Zak Fischer

Zak Fischer
Class Year
Chicago, IL
Areas of Interest
Financial Services
Previous Education
Brown University

Prior to starting, what were you expecting the program to be like? How was it different than your expectations?

I didn’t realize how special the J-term program was and how great of a fit it would be for me! I kind of just went into J-term expecting it to be a very similar group of students to any top business school but starting in January instead of August. What I realized is that the J-term program captures an incredibly diverse and talented group of individuals. The large international presence in the J-term program enriches classroom discussions and also social experiences. Many J-term students are sponsored by prestigious firms or involved in family businesses. As a result, I felt like there was less of a focus on intense recruiting and instead we got to spend a lot of time getting to know and learn from each other on a deeper level.

Why did you choose Columbia Business School?

The New York City location and reputation of the School were the biggest drivers for why I chose Columbia. I believe there’s no better city to expand your network than in New York City, especially if you work in finance. Being “at the very center of business” gives you a leg up in recruiting because you can easily set up coffee chats with a huge network of contacts in the city.

I also have family in New York, so it’s nice to be able to visit them, including my new nephew Charlie, with a quick subway ride.

When did you first feel the impact of the program?

During orientation you could immediately feel the excitement and the impact of starting your business school journey. The first week was exhilarating. Having such an extensive orientation program definitely helped me get accustomed to business school life and living in New York City.

Which faculty member(s) influenced you the most, and how?

I exempted out of a few core classes and instead took Capital Markets & Investments with Anton Lines. I really enjoyed the class and am now one of the three teaching assistants for the course. One fond memory I have from the class was hearing Professor Lines rap about the interpretation of beta in the capital asset pricing model.

What has been your most memorable experience at Columbia Business School so far?

In my first term in corporate finance class, students volunteered to share a 10-minute presentation about a project they had worked on before coming to Columbia Business School. I talked about my experience working part-time for an ed-tech startup while also working in private equity. My classmates were able to share meaningful feedback and recommendations that have helped me grow the business even further today.

How have you been involved in the student community?

I am VP of Allies with Cluster Q at CBS. This club is focused on enriching the LGBTQ community at CBS. I organize events to encourage ally engagement with the LGBTQ community. Events range from ally brunch to trivia to voguing lessons!

What was the most challenging part of the program, and how did you handle it?

The workload of the core was intense. Between social events, professional development/recruiting and classwork – settling into a rhythm took a few weeks. I was surprised how time-intensive the first semester of coursework was. You really have to be efficient with your use of time and prioritize what is most important to you achieving your MBA goals.

What advice would you give to a new student coming into the MBA program at Columbia Business School?

Come in with an open mind! Many people come with an initial game plan for their career, but often those plans change throughout business school. Many of my classmates came in thinking they wanted to enter a specific industry and wrote about that in their admissions essays, but then ended up pursuing an entirely different path. That’s perfectly fine and part of the business school experience.

I think it’s also important to get out of your comfort zone in business school. If you feel comfortable with math/finance, try also taking soft skills classes. Find new friends that you can learn from who have a background much different than your own.

What will you take with you from Columbia Business School?


Going through business school with my classmates, I’ve learned none of us are perfect – but we need to speak up and be confident to grow as individuals and accelerate our career trajectories. While I previously often felt like my questions or comments might be “dumb”, I now realize they aren’t, and speaking up is an important part of my growth. Getting “cold called” in class by professors can be scary and intimidating, but it’s actually boosted my confidence knowing that I can have meaningful discussions on-the-spot and under pressure.

The feedback from my Echo360 report from classmates had a theme that I need to be more confident, speak up, and lead because I am capable but can be shy or quiet at times. I’ve taken this feedback to heart and have become more confident and vocal; this is one of the biggest takeaways I’ll have from my business school experience.

Beyond that, building my professional network and friendships with classmates are also crucial takeaways from my CBS experience.