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Jacob Chang: From Business Certification to Columbia Business School

Jacob Chang, a former Navy officer, wanted to start a career in real estate. Based in Norfolk, VA at the time, he hoped to relocate to New York City, a hotbed for real estate opportunities in general and for real estate development in particular. He had an undergraduate degree in business from the College of William and Mary and ultimately wanted to go to Columbia Business School but he felt that he needed to refresh his knowledge before applying.

In May 2014, he alighted on the School of Professional Studies’s Certification of Professional Achievement in Business (now the Custom Business Program). The suite of business courses would bolster his skills in accounting, finance, and management while also providing opportunities to build his professional network at Columbia and in New York City. With the goal of applying for business school, he took classes full-time during the summer and simultaneously studied for the GMAT and worked on his Columbia Business School application. He recently earned his certification and has been accepted to Columbia Business School, where he will begin classes in the fall.

On a sunny, winter day, we met with Chang at a cafe on campus to learn more about his journey from the U.S. Navy to Columbia University.

I’m curious whether Columbia provides any guidance for veterans in particular.

Many of the schools at Columbia have their own Military and Veterans Affairs representative within their own Financial Aid office. I worked with the Veterans Affairs rep for Columbia proper. I did have some simply bureaucratic issues, and he did everything he could as quickly as he could and got it resolved. They’re a great resource for vets coming to any program university-wide.

Can you tell me a little bit about your career trajectory?

I’ve had an interest in real estate for a while. It’s not a career path that you can easily hop into – like banking or other fields that that have programs for vets. I chose a route that was a little bit more alternative.

The School of Professional Studies was a launchpad. It was a chance for me to move to New York so that I could network. Plus, I would gain more knowledge about elements of business that I just didn’t have from my undergraduate work. The program helped me with both of those things. The certification program was the first domino that needed to fall that could lead to the job, that could lead to business school.

I’m curious about any help or advice that you received in applying for the Certification of Professional Achievement in Business.

Sure. I talked with Gabriel Amor [the Director of Postbaccalaureate Certifications], and he said, “I really think that, by coming here, you’ll be competitive in what you’re hoping to do.” The application process was very straightforward. He was always available for help throughout the whole thing.

What was the job that you landed after you completed the certification?

I work at a real estate firm in the city called Time Equities Inc. I’m an intern, but I’m basically getting all the knowledge I need about financial modeling and projections for the acquisition of properties, asset management of properties, and a little bit of development – which is what I would want to do in real estate, ultimately.

Is there anything else you wanted to mention about how Columbia is helping you meet your professional and personal goals?

I think that the university itself draws in great figures in whatever industry you want to enter. The networking that I’ve been able to do because of Columbia is phenomenal. One of the greatest benefits of any program here is the networking. You meet the right people, and you do your best to show what you can do.

Looking back, I was leapfrogging from meeting to meeting and introduction to introduction before finally getting a job. Other potential leads came from being in New York and the access that Columbia has. You just have to put yourself out there. That’s what I would take away from this.