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First Year Perspectives: Why Anderson – Own Your “Non-Traditional” Background!

Cassandra Ronquillo

About Cassandra: Cassandra Ronquillo (’24) is originally from Los Angeles County. She graduated from Whittier College with a B.A. in Mathematics. After graduation, Cassandra stayed in Southern California and worked in higher education development where she focused on raising funds and managing key relationships on behalf of the schools she worked for. Most recently, Cassandra worked as the Director of Major Gifts at UCLA Anderson. Now, as a student at Anderson, she seeks to pivot her career from higher education development to big tech.

I always knew I wanted to go back to school and get a master’s degree, but I was unsure of the right program for me. I spent most of my years post-undergrad in higher education development (ie. fundraising across colleges/universities in Southern California). My seven-year career in higher education was classified as a “non-traditional background.” Education is very important in my family, and we knew it was a true vehicle for upward mobility and continued growth. I explored many different options and ruled out each one by one: no to financial engineering (I was a math major so thought perhaps, but absolutely no for me), education (I come from a family of educators, but I wanted to eventually do something different), public administration (my background was in higher education fundraising, and I was hoping to pivot out). In 2017, I met my current partner, who was an MBA student, and I came to know more and more people who had an MBA. Before this, the idea of an MBA was intimidating to me, my mind was filled with many doubts like it’s been too long since I graduated from undergrad, I didn’t go to a top undergrad institution, I barely knew what consulting was (who really does anyways?!), and what I was most insecure about: I don’t have private sector experience and my job isn’t as recognizable, sexy, or cool. However, upon growing my network and understanding the array of diverse backgrounds of those who have entered and graduated from MBA programs, I realized that all these students were not that different from me or any better than me—and I knew I had what it takes to be a successful, competitive applicant.

Once I decided I wanted to go to business school, I began the school research, GMAT studying, and self-reflection on my professional and personal goals. I sought out programs that would be the absolute best fit for me, which included a place that was inclusive and location-rich, and I also put a big emphasis on a program that would help me make a career pivot into the private sector, specifically into big tech. Much of the business school application is around crafting your unique narrative to ensure the admissions teams that you’ll be successful once you’re admitted. I wondered if I could be successful in trying to make such a large pivot.

I knew that business school admissions and tech recruiting were rather competitive landscapes, so I leveraged the heck out of my work experience by diving deep into my day-to-day work, projects both big and small, and ultimately the impact I’ve delivered. Since there’s usually a smaller number of applicants from non-traditional backgrounds, it’s hard to find information in the popular online blogs, so you’re left with few people to relate to on the application journey. My mental deep dive into “what have I accomplished?” and “what the heck have I been doing for work the last 7 years?” helped me be introspective in deciding what I wanted out of a program and what is important to me in choosing a business school and beyond. I realized that my experience provided me access and opportunities to make an impact directly on an organization at some of the high levels—experiences that many people would not experience until later in their careers. I noted the levels of decision-making power I was able to achieve, the number of difficult conversations I had already had, and the influence I was able to have across senior leaders and other teams. From there, I recounted exciting stories that I could use in my application and for my future interviews. Never think that your experience doesn’t matter! In fact, a smaller team, organization, nonprofit, school, etc. often forces you to gain an array of experience across roles and functions and likely gives you an opportunity to make an identifiable impact within your organization.

Turns out, one of my biggest insecurities turned out to be my biggest differentiator in my business school apps and in my internship interviews (SPOILER ALERT: made me a star! Jk, kinda). While I thought my job was the least “cool” because it wasn’t as recognizable or as common as those coming to business school, it provided me with ample opportunities to share what I did and highlight the impact I made. It also provided me with meaningful and memorable conversations with students, admissions folks, recruiters, and tech interviewers. Sorry traditional candidates, but non-traditional candidates are coming in hot with our memorable differentiators!

I was fortunate to face a tough decision between an M7 program and UCLA Anderson (back to priorities and those introspective moments—know who you are and what you want!). I knew what kind of environment I needed to be in to ensure that I would be the most successful during the short 2-year program. I wanted to be on the West Coast long term, have success finding a summer internship in big tech, not feel like I was getting lost in a sea of people, and an underrated factor: have good vibes on campus and off.

After countless conversations, I knew UCLA Anderson would provide the best experience and chance to achieve my goals. Anderson has the perfect-sized full-time class (not too big, not too small), world-class Parker resources and advising, an impressive track record of students recruiting for tech (in addition to consulting, banking, real estate, and entertainment) from all backgrounds, one of the largest West Coast networks, and the coveted relaxed Los Angeles energy.

I came to Anderson for a number of reasons, and every reason has proven to be 100% worth it. I’m humbled to have had the opportunity to interview at some of the largest and most recognizable tech firms—and impressed at the face time with company representatives and the caliber of recruiting events I’ve been able to join. I feel as though my non-traditional background served as my differentiator even during tech recruiting: it helped me stay memorable and drive stories that focused on impact and how my soft skills could easily be translated to other roles. I finally felt that it all began to make sense and that I brought a unique value to my class. I have no regrets and it has SO been worth it (cliché, I know). Oh, and also catch me at Amazon this summer 😉

Must mention! Some key, high-value Anderson adds from the first-year experience:

  1. IPT (interview prep team): One of the best offerings/programs from Parker Career Center! Four first years were grouped together with one second year to meet weekly in the fall/winter for mock interviewing and preparation for case and behavioral interviews. It was challenging yet encouraging, and probably the most helpful tool in getting good at interviewing—and a good group to vent to!
  2. Parker Advisor: Because of the size of the school, I’m not competing for her attention. As someone who can run a little last minute, I love the quick turnaround time in scheduling appointments. She has also been a great person to talk candidly with, mock interview with, and talk about career paths or resume reviews with.
  3. Fall networking roundtables career event from Andertech & WBC: Two of the best networking/recruiting events each club has put on where alums from top companies come to have candid and open conversations and build connections.
  4. As a Consortium fellow, I took advantage of some early recruiting opportunities. These exist for Forte and some companies have specifically DE&I-focused early recruiting events, weeks, camps, etc.
  5. Learning Team: This is a small group (5-6 people) from all different backgrounds that you do most of your work/projects with for your core classes. They have served as a memorable and key piece in my own learning, and I have leaned on them quite a bit. Love you guys!

Student Blogger:  Cassandra (Cassie) Ronquillo ’24

Undergrad: Whittier College (B.A. Mathematics)

Pre-MBA: Director of Major Gifts, UCLA Anderson

Leadership@Anderson: VP of Interviewing, Admission Ambassador Corps; VP of Social, ALMA; VP of Cultural Exchange TSBA; VP of Marketing CBC; Net Impact Board Fellow; Consortium Fellow

Instagram: @cassbass92

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