As my partner, Nassar, and I set off on the 21-hour drive from my parents’ house in Florida to my dorm at Achtmeyer Hall, I began to think about my unlikely journey to an MBA. I chose Tuck because each time we visited, the place and the people felt more and more like “home.” But before Nassar and I had even hit the Georgia border, I was already questioning it all: “Does a quiet, 33-year-old, half-Cuban, half-Guatemalan with little to no quantitative skills and a background in international education even belong in a top MBA program?”
Twelve long months (and countless Zoom classes later), the answer to that question is a resounding: “Yes.”
So, in the Tuck spirit of sharing our story, here are the top five lessons I have learned during my first year at Tuck (that I hope will especially resonate with MBA applicants who feel like they’re too much of this or too little of that).
Being in an MBA program, especially one in a small, tight-knit community like Tuck’s, can feel like living in a bubble. In the case of a top business school, that bubble might feel like it is dominated by extroverted, type-A personalities with an affinity for beer pong—and in some cases, it is. But, if that does not describe you, don’t be deterred: The easiest way to find your tribe and build a community that embraces who you are is to lead with the truest version of yourself. That might mean that you choose not to drink alcohol or you don’t dream about being a consultant or you prioritize going to church each Sunday or you prefer board games to nights out. Whatever that thing is that makes you you, don’t stop doing it because you are in the bubble. Grow, explore, try new things, yes … but keep being you.
Unfortunately, we live in a world that does not value the power of introverts or the importance of quiet leadership. Instead, we learn through movies, books, and even the majority of cases taught in business schools, that leaders must be outspoken, risk-takers with a bias for action (oh, and that most of them are men). But if I have learned anything at Tuck, it is that leaders come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. In fact, some of the best leaders make good decisions by listening more than they talk, they build successful organizations by empowering others to be great, and they influence outcomes not by being loud—but by wielding empathy to understand what drives people at the core. Simply put: you don’t need to be the lead actor (or even be on stage!) to direct an award-winning play.
During the MBA, you will have no shortage of opportunities to join clubs, networking events, parties, treks, and more. The one thing you will have a shortage of? Time. So, make sure that—in the words of decluttering guru Marie Kondo—you focus your limited time and mental energy on what “sparks joy.” For me, that means recruiting future generations of Latina Tuckies, being intentional about which friendships to pursue, volunteering through Community Consulting, and re-reading “Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty” instead of “Case in Point.” For everything else, I’ve learned to practice the critical (and very empowering) skill of saying “No.”
Carol paddling on the Connecticut River
As the daughter of small-business owners, who lived through the Guatemalan Civil War and the rise of communism in Cuba, I learned early on that hard work and sacrifice are key to success. If you, like me, are coming from a non-business background or you want to pivot into a new industry, then the MBA is a golden opportunity to reinvent yourself if you are willing to put in the work. That might mean waking up at 5 a.m. to interview FinTech players in Asia for an independent study, adding a 10-hour unpaid internship to your full-time schedule, or taking a class on Coursera during your dwindling free time to learn a new skill that will help you smash that interview. Need inspiration? Remember one of my dad’s most-repeated quotes: “Mientras más duro trabajo, más suerte tengo” (Translation: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”)
It is tempting to become so laser-focused on immersing yourself in the MBA experience and all that comes with it that you forget the people who helped you get there in the first place. The parents who cheered you up after your third GMAT attempt? The partner who read all of your essays (over and over…)? The mother-in-law who delivered food to your house because she knew you forgot to eat during application season? The boss who wrote your recommendation letters? They all deserve a medal and, every now and then, they certainly deserve a phone call.
Carol Reyes T’21 was raised in Guatemala and spent eight years working in the public and social sectors prior to Tuck, where she now serves as a Hispanic American Student Association Co-Chair and a Center for Business, Government and Society Fellow. This summer, she interned with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Transformation Strategy and was recently selected for an academic-year internship with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Carol is a two-time Fulbright Scholar and holds a B.S. in Journalism and Communications with minors in French, Portuguese, and Latin American Studies from the University of Florida, and a master’s in International Education from New York University.