Daniela Castillo Contreras graduated in 2016 from the full-time MBA programme of UCLA Anderson School of Management (USA). She is from Bogotá, Colombia. She completed her undergraduate studies at Columbus State University where she received a full scholarship to compete in their Division II tennis team. Prior to her MBA, Daniela was a marketing analyst at a top retail bank in her home country. After graduating from UCLA Anderson, she joined Visa as a Client Consulting Manager in their San Francisco, CA office. 

How did you decide to study at UCLA Anderson?

It was a joint decision with my husband because we both completed the MBA programme together. Because it was such a big investment for us, we were looking to experience the best two years of our lives at a top university. UCLA Anderson offered everything we were looking for. 

First, I was looking for a school with excellent career services and close relationships with top companies. I wanted access to resources that would help place me at my dream company. The Parker Career Management Center at UCLA Anderson is one of the top five career centres in the US, and I was very excited to take advantage of their services during my two years of study. In addition, I was looking for a collaborative, yet competitive culture. Before even stepping foot on campus, I felt a sense of community and belonging; this did not happen with other universities that I had initially expressed interest in. I wanted to be happy and surrounded by a strong network and goodhearted people. At UCLA Anderson, I found a second family. Finally, I wanted to experience life in Los Angeles. LA has perfect weather, serves as the entertainment capital of the world and its proximity to Silicon Valley and the emerging tech scene in Santa Monica enabled me to expand my network with various companies.

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As an international student, the language barrier and cultural difference can often be a challenge. I thought I spoke English very well until I started the programme and began to prepare for interviews! It was difficult to compete with others in the recruiting process as I struggled to convey my message in a different language. However, with UCLA Anderson’s collaborative culture, Anderson Career Teams (ACT) and Interview Prep Teams (IPT), I was able to receive help from my peers and together we successfully completed the recruiting process.

How do you believe that the MBA has helped/will help you achieve your career goals?

The MBA has been extremely helpful in my career aspirations. Not only did it help me pivot from a marketing to consulting role, but it accelerated my career and opened doors that I could never have accessed otherwise. Academically, the MBA provided a well-rounded general management foundation that allowed me to learn different areas of business while developing my managerial skills. For example, I took strong data analytics courses that helped me to improve my analytical and presentation skills before senior managers and executives. In today’s workplace, these very skills are sought after by companies regardless of the industry. Because of the MBA and the school’s corporate relations, I was able to secure my dream job at my dream company. I would never have been able to transition industries and functional areas without the MBA or the network that it provided me. I am thankful to have successfully reached my goals, and I am convinced that the MBA marks the beginning of a new and exciting career journey.

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Did you have a chance to apply some of the things you learnt in the classroom during your internship at Visa?

Absolutely! Coming from a marketing background, I had no prior experience in the world of consulting, and it felt intimidating at first. However, many of the core classes and elective options prepared me well for this new venture at Visa. The strategy course was particularly helpful. I learnt how to apply different frameworks to challenging cases and problems that many companies face. While analysing cases with my classmates, I absorbed the concept of whiteboard and assumptions. This was exactly part of my responsibilities while at Visa, and I was confident enough to express my ideas without fear. Another course that was extremely helpful, especially as an international student, was business communications. This course pushed me outside my comfort zone and required me to present various business ideas to classmates and faculty. It was a bit scary at first, but the class helped me gain confidence in English public speaking. The experience also improved my persuasion skills, which were applied throughout my internship experience at Visa. 

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You were involved in several extracurricular activities. How did that help enhance your MBA experience?

The MBA experience would not have been as meaningful and memorable without my involvement in student organisations. My time as an MBA student consisted of balancing academic work, recruiting, clubs, and extracurricular activities. Managing it all was difficult at first, but I quickly learnt how to prioritise and decide which opportunities were best for me. I served in several leadership roles such as the Director of International Students for the High Tech Business Association (HTBA), the VP of Career Development for the Women’s Business Connection (WBC), and President of the Anderson Tennis Club. I loved getting to know different students, working in teams and organising events on campus. For example, in my role with the WBC, I worked with a team of six first-year students to spearhead specific events geared towards women at UCLA Anderson.
With our busy schedules, it was difficult to manage, but we were able to lead several successful events throughout the year. My favourite event was a Career Mixer where Anderson women were able to network with top companies on campus. Seeing my classmates obtain jobs through this event was a rewarding experience. The school’s culture of shared success resonated strongly with my own beliefs and as an alumna, I plan to remain engaged and help the UCLA Anderson community thrive in the workplace.

Do you feel satisfied with your investment in the MBA degree?

Yes! The Daniela who came from Colombia two years ago is so different from who I am today. I grew as a woman, personally and professionally, during my time in the MBA programme. This experience was by far the best two years of my life and my return on investment has been extremely positive so far. I gained business knowledge from a top-tier institution, secured a great job and made long-lasting friendships. Pursuing the MBA at UCLA Anderson was the best decision I could have made and I would not change this experience for anything!

What would your advice to future students be? In your opinion, how important is it to graduate from a prestigious school?

You are going to love the MBA experience. Prepare, work hard, and select a university and programme that fits your personality and career interests. I would advise you not to worry about the high cost of an MBA because it is an investment. There are opportunities for potential merit fellowships, research/teaching assistantships and loan options. If students loans are needed, don’t worry, you will be able to pay them off with your post-MBA job!

The MBA experience will certainly vary depending on the institution you choose to attend, and in my opinion, a prestigious university can enrich your overall experience. You will have access to top faculty, a quality education, strong career services, and exposure to the world’s best companies. However, don’t only consider rankings. Before accepting an offer, visit the school, get to know their culture, interact with current students and alumni because a sense of belonging is just as important.

This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2016-2017 annual Access MBA, EMBA and Masters Guide under the title “From Bogota to L.A.”. An online version of the Guide is available here.