Graham Rouse, MBA grad of The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, describes the unique aspects of his MBA program and gives advice to future applicants on how to prepare for your MBA.
Name: Graham Rouse
School: MBA, OSU Fisher College of Business
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Lives in: Cincinnati, Ohio
Profession: Procter & Gamble
What were some activities you were involved with outside of class? How did you balance your time?
As a new father (my son, who is now 5, was born the April before I began the MBA program), I had to choose my out-of-the-classroom commitments carefully. One thing I prioritized was building relationships with my classmates, so I chose club involvement that was central to my career path (Marketing Association), elective coursework that was likely to include collaborative components, and social events that would give me the opportunity to build those relationships. One thing that’s great about the program is that there is a very strong social community—there seemed to be something fun to do every evening, from recruiting events and club opportunities to just grabbing drinks or going out on the town. I prioritized the big social events, and made time to build relationships with my classmates whenever possible, while also making sure I was home for my wife and son, and was spending enough time studying as well. It’s worth noting that the relationships you forge in your full-time MBA program are ones that will last a lifetime, and will turn into professional relationships as time passes. Your Fisher community will be a valuable resource in the future as you walk out your career over the decades. To illustrate this point, I sometimes reflect on advice my brother gave me (he received his MBA several years before I did): “If you need to choose between making friends and getting A’s, choose friends.” Hopefully you can do both, but this highlights the lasting impact of the community you build during your MBA.
What do you think was your program's greatest asset?
MBA programs are designed to create leaders, and companies recruit MBA graduates to be just that—their leaders for the future. Fisher understands this, and the coursework, programs, and holistic approach to MBA education is designed to develop leaders across functions. Along with the other aspects of the program that I’ve mentioned, this is something that Fisher does exceptionally well. The journey of growing one’s leadership capacity is a life-long one, and the Fisher MBA program helped me get the right foundational pieces in place.
What were the biggest challenges of pursuing your MBA?
The biggest challenge to pursing an MBA is the upfront commitment. For a working professional, the prospects of quitting ones job, potentially changing cities, and often taking on (more) student debt are daunting, and are hurdles that many deem too costly. I can only speak for myself; I’m so glad I leaned in despite these hurdles. Lots of people thought I was crazy when I announced I was quitting my job and going back for another master’s degree at age 32 (I was a little nervous about it myself), but looking back on my experience at Fisher and the opportunities it has afforded me professionally makes the choice seem like a very, very easy one.
What do you think made your MBA program and experience unique?
One of the things that makes Fisher unique at first glance is the small size of the program. Ohio State is one of the largest universities in the world, with one of the smallest programs in the top 30. What this means is that it is focused on being a community that can foster strong, meaningful relationships, across the students as well as the faculty. This comes to life in a variety of ways, but potentially the most meaningful is that it attracts professors who prioritize that element of their professional life. All of my professors knew me by name during the program, and when I walk the halls of Fisher today (4 years later), many of them still do. Professors and Deans often hosted students for events at their homes, and even took active roles in our recruiting with top companies. This aspect of Fisher is unique and invaluable; I am still so thankful for the way the faculty at Fisher supported, encouraged, and propelled me throughout the program.
When did you decide you wanted to pursue an MBA? What inspired you? Did you pursue your MBA in order to switch careers?
I decided to pursue an MBA because I knew I didn’t want to stay in the career path I was on for the rest of my life (teaching high school English), but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do instead. Since I already had a Master’s degree (in education), I hadn’t planned to go back to school. However, when I applied to potential jobs, I found that my professional background didn’t qualify me to do much, other than what I was currently doing. I needed a way in—I needed a springboard to another profession. Since I didn’t know what that profession should be, I chose an MBA; it’s a very general degree, and can lead to a wide variety of career paths. The MBA coursework is designed to expose and equip managers across corporate functions, and Fisher also offers “Career Foundation Seminars,” where students can hear from alumni that work in a variety of different areas (Finance, Consulting, Marketing, etc.). I found these events particularly helpful as I investigated the career path that would be right for me. It didn’t take me long to start gravitating towards brand management, and I chose to focus coursework on Marketing Management, and leveraged the Career Services department to help me find the right spot for me post-graduation.
Advice for Future Applicants
What are some dos and don'ts in the MBA preparation process?
- Do: Prepare for the GMAT and get your highest score possible. Most people are scared of standardized tests—don’t be. The content on the GMAT is not overly challenging, and preparation can meaningfully increase your score. I worked with a high school Algebra tutor, as well as my brother (who is an engineering professor), mostly working sample problems. The GMAT is a powerful sorting tool for programs, and achieving a higher score will help you across the board.
- Do: Apply to schools that you may not be qualified for—you never know who they may be looking for to round out their broader class profile.
- Don’t: Spend hours and hours obsessing over your essays. Make sure they’re well written, well-proofread, and communicate the things that make you unique as an applicant—try to allow your voice to come through.
- Don’t: Spend tons of time preparing for the coursework itself. You don’t need an intro to accounting class before you show up. MBA students come from diverse professional backgrounds, so the programs don’t assume much business-oriented knowledge coming in.
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