A Swiss Student’s Cornell Tale of Dual Degrees and Financial Ingenuity

Embark with us on a compelling Cornell journey with Gjini Spanca from Lucerne, who has been navigating a dual career degree MPA/MBA at Cornell since 2021. We talked with him on 30 January 2024 about his motivation, the tough application process, networking, and financial challenges, showcasing a Cornell experience shaped by resilience and success. Our interview is captured below.

From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, photo and license

How Gjini came to Cornell University

Barbara: Hi Gjini, thank you for making time to do this interview and sharing your Cornell experience with our club members. First, how long have you been at Cornell?

Gjini: I arrived at Cornell in August 2021 and began my MPA degree (master’s in public administration). After a year, I decided to pursue a second degree, and I am currently working on a dual degree MPA/MBA.

Barbara: Why did you choose Cornell?

Gjini: The decision to choose Cornell was influenced by several factors. Cornell’s reputation for academic rigor, coupled with real-world experience, appealed to me. The tight-knit community, collaborative environment, esteemed faculty, and the strong alumni network further solidified my choice.

Barbara: What do you mean when you say, “real-world experience”?

Gjini: At Johnson, I underwent a rigorous recruiting process that was eye-opening. In the first year of the MBA program, there’s a concerted effort to secure a summer internship, a highly competitive endeavor where students vie with counterparts from various other business schools. This experience eventually led to a summer internship opportunity in New York City on Wall Street. For those aspiring to enter investment banking, joining the Old Ezra Finance Club is crucial. It’s a student-led organization where we prepare for different technical and behavioral questions throughout the process. Simultaneously, we must balance these activities with attending classes and other academic responsibilities. Despite the challenges, managing this workload is essential, and I found it very effective.

Gjini Spanca was born in Lucerne/Switzerland, the son of political refugees from Kosovo. After attending high school in Lucerne, he studied Philosophy and History at the University of Fribourg. Afterwards, he did a master’s degree in international economics at King’s College London.

In 2021 he was granted a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue an MPA in the U.S. In 2022, he added an MBA at the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management as a second degree and will be finishing both degrees this year.

He is a member of the Old Ezra Finance Club and the Energy Club. Furthermore, he is the current president of the Albanian Student Association at Cornell. Since 2021, The Cornell Club of Switzerland has been supporting Gjini with a stipend of 500 CHF/semester.

Barbara: Awesome. Let’s get back to finding your way to Cornell. How did the application process work?

Gjini: The application process began with securing a Fulbright Scholarship, providing the opportunity to choose among five US business schools. That was a tough decision. Strategically applying and leveraging my academic and professional achievements, I sought insights from current students and alumni, enhancing my chances of admission.

Gjini’s advice to new students

Question: Do you have recommendations for other Swiss students who would like to follow in your steps?

Answer: I recommend a diligent application process, leveraging academic and professional achievements. Reach out to current students and alumni for valuable insights. Preparing well for standardized tests, like GMAT, GRE and TOEFL, and understanding the American approach to networking is crucial, too.

Barbara: How did you reach out to students and alumni?

Gjini: My approach involved making calls, sending emails, and connecting on LinkedIn.

I was pleasantly surprised by the collaborative nature of the Cornell community, with both current students and alumni readily sharing their experiences. That was one of the experiences that led to my decision to apply at Cornell.

Gjini’s most memorable Cornell experience

Barbara: Now that we talked a lot about your way to get to Ithaca, what is your favorite or most memorable Cornell moment since you arrived?

Gjini: Looking back on my academic journey, participating in two slope days stands out as a memorable experience. Slope days mark the end of the academic year at Cornell, bringing together students for a celebration filled with live music and lots of joy. The sense of community and camaraderie during these events is truly special, and I eagerly anticipate my third slope day, which also means that I have reached my goals.

Campus life and financial challenges

Barbara: Where do you live?

Gjini: I currently reside in graduate housing facilities in Hasbrouck on North campus. Despite the perception that it may be far away, the Hasbrouck apartments offer a fantastic living experience. It’s also more affordable than other places like Maplewood or College Town where many other business students live. That’s also another recommendation I’d give interested Swiss students.

Let’s revisit the point about money and funding my stay, and how I approached that aspect. After receiving my Fulbright scholarship, it’s important to note that I wasn’t fully covered. It wasn’t a free ride or a full-tuition Fulbright scholarship. This is because the coverage varies depending on the country of origin. I believe assuming someone is rich based on their country of origin is a misconception. Even if someone comes from a seemingly wealthy country like Switzerland it doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody there is rich.

This is because the coverage varies depending on the country of origin. I believe assuming someone is rich based on their country of origin is a misconception. Even if someone comes from a seemingly wealthy country like Switzerland it doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody there is rich.

Barbara: What did you do to finance the gap?

Gjini: After I was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship I embarked on a fundraising journey, operating essentially on my own. I reached out to various foundations and clubs, including the Cornell Club of Switzerland, to secure support. I’ve always been receptive to any assistance received during my fundraising efforts for my independent venture. I actively promoted my cause, reaching out to potential supporters and asking, ‘Are you interested? Your ROI would be above 25%’ Additionally, working as a teaching assistant or research assistant can serve as a reliable source of income. While I couldn’t manage it this semester, I successfully undertook such roles in my second semester of the first year and throughout my second year. Serving as a teaching or research assistant can cover a significant portion, approximately 60% to 70%, of your rent.

Future job prospects

Barbara: You are about to graduate this year. When you look into the future, what comes to your mind?

Gjini: As I look into the future, feelings of gratitude surface. I feel a vibrant energy, valuable friendships, and the profound lessons learned during my time here. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that the current campus life is impacted by big uncertainties in the job market, leading to anxiety among students about recruiting and job prospects.

The macroeconomic environment plays a significant role in shaping our experiences, especially for those interested in a career in investment banking.

Special thanks

Barbara: Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Gjini: I would like to express my gratitude to the Cornell Club of Switzerland for their unwavering support. This includes financial assistance, intellectual guidance, and networking opportunities with alumni.

Special thanks go to Bernie and Christophe for their valuable assistance throughout the process. I look forward to joining the Cornell Club of Switzerland and participating in future events, such as the Thanksgiving dinner, which I’ve heard only positive things about.

Thank you to Gjini Spanca for opening his time to speak with us and for providing the images of Cornell’s campus. We wish him the very best of luck in his future endeavors.

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