My grandmother in yellow, my aunts and uncles, and two of her many grandchildren.
I’m a born and raised Detroit-native coming from a long line of incredible matriarchs. My grandmother, born in 1929 on a small rural farm in Arkansas, traveled to Detroit with four toddlers, each one a year apart, via train to meet her husband who had locked in a job in the automotive industry. She eventually was subjected to domestic abuse and did one of bravest acts a Black woman in the 1950s with six children could do: she left. As a first-generation college student, listening at my grandmother’s feet as she recounted lessons she learned throughout her life gave me the sense I could pretty much do anything.

During my final year of high school, I identified my love for science and beauty, but I didn’t know what I could do with these seemingly polar interests until a “Women in Engineering Workshop” was hosted at my school. I learned that chemical engineers create fragrances, lotions, and my favorite, skincare. It was the best of both worlds, science and beauty. I knew immediately I wanted to pursue chemical engineering. However, there was one thing in my way: college.

I picked up a bunch of college brochures for the first time and started applying for schools with chemical engineering programs. I ultimately went to Michigan State University. I landed an internship with Procter and Gamble and loved everything about my job. I worked in a hair care plant and came out of work smelling better than I came. I interned two more summers, and I just knew I’d work there full-time. However, my second summer I brushed shoulders with P&G’s brand team and started to realize I enjoyed customer clinics much more. I wanted more influence on designing customer experiences, and while I was good at engineering, I wasn’t excited to design a chemical process or tank.

That same summer, I learned about the HBS Peek Program* through a fellow intern and friend. It was a weekend program to “peek inside” the Harvard MBA experience. He encouraged me to apply and check it out.

With one year left, I was totally against changing my major, so when I got back to school, I started applying to jobs that accepted engineers for non-engineering roles. I applied to Nielsen for a consumer data analytics role, to engineering internships that would pay me lots of cash while I figured out my next steps, and engineering internships near my hometown to spend time with my family while I figured it out. I didn’t get Nielsen; however, I did get all the engineering internships at big oil and gas companies and an internship at one of the biggest car manufacturers. But I turned them all down. I was too scared I’d get stuck doing something totally outside my interest area. I accepted my third P&G internship offer instead.

Later that semester I applied to Peek and asked P&G for time off from my internship to fly to Boston and join the program. They happily worked with me. Peek opened my world to new ideas and exposed me to more people who were wildly passionate about their careers. Like HBS Professor Youngme Moon who shared with us that she became an Uber driver to better understand the Uber driver experience when writing the Uber case. Or HBS Professor Frances Frei’s belief that being your authentic self at work is how you build trust and influence, which led me to give up code-switching. I knew from then on, I wanted to go to HBS.

I studied for the GMAT the following winter break and applied to HBS the following spring via the 2+2 deferred admission process, which is for current students (either in college or full-time master’s degree programs) and comprised of at least two years of work experience followed by two years in the regular HBS MBA program.

My goal was to get to the interview process, so if I got dinged, I’d at least get feedback on how to improve for the next time I applied (like I said, I was going to HBS, just a matter of when, haha). I even brought my first suit, which, between us, was not tailored but safety-pinned! My practice round became my final round when I got in. Getting in gave me the confidence to turn down my P&G offer and pursue a job closer to home. I figured, if I wasn’t doing what I was passionate about at work, at least I could enjoy my family.

In addition, I took a page out of Youngme’s book and enrolled in a part-time esthetician program to see what side of beauty I liked most: services, customer interaction, products, marketing, or business. This really helped me determine what type of role within the beauty industry I would like most… and I had 2+ years to figure it out by being a 2+2 admitted student.

I chose HBS for many reasons: my Peek experience, the case method, the vast network in case you pivot from your pivot, among others. However, above all, I applied to HBS because I knew better. As a first-generation college student, I didn’t know how to ask the right questions, I had a limited perception of the options available for financial aid, and embarrassingly enough I didn’t know much about HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), let alone Ivy League schools.

Going through the process was my do-over to go after the best education available to me. You’ll hear this a lot, but there really are no HBS people, just people who happen to go to HBS. Shoot your shot.

*Due to COVID-19, this year HBS is hosting Virtual Peek Experience (VPE) in place of Peek.