Recommendations and some surprising insights!

I had a lot of things planned for my day off, since I work 6 long days every week. Yes, including Saturdays. I have it rough. But I went out Saturday night and I spent most of Sunday sleeping it off. Yeah, 22 and I already feel like I’m too old for this scene. This is not good! Anyway, I’ve been working on the outlines for my essays and I think I have a good story. I’m going to be working on it more this week. I also balled up this Saturday and told my boss about my plans for an MBA. I was nervous about his reaction, because I do work for a startup and every single person here is a pretty valuable resource. But I was pleasantly surprised by his reaction, he seemed genuinely pleased for me and we even discussed my choice of schools and my future career plans. He offered to put me in touch with some connections of his that are alumni of my chosen schools. That was well beyond the call of duty. Oh, and most importantly, he said he would be more than happy to be one of my recommenders. I am so happy (and grateful) that he seems excited by this whole process, because god only knows I need some strong recommendations to get past the hurdles in my application. He also agreed to speak to a client about being my second recommender! Seeing as my client is American, I think this could add a lot of value to my application and prove that I can successfully fit into the American business landscape. I did manage to get my recommenders packet done though, it turned out to be much longer than I expected (3 pages!), so I hope they have the patience to read it through.

I also had a few calls with the alumni from the schools I’m applying to, a few of them were actually productive and the rest I learnt nothing new. But one of the people I spoke to worked in the admissions committee of the school and currently has his own career services startup and he had some excellent insights to share. The thing that shocked me the most was the fact that he told me to be wary about using the services of admissions consultants. Apparently, after reading thousands of applications each year, the adcoms have learnt to recognise which company has worked with which applicant based on the essays alone. He said he can differentiate an Alex Chu from a Stacy Blackman and an Accepted from an mbaMission. Wow. Even if you write the essays on your own, I guess each company has a ‘template’ per se, which leaves a unique signature on your essays. I’m not sure how much of a bad thing this is, but I think it’s best to be careful.

This guy is (was?) also on a first name basis with the entire admissions team and he stressed on how friendly and approachable they were. He urged me to meet them if they were at any events in India and he even said that they would let you know right away if they felt you weren’t a right ‘fit’ for their school. I think that’s a pretty great way to look at it, since applicants wouldn’t need to waste their time and energy on a school they probably wouldn’t get accepted to. He also spoke to me about the options available if I wanted to go into consulting and he encouraged me to have a closer look at Kellogg. Although it is known for its reputation of having the best marketing program around, they place about 100 – 150 students into the largest consulting firms (MBB), which is still a significantly larger percentage than the schools I’m looking at. I personally felt that it would be a long shot for me, but he thinks I have a competitive chance and that I should give it a go.

I have to say I’m a little confused now, but I think I’m going to do some more research and decide whether it would be a good decision to add one more to the list. Must sleep on that thought.

 

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Essays and Strategy

So I picked my schools and now it’s time to stick to my guns and not be wavered by general opinion… which is much harder than it sounds! I have started working on my essays, which basically means I have started reading every single essay analysis I find online and have begun to re-read ’50 Successful Harvard Application Essays’. I’m a decent enough writer but I want to make sure that I don’t fall into any of the common traps that us applicants normally do. My writing tends to both extremes — either I get excited and start writing super choppy sentences or I run out of interesting things to say and fill the page up with flowery crap. Luckily, I have a consultant to help review my essays and make sure I don’t go overboard. He’s helped plan my application strategy and I must say I’m pretty impressed. If I didn’t know me and I read about this person (a.k.a me) on paper, I would be like ‘Whoa, this person is accomplished’. But since it’s just me, I don’t see it.

GrantMeAdmission asked me on an earlier post what my application strategy is going to be like. Well, I’ve kinda always known what I was going to do, so here is my plan:

  1. Apply to a maximum of four schools, leaving plenty of schools open for next year in the likely event that I don’t make it in anywhere this year.
  2. Having chosen the four schools, I have decided to apply to Tuck Early Action because I love whatever I have heard about the school and the location is something that I am absolutely looking forward to. After all the Indian crowds and summers, I am ready for winter wonderland and solitude, although I’m pretty sure I’ll change my tune once I’m bundled in ten layers of clothing and slipping on frozen patches of ice.
  3. All the other schools including Yale, Johnson and Darden/Said, I want to apply in R1. I don’t see the point of stretching it out and unless something funky happens with my recommenders, I think I can make it. I am quite used to churning out words in large numbers so if I don’t suffer from a major case of writers block, I should be okay.
  4. If I get called for any interviews in R1, that would be the perfect scenario. If I get dinged by them all, then that’s it guys. I’m done for this year, no more rounds for me. I’ll gracefully retire and focus my energies on work and becoming a stronger applicant for next year. I’m only 22 now (I was born in 1992), so I have age on my side. I will obviously be disappointed, but this process has already been so revealing and I can only imagine how much stronger I’ll come out of it.

Yeah, so that’s about it. I think it is going to get a little hectic trying to juggle four schools but their deadlines are far enough apart, so I think it shouldn’t be too bad. Also, for everyone reading, I would love to hear your opinion on the IE and IESE business schools. They are ranked higher than Said and they do seem to place a lot of people into consulting but I’m a little skeptical. If you know anything about these schools either from firsthand information or otherwise, please hit me up. Thanks!

Pruning down my school list!

Decisions, decisions! It was unbelievably hard for me to pick exactly which schools I should apply to. I had very happily assumed that my consultant would take care of this for me, unfortunately (and appropriately), he refused to make the decision for me based on my ‘chances of getting in’. I am usually a very decisive person, however this situation was made complicated simply because I am also very adaptable. I can pretty much live in cities or in the suburbs, I can handle hot and cold, I can do the case study method and the lecture method. I do have preferences of course, but if I see something else I like about the program, that instinct kicks in and all my perfectly calculated nuances go right outside the window.

I finally decided to stop meandering back and forth and make a scientific decision instead. Hello Excel sheet. I loosely based it on the one made by MBA Girl Journey, but I put my own spin on it. 

Took me so much longer than you would imagine.
Took me so much longer than you would imagine.

So I basically started by taking the rankings and kind of aggregating all of them to group schools into three classes. I removed the top 5 at the get go (Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Booth and Kellogg) and grouped the remaining in the 5 – 10, 10 – 15 and 15 – 20 category. I then assigned weights to them assuming that the lower ranked ones would be less competitive and thereby easier to get into. With that done, I needed to figure out what mattered the most to me.

In India, even if some of the larger schools are unknown, people have generally heard of the Ivies. This is an important distinction to make since I know I want to come back to India 2 – 3 years post an MBA. So the Ivies got multiplied by a factor of 2 just for that reason alone. I know my interests lie in consulting and although all the top schools act as feeders to the industry, I just highlighted the ones that seemed to have a better conversion rate. It was kind of difficult to do this objectively since the data is all over the place, but I tried. Next, location. I went to college for undergrad at this university town and I absolutely loved it. You could walk around everywhere, have the typical college experience, you would bump into 10 people you know just about anywhere and the feeling of camaraderie was just awesome. I decided that I would like to live on a campus town and not in a big city. This also led to a preference for slightly smaller class sizes (but this wasn’t an actual factor). Finally, the must subjective of them all… fit. I seriously wish I had time to visit at least some of these schools, but I just have to go by the stuff I read and hear from people. I spoke to a LOT of people from Yale and I love the sound of it. Darden is the one I’m not too sure about fit wise, but I have mailed a few current students and recent alumni to ask them about it, let’s see what I hear.

With all the factors in place, the maximum possible score was a 10 and as you can see, Yale ticked all the boxes for me. I have a really good feeling about Yale since it is ranked right where I feel like I would have a competitive chance. For me, it has that prestige of a Harvard or an Oxford, you know that old world charm and sometimes I can’t even imagine brown skinned me playing croquet or whatever on those green lawns. Luckily, that’s only my mental imagery and Yale is a beautiful mix of the old and the new. It is absolutely my number one choice. Next comes Tuck which by all accounts is a really great school. Again, it has that Dartmouth Ivy thing going for it apart from the obvious benefits… and their consulting stats look pretty good. Last two are Johnson and Darden, but I think I’m going to replace Darden with Said (Oxford) as I do want to throw a European school into the mix and I am only applying to four schools. I’m a little put off by the fact that Said is a 1 year program and I will barely squeak past the required 2 years of work experience, but consulting seems to be one of their strongholds and the Oxford brand is inimitable. 

This is what it looks like in order of priority:

  1. Yale
  2. Tuck
  3. Johnson
  4. Darden/Said

I think this is the final list, but I will probably run them by my consultant and see what he thinks of them. I would love to hear you guys’ opinions. Bring them in!

Recap of the student hosted session: Booth

Okay, so I really want to get all of this down before I forget. So today was a very weird day, in the fact that I met so many new people and that’s something that doesn’t happen all that often. I got off work early to attend the Chicago Booth student hosted session. I still walked in to the event late though, all the other brown nosers probably camped out there a day earlier, but I digress. The student from Booth just finished her MBA this year and is now working in the healthcare industry. She basically sat down in the middle of this huge circle and began to field questions from the 40 odd people that came to the event.

First off, let me just say that people are so freaking dumb. My tolerance for stupidity is quite low and I was seriously pushed to the limit by the kind of questions people were asking. Like hello, she’s a student from Booth, not an admissions consultant! People had gems like:

  1. What GMAT score do you need to get in?
  2. What is the breakup of people coming from different industries?
  3. What should I put on my resume?
  4. Which format is better for the essay, text or a powerpoint presentation?
  5. Do we hide the fact that we’re using the services of a consultant?
  6. What are the different clubs on campus?

Oh. My. God. People had not done the slightest bit of homework and they were busy asking questions that a simple Google search would have answered. The student was kind enough to answer, but I could literally see her rolling her eyes each time a completely redundant question was asked. After a point, I became this annoying know-it-all and shot off answers to most questions that were being asked, simply because I had come prepared. Although I was one of the youngest ones there, I still left being extremely happy with myself because none of them seemed adequately prepared. There were also four women who attended the session out of forty people. Combine the two factors and voila, as a smart woman, I felt my chances rise exponentially.

Okay, getting down to the actual details of what she said. I found her advice to be direct and helpful and I worked hard at asking her meaningful questions if only to put her out of her misery.

  1. Booth is all about giving back. The collaborative nature in Booth extends right from the classrooms to everyday life. The 2nd years help out the 1st years and the trend continues because of this tradition of giving back.
  2. She also said that there is an important part of the application which asks for short term and long term goals that most people just skip (I guess it isn’t mandatory? I’m not sure). She advised us to be very wary and make sure we answered that one.
  3. She said that there were people of a wide variety of ages on campus and that despite being a relatively younger MBA entrant herself, her opinions were always afforded the same level of respect.
  4. She said that Booth really wants to see your personality shine through in the application. Show them who you truly are and not what you want them to see. Don’t exaggerate or blow your achievements out of proportion. Stay humble and true to yourself and let your experiences speak for themselves.
  5. She said that the career services team is very helpful and that they would even connect you with local alumni and set you up with interviews if you do choose to return to your home country.
  6. When I asked her about something bad about the school, she said that she wasn’t too fond of how the recruiting season started just two months after she joined the school. But she added that schools everywhere faced similar problems of being bombarded by recruitment stuff right at the beginning of business school.
  7. I made sure to ask her about how Booth looks at re-applicants. She said that they do in fact look at them quite favourably and they even admit over 30% of them the second time around. You do have to show significant improvement for them to reconsider.

That’s pretty much all I remember. I will put in stuff that I forgot later on. I just realised that I didn’t even socialise with the rest of the bunch. But that’s only because I had to leave early (and because I’m a bit of an intellectual snob). Seriously people! Google before you ask. You’re giving all of us other applicants a bad rep. Finally, she gave us her card and said she would put us in touch with the right people if we had any specific questions. One guy just asked outright if she would have a look at his essays. She looked like she wished she was dead, but she did agree to it in the end. This is what is wrong with me, I really need to be more pushy. Oh well, there’s always email.

Attending a student hosted event

Erm, so after having read many, many blogs about campus visits and the like, I decided to see what events were happening off campus, since I’m definitely not going to be able to squeeze in a trip to the States any time soon. As I was randomly going through websites yesterday idly registering for a few events in different cities at that, I suddenly happened to see an event for Booth in my own city that is happening today! This is so surprising because literally, no one comes here. Also, hello destiny?! I wasn’t even considering Booth in my list and it just so happens that I see this event a day before it’s scheduled to happen… The universe is calling out to me here.

I’m not sure if I should sound perfectly convinced about applying to Booth or just wing it when I go there. It would be stupid to show up not knowing if I even want to apply but I have no choice. I don’t want to skip the event, god knows these things happen once in a blue moon. After a lot of asking and skulking around, this is a list of things I would like to achieve after having attended the event:

  1. Find two or more mentors, recent graduates from the school who can guide me through the application process.
  2. Identify what makes the school tick. Find out as much insider information as I possibly can, stuff that I could actually use in my essays and interviews later on.
  3. Network, network, network. Find someone who works in the admissions office or knows someone who does. No admissions officer is going to be at this event, so if I could possibly be put in touch with someone, I might have an edge?
  4. Ask about career prospects post MBA, especially once back in India.

Any more ideas anyone? Let me know. I’ll update once I’ve actually attended the event. Also… I don’t have any visiting cards. How am I supposed to exchange contact information? Good ol’ pen and paper? Just note email addresses down? Meh. Must invest in visiting cards.

Drinking the MBA Kool-Aid

I think when I started out with the whole idea of let me get an MBA, I had some major tunnel vision that led me to believe that an MBA was synonymous to Harvard/Stanford/Wharton and nothing else. Hey! It’s not just me, everyone wants to sit on the lunch table with the popular kids. But as I got older and slightly wiser, I quickly realised that:

  1. I was kidding myself. Unless I did something extraordinary in the next few years, this was not going to happen for me.
  2. And even if I did manage to pull out a rabbit from the proverbial hat, I actually didn’t want to go to the crème de la crème of these schools (as I said earlier, Stanford is an exception. I’d give my left leg and a kidney to get in there).

After coming to this happy conclusion and most definitely circumventing assured rejection, I began to look at schools beyond the ratings. The numbers only mean something to a point beyond which they’re just numbers with no context. I wouldn’t expect a school to judge me based solely on my GPA and GMAT scores. Likewise, I wouldn’t want to put a school through the same narrow metrics. Luckily for me, cost isn’t a debilitating factor, so I can afford to go without a scholarship which makes things that much easier. Top three things that I value, in order of priority are:

  1. Fit. How well would I fit into the school and its culture? I seriously wish I had the time to visit schools, because I would really like to. But I have to settle for secondhand narratives and hopefully meet some alumni who can give me a better picture of what the school is like.
  2. Specialisation. What is the school really known for? For instance, Sloan is action based, collaborative and very tech + entrepreneurially oriented. They also have an Entrepreneurship & Innovation Track (E&I) that I love the sound of. Even though I do want to join the consulting world, I will always have a special place in my heart for startups.
  3. Location (pre + post MBA). Where is the school located? Where could I expect to work after I graduate? I know that I do want to come back to India after recovering what I spend on the MBA. Which school has a great international network? Which school has a good brand value that is recognisable in Europe and Asia? These for me are super important criteria. IE and IESE are great schools, but I’m a little unsure of the job market in Spain. Even if I do learn Spanish, I’m apprehensive about the possibilities and I am certain that it is a relatively unknown brand in India… making it a somewhat unattractive choice for me at this point.

I’m still waiting on my chat with the consultant to kind of discuss my thoughts and hear his perspective on them. Another pair of eyes should clear up any kind of misconceptions that I might have. Also, check out these free school guides from Veritas Prep here, I absolutely loved how much information they packed into it. It would take days, if not weeks to actually do it myself. Huge fan of them.

How to decide where to apply?

I’m not sure I’m even qualified to be writing about this at the moment because I’m still not sure where I’m going to be applying. I do have certain parameters though, which should help make it a little easier.

  1. I am only going to apply to 4 schools, based on the assumption that if I don’t get in this year, I’ll have several options left to apply in the next year.
  2. I have no illusions about my competency as a candidate. The top 5 are immediately out and honestly, I’m not too bothered about that. The only school I would love to attend is Stanford, because I feel like Wharton is too finance-y for my taste and Harvard is too stuffy. But my chances of going to space are less astronomical than me ever getting accepted to Stanford even after a year or twenty, so I have that going for me.
  3. I want to apply to schools that have a good placement record in the consulting industry, since that’s where I’d like to land up.
  4. I have this vague idea in my head of travelling across Europe sipping little cups of cappuccino with a dreamy Italian serenading me, while getting an MBA of course. I do want to put in at least 1 (if not 2) European schools in the mix. Traditionally, they attract an older set of students so I’m not sure how feasible this would be. IESE and Said require that students have a minimum work experience of two years, and I would be pushing that pretty close.
  5. I want warm weather, interspersed with good cold weather. I can’t do gloomy all year round, I would just get depressed. I don’t mind California type sunny weather but it’s too Indian for my liking.
  6. I can’t imagine living in the southern belt of the States, nuh uh no way. East or West coast for me. I’m also a city girl. The great outdoors are nice and all, but do I want to live in the middle of it? Nope. Nothing in the boondocks.
  7. I would like to be a part of a bigger class. Bigger the class, bigger the friend pool and the more likely I am to actually meet people I like. Also, would love it if there was a significant international representation and a younger crowd of people.

Ummm, yeah. So these are just thoughts I have at the moment, so they’re not set in stone. I’ll probably get into it in more detail after I’ve had a chat with my consultant. Also, yes I did decide to go with a consultant to help with the admissions process. I figured I could use all the help I could get.