By Robert Klecha
Applying for an MBA can be a complex process: How many business schools should you apply for? What is it that schools look for? How can you stand out from the crowd?
Josh Lah, a former credit risk analyst at JP Morgan, has successfully navigated the winding road and is joining Chicago Booth’s full-time MBA program later this year. He has some sage advice for anyone going through the application process.
“I’ve always been intrigued by business school. I knew I wanted to do an MBA, but I wanted to do it at the right time and not just for the sake of doing it,” recalls Josh.
Originally from Malaysia, Josh has worked in London, UK, since 2010, and felt now was that right time. “I’d diversified my experiences as best I could. Professionally, I’d worked with reputable companies and personally, I’d travelled and taken up challenges like CrossFit!
“I’d had the same job for two-and-a-half years and felt a need for change. I spoke to people who had MBAs who gave me advice. Ultimately, it felt right. I have experience, a good story, and it’s still relatively early in my career.”
Mind made up, Josh set about putting together a shortlist of schools. This was all about research. From contacting alumni to attending information sessions in London, Josh emphasizes the importance of understanding a school’s culture. “Some candidates apply to a ton of schools, but I was a more tactical,” he says.
“I chose four that I felt I could fit in with and went 100% for all. They all share the same quality of being highly recognized within the MBA community, with recruiters, and with other applicants.
“At the information sessions, schools talked about their programs and had current students, alumni, and faculty convey the experience and culture—this isn’t something you can get on a website.
“Chicago Booth, for example, has a pay-it-forward mentality. I got a lot of help from alumni and faculty, and that’s because they got the same. That’s how a community is built, around shared goals.
“The sessions helped me understand the flexibility at Booth—people say they treat you like an adult. The LEAD course, which is the leadership module, is the only mandatory module; everything else is up to you. I’m from finance so it’s important for me to look at other areas.”
Despite his obvious enthusiasm for undertaking an MBA, Josh admits he had some doubts. “Not working for two years and the huge outflow of money was a real consideration. Part of my research was meeting a lot of alumni who had been in my position. Most, if not all, said the salary increase would be more than enough to justify the costs.
“There are intangible benefits too, like the network. This aids you throughout your whole career. It’s a life-time benefit.”
So, with his concerns eased, what part of the application did Josh find the most difficult? “Self-reflection,” he answers, almost immediately. “You want to stand out as much as possible; everything you’ve done can help.
“I demonstrated two things I felt were important through my example of CrossFit. This showed I was part of a community, but also a diverse group. I talked about how I’d met people who aren’t from the same background—teachers, screenwriters, scientists, and PhD criminal psychologists. Booth appreciated that I felt it was important to surround myself by diverse people and see the world through different lenses.”
Josh starts his MBA in just a few months’ time. He’s already meeting with Chicago Booth’s careers team to discuss his long-term career goals. Josh wants a switch into impact investing; to drive positive change in his native Malaysia.
“Business schools look for all-rounders,” he concludes. “People who not only have their education and career in check, but people who step outside of their comfort zones; people involved in different communities and who give back to those communities—these are the things that differentiate you.”