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.

Hello Los Angeles!

I started this blog in 2014 and it’s taken till 2016 for me to come full circle.

After a wait of 517 days  (1 year, 4 months and 29 days, but who’s counting?) since I first started this process, I’m ecstatic to announce that I’m going to be a proud member of the UCLA Anderson Class of 2018.

*SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE*

Okay, back to business. I couldn’t be happier with my choice and I now realize that there is nowhere else I’d rather be. Throughout the ups and downs of the entire admissions process, I’ve always believed that I would end up where I was supposed to be. Life has a way of working out, you know? I mean it’s hard to keep sight of that when you’re staring at your third rejection letter and your career is looking bleaker than Leo’s prospects of winning an Oscar – but you just gotta keep the faith and motor on (which is what I did plus a lot of binge eating, binge watching and binge regretting).

I chose not to document the entire process this time around – to be honest, I was sick of doing it without having anything to show for it. But now that I’ve actually gotten in, I’m going to dissect everything I did differently this time around for the benefit of applicants and reapplicants everywhere (I feel your pain). I also have this faint idea of continuing to blog during the MBA, although I’m not sure how realistic that would be.

In the meantime, anyone looking for help, advice or a shoulder to cry on, go ahead and send me an email at pullingthatmbatrigger@gmail.com. I would be more than happy to help!

 

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!

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!

The lull before the storm

So things have been quite dull ever since I submitted my applications. I wrote the TOEFL yesterday and it was such a breeze – I actually enjoyed the exam! It’s scheduled to be about 4h 30m long but I finished it in about 3h 15m, following which I got the stink-eye from the remaining test takers. All in all, I think I’m going to manage a respectable score and I’m glad it’s out of the way. I hope the scores are sent to UCLA asap because my application is going to be put “on hold” until they receive my TOEFL score.

I’ve also been featured in this US News article which is pretty cool! When I get into a school of choice (power of positive thinking), I’m definitely going to talk about how I focused on bringing out my strengths as a female candidate. This was actually the main fodder for my essays, particularly Kellogg and UCLA.

The waiting game is still on… I haven’t heard back from any school yet but I’m trying not to read too much into it. The end of this month/the beginning of the next is going to be nuts but I’m excited! Here’s to good things coming all the Round 2’ers way!

Final school list for Round 2

So after many, many, many hours of internal debate that resulted in a lot of hair pulling and crabbiness, I have finally  decided on my school list. I think I have been a little wiser in my choices this time around and I think each of them would be a good fit for me. It’s really weird though, when I started out, literally none of these schools were on my radar. This is mostly because I started out thinking I wanted to get into consulting post MBA and now I’ve done a complete u-turn by deciding to stay in the tech industry.

I know that I want to be an entrepreneur in the long term and I thought that consulting would get me there eventually. But when I actually sat down to evaluate the progression of my career, it made more sense to go another route, and that would be Product Management. It’s a pretty newish role in the industry but it’s growing by leaps and bounds each year. It allows me to leverage my experiences so far because I am an engineer, I work in a product development startup, the startup I founded is in the e-commerce space, I have a lot of experience in the technical aspects of developing a product and it just makes logical sense as a career path. So I can definitely say that I have a better handle on my story and how I’m going to market myself.

Weirdly enough, I had this revelation in the middle of writing essays for my R1 apps and my essays did say that I want to become a Product Manager at a leading tech firm, but by then the school choices had already been made and it was too late. Duke is still fine, since a lot of tech companies do recruit from there so my goals must have made some sense, but Yale was a complete washout. I shouldn’t have applied in the first place.

Anyway having cleared that up in my head, I know what kind of schools I should be looking at, especially to achieve my career goals. I want a focus on entrepreneurship, and a school that is welcoming to younger applicants and has great tech firms/startups visiting campus and so, drumroll please.

  1. Chicago Booth
  2. Berkeley Haas Kellogg MMM
  3. UCLA Anderson

Booth is where I really want to be and I think I do actually have a good chance of getting in. I am most doubtful about my chances at Haas since the acceptance rates are ridiculous but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t apply but I’m going to have to live with it because I changed my mind and I have Vandana to thank/blame 😉 Okay, I’m lying. I owe her my unborn children because she has been a massive help and I can’t thank her enough. I knew before that the Kellogg MMM program was a great fit, but I couldn’t decide between this and Haas. I mean the MMM program is quite literally customized to fit with my career goals and what maaaaay have factored into the decision was the fact that I’d need to write the TOEFL and three long essays for Haas. Ummm… sue me, I’m lazy. UCLA Anderson is so close to the Valley, as is Haas which makes both at least one of them of no-brainers. If I had the time, I would have thrown Stanford into the mix, because, well Stanford. But hey, if I don’t get in this year, I plan to quit my full time job and scale my startup by about a 100x. Quite a few VCs have been feeling my company out, but I’ve just been dragging my feet because I honestly feel like I need an MBA to plug the holes in my skill set before we open up to investors. That’s actually why I decided I need an MBA sooner rather than later. I guess I’ll come to that when it happens.

My days are so packed, I literally have no time to breathe. GMAT prep, reaching out to current students, drafting my essays, dealing with work. It’s like I can’t catch a break. I am desperately waiting for the weekend.

Onwards and upwards

It’s been raining invites on all my friends out here – congratulations to Naija MBA Gal, TopDogMBA, hugoness, Vandana and Grant Me Admission!! Having had the privilege to blog alongside such incredibly smart and nice people, I have no doubt that they deserve admits at the schools of their dreams. I am counting down the days to hear some more good news.

In the meantime, I’m back on the horse again, this time for Round 2 applications. My school choices are up in the air for the moment, because I cannot for the life of me identify where I would have a competitive chance. I don’t want to apply to schools just because I know I’ll have better chances there, but on the other hand, I don’t want to apply to schools where I have no chance either. It’s a tough call. I’ll keep you guys posted when I finalise my schools and possibly the rationale that went behind picking. One thing is for sure though, I am not going to get emotionally attached to any of them. I’ll do my research and I’ll talk to students, but this is going to be the equivalent of a friends with benefits situation. No emotions, no commitment.

I’ve started with GMAT prep, I think it’s going well. I remember most of it, which is something of a feat considering it’s been over two years. I’m trying to get on the upper levels of both Quant and Verbal, which means a lot of targeted studying. It helps that I enjoy it though.

I literally can’t wait for March now where my fate will be decided either way.

P.S: A really weird observation. My blog got maximum hits on the day I announced my ding from Duke. People love tragedy!

Now that the sting has worn off…

I’m considering a very difficult decision. Insanity maybe? I don’t know. I’m thinking about retaking the GMAT before Round 2 deadlines with a goal of scoring at least a 750 this time. I know my weakness: I’m a very young applicant. I have a great GPA, great extracurriculars, great work experience (quality wise) but my GMAT as a consultant told me is “average”.

I’m pretty decent at taking standardised tests and I’m sure that with proper preparation I can beat the 710 I have. But I am worried about how I’m going to manage this with work, my startup, my volunteering work and actual applications. On the flip-side, having a really strong GMAT score could make me stand out and offset the damage I do to their admission statistics with my paltry work experience by increasing the average GMAT score.

Now, another sign that I’m losing my mind is that I am considering applying to Booth in Round 2. Yep. You heard me right. A school that is ranked way above Duke and practically up there with H/S/W. Why you ask? Primarily because this: Chicago Booth Early Career Candidates

…the Admissions Committee will bear in mind the applicant’s proximity to the college experience when considering factors such as leadership, supervision experience, and academic success.

I found myself checking off everything on that list. BUT, and this is a huge but, the average age is still about 28 though with 4.5 years of work experience. Does that mean I’m reading too much into this whole pitch they have for early career candidates? Well apart from this, I like the fact that the program is extremely analytical and personalized, and they have a great focus on entrepreneurship and non-conformity. I am still debating this internally, but I must admit a 750 would make me feel a little better about applying here. NaijaMBAGal, any insights? 😛

Other than that, I’m still deliberating my list. Cornell Johnson is definitely in there and I’m debating between Ross and maybe UCLA (didn’t think I’d want to be on the West Coast, but oh well). So if not this year, then what? I’m going to rethink my job situation and work towards getting into a top 10 school next year. Until then, decisions decisions.

UPDATE: A few hours after I wrote this post, thanks to some helpful feedback from gnpth and mbablackgirl, I decided what the heck and booked my date for the GMAT. 23rd December it is. It will be my third attempt (630, 710 and ?). I did absolutely no extra preparation between attempt 1 and attempt 2 so I have no idea how I managed that. Worst case, I get a score lower than 710 and I cancel it. Best case I get a 750+. Seems quite low risk to me so I took the plunge. Is it weird that I’m excited about taking the test?

Tick tock

As the nifty little countdown calendar to the right says, I have to wait for two more days to hear from Duke. I actually thought I’d be much more of a nervous wreck but surprisingly I’ve been pretty calm through all this. I think I was more stressed out during the whole interview invite waiting period. I guess with the practice that came from that, I’ve gotten much better at the waiting game.

It’s actually scary to think that a decision made by an admissions committee comprising of 10-15 (I imagine) individuals can change lives, for better or for worse. Getting accepted to Duke would open up a whole new world of possibilities, but a rejection could mean that much better things lie ahead. I can imagine my life both ways! I’ve always believed that things happen for a reason.

Having achieved a state of mental nirvana, I’m blissfully not thinking about the whole application process, at least until Wednesday. Depending on the outcome of that, I’ll have to get back to the grind of essay writing and form filling – and just for that reason alone, I sure as hell hope I get in. I don’t know how everyone applying to 7 or 8 schools does it. You guys have my undying respect.

How I approached writing my essays

My buddy Texaswannabecali was asking the blogosphere about how to approach the daunting task of writing essays for b-school apps and I thought I’d make an entire post of it instead. I will put in a disclaimer here – I absolutely love writing and I do it on a regular basis i.e I probably churn out about 800 words per day on average, so it was probably easier for me than it was for most people. With that said, some essay topics were definitely easier than others. For instance, Fuqua was a joy to write but Yale, not so much.

I started with my Yale essays first, I figured get a good round of practice in before pulling the big guns for Duke. It’s a good idea to work on your number one choices after you’ve had some experience with schools that aren’t as high on your list of priorities. By then you should have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t, and also a better sense of clarity about your career goals.

Before you start writing, make sure you read the essay analyses that all the admissions consultants have put out there. Grantmeadmission has an amazing resource where he’s compiled all those links and which I’ve personally bookmarked. Whether or not you use these guidelines, I found them tremendously useful just to align my thoughts in the right direction. I started off on my essays by jotting down points that I knew I had to put in there. Nothing fancy, just bullets in my text editor of choice. I didn’t sit down actively in one session and do this because my brain tends to wander when I do that, but I kept adding to the list at random times when I was bored at work, or right before I went to sleep, I’d quickly type out those points on my phone and sync it up later. So by about the end of a week, I had a list of about 15 – 20 odd points that I wanted to expand on for each essay. Then I got down to writing my first draft.

I wasn’t really concerned about structure or brevity at this point. I just wanted to get my content down. I just expanded on every point that I had written down so depending on the essay topic I had a bunch of stories from work, some from volunteering, some stuff that I liked about the school and basically a few lines or more about every aspect of my profile that I wanted to cover. At the end of this exercise, I had a full two pages of text with random paragraphs and no flow whatsoever. I let that sit for a while, about 3 or 4 days and I didn’t look at it at all. In the mean time, I had some more ideas which I made sure to document lest I forget.

So after the requisite 3 to 4 days, I came back to my essay with a clearer head. The time gap in the middle helped lessen my attachment to the words I’d written, so I could easily get rid of stuff I knew wasn’t relevant or important. Looking at the essay with a fresher pair of eyes also helped me spot grammatical flaws that I might have missed otherwise. I put in the new points and I started arranging the essay structurally by moving paragraphs around in a way that made sense to the reader i.e gave it a logical flow. So I had a pretty rough second draft at this point, with the content and a decent structure.

I let it rest for a few days again before going back to it. This time I focussed on starting and ending with a bang and ensuring smooth transitions from one paragraph to the next. The last thing I wanted was to have a clunky set of unrelated stories shoved together in my essay. Up until this point, I hadn’t really bothered with the word count specifically, although I always kept it at the back of my mind. I knew I overshot the limit by about 200 words or so but that’s about it. I wouldn’t advice going over by more than 400 words because cutting it down can be a herculean task. I know because getting the word count down by 200 words was a major pain. But I did it in this iteration. So now I had the beginnings of a pretty good essay, but up until now I hadn’t taken any external opinions so I sent it off to about 7 – 8 friends and advisors for their inputs. None of my friends have MBAs so it was more of an exercise about making sure there were no dumb mistakes (repeating words, missing letters and commas) and also so to see if they could tell that the essay could have been written only by me and no one else. I think that’s a good way of judging to see whether you’ve really poured your heart and soul into the essay. Trust me, this makes a massive difference.

My friends took a few days to get back to me and they were super helpful. Some of the feedback I implemented and some I just ignored. Stick to your guns on this. At this point my essays were looking great! I went over them, polished them up, made sure the formatting was right and I saved them all ready to submit. But of course, I didn’t actually submit it right then and I spent a good 3 days reading it once every 3 hours and scouring my eyes out trying to find any errors I’d missed. Then about two days before the deadline, I hit submit and that was it!

The whole thing took about 20 odd days, I think you should probably budget at least that much or you’ll find yourself scrambling towards the end. Unless of course, you’re one of those people who writes the entire thing in one shot and that’s that. Well, this was long and rambling but I hope it helps anyone who’s confused about how to start.

Best of luck with essays!