Epic to MBA

Editor's Note: I came across this post in the r/epicsystems subreddit. I sent a message to u/caveman714 asking if I could share this information, but was ignored.
So, since it was posted in public, here it is hosted here for your convenience. Any edits made are noted.

I'm posting this as a brain dump because there are very few (if any) resources available to Epic people who are interested in going to graduate school, despite the fact that many pursue that path. In talking to others who have left Epic for MBA programs, I realized that we shared many of the same anxieties and did much of the same legwork while putting together our applications. I'm hoping this can be a resource for those starting the process to see what has worked for others.

Needless to say, this is all filtered through the lens of my MBA admissions experience. I applied to six competitive MBA programs in the fall of 2016, and ended up being accepted to three, two of which were in the M7. (Editors Note: M7 is the Magnificent 7 [aka Magic 7]: Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, Columbia Business School, MIT's Sloan School of Management, and Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management)
My admissions process was heavily focused on top programs, so consider that essential context. There may be useful overlaps for those interested in other grad degrees. I'll leave that judgement up to you.

So, here are the questions that you are probably finding hard to answer:

Should I go to business school?
This one is entirely up to you. An MBA a huge investment of time and money. The opportunity cost is substantial, given that you already have to be successful professionally to get into a good program. If you're looking for a change of pace or are unsure of what you want to do, I would urge you to just find another job instead. If you have a professional goal in mind, however, and it includes working at the C-level or in an exclusive industry or company, a prestigious MBA is the best way to get there. For your own sake, please think this stuff through before you click send on any applications.

How many Epic people apply to business school?
Impossible to say for sure, but I estimate that it's 12-15 each year, with almost all getting in somewhere. That's based on the number of people I met who were applying when I was (five), and the likelihood that there were others I didn't know about. In conversations with others who have taken this path, we've all expressed surprise at how few Epic people pursue MBAs. While that is true (12-15 isn't many for a company of ~9,000), I think it also speaks to how hush-hush people are at work about the fact that they're applying, which is a shame. Aside from providing information, my secondary goals here are to show that there is a community of us who have successfully navigated MBA admissions from Epic and that you don't need to reinvent the wheel or feel undue stress if you're looking to join that community.

What business schools do Epic people go to?
In general, Epic people seem to do very well in MBA admissions. This makes sense given what Epic recruits for (intelligence, academic success, interpersonal skills). From what I've gathered, including from a dozen or so conversations with Epic-turned-MBAs, here's where it seems like people go most frequently:

  1. Booth and Kellogg. Makes sense given geography. Seems like each enrolls 1-2 Epic people each year (though more may have been accepted). There are also a handful of current Epicians who have done part-time programs at both, though they may be harder to find.
  2. Ross. Seems like most classes have an Epic person.
  3. HBS
  4. Fuqua. Mostly for the healthcare program.
  5. Wharton, Sloan, Columbia
If you're interested in a top school that's not on this list, it may be a challenge to find former Epic people to talk to. I was interested in a few other schools, and remember talking to a person who was pretty sure that he was the only former Epician to have ever attended his school. Do your due diligence online, but don't worry too much if you're not able to find anyone to talk to.

What makes a strong MBA candidate from Epic?
The short answer is I don't know. Presumably the biggest factors are the universal ones (grades, test scores, work experience, ability to do well in an interview, etc). Business schools are looking for people with history as top performers, so you'll need to clearly differentiate yourself by taking on bigger and more interesting roles in your first few years. It's definitely not a good idea to have a resume that suggests you were average at your job.
Among the people I’ve met who got into top b-schools, though, there are a few consistent things that they've done at Epic:

  • Probably two-thirds are IS, with the rest coming from a mishmash of other roles (TS and SD being the next most common, in that order). This probably has more to do with interest / self-selection than anything else.
  • Most are TLs. This one is pretty consistent. I ended up talking about my TL experience a lot in my application and interviews, and the adcoms (Editor's Note: Admsissions Committees) seemed impressed that I had direct management experience at a relatively young age. If this isn't in the cards for you, I would put a lot of time and energy into internal roles.
  • TS seem to almost all be TCs. Makes sense as a way to signal interest in management.
  • Internal leadership roles. Being the head of something provides great material for essays and interviews.
  • Post-college volunteering experience. Because Epic keeps you so busy, this is a hard one to fit in, but something that most successful applicants manage to do. Worth thinking about early in the process, so you can ramp up your involvement if needed.

When should I apply?
Most Epic people who enroll in business school seem to do so after 4-5 years of work experience, which is in line with b-schools in general. I have met a few people (mostly IS) who went after 3 years, but they seem to have been on the fast track at Epic (second-time AMs and TLs when they applied at the 2.x-year mark). There are also people with 5+ years' tenure, if you're there.

Should I talk to former Epic people who have attended my target schools?
Yes, definitely, assuming you can find some. I found this tremendously helpful as I put together my applications.

Will the adcom have heard of Epic before?
Probably, depending on the school and the individual adcom. Student interviewers are unlikely to have head of Epic.

How is Epic perceived by business schools?
Pretty well. You're not going to score huge points for brand / prestige, but Epic's generally positive reputation, relevance as an industry leader, and positioning at the intersection of healthcare and tech make for positive perceptions. You don't need to feel like you're applying from a backwater company that nobody has heard of, but I also wouldn't rest too heavily on Epic's laurels. Keep in mind also that you're going to be fairly unique among MBA applicants, which is a good thing (though they score points for prestige, bankers and consultants are also in the most competitive application pools).

How do I handle job titles on my resume and in the application?
This is a tough one, because most Epic people have a handful of titles that come along with the various hats you wear. As a former IS, I listed the dates that I started work as an AM and TL as promotions, so they each were unique line items on my resume. Seems like most people do something like that. The goal is to show progression, but obviously don't make up a title you don't actually have.

What should I talk about in my application?
Tell whatever story best suits your experience and goals. One thing that I heard repeatedly from other Epic-turned-MBAs is that we have way more relevant management experience than do most people applying to b-school, which schools value highly. Epic also has a strong collaborative environment, which jives with what most b-schools are looking for in applicants. Keep these things in mind if you're struggling to put together your story.

On my application, what industry do I say that I work in?
It seems like we all have approached this differently, and it seems to be pretty evenly split between healthcare and technology. Both are accurate, so I would pick the one that jives best with your overall experience and application story.

Can I be open about my interest in b-school with people at work?
Probably not. They're not going to parade you out of town if you say you're applying to grad school, but it will likely affect the opportunities you're given during the rest of your time at the company.

Who should I ask to write my recommendations?
This is a biggie, and something that a lot of people struggle with. The answer is that you should pick people who have seen you achieve your greatest successes and are likely to write deeply personal endorsements of your abilities (read: not standard, HR-approved references).
It seems like the most common answers are:

  • Current TL. If you have a strong relationship and they're not going to sell you out to HR.
  • Former TL. Same as above, or if they've since left Epic.
  • An AM or person who's managed you on an important project. Again, emphasis on having a strong personal relationship with this person, and probably easier if they've since left Epic.
  • Manager from a past job or extracurricular activity. If you have one.
Many of us ended up including an explanatory note in our apps saying that we couldn’t ask our current manager for a recommendation because the company wouldn’t be cool with it. Schools are used to it, and it’s not something you need to worry about affecting the strength of your app.
Contrary to rumor, HR will provide official letters of reference, but they're pretty stock and contain almost no substantive evaluative content. Definitely not the sort of thing you want included in your MBA application.

How do I juggle interviews with job stuff?
Also tricky, especially if your TL doesn't know you're applying. You'll need to find a creative way to get to interviews using vacation time and sick days, while also not raising too much alarm. I had a go live in the middle of interview season, which meant I had to pull some pretty crazy travel logistics to get to all of my interviews. You'll be fine if you take the time to plan for it thoughtfully.

Whew, I got in! What sorts of jobs do former Epic people get after b-school?
Nice! Again, former Epic people seem to do very well. It all depends on your interests, but your leadership experience, PM experience (if you're IS), technical skills (if you're not IS), and interpersonal skills will give you a leg up over fellow students who had less interesting jobs before getting their MBAs. The most common paths seem to be high tech (ex. Apple, Amazon, growth companies), management consulting (MBB), and healthcare management (ex. DaVita, pharma, or larger providers with their own strategy teams).

That's what I've got. I'd like this to be as useful to folks as possible (and to show up in searches when they scour the internet for resources), so please chime in if there are things you think I got wrong or areas to add. Definitely a living / breathing kind of thing.

April 2018

Still doing good, working hard, and having fun... just my own way.

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