Across the pond: Why I left England to study at UVA

I came to UVA not just for the change of scenery, but for a degree that would make me more well-rounded.

In August of last year, I moved to Charlottesville, VA, to begin the M.S. in Commerce with a concentration in Business Analytics at UVA. I grew up in Australia, and attended the University of Cambridge in the U.K. for my undergrad., where I studied the History of Political Thought. One of the main reasons I chose to get my master’s in business was because I wanted a more rounded and technical education.

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The change of scenery. The Lawn at UVA.

The program has been excellent so far – as well as radically different from studying in England. Beyond the stereotyped but also 100% true cultural differences between the U.K. and the U.S., there couldn’t be a stronger contrast between the two experiences – a contrast I’m extremely grateful for.

Culture

It should go without saying that America differs radically from its estranged mother. It’s not a country without its problems, but I also think it is, in some ways, more diverse, more tolerant and more welcoming. (I should add that I’m not British and was a foreigner in the U.K. as well.) American football is an objectively questionable sport but there’s a lot to be said for UVA basketball, and people are extremely relaxed. Americans are implausibly sincere and kind, and the dominant impression of Americans found in the U.K. is mostly wrong. I was attracted to studying in the U.S. because it was an exciting opportunity to broaden my horizons and see more of the world. It’s hard to understand the world without understanding the U.S.

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Teaching

One of the things I appreciate about UVA is the extent to which teaching is geared towards one’s working life. A good chunk of the skills we develop is directly marketable. For example, I’m in the Business Analytics track, which teaches us skills in data analysis and software that are highly valued by employers. Not only are we taught some direct aspects of finding a job – for example, how to network with potential employers, which I found to be indispensable in finding my to-be occupation – but the teaching has a thoroughly non-bookish aspect that I think lends itself well to one’s career. Studying finance and accounting can sound dull from the outside, but I’ve found it quite exciting.

Being able to understand fully the FT is a blessing.
Being able to understand fully the FT is a blessing.

Our projects are frequently group-oriented and mimic the kinds of conditions and challenges that crop up in the workplace. Likewise, we often have to do presentations in front of largish groups. This has helped me to become far more comfortable expressing my opinion and speaking in public or to strangers. (A skill that has as much application in finding a job as in working in a job. Many aspects of my past are cringe-worthy, but it wouldn’t be remiss to single out the impression I must have given at interviews while in Cambridge.)

One of my favorite projects here was with my group, preparing a report and presentation for a luxury hotel group conducting due diligence on possible locations for expansion in Europe.

I’ve also been taught a lot of discipline by the compulsory class system. Getting up in time for 8.00am class for a semester isn’t as horrifying as it sounds and I’ve come to appreciate the relative control I now have over my sleeping patterns.

The group I worked with on most projects in fall.
The group I worked with on most projects in fall.

Assessment

One of my favorite aspects of UVA is the honor code. No such thing existed during my time studying in the U.K.. During my undergrad, 100% of my assessment occurred in four three hour-long examinations at the end of the year, while at UVA it’s a culmination of hundreds of aspects – ranging from participation to a journal that I wrote while travelling to Ghana and Morocco on a January term trip. To be frank, I think my GPA would be better if I just had the end of year exams, but it’s certainly drilled a lot of discipline and focus into me that I didn’t previously have.

Careers

UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce has a dedicated career office, Commerce Career Services, and their track record in getting graduates into good roles is stellar. Friends of mine have secured great jobs at McKinsey, Accenture, Deloitte, IBM and Goldman, among others. You’d struggle to find any other university in the U.S. or the U.K. for that matter with as a good placement statistics.

Although I’m a foreign citizen, I found it relatively easy to find an employer who would sponsor me for a work visa. I’ll be working for Bain, a consultancy, next year in D.C. Practice interviews with Commerce Career Services, as well as the networking events they organized, helped to make this possible.

Business Analytics

The master’s program involves choosing one of three tracks: finance, marketing and management, or business analytics. I chose the latter because I didn’t have many technical skills from my undergrad, and this track would be a good opportunity to develop my knowledge of statistics, software and data analysis. It was a good choice.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be here and am very happy to answer any questions from prospective international students at xib9xx@virginia.edu.

-Written by Xavier Bisits, M.S. in Commerce  2017

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