and I was pretty miserable.
I use soccer as a way to like let off steam.
It's where I meet a lot of my friends. But my second semester, I started playing a lot more.
And before the pandemic, it was really going well. And I was really making some good friends and meeting people outside of just like my tiny 1L sphere at the law school.
So I would just recommend keep doing whatever you've done in the past that's kept you mentally sound and physically well and sane.
My tip is to go in with a focus. And whether your focus is more traditional and structured, or it's more entrepreneurial.
In business school, there can be 50 different events on a given day, find what's most meaningful to you.
And what will help you achieve your personal and professional goals.
Yeah, I would just build off of what Ariel and Andy said, but with a slight, maybe controversial modification, which would be once you've identified that kind of North Star, the reason why you're at grad school and where you're hoping to end up, there's a chance that it might include going off course and not continuing with your graduate school education or postponing it for a little bit of time.
I know that's not a popular thing to say.
But there's a chance that you might drop out and you might come back later and you might pursue that opportunity down the road.
I would just say, be aware of what's driving you to go to school.
And if something looks more compelling and more interesting, don't be afraid to be bold and go chase that.
Kind of touching on the earlier topic we raised, I've thought long and hard about postponing my education in light of the current COVID crisis and came very close to not going to Berkeley this year.
So I think giving yourself the freedom to think about what's really driving you is super important.
I would just say that, keep in mind that there is no such thing as the ideal applicant.
You may think that some part of your application could be better. You may think you have some sort of flaw.
It really depends on the perspective you take with that kind of stuff and how you talk about it.
I don't think that you should worry too much about, oh, this school is going to want to see this part of me and this other school is going to be more interested in that part of me.
Or this school is known as a finance school.
I don't want to apply there. This school only makes consultants.
I don't want to go there either. Definitely go through it with an open mind and think about what kind of experience you're interested in first and foremost.
And just be genuine about who you are, what you want to do, and why you're interested in school.
And I think that is probably the most powerful thing that you can communicate.
Yeah, so along the same lines, my advice is to be okay with uncertainty and stay open-minded.
I think a lot of you guys watching us might think that you need to have a very clear cut.
You might think that applying to a grad school is one of the biggest life-changing decisions.
And it might as well be true. And you want to have a very clear cut answer, three bullet points, why you're doing this and how your career or life looks like three years from now, five years from now.
But the truth is not everyone has that very clear answer.
And that's okay. I think it's important to be okay with changing priorities.
It's not ideal, but it happens very often. And just being okay with pivoting throughout your journey.
From my personal experience, I'm halfway through the program and I came in with a certain very clear vision in September.
And now it's shifting and changing. And the reason for that is because I'm learning new things.
I'm meeting new people. And that's great. The worst thing that can happen to you is for you to never change your opinion or the way you look at things and perspective in this one year or three year, two years of your time.
So be okay with change and uncertainty. Yeah, I kind of agree to that.
I mean, our goals are ever-changing, aren't they? Always.
So it's okay. You'll discover a lot of things about yourself, what you like, what works for you, what doesn't work for you.
And it's fine that you need to have that amount of delta in your life.
It's okay. One thing that I would say is that it's not just about academics.
It's also about personal connections that you build.
You learn so much more from the people and from their stories. And I think half the times I'm more inspired by others than just books.
So yeah, I think it's been a life-changing experience for me.
Literally, quite literally, no exaggeration.
So I think, yeah, just ride through it. It'll be fun. Yeah. And all the best to whoever is watching and is planning to apply whenever.
Great. Great. Thank you all so much for being here today and talking about this.
I hope this is helpful for people watching.
I know this is super helpful for me. And just thank you all.
And we have our next MentorFlare episode coming up on Wednesday with our head of engineering, Uzman Muzaffar.
So stay tuned for that. Otherwise, have a great weekend.
And I thank you all again. Thanks. Bye. Thank you.