Studying at Business School is a Glorious Self-Discovery Journey.
Rewinding back to highschool, there are two kinds of people. Science students and Business students. Often business students get looked down on because high school business curriculums are not as strict as science courses, most of the courses, are not mandatory either.
I identified myself as an analytical person who is interested in entrepreneurship, so I decided to go for a business program at Ivey. Filled in my application without thinking too much, submitted, and was admitted in later in the year.
In the first year of university, there has been an incredible amount of opportunities and events. Every day, there are all sorts of educationals, panels, information sessions going on, varying from Law to Product Management, to Data Science, to Investment Banking, etc. However, despite the varieties of events available on campus, most of my peers who have been into university just as long as I did, have already identified and given themselves with a career designation — Finance / Consulting.
Due to the strength of the alumni pipeline in finance / consulting, the internal culture within the school has become super strong and most people have already been socially influenced implicitly even before they start thinking about what do these professions actually do.
“Investment Banking / Consulting have the Greatest Optionality / Learning Curve / Career Development”
Careers in Data Science, Investment Banking, Consulting have always been well-respected by society as they are a few of the most competitive industries to break-in as an undergraduate friendly job.
“Transferable skills”, are definitely the perks of investment banking and consulting because it gives you optionality and often people described it as another few years in university because you are constantly learning and expanding your network. Nonetheless, the aforementioned statements are true but are consulting/finance for everyone? Nope, it is the same as telling people to learn to code because technology is growing explosively.
Sophomore’s Summer is when most people started to legitimately rethink their career path as people called it Soul Searching — Searching Your Purpose in Your Career/Life. Two years of schooling may not be enough to equip yourself to be fully compatible to work in a professional setting, but it gives students a great understanding of different potential careers they could pursue. There is not much science behind soul-searching, but there are five things I wished I have learned before going into university with regard to soul-searching.
1. Be Open-Minded Towards Extra-Curriculars / Professional Relationships
“The primary purpose of business school is not about its curriculum, it is about the risk-free networking and leadership opportunities available on campus”
Coming in as a freshman, there are two big dilemmas I was facing:
a) Breadth vs Depth in extra-curricular involvements
b) Developing vs Acquiring relationships with people at University
To be honest, there are no wrong answers, and most times you should do both, however, it is wrong if you get your intentions wrong or overcommit yourself onto them (which is what I did).
To properly soul-search, you need to be open-minded which means you need to meet people who share different interests with you (e.g Same Residence, Different programs; Same Program, Different Clubs) and are on different stages of life (Same Club Upper Years, All Professions, Alumni). Lookout.
When you are building professional relationships, try to (1) understand their intentions and picture his/her life decisions that lead to where he/she is now. (2) what are some professional goals/non-work related passions he/she has. Because in fact, people move from firms to firms, and their motivations are lastingly connected to their identity rather than their roles.
2. Be Conscious of Your Time (Academically / Socially)
“Every night before you go to bed, ask yourself are these blocks on my schedule necessary? Are they beneficial to what I wanted to achieve?”
In high school, because of the fact that I migrated from Hong Kong, where they have a much-advanced curriculum, I was gifted to be able to achieve high grades without putting into much effort (except for English).
At university, despite work did not get significantly harder (Obviously depends on your program), but time management has become everyone’s struggles because the amount of extra-curricular has overwhelmingly occupied a lot of students’ schedules.
University students will actively lookout for effective study methods and time management tips like “Pomodoro Technique”, “Parkinson’s Law”, “80/20 Rules”. However, my take throughout my time at university is to really reflect consistently about how you spend your time.
Academically, attending lectures & visiting office hours are often underrepresented because they cost you additional time at the moment. However, it reduces your stress level and saves time before an exam. When you feel comfortable writing an exam, don’t sacrifice time that could have spent exercising, meeting friends, and extra-curricular.
(Notice how I wrote extra-curricular at the end, I meant it. )
Socially, it is a hard one. It varies case-by-case, but for me personally, I have two principles in mind for managing my relationships built throughout university — Breadth, and Quality.
Having friends across Finance, Marketing, Medical Science helped me to sorta get out of the circles I am in and this provides me different perspectives as in what are students in different fields struggling with? Generally, diversity provides great conversation as well. On the other hand, within time management, try to build the relationship at the best given the limited time — avoid getting lunches/dinner together but try to do something like getting groceries, working out, attending a club event, going to a house party together. These are much better ways to build peer relationships!
Treat your time like making investments decisions, however, the result is not capital but satisfaction
3. Take Time to Understand the Alternatives
How can one be so confident in what he/she wanna do for the rest of his/her life before university begins like he/she is born for it?
I just interviewed an incoming freshman for my organization Focus Finance and I remember he/she specified her interest in consulting / investment banking when I asked why is she interested in the organization.
This is meant to be a huge part of what university is meant for but people often do not recognize the importance of it. If people take the time to understand the alternatives during their time in university, many years in adulthood could be saved and no career switch is necessary. One thing I would really tell my younger self is to research about all these professions earlier, proactively, with curiosity. Often a lot of fields do overlap (e.g Banking & Buy-Side, APM & Marketing, Consulting & Corp Roles). As university students even though you strongly identify yourself with a specific profession, it is really important to take your time to understand how these other workforces function and recruit in order to convince your inner-self that I have rationally thought about it.
4. “Generalist vs Specialist” is not a Choice, it is a Mentality
“The ubiquitous question that gets asked in every networking/career panel”
This is a question when people ask panelists about the perks/drawbacks of being a generalist/specialist. Honestly speaking, everyone knows the answer but cannot make the decisions when it comes. However, at the end of the day, it is a personal question, it’s like asking people if dual-degrees are worth it.
Taking part as a specialist is highly encouraged in universities, everyone will tell you to join 1–2 clubs and be committed to them, so you could build wonderful relationships along the way and become an executive for the club in the next year. It is great if you belong to one of the specialist mentality, also if you wanted to get an edge in recruiting because leadership positions are generally seen as attractive attributes for recruiters.
However, if you are a generalist, who happens to enjoy committing to a variety of events/programs, I just wanted to say it’s okay! Despite you may often look back and sighed about not having opportunities like people around you who are getting leadership positions. You need to realize how diverse and unique you are because not many people have gotten a taste of that much of a variety that you are doing. You own the experience and they will help define yourself in the future.
Soul-searching is tricky because it literally means choosing a career that you are going to spend you next 3–4 years in at least. Often you can find specialists will have greater network and expertise, generalists will have greater decision-making skills and breadth of knowledge. A specialist mentality will help you land the career, a generalist mentality will help you choose the right career.
5. Be a Goal-Setter
Picture your past-self, current self, your future-self. Connect them.
This is something I did not do in my first two years in university. Being goal-oriented is as easy as it sounds, but implementing and following it is rarely achieved by students at universities. Before we talk about distractions and motivations, setting a goal is inevitably important because setting it requires you to reflect on who you are and who do you want to become.
At Western, I was taught to divide goals into personal and professional. I found it extremely useful because it constantly reminds me that I am not just an investment banking prospect or a global economics student but a student with personal values in conducting social impact, with hobbies in soccer, videography, and writing.
Life is like sailing in the ocean where you cannot see anything, soul-searching helps you to navigate your direction by finding out where you are and where do you want to go — most of the time it is not as intuitive as you think.
4 years of university flies(3 years for the Europeans), soul-searching should be a prioritization of everyone’s university life as they are entering their 20s. I hope my advice can impact anyone who goes/is going/is intending to attend a university, let me know if you have any further questions and I’m more than happy to chat!