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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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!

 

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!

All in for Round 2!

I finally submitted all four apps in the past two days and let me tell you, it was exhausting. Here are my thoughts on each application:

  1. Booth: I absolutely loved the Booth application. It gave me enough space to talk about everything (and I mean everything!). The prompts within the app allowed for enough detail and I even used the optional essay to fill in some gaps. I was terrified of the presentation/essay but it turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve made this application season. Everyone who read it seems to have enjoyed it, so I can only hope the adcoms will too. I’d say this was my favourite (and my best).
  2. Kellogg: The application for Kellogg and Booth was actually pretty similar, but I had to be much more succinct in my Kellogg app. There were three essays I had to answer (2 required + 1 for the MMM) and I think I did a pretty decent job at all of them, although some were better than the others. Hopefully, my video essay goes well and I make enough of an impact on the adcom. It would suck if my interview was waived.
  3. Anderson: The Anderson application was painless (just one essay and one recommendation) until I realized that they require a TOEFL score 2 days before the deadline for Round 2. I was this close to breaking something. Luckily, I got in my app before the deadline and put in the date I’m planning to take the damn test but until they get my official scores, my application is going to be “on hold”. Anyone know what this means?
  4. Tepper: Tepper was sort of a last-ditch effort on my part. I was also exhausted from a long night the day before, so I’m not sure how my essays were. I think I did okay, hopefully that’s enough. For the first time ever, my essays were under the word count rather than being a few over. Weird.

Things that changed from Round 1 in Round 2:

  1. I had one solid recommendation in Round 1 and the other, was to put it mildly, just fluff. I know because the recommender (head of volunteers) decided to show it to me once I’d submitted all my Round 1 apps. I’m not even sure how I got invited to interview at Duke with that one. It was a huge wake-up call. This time, my client (from my startup) agreed to be my second recommender and I know he’s going to do a killer job because I did some killer work for him.
  2. I paid a lot more attention to the short answers and little entry fields in the application. Last time, I’d pretty much copy+pasted bullets from my resume into these fields, but this time I made sure to bring up things that had never been mentioned before. My apps this time covered every single aspect of my profile.
  3. I had help every single step of the way from Vandana and NaijaMBAGal (a shoutout to FinanceFurry here as well). I absolutely could not have done it without them. They were my supporters, critics and confidantes throughout this round and their feedback on my essays was always genius. Every time I second-guessed something on my app (which was pretty much all the time), I knew I had these guys on my side. Thank you so much you two!

What lies ahead? I’m going to finish up my Kellogg Video essays, get in a short vacation in Bangkok this weekend, come back and get the TOEFL over with and then just wait! I have a good feeling about Round 2 🙂 I also feel like this time I won’t be so anal about it… some exciting things have been happening at work and I caught myself thinking “Oh crap, if I get into an MBA program, I’m going to miss all this”. Yup, instant realization. MBA this year or no MBA this year, I’m gonna be okay!