When I was still in college, I knew I wanted to get a Master’s degree. So in July 2017, 3 years after graduating with my Bachelor’s degree, I finally had the guts to pursue it. I even published a blog post, I’m a TaMaroon Now, during that time. And today, it’s official. I’m just waiting for my graduation rites from the University of the Philippines-Manila Master of Management program!

The beginning of my UP master’s journey

Azelle Lee UP MMBM sablay

Looking back, my first hurdle was the fact that I wanted to take a Business degree, when my undergrad degree is in Fine Arts. I didn’t know if it was enough reason not to accept me in the program. There wasn’t even a BFA on the application form’s checklist of undergraduate degrees.

The application also needed two recommendation letters. I knew I had to come up with credible people to up my chances of passing the evaluation. Fortunately, my undergrad thesis advisor, Prof. Jina Andaya, and then-department General Manager, Gelo Guerrero from my previous employment were happy to give me the recommendation. I had one month to study for the entrance exam and was lucky to score GMAT reviewers from two of my then-officemates, Noel and Yanna.

The entrance exam was an astounding 8-hour schedule filled with a written multiple-choice exam, three analytical essays, and half a day of oral examination, aka pee-inducing debates. I still remember we had a group interview and had to answer the question “what will you contribute to the MM program” one by one. And among the lot, I was certain that I am the only one with a creative background. I started my answer with “I’m Azelle, and compared to the majority here with backgrounds in business and finance, I’m the only one who comes from a Fine Arts undergrad degree..” I went home with a bad headache, cold sweat, and a frantic week of waiting until I received a congratulatory email around a week after. Fortunately, when classes started, my then-bosses were considerate enough to let me leave the office at 4pm to attend my weekday classes one to two times a week. Otherwise, I won’t be able to make it to my 6pm classes.

What weekend?

I still vividly remember all the weekends I spent in co-working spaces and coffee shops just to focus on writing my papers. Each semester in the past four years had at least one research paper requirement on top of regular classes, quizzes, assignments, reports, and colloquiums. I even had semesters when I had three out of three subjects requiring some sort of paper to submit. I’m lucky because both reading and research are fun activities for me, but despite that, there were days that were really exhausting. My boyfriend, Dane, even spent a couple of our dates just staring at me while I write because that’s all the time I can spare him. He doesn’t complain and he always assures me that being with me even in silence is enough. So I’m fortunate to be in a relationship that was mature enough to hold still even when I was too busy with school.

Dark days

Frankly, there were also many times that I asked myself why I studied again, and that question was also reinforced by many of my friends who weren’t keen on getting back to school ever again.

I actually had to stop school for a semester when I was diagnosed with depression. I almost didn’t go back because I lost the momentum and questioned what I was doing there in the first place. I had to fight the difficult battle of losing school or losing myself. Thankfully, I had the support of Dane to go through recovery and go back to studying too. He had my back for all those dark days and stayed despite all the difficulties it came with.

I had to constantly remind myself why I started in the first place.

The second half of my 4-year stay felt a little faster. When my last semester came, the dreaded comprehensive examination, I started studying six months before the actual exam dates. Why? Because I knew anything that has to do with numbers is my weakness. I had three out of six subjects that includes a form of mathematics. That meant, I had to exert more than triple the effort to even understand why the formulas are what they are. I started from the very fundamentals of accounting through several written and video tutorials and courses on almost any website you can think of, including paid subscriptions to gain access to some of them. Halfway, around March, I knew I wouldn’t be able to learn in time unless I have someone to walk me through them one by one and answer every stupid and basic question I had. So, instead of taking so many hours learning one thing, I hired a tutor, Jeffrey, to help me understand the lessons better and faster. In sum, that was an expensive decision, but I don’t regret it at all because it helped speed up my learning. It was a big thing that he’s also a professor so his teaching insights were very helpful. Side note: If you need a tutor for any math-related subjects, he can help! Just ping me and I’ll be happy to connect you!

No, it wasn’t easy

Aside from having a full-time job, studying part-time was difficult because the only time you can spend actually studying are the times when you’re not working—during commute, when you get home, weekends, holidays, once in a while of idle time, and when you’re not working on freelancing gigs or personal projects. And if you lose focus or procrastinate, you’ll pay the price with cramming later on, which I am not very good at. I would often start on many of our requirements so early ahead so I had the time to do it in a pace that won’t be toxic to the rest of the things that I do.

I’m not going to say that time passed by so fast, because it didn’t. Those four years were filled with a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and efforts, that I felt every single second of it go by.

Taking compre exams was one of the worst feelings I ever had. What was at stake was our diplomas, so the pressure was really on. I didn’t have time to even break down and mourn over my incompetencies. I didn’t have anyone to rely on aside from myself. Luckily my current bosses were very understanding and allowed me to take a leave off work a week before the exam week to study. That was in my favor since some professors gave their exams a week in advance, but I believe that also meant they were more difficult and time-consuming to do.

I wake up regularly at 5am, do about 12 hours of research and writing for the exams that were sent ahead, and 3-4 hours of studying for the rest of the subjects, then sleep at around 12am. Even while taking meals for the day, I was in front of my laptop punching on my keyboard in some way or another. I had to manage my time well because when the clock strikes around midnight, I am no longer functioning human since I am very much a morning person.The exams with no mathematics were manageable. I had a Marketing Management exam, which was one thing off my head since that’s my professional background, but Financial Management, Management Accounting, and Production and Operations Management were extremely challenging for me for the sole reason that there were numbers, even though it’s primarily analytical. Every minute was crucial, and I had to ignore headaches and how my brain cells were too fried to put thoughts together. I had to fight with my lack of confidence in my math skills and my actual lack of math skills while pressed for time.

After the exams were over, we knew there was a waiting time before the results were out. In our case, it took 11 calendar days of pure agony and worry to be exact for something we can’t control anymore. The heavy weight was lifted when we got an informal notice from our much-loved program coordinator, Ate Julie. I literally couldn’t stop crying for a whole 5 minutes from overwhelming joy. I’m so glad because none of us had to retake any of the exams.

The sacrifices

During my whole stay in the UP Master of Management Program, I also had to stop many of the things I enjoyed doing because I didn’t have the time to do them. Thinking about it now, I don’t even remember what I was doing in my free time when I wasn’t writing or studying. When my compre exams ended, I had the time, and I wanted to do a lot of things to catch up for the moments I couldn’t… but I’m at a lost of what to do. For the first few weeks after compre exams, I found myself sleeping really early, 9pm to be exact, majority of the time, when I was busy studying everyday 6 months prior to that.

It still hasn’t completely sunk in that I now have a Master’s Degree in Business Management from the University of the Philippines. To date, I still often catch myself suddenly drifting in thoughts thinking just a couple of months ago my heart would pound with anxiety from studying. Just a few years ago, getting my MA was only a nice thought to have. Now it’s all about waiting for our graduation rites in August. Congratulations to all of us, batch 2021!

Update: Got my UP MMBM Diploma almost a year after my graduation. It’s super official now!

University of the Philippines (UP) Manila Master of Management in Business Management Diploma