Major Surprises and Shocks joining Carlson

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

If you have not read the Part I (YES to Carlson) of my 2 part blog, I’d recommend you to read it first and to then hop here. That blog would give you a clear perspective on what motivated me to join Carlson and what was the level of knowledge and information I had before joining the school. In this blog, I will be covering the surprises and shocks I had at Carlson given my knowledge about the school as I had outlined in Part I. 

To be exhaustive and thorough with my answers here, I have spelled out my answers under different buckets.

Academics, Faculty, and Support from the Carlson Administration:

Carlson is famous for its academic rigor. Unlike other schools, the first semester at Carlson is much much much more intense as we have 20 credits. It is time consuming, stressful, annoying and made me wonder at times whether I am at a school that quite weirdly lays focus on a lesser important aspect of B-school – academics. However, I am so happy to be proven wrong. As I am typing this blog out, most of the schools are closed for the winter break. Students at Carlson are preparing for the case study competition after studying all the core papers! In 4 months, Carlson students are taught all the core papers and with case study competition at the beginning and end of the semester, we track our progress on HOW MUCH we have learned in the 4 months and apply all our learnings on another case study competition! I think this feature is a core strength of Carlson that is quite underplayed. This year’s case was sponsored by the Carlisle Group of Companies, and any guesses on who judged these cases? It was the CEO and 2 VPs of the Group! Seen in this picture is the winning team with the leaders of Carlisle.

Winning Case Competition Team with Leaders of Carlisle


The main concern that I have in comparison to the other schools, is that Carlson does not have a score non-disclosure policy. What this means is that you need to have a minimum GPA to apply for certain career opportunities, and hence there is some added pressure on students preparing for consulting and investment banking careers. What this means is that if you are interested in the captioned career paths you need to be more proactive in terms of prioritizing your time and improving your efficiency. 

Looking back at my prior educational experiences, there were always some teachers whom I liked more than the others. I think the same is true at Carlson and at other schools too. We have very good faculty members at Carlson, some of whom teach across the world. It truly is a rewarding experience to learn from them!

The class, my classmates and how we fair at inter-school competitions:

I was initially of the view that higher the school ranking, better the quality of the students and vice versa. Coming to Carlson, I soon realized that I was wrong. Check out these smart people with whom I am learning each day.

An additional perspective especially for the Indian students: Unlike in India, in the US, most of the people prefer to study and live in the same city/locality they were born in. With no other school as strong as Carlson in the Mid-West region, Carlson attracts a lot of super well accomplished and smart people from the region and having a small class size, only those awesome people get to be your classmates.

If I were you I would be reading these pointers with a pinch of salt too. If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of the quality of the class is in the number of interschool case competitions Carlson students win. So at Carlson (as in other B-schools), if you want to participate in a particular case competition, you need to write a small note on why you are interested and qualified to participate in a case competition. For me, it has been tough to get on a team to represent Carlson in the interschool competitions. And most of the teams that participated either won the competition or were the finalists. Here are some of my classmates with their prizes! ☺

Collage of 4 Different Case Competition Teams

The Career Center & Recruiting:

I will say that the Career Center (GBCC) is very strong at Carlson. We have 5+ career coaches, 1 of whom is dedicated to international students. We have 30+ contract coaches, who are leaders in different companies working across all job roles you will want to get into.

However just because they are there, nothing is assured for you. You have to make it a point to meet with them regularly, some students meet with them at least once a week to tell them the progress you made in the last week and the work you are targeting to do in the next week. You want to tell them the companies and roles you are interested in and about the people you reached out to and the people you need help to reach out to and they will assist you. Clearly, the more effort you put in, the more effort they will put in. If you tell the GBCC that you are interested in role X in company Y, I am confident that they will take the effort to get your resume and cover letter to the hiring manager for that role!

100% of the international students were placed within 90 days of graduation last year and 100% got internships too. 

Like most schools, a lot of companies visit Carlson, but many of them do not hire international students. One factor to bear in mind as an international student is that the number of "Pipeline" internships for international students is limited. By Pipeline, I mean internships offered by large organizations that have a structured internship program which leads to a Full-Time Offer. Most of the international students do "JIT" or Just In Time internships at large/mid/small companies. Very few of these roles get converted to full-time offers. 

However given all this background and considering how common (this problem is across most US schools), Carlson's GBCC is working on this and I fully believe that they are helping students to perform better each year. (But remember, the more effort you put in, the more support you will get!) This year few additional companies are hiring international candidates and this trend is expected to continue.

Networking Opportunities & Alumni Support:

One of the two things I like about Carlson the most is that the school is in a city (though not a huge metro, a tier II city). Carlson is situated in the Twin Cities (i.e. two cities very identical in terms of when they started growing, their size and stuff) of Minneapolis and St. Paul. But what I didn't know earlier is that Carlson is just a 10-40 minute light rail ride away from both the twin cities. So within 30-60 minutes, you can reach any Carlson alum in the twin cities, and there are a LOT OF THEM!

The second good thing about Carlson is that it is a small class size program and hence the alumni proportionately get lesser networking requests and they are able to invest more time in us. Also because our brand is not as strong on either coast, the alums are very supportive of our needs. Two alums I met during a Trek to San Francisco have offered to introduce me to a few of their friends from other companies and others have been helpful in facilitating me to have calls/interviews with their companies. 

Recruiting for international students is tough across the US. However, Carlson has a very good reputation in the Mid-West and so getting a job in this area would be comparatively easier. We have a very active alumni base in the Bay area in most of the big name tech companies. You will have to network your way in there. The same applies to the East Coast too.

Career Treks & Travel:

The objective of a Trek is to visit companies that are interested in hiring Carlson students but do not visit Carlson to hire students.

With respect to Career Treks, I went for the consulting Trek to Chicago where we visited Bain and Gallup, as well as Morning Star, an investment research firm. These are the only big firms that do not have offices in MSP. I went on a Tech Trek to San Francisco where we visited Adobe, LinkedIn, Intuit, FB, LinkedIn, Zynga, Anaplan (check out this photo essay on the Trek and this article on Poets & Quants) and I am just back from Seattle where we visited Amazon, Microsoft, T-Mobile, and Starbucks.

Additionally, there is Trek to Palo Alto in January for students keen in the Medical Industry. Further, there are Global Business Practicums wherein you travel to a country with company leaders, a faculty and your classmates (in some cases you also work with students from a local school) to work on a business problem and to have a lot of fun.

As highlighted earlier, being a small school, the school hears and acts on your needs ASAP! If you and few other students highlight a demand for a new trek, that would be facilitated. For example, the Consulting Trek was requested by us and the GBCC organized it within a month’s time. Next year’s Trek to Chicago would have lot more companies! 

Talking about travel - for interviews, all first round interviews happen either on campus or electronically. For second rounds most companies fly out shortlisted students from all schools to their offices for a day/two. By being in a city in which many offices have HQ you can save a lot of time in traveling and you can spend a lot of time networking with these companies. Hence I feel joining a school in a city is very important. Having said that, some of your target companies would not have offices here and you may have to travel to Chicago which is well connected to MSP by flights and is just an hour away. Lesser your travel time, the more scarce time you have for other activities and hence the better.

My Overall Take on how to evaluate schools (aka the reasons why you want to join school X):

How a school is going to help you start a career in the industry and city you want to live should be your guiding light.

Some of the top companies that hire at mostly only the top schools hire at Carlson too (McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Deloitte, Ecolab, Thomson Reuters, Sears). Some of these companies don't hire at the top 10 to 30 schools but hire at Carlson. So don't look much into whether the school is top-ranked. Look at whether

  • people with your background have joined a company and role that interests you the most.
  • The roles and companies of the rest of the (international) students are not super boring to you. If your mind changes at School, you may have to join one of these roles.
  • The companies around the school are of interest to you (more informational interviews/networking/face time). Remember, most companies are less than 60 minutes away from Carlson.
  • The city has more jobs than students (else more competition for some scare jobs).
  • The amount of scholarship and average salary look attractive to you.
  • The USPs of the school interest you. (for me it was)
    • A small program in a city
    • Hands-on learning opportunities/enterprise program
    • Top consulting and other companies recruiting

My biggest pleasant surprises:

People are so helpful and willing to go the extra mile. BUT ONLY IF you take the required effort, ask the right questions and in the right tone and time. At Carlson, other B-schools and the real world, there is no equitable distribution of information and resources. You get them if you take the required effort, ask the right questions and in the right tone at the right time to the right person. ASK AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE!!!

The first semester is really hectic... This is the phase when many people are interested in consulting careers and hence they are concerned about their GPAs and are fretting about their scores. But if you network well and if you connect with people well, you do not need to worry about your GPA to a certain extent. And yes, don't make having a high GPA your mission at B-School. You need to focus on talking to a lot of people and learning a lot about different careers, industries and knowing your classmates, seniors, and juniors well!

People act on your feedback/needs ASAP. Carlson is a small school with a strong community. People senior in the administration quickly get the news of any concerns or projects that you are working on and reach out to you for support. For example, the director of the consulting enterprise reached out to me informing me that firm X appears to be interested in me and asked me whether I needed any help. Another example is an Associate Director of admissions came to know that I was working on a few initiatives for improving stuff for international students and she reached out to me to schedule some time with her as well. I can go on with few more examples…! People act on your feedback/needs ASAP!

One thing I wish I knew before joining the Carlson MBA:

I was late to realize that I should be on top of my game and to lead everything that matters to me. Like how I prepared for the GMAT, I should have known better what I was getting into and how to tackle each aspect, know that I can’t win ever battle and that I will have to focus on winning my war and on finding time to do things that make me happy and pumped up to take the lead in all that matters to me (Yes it is a vicious cycle)! Being a proactive person in the know is certainly the key to success in B-school and this means: do your research well and talk to many people as possible!

Certain other pointers:

  • Accounting and financial management are not new to me. But for those for whom it was, they did find it difficult to handle the course load and pace. Brushing up your skills in accounting, financial management and statistics would be wise.
  • Small talk and networking are a very important art. Very few people realize how to do it right despite the gazillion resources available. Improving it ASAP in an American way is very important.
  • Domestic students start preparing for consulting careers and start networking with firms way before school starts through programs and events organized by consulting companies. The minimum that international students can do is read materials and resources (Case In Point, Victor Cheng’s Case Framework Videos, Look Over My Shoulders(LOMS)) that will give them a head start. Note – You can borrow the Case in Point book from the GBCC and get a limited period license to LOMS from the GBCC office.

What next?

So in the last two blogs, I have outlined the reasons and research I had done before I joined Carlson and the major surprises and shocks I got coming here. I strongly wish and believe that these blogs help you to take an informed decision of joining Carlson, or the B-school that is the right fit for you!
In my next blog, I am thinking of writing about the small actions you can take now to better prepare yourself to shine at school proactively from day 1. Do continue to share your thoughts and ideas.