Harvard Business School has been on Jessica Assaf’s mind for a long time. First introduced to campus when she attended her dad’s 20 year reunion (as part of a father-daughter road trip) she was quickly convinced she wanted to follow in his footsteps one day.
How did you first hear about 2+2 and what made you interested in applying?
I had no formal business background so I always assumed I was not the right candidate for HBS. When I discovered the 2+2 Program and learned that HBS was committed to engaging students in diverse disciplines who wanted to apply their passions to the field of business, I knew I had to apply. The 2+2 Program reaffirmed my belief that business has the potential to impact all industries and all aspects of life.
What was your undergraduate background?
I attended NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Studies, where I crafted a concentration that combined Public Health, Documentary Film, and Social Activism. I studied the potential of documentary film to improve public health and inspire social activism. Gallatin recognized the importance of learning outside the classroom, so I was able to complete a total of six internships and two independent studies in seven semesters and pursue my core passion to improve cosmetic safety.
Where did you work before coming to HBS?
I spent the two years before HBS working for S.W. Basics, a truly all-natural skincare company based in Brooklyn that formulates products with five ingredients or less. When I found out I was accepted to HBS, I knew I wanted to find a business that was changing the world. When I discovered S.W. Basics, I showed up at their office and told the founder that I would work for free until she believed I was the right person for the job. She probably thought I sounded a little crazy, but after I told her that I was pursuing my MBA at HBS, she told me I could start the following week. I was the company’s first full-time employee, and I went from an office assistant to the V.P. of Sales in only a few months. The startup environment enabled me to learn everything about how to effectively run a beauty business, and now I know how to formulate, bottle, label, market, and sell products.
How did knowing that you had gotten into the 2+2 program change your plans for the next few years?
Had I not been accepted to 2+2, I most likely would have pursued a Master in Public Health, just because I never imagined business and public health could ever be related. But when I was accepted into the 2+2 Program, I challenged my understanding of “business” and was able to find a company that was using their platform to positively impact health and wellness. My two years at S.W. Basics transformed my conception of what a business can do for the world. I realized the inherent limitations of my previous work in activism, and the infinite potential of products to provide tangible solutions to social and environmental issues.
Have you connected with other 2+2ers at HBS?
There is definitely a community of 2+2ers on campus, and it is easy to recognize who we are. Two of my closest friends are 2+2ers who I met when I was on campus for my admissions interview.
What’s your best advice for someone who’s considering applying to the 2+2 program?
If you are considering applying to the 2+2 program, you should definitely apply. When I was accepted, I felt that every unconventional decision I had made in pursuit of my passions was supported and embraced by the HBS community, and I still feel that way. Focus on the unique, authentic perspective you have developed that will enhance the learning of others around you, and know that HBS values the experiences that make you different from the typical finance or consulting applicant.
What surprised you about HBS?
I always thought HBS would be a highly competitive environment, but I was wrong. When I don’t understand something in finance class, my classmates offer to spend hours of their weekend helping me through cases and spreadsheets. I am constantly in awe of the closeness of this community and no matter who you are or where you come from, you will feel at home here.