So what changed this time?

Okay, so let’s look at the cold, hard facts.

My GMAT score stayed the same (710)

My GPA is the same as well (9.03)

The last time I checked, I was still an Indian engineer

My work experience moved up from about 19 months to 26 months

My job title is now “Product Manager” and not the dreaded “Software Engineer” it was before

My post MBA goal looks legit now because I have the experience to back it up

A senior colleague at my new job wrote what I can only assume was a stellar letter of recommendation

Let me tell ya, I had to work my butt off to transition from being a code monkey to someone making actual product decisions. I must have applied to nearly a 100 places and interviewed at about 25 until I finally got the job I wanted. But I persevered because I knew that MBA or not, this was where I wanted my career to go.

I guess the lesson here is: don’t let the fact that you got rejected bring you down (if you are a reapplicant like I was). The lofty goals that you’d written about in your essay? You can still get closer to achieving them without an MBA. By self-selection, most applicants are ambitious, go-getters who honestly don’t need an MBA to get where they want to go. Of course, if you still think business school is right for you, then your application will be stronger than it ever was before.

Apart from switching jobs, I also narrowed down my goals even further. Previously, my short-term goal was to “work in company X as a PM”. I changed that to “work in company X’s Y division as a PM”. I backed it up with very relevant experience that I had and tied it in neatly to my long term goal. I’m sure it wasn’t a huge distinction, but it became super relevant during my interview, where surprisingly enough I spoke to a 2nd year student who had a ton of knowledge about my field of interest (odd because it’s quite a niche area).  I believe that this worked in my favour since I was immediately able to establish common ground and our conversation centered more around the latest developments in that industry than the usual “tell me how you…” stuff.

Finally, in my reapplicant essay, I called out what I believed were the weaknesses in my application. I addressed the age/work experience thing head on, I made a stronger connection between my short term and long term goals and finally, I mentioned in passing the gazillion students, alums and admissions officers I’d spoken to over an entire year.

Now, I do want to caveat this by saying that I did pretty much the same things I mentioned above in my reapplication to Fuqua as well, but surprise surprise, I got dinged without an interview. There is a pretty big element of luck involved, plus the relative quality and composition of the applicant pool, so there is no “fool-proof” method to this madness. It’s just doing the best you can and hoping for the best.

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Waitlisted at UCLA Anderson!

So when I didn’t receive a phone call yesterday, I thought it was pretty much over for me. Since I was expecting a ding, I wasn’t heartbroken about it. I went on with my day, went out for a fancy dinner to celebrate my failure and then went to bed with a huge sigh of relief because the whole waiting game was over.

But it wasn’t. I received a mail this morning asking me to check my application portal and there it was. Waitlisted.

If there is one thing I’m absolutely terrible at, it’s waiting. I am all about instant gratification and I am the least patient person I know. This for me, is the equivalent of a death sentence. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. It’s great that I wasn’t rejected outright. Being waitlisted means there is still a chance I could get in but in my mind, it’s just postponing the inevitable. That doesn’t mean I’m going to take it lying down though.

There’s a lot of good advice about being waitlisted that is floating around the interwebz, so I’m going to take full advantage of that. If anyone reading has any ideas/suggestions about how to get off the waitlist and what kind of updates to send, please let me know. Despite all the complaining, I am happy that Anderson is giving me an opportunity to strengthen my case. It is such an amazing school, full of the most amazing people, so I’m going to make the most of it.

Kellogg and Tepper – Ding #2 and Ding #3 + Updates

So March 25th was D-day for both Kellogg and Tepper, but since I pretty much knew what the outcome was going to be, I didn’t really care that much to be honest. Kellogg waived my interview and anecdotal evidence showed quite early on that once you’re waived, it’s pretty much over for you. At least, that’s how it was this admissions cycle, particularly if you’re Indian.

I’d like to say I was surprised that Tepper dinged me, but I’m not. My essays for Tepper were hastily edited versions of my essays from other schools, and trust me, it showed. In hindsight, it was dumb of me to apply just for the heck of it. I hadn’t spoken to any current students, I had no real connection with the school and I applied anyway because I thought it was ‘safe’. Don’t make the same mistake I did! I don’t know exactly how, but your interest (or lack thereof) in a school’s program can be clearly gauged by the admissions committee. They can see right through a last minute application, so even if your stats look good on paper, you will have a tough time of it. I also noticed a typo in my essay a week or so ago. This is what happens when you blearily try to mishmash content from three other essays at 3 a.m, two hours before the deadline. I repeat, don’t do this!

To prove the point I made above, I interviewed at Anderson, which for all intents and purposes is more ‘difficult’ to get into than Tepper and the only reason I made it this far is because I worked my butt off on that one essay and I spoke to at least 5 different students throughout the process. The result will be out on April 2nd, not too far away now.

How am I dealing? Well, mentally I’m prepared for a ding. With five other dings already, it’s not that much of a stretch. I’ve been trying to shift out of my engineering function into product management, which was basically my post MBA goal anyway. I figure if I have to reapply next year, it might be good to show that I’ve already made that shift. Besides, it’s where my true interests lie so I’m going to be much happier there. I’m also going to be heading to South Africa for about 10 days in May. It will be my second trip to this gorgeous country and I can’t wait to take a break from all this madness and come back refreshed to do it all over again.

Also, congratulations to everyone who’s made it to their target schools… looking at you Scott and My Life of Bliss!

UCLA Anderson Interview Debrief

I just finished my interview with a second year student from UCLA Anderson and it went so much better than I imagined it would! I think I got lucky on several counts. Firstly, my interviewer was a woman. This was actually a perfect match since a lot of my leadership stories are related to the struggles of being a woman in the male-dominated tech industry and it seemed like she could really relate. Secondly, she also comes from a background in technology so I’m certain that all of my stories made sense to her. Finally, she was just a really nice, fun person to talk to! Lots of smiles, lots of jokes and just a real sense of comfort that I have yet to experience in an MBA interview. No awkwardness whatsoever! What also helped was the fact that it was a Skype interview, so I was sitting in the comfort of my bedroom and it felt like I was talking to a friend across the continent. Overall, a great experience.

Okay now getting down to the details that might actually help applicants who are yet to interview. She started off by telling me about herself and her background really briefly. Then onto the questions:

  1. Walk me through your resume: She said she had my resume in front of her, so she didn’t want me to go into too much detail. I just gave her a brief overview of everything in there, focusing more on the reasons behind my career choices and my biggest achievements.
  2. Why MBA: I kind of had to throw in my short term and long term goals here briefly to answer why an MBA but I didn’t go into too much detail because I knew a separate question would be coming up. I explained myself briefly mentioning why specifically an MBA at UCLA.
  3. Why UCLA Anderson: She wanted me to go into more detail about why UCLA specifically, so after covering the basics like location, weather and LA, I got more specific and spoke about the classes I wanted to take and the resources that are offered. She actually said that one particular class that I named was an excellent class and that I should definitely take it.
  4. Why now: I think this was a really important question, but I feel like I nailed it mostly because I want to work in a niche, product technology space that is really going to boom in the next 5-10 years so for me the timing is everything.
  5. Short term and long term goals: The usual. Just have to be really clear about what it is you want to do, why you want to do it and most importantly, how it makes sense considering your experience so far.
  6. Story about leadership: I chose a story where I wasn’t directly leading people, but influencing them. It wasn’t a very conventional story, but she actually said it was a perfect answer to this particular question so it paid off.
  7. Story about dealing with conflict: I think more than the actual background to the story, it’s important to show what you did to resolve the issue at hand. I’m not entirely happy with this one because I went into too much detail about the situation, rather than talking about what I learnt from the experience.
  8. Strength and weakness: More than the actual strengths and weaknesses, I tried to show how the former would be useful to me at Anderson and how I would try to work on the latter at Anderson. Basically connecting the question to reinforce why UCLA.

Once I finished answering all these questions, we were at about 25 minutes so she opened the floor for any questions I had. Her enthusiasm for the school was infectious and everything she said about the school was spot on. She even gave me some advice in the end about making the most of your MBA experience that I have written down (it really was that good). I also managed to squeeze in a few activities that I would love to be a part of at Anderson during the last few minutes as an organic part of our conversation. I guess the only thing I’m slightly disappointed she didn’t ask was about my life outside work, because hey, I’m a fascinating person 😛 but the rest of it went well so I really can’t complain.

After it was over, I sent her a quick thank you note and that was it! The interview was super casual and friendly, much like Anderson students themselves and I have no doubt in my mind that it is a great school. I’m just going to have to keep my fingers crossed till the 2nd of April, which luckily isn’t too far away. Best of luck to everyone else who interviewed/is waiting to interview!

Out of sight, out of mind.

It’s been a while since I’ve had anything to report and honestly, the release of a new product has had me working 12 hours day, I kid you not. I’ve been so burnt out for the past few weeks and my eyes have begun to water as soon as I look at the screen of my laptop. Ridiculous.

With everyone getting invites left and right, I’d pretty much assumed that Round 2 was over for me. An interview waiver I received from Kellogg a week ago just seemed to confirm that… but I woke up to an Anderson invite this morning so perhaps it’s not over yet.

Having this whole MBA thing out of my mind has actually helped since I’m no longer anal and panicky about everything. I got the interview invite and I was like “Oh an invite. How nice”. That was the extent of my excitement, which was weird but I guess it just means I’ll be calmer for the interview? UCLA is a great school for me by all intents and purposes so I’m going to schedule my interview and give it my best shot.

Until then, I’ll be talking to as many current students as I possibly can and scouring the internet for anything that might help. Hope everyone’s doing well! And to all my friends who have decided where to attend, congratulations! I’m so very excited to see what’s next for you.

Booth – Ding #1

So it’s official, my first ding of Round 2 from Booth. Unfortunately, it was what I considered my best application so now I’m a little apprehensive about the fate of my other three applications. I’m not too disappointed because I knew it was a long shot but I had to try. My presentation was good, I have no doubt about that but I think my lack of work experience was what held me back along with an average-ish GMAT score. For any other school, I don’t think this would matter but this is the Top 5 we’re talking about. I’ve also been thinking about my plans if Round 2 doesn’t work this time around… more on that later!

Congratulations to everyone invited to interview! I hope to be in that enviable position soon.

Crickets… crickets everywhere!

So it’s been nearly 20 days since I submitted my Round 2 applications and so far it’s been radio silence. I’m a little antsy but I’m dealing with it… it helps that work has been extremely busy and that my social life has been on overdrive. It’s my birthday tomorrow so I’m hoping some birthday luck comes my way 😀

Also, I got my TOEFL score yesterday. 119 with a 29 in the Reading section (the irony). But I was very pleasantly surprised since I didn’t prepare at all. I’ve already reported my scores to all the schools I’ve applied to… but I’m wondering if I should notify them and ask them to match my score to my application? It’s another data point so I’m wondering if that would help at all. Thoughts?

I’m hoping to hear some good news in the next week or so. Fingers crossed!