Life at Hitotsubashi ICS: Let’s Talk Money

I’ve heard from a number of you who got your acceptance emails from Hitotsubashi ICS. Congratulations! Where ever you decide to go, I hope you have a great time.

Now that school is an impending reality for many of you – and financial planning for school is something most of us have to consider no matter what – I thought I’d share a guest post I did at The Billfold a while ago about my personal finances.

I Can Pay for an MBA, But Not in the U.S.

My situation has changed slightly since that post. Namely, I’ve gotten a part-time work permit (students can work up to 28 hours a week if they get this permit from the Immigration Office), and some part-time work. I’ve also knocked down my rent at Oakhouse┬áby about $100 a month. All together I’m surviving off my stipend plus my part time earnings, no longer dipping into my U.S. bank accounts. An ideal situation for any student for sure. (Well, an ideal situation would be living in a plush mansion and having my private helicopter take me around town, but I’m talking real world.)

My situation isn’t necessarily one that everyone can copy, but I hope it gives those of you working out finances some guidance. Questions? Leave them in the comments!

Life at Hitotsubashi ICS: Internships

Welcome back to our irregular series on life as an MBA student at Hitotsubashi ICS! ICS’s two year program requires students to do at least one internship or enroll in at least one term of an exchange program. Some students do both, some students do multiple internships, and some students do all that plus take additional classes at ICS (whether they need the credits to graduate or just because).

The second year internships are one of the main reasons I chose ICS. I wanted to explore other industries (doing the same kind of web marketing/communications job I’d done before), and I want to get a job in Tokyo after graduation, so an internship seemed to serve both those purposes.

So hey, I’m a year and a half in now, I’ve done my internship, how’d it go? What was the process, how’d I get it, what did I do, was it any good? All those questions, answered!

In the spring of my first year, a consultant from the brand consulting company Interbrand spoke in one of my marketing classes. I approached him after class, got his card, and followed up with him via email asking to talk to him more about his organization. We and another of his colleagues met for lunch, talked about branding/marketing/social media/web trends/whatever all the cool kids are talking about, and about their organization. I was getting ready to broach the “Hey, so do you guys take interns?” subject near the end of lunch when one of them said, hey, so do you want to do an internship?

After chatting about the details a bit there, we passed it off to our respective administrators: I emailed our Career Services office, which also handles internship placements, and the people I met with contacted their HR department, letting them know the deal and that my Career Services office would be in touch. We set a date, we set a length, and I showed up on the first day, signed some paperwork and a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and we were off!

Because of said NDA I can’t talk about my internship in any detail, but it was a) really interesting, b) really educational, and c) really valuable for figuring out what I want to do and for whom.

Now, let me back up a second. The way my internship happened is not the way all internships happen at ICS. Since the internship is a required thing, the Career office guarantees that it will arrange at least one internship for every student who wants one. While setting up my internship with Interbrand, I was also working with the Career office to set up another, because, well, they said they’d do one for me, right? Might as well use that resource if it’s there.

Sometime in the late spring/early summer, all the two year students received a packet listing the places that other ICS students had done internships before, and where we might ask the Career office to try to arrange something for us. I picked some tough companies to get into that I didn’t have any personal connections with, because again, if this resource is being offered to me, might as well get as much as I can out of it, right? The Career office eventually made contact with Bandai Namco on my behalf. Bandai sent us a new employee questionnaire, in Japanese for me to fill out in Japanese, and I did so, and sent it back, and heard some time later that I wasn’t a fit and they weren’t interested.

This makes it sound like it was a really short process. It wasn’t. It took me forever to fill out that questionnaire, and it took forever times two to get the very helpful woman at the Career office to stop editing my Japanese and just send it in already.

I’d heard anecdotally from other people in my class that they were having difficulty finding internships through the Career office, that they didn’t like the internships they had found, etcetera. Not everything is necessarily on the Career office, but I think there’s a higher chance you’ll like where you are and what you’re doing if you do the heavy lifting yourself and just hand it off to the Career office for the final detail work and stamps of approval.

So that’s how it goes. It helps to know where you want to intern, what you want to do, and have an in to that company that you can leverage yourself. There is a Career office, the lone woman running it does do an important job, but at the end of the day it’s not as simple as just handing it over to her to magically arrange to perfection. (If only.)

My internship lasted about two and a half months. I was thinking about doing a second internship, and I may still, but for now I’m spending my time volunteering, working on freelance projects, and hustling at networking events for more permanent employment. Hope that was helpful to you, dear readers. Have any questions? Leave them in the comments!

How to Succeed at Hitotsubashi ICS

My first year at Hitotsubashi ICS is done, my one-year classmates have graduated, many of my two-year classmates are already off at their study abroads of choice or starting their internships. Insane! It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was first coming to ICS, after several years out of school (and many, many years out of any class that involved numbers or mathematical calculation), wondering how the hell I was going to survive.

Today I ran into a few incoming students at the administration office, and was inspired to look back at my own time as a new student. Things seem a lot harder when you just don’t know what to expect, so some advice from my first year at ICS:

1) Speak up. Participation is a huge part of your grade in every class. As the professors will tell you, the quality of that participation matters a lot more than the quantity, but that doesn’t mean you have to try to say something brilliant and impressive every time you raise your hand.

I got by in Finance and actually did well in Accounting, my two most feared and unfamiliar subjects, because I raised my hand and asked questions. A lot. As a loud, opinionated American, this was pretty easy for me. I didn’t have any reservations about “looking dumb.” It’s not like I was fooling anyone that I didn’t know what was going on, so why not just get my questions answered rather than sitting there being confused? But really, even if you do have these reservations, don’t worry. No one thinks you’re dumb. In fact, they probably had the same question. It’s just that you were the one willing to ask it. So help yourself, and help your grade, and speak up.

When you do know what’s going on, participate in the discussion, have an opinion, and share it, with the accompanying persuasive evidence to back it up. Professors usually give you about ten seconds for your comment, so you don’t have to get too deep into it. Just make sure what you say is relevant to what people are talking about, and that your stance has some support from the case, or your own experience, etc.

2) Learn from your classmates. I probably learned as much about finance from the Finance class as I did from a classmate who worked in banking (and who I made sure to have in my group for Finance group assignments!). I also had some of my best case discussions with other people outside of class, where we could talk more easily and freely. These discussions and outside learning don’t “count” for anything, you don’t get points for bringing up good points just among one another, but it made a real difference in how well I understood things in class as well as my thinking about future cases and problems. Two great perks of ICS are the diversity of the students and their mutual cooperation, so use them.

3) Work smarter, not harder. The cliche joke is that ICS means “I Can’t Sleep.” Personally, I never had a single night where I was up past midnight working if I didn’t want to be. I know this will be different for those of you who aren’t as fluent in English, but even then you should try to be efficient with your time. I am telling you now: skim cases. Skip sections. Do this smartly, so you come away understanding the essentials of a case and the important points of discussion. It is much better for you to be fully awake and alert in class and not know or understand every detail of a case, than it is to understand every little detail of a case but be totally out of it or falling asleep.

That’s it for now! Incoming students, do you have any questions? Current or former students, anything to add to this list? Leave them in the comments!

Life at Hitotsubashi ICS, Part 2: The Interview

I got an email this evening from a prospective Hitotsubashi student asking me for advice on his upcoming interview, so, in addition to replying to him, I thought I’d get off my butt and post the next part in my series on life at Hitotsubashi: the interview.

So my applications were off in the mail, and thus began the waiting game. I think everything went into the mail early December, and I began hearing back late January. First I heard from Hitotsubashi, with a conditional congrats: I passed the first round, and now was time for the interview. As I was in Washington, DC, and my interviewers were in Tokyo, they kindly arranged to call me at home. I gave them my cell (which didn’t end up working) and my landline (which did). The interview was at about 11pm DC time. Ah timezones.

I’m not a person who enters interviews calmly. I get nervous. I probably act or sound a little nervous. But these nerves also help, because the only way for me to calm them is prepare. So I prepped for Hitotsubashi, using the not-particularly-clever but still rather helpful strategy of searching “MBA interview questions,” “business school interview questions,” and variations thereof. There are some very excellent resources out there, and I compiled a list of typical questions, typed out quick, bullet-point answers, and practiced them for a few days before my scheduled interview. It was extremely useful prep, at least for me.

When the call came it was three people on the line: Sherman Abe, the current finance professor, and if memory serves Hiroshi Kanno, the Operations Management prof, and Hideki Kawada, our program administrator. They are all incredibly nice and helpful people, but at the time they were terrifying strangers who could make or break my Tokyo MBA dreams. They asked, however, all questions I was prepared for: Why do you want an MBA, why do you want to get your MBA in Japan, what attracted you to Hitotsubashi, and, in so many words, what’s special about you. They also asked me about my particular weaknesses: my GMAT score was solidly average in math, so they wanted to hear if I thought I’d be prepared for the quantitative classes.

In all my answers I think (and this is highly biased, but as I was admitted maybe fair enough) that I was articulate and succinct. I told them what was true and what they wanted to hear, which is probably where you want to land if a school is the right fit for you, too. The whole thing was only 15 minutes, though as with all terrifying things it felt very long. My interviewers had kind of read my resume and kind of read my application essays, but they’ve got a lot of people to talk to and not a lot of time, so I did end up rehashing things I had already talked about and making some of the same points “in person” that I did in my essays. I figured consistency was good, too.

Then that was it! They schedule these things back to back so when my fifteen minutes were up, they were up. I thanked them for their time, promptly looked up their email addresses to send them a thank-you note the next morning, then began the waiting game anew.

First came my registered letter from Waseda, which I was kind of startled about: Waseda does not require an interview, so it was just like, knock knock, postwoman, sign here, surprise, you’re in! I heard from Hitotsubashi via email a few days later. Hitotsubashi is kind enough to tell you the day and time they’ll be emailing decisions, so I was at my computer vigorously refreshing and then cursing the seconds it took for Gmail to open the email when it did arrive.

The email came really late, so when Chris Ahmadjian, then-current now-outgoing Dean welcomed me via email to the Class of 2011 (people graduate at different times, so classes are named by the year they enter) I only had my housemate/cousin Wendy to scream and jump around with. (Yes, I did a little dance to celebrate getting into business school. Neeeeerd.) My parents just got voicemails, my two bosses found out in private meetings, then my coworkers in a group meeting over the next day or two.

Alas, the work was not done. Now came the preparation, including the always-dreaded… paperwork.

Next time: Visa applications and other preparations for school in Japan.

Life at Hitotsubashi ICS: Part 1

I’m a student at Hitotsubashi University in the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy (ICS). In this multi-part series, I want to talk about how I found Hitotsubashi; what the application process was like; why I’m here; and what student life is like now that I am.

First: the search. To be honest, my search and evaluation process probably wasn’t as… rigorous?… as it could have been, and certainly not as rigorous as my undergraduate school search was. But I really only had a handful of criteria.

1) I wanted to get an MBA.

2) I wanted to study in Japan.

3) I wanted a program that was geared toward getting me a job post-graduation.

4) It needed to be an English-language program.

There were a few other things I considered when I got down to comparing schools, such as “Does this school sponsor my Visa?” (more on that later), “Does this school have the classes or concentrations I’m interested in?”, and “Is this school located somewhere that will facilitate my doing internships and getting a job in Japan post-graduation?” But, in my initial search, 1-4 were the main priorities.

My magic searching strategy… was going to Google and typing Japan + MBA. I found a number of schools, four of which I gathered materials for, and two of which I ultimately applied to. They were McGill, Tsukuba, Waseda, and Hitotsubashi.

McGill is a Canadian university with a satellite campus in Tokyo. Its MBA program is for working professionals, geared towards those who are already employed in Tokyo. As such, it has evening classes, and does not sponsor student Visas. McGill is a great school, but the Visa was a big sticking point and I ultimately didn’t apply.

Tsukuba is a Japanese university with an English-language MBA program. Tsukuba’s application was due after I heard back from Waseda and Hitotsubashi, so I didn’t apply.

Waseda is a private Japanese university with an English-language MBA program. It is one of the most famous universities in Japan. Their program is larger than Hitotsubashi’s, accepting 100 students each year, and offers a larger number of classes as well as concentrations in various subjects–marketing, finance, etc. The second year at Waseda involves some kind of research and term paper. My searches also came up with some complaints from foreign students about Waseda’s career services, which were not geared toward helping foreigners find jobs to stay in Japan. As a private university, Waseda is also expensive: I did apply, but if I’d decided to go I would need to take out loans. Waseda’s application involved standard information, transcripts, two letters of recommendation, my GMAT scores, and a personal essay. I did not do an interview.

Hitotsubashi is a public Japanese university with an English-language MBA program. Its program is small, only about 50 students in each class. In theory half the students are from Japan and the other half are from abroad, but in my year we only have six Japanese students. Because Hitotsubashi’s graduate program is small it doesn’t offer as wide a variety of classes, but I found their offerings sufficient for what I wanted to do: you take all core classes the first term, then take one or two core courses in terms 2-4 and the rest electives. Because Hitotsubashi is government-supported, it is cheap. If I were paying full tuition I would pay about $12,000 for two years (give or take, with the exchange rate). You can enroll in a one-year or two-year program, because all students can take all their classes in the first year. If you are two-year, your second year is spent taking any additional classes you want to take, studying abroad at a number of universities Hitotsubashi has relationships with (in Seoul, Bejing, London, and the U.S.), and/or doing internships. Also, of course, job hunting. I wanted to spend as much time in Japan as possible, and the internships that Hitotsubashi facilitates seemed to be the most important part of the program, so I applied as a two-year student. Again, very standard: my info, transcripts, two letters of recommendation, personal essay, GMAT. Hitotsubashi also required a phone interview after I passed the initial screening.

So there you are! These were the options in front of me in the fall of 2010. Hitotsubashi and Waseda’s application deadlines came up first, so I sent them off first and began the waiting game.

Next time, hearing back from the schools, making my decision, and the preparations to move to Japan.