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The Key to MBA Success? Be Strategic, Yet Adaptable

My MBA Journey: Jasper Isip, McMaster University DeGroote MBA, Class of 2023

Jasper Isip, McMaster University DeGroote MBA’23, contributed this piece to Touch MBA. Jasper was a pharmacist in the Philippines with six years of experience in clinical pharmacy and pharmaceutical sales before pursuing his MBA.

If you would like to share your MBA application journey to help future applicants, please contact us here.

Part 1: Applying to MBA programs


It took me that long to start my MBA application journey in 2018 and then be admitted to DeGroote School of Business in 2021. In hindsight, the process should only be six months to a year without all the mistakes that costed me money, time, and effort.

Since some of my mistakes are quite personal to discuss on this platform, it is better to focus on how to avoid them. It can be summarized in one word: STRATEGY

Every step of the MBA journey, from the application process, to preparing for your classes, to applying to internships, to crafting your post-MBA path, relies on having a game plan. This is because the program is jampacked with academic, extracurricular and career activities, not including personal and social commitments. With this, a long-term plan and strategy will lead you to concentrate on achieving your ultimate goal in the MBA program amidst the noise.

When you start the MBA application process, it will immediately consume your resources (time, money, effort). This includes GMAT preparation, seeking an admissions consultant, attending MBA fairs, and even utilizing online resources. Remember that you have a job or full-time professional commitment, and you want to allocate your time during the application process in a meaningful manner. This is the reason a prospective applicant should self-reflect on their personal and professional status and assess if an MBA is worth applying for. You do not want to engage in the emotional affair of being excited to start the process without a thorough self-evaluation, then purchase a GMAT prep course, review it for a few days and then surrender (your dollars are wasted already!).

Some tips for introspection:

Allocate Personal Time to Understand the MBA Landscape

There are resources to dive deep into MBA programs. Touch MBA is a great resource because of the unbiased and comprehensive manner that Darren and his guests discuss various aspects of the MBA program – regardless of which schools you are eyeing. Before Touch MBA, I had never heard or seen an MBA admissions site using a “decision matrix”, the ultimate tool for MBAs.

There are other resources that focus their content on the top business schools – but don’t be too narrow-minded! Other resources worth mentioning include GMAT Club (especially Maria Wich-Vila) and Poets&Quants (especially its Business Casual podcast). Attend school events online, such as informational session and sample classes.

Listen (or watch) those resources in your spare time. I listened to all the resources while driving, walking, cooking and even while bathing! The main goal here is to have a foundational approach to look at MBA programs. Know their intricacies. Your deep understanding of the program will help you in your application.

Assess Where You Are Right Now

So, let’s talk about assessing your current situation. When I decided to jump into the MBA world, it was partly because my career was moving fast. I’d snagged major company awards and was climbing the ladder quickly in the pharmaceutical field. So, it was crystal clear to me that the MBA was the next step, especially since I needed to have a good understanding of business to make a pharma company thrive financially and discover more drugs.

Although I could show a quantitative story in my applications, I was able to identify skill gaps in my profile. You see, I’m not your typical business major candidate – I come from a science background. Accounting and finance weren’t exactly my forte.

So, I decided to go the extra mile. On top of the regular application hustle (GMAT etc), I brought in a tutor to help me beef up my finance game. Why? Because when I checked out the courses at my target schools, guess what was right at the beginning? Accounting and finance. I didn’t want to stumble through those classes. So all that prep work I did, even before I officially got accepted, paid off big time. And fortunately, I passed those courses during my MBA.

Set Clear and Strategic Goals

Now, let’s talk about something crucial: when you’re navigating the MBA path, it’s absolutely vital to outline your objectives. Here’s a golden rule – ensure you have both short-term and long-term goals firmly established. Don’t embark on the MBA journey merely as an avenue to switch locations for superficial reasons.

I admit, aside from my desire for a Master’s level education, one of the biggest factors for choosing DeGroote (and Canada, in general) is for my partner and I to immigrate and become permanent residents there. Although US and European schools are more prestigious and higher in rankings, only Canada and Australia made sense for our goals. The US has political turmoil and Europe language barriers, which makes immigration more difficult.

However, between the two Commonwealth countries, Canada aligned more with our goals since I have a nearby US as an option to work and visit, or even live permanently. Yes, study the rankings, but also all the internal and external factors relative to your situation and desires. One major analytical framework in the MBA program is PESTLE – why not use it in your MBA applications?

Part 2: Getting Your MBA

I talked about strategy in terms of the MBA application. It remains important after you are admitted. However, upon reflection from my first day of classes until the first day of my full-time job, the most important word I want to impart for your MBA studies is FLEXIBILITY!

Open Yourself to Learn More

I was dead-set on forging a path in the pharmaceutical industry, particularly within the marketing domain. The pharmaceutical world, as you probably know, is a pretty specialized arena. So, I wasn’t exactly keen on branching out into events and networking for other sectors like consulting, finance, or human capital. My eyes were firmly fixed on pharma, and more specifically on healthcare marketing.

But, I realized the need to broaden my horizons beyond healthcare marketing just in case things didn’t pan out exactly as planned. So, I decided to also immerse myself in marketing events. Now, don’t get me wrong, my heart was still set on pharma and healthcare, but I allowed myself to explore related avenues.

Embrace Flexibility in Course Selection

I chose DeGroote because it’s the only school in Ontario that offers Pharma and Biotech class in the MBA program. I had an awesome instructor, a former pharmaceutical executive, who taught based on real-world experience and not just a textbook-style method of instruction.

This course opened my eyes to the fact that I had been overly focused on the idea that excelling in marketing would be the sole key to success in the pharma industry. However, I soon came to realize my misconception.

This class unveiled a whole new world – a world of venture capital, private equity, forecasting, and descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive analytics, not to mention insurance. For example, biotech companies need venture capital and private equity firms to acquire capital for Phase 3 clinical trials and commercialization of new drug products, respectively. Analytics are used to know the probability of a molecule to reach Phase 3 clinical trials. And since the entire Canadian healthcare industry relies on insurance, I should enroll in an insurance course.

That is when I decided that I should be a well-rounded candidate, not just an expert in healthcare marketing.

It wasn’t too late, since I still had one more semester left. That is why I chose finance and analytics courses, such as venture capital & private equity, insurance and investments, marketing and healthcare analytics and even entrepreneurship.

This experience is my testament to the power of flexibility within the MBA program. It’s about crafting a skill set as diverse as the challenges you’ll face in the real world, within any industry.

Be Strategic Yet Adaptable in Job Hunting

Picture this: I had a solid plan, a strategy if you will. I was set on applying exclusively to pharmaceutical companies for my post-MBA job. A calculated move, or so I thought. But here’s the twist – I wasn’t as flexible as I should’ve been. My mistake? Relying on a verbal job offer, only to find that a company restructure had erased my position.

So, what did I do? I pressed on, determined to secure my spot in the pharma sector. After all, it was my target industry. But, I then realized that I needed to apply for roles beyond pharma.

Days after, I was invited for an interview. And after a few weeks, I was hired… in the insurance industry! Good thing I enrolled for the investment and insurance course in my MBA. That course played a pivotal role in passing my licensure examinations in insurance. Admittedly, the hiring team mentioned that they banked on my stellar sales experience.

Although it was a little bit frustrating that my pharma goal didn’t work out, I’m glad I stayed flexible. Due to major restructuring and layoffs happening in North America right now, I would rather work for a company that believed in me when I needed it the most – and that is in the insurance industry.

I am not closing the door on pharma, but I am prepared to stay in insurance. The lesson? It’s not just about being flexible with your post-MBA job; it’s about embracing that adaptability from the very beginning of your MBA journey.

Stay open to the possibilities that your MBA program holds. Attend events, even if they don’t immediately pique your interest. You never know what lies ahead. And when that knock of opportunity comes your way, especially in an employer’s market right now in North America, don’t hesitate – seize it!

If you find yourself in a role that doesn’t quite align with your passions, don’t worry. You’ve got time on your side. The beauty of the MBA journey is that you are allowed to explore. So, if you’re not in love with your current path, remember that you’ve got another year or so to try something new. As you progress, analyze every decision you make, considering both internal motivations and external circumstances.

The Key to MBA Success

Be STRATEGIC in your MBA application

Be FLEXIBLE and ADAPTIVE after you get admitted

Good luck on your MBA journey!

If you would like to share your MBA application journey to help future applicants, please contact us here.

One thought on “The Key to MBA Success? Be Strategic, Yet Adaptable

  1. Pingback: #218 Lessons from Listeners (Vol. 2): Drawing a Roadmap for Admissions, Prioritizing Conversations, Prematurely Applying, Being Strategic Yet Flexible - » Touch MBA

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