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An MBA student’s eternal question: ‘Is it worth it?’

Linda Chew is a finance professional enrolled in the two-year, full-time MBA program at Columbia University in New York.

Linda Chew is a finance professional enrolled in the two-year, full-time MBA program at Columbia University in New York. Originally from Vancouver, she is a graduate of the Commerce program at Queen's University in Kingston. Linda began her career at Deloitte LLP, where she spent four years in its Toronto and Vancouver offices, most recently working in mergers and acquisitions. She is a chartered accountant and a chartered financial analyst charterholder. This is the first entry in a series on her MBA experience.

On Oct. 10, 2012, at 1:09 p.m., my life changed. No, I didn't win the lottery, but for me it was the next best thing: I got a call from admissions at Columbia Business School in New York.

As soon as the call had ended, I felt excited but nervous. Getting accepted to Columbia offered a fantastic opportunity for my career, but it also meant taking the biggest risk of my life.

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My name is Linda Chew, and I am a first-year MBA candidate at Columbia. Four years ago, as a newly-minted Commerce graduate from Queen's University in Kingston, I started with Deloitte in Toronto in public accounting and eventually migrated to mergers and acquisition advisory and corporate finance with the same firm in Vancouver.

I'm no stranger to moving. Vancouver is where I was raised and where I will always call "home." From Vancouver to Kingston to Toronto and back to Vancouver, I've moved every two years in my 20s. Did I really want to uproot myself and head to New York?

On top of this, I was making great progress in my career. My team couldn't have been better, and the work was rewarding, but some part of me wanted more. Lots of people asked me, "Is it worth it?" Never mind the hefty price tag for the degree, the opportunity cost of halting work for two years was significant. But with every investment, we never look at return independent of risk, nor risk independent of return. In thinking about the exceptional people I would meet, the opportunities available in New York, and the new ideas I'd come across, I decided that the long-term risk-adjusted return of an MBA was higher than other options available to me.

After my first semester, Columbia certainly didn't underdeliver. Its classrooms once educated legends such as Warren Buffett and Henry Kravis. Today, the MBA Class of 2015 consists not only of bankers and consultants, but also those who were successful entrepreneurs, LPGA golfers, Navy SEALs, fighter jet pilots, missile engineers, news anchors and Pulitzer-nominated journalists. My days are packed with so many events and speakers that every 24 hours fly by. I've woken up in the middle of the night with a new idea that got me too excited to fall back to sleep. In the past four months, I've done more introspection of what really matters to me than I had in the past four years. My most relaxing days, strangely enough, are actually during exam time.

To that end, I'm convinced that this is a learning experience unlike any other. The returns over the past four months alone have been incredible, and I've taken away more perspectives from my professors and peers than I could ever expect. So is the risk still worth it for me? Absolutely. And I would tell this to any young professional looking to make the same decision in the future: Risk is inherent in anything worthwhile, so step outside your comfort zone as long as you are taking an intelligent, calculated risk.

Linda can be reached via her LinkedIn profile.

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