the application process – not as simple as it seems

Surprise, surprise. I can’t stop thinking about business school. I’ve officially been brainwashed. So here goes another blog post about business school. This one’s for anyone reading this blog that is casually considering applying to business school in the future.

In theory, it sounds simple enough. The application involves several key components:

– GMAT score
– essays
– recommendations
– miscellaneous application components (fee, transcripts, demographic info, etc.)

That’s it! That’s all there is to it! Sounds pretty good, right?
You might be thinking, how much time could all this possibly take? Maybe I’ll just apply to 8 different schools while I’m at it?

Let’s break it down further.

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“No, I want to hire the Sopranos to beat the sh!t out of him with a hammer.”

Impressed.

That’s how I felt walking away from Northwestern Kellogg’s information session. Held on the 41st floor of the Alliance Bernstein building in New York City, the room held a massive, sweeping view of Central Park. But I didn’t arrive to soak in the view. I naturally gravitated towards the drinks table, helping myself to a Poland Spring after picking up one of Kellogg’s information packets (which, by the way, were of impressive build/quality. Even the little touches count.)

Within the first minute I saw a familiar face from the an earlier information session I attended this summer. Ah, the effects of networking.. turns out it is fairly useful. Not something I’m used to having spent the last few years glued to a desk doing IT work. We immediately exchanged smiles and caught up on how each of us were doing and handling the b-school admissions process. Interestingly, I came to learn that we have quite a good deal in common, both in terms of background, age, and target schools. Still, though he technically was what you would consider my “competition”, my mind didn’t even remotely cross the idea – his friendly demeanor was welcome in my book and it just felt great to bounce off some frustrations with someone you know who is going through a similar process, another fellow MBA hopeful going through the rounds. I’m also thrilled I haven’t run into as many folks whose noses were held up so high you’d think they were nursing a nosebleed. Again, small sample sizes… but who’s counting?

Kellogg brought out a slew of alumni in impressive fashion, prominently placing 5 of their 7 alums on stage to answer a variety of questions and offer their highly insightful impressions and feedback on their MBA experiences. This was an excellent decision to frame the info-session in this manner as it allowed for any one of them to chime in with their input throughout what would otherwise likely have been a standard, fairly monotonous PowerPoint presentation by an associate admissions director. The alums were quite diverse as well: a finance-to-brand-manager career changer, graduates of the JD-MBA and MMM programs, as well as a marketing strategist from Verizon Wireless. But also representing the recent alumni group was Divya Narendra (who arrived more than fashionably late in a pair of sneaks).

As a huge fan of The Social Network and a tech-news aficionado, I instantly recognized his name on the big screen when they flashed the list of present alumni. He hadn’t arrived by then and so after all of the alums introduced themselves, I slid back from the edge of my seat a bit, conceding he wasn’t coming after all. But he ended up dashing towards the front a few slides later.

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Knitting & Politics

My summer grad-level course in data analytics & reporting is well under way, but after this week’s session, it is growing more clear to me that the course (at least for now) won’t be demanding an excessive amount of my time. The class, taking place in a computer lab, includes a few individuals that struggled mightily with a standard pivot table and VLOOKUP formulas. I suppose such expectations are to no surprise with a class demographic that ranged from what looked like someone who could still be a freshman in college to a woman knitting in the back row. Seriously.. she was knitting a quilt in class.

My plan is to ace this class with a big fat red ‘A’ to help demonstrate to the admissions committees that not only am I able to handle grad-level quantitative coursework, but that I am wholeheartedly committed to this process and recognize one of my weaknesses (a low UGPA). It also demonstrates a personal interest of mine in the marketing industry, that of which I have little to no professional working experience in.

With no re-take of the GMAT in sight, I still find myself with at least a few free hours a week on top of the full-time job and the minimal homework from this course. It’s during these moments where I wish that the business schools would publish their essay questions so that I can get the creative juices flowing and begin writing and brainstorming freely. But in reality, waiting for the questions to be released is just a convenient excuse; there really is nothing stopping me from tackling the inevitable introspective questions such as the “why an MBA now?”, “what are your short-term and long-term post-MBA goals?” and prepping for the career progression story that is likely to come up in an interview. (Woops! Interviews? I’m getting ahead of myself…)

One question that I admit to want to encounter is the, “Describe a conflict or problem you have faced in the workplace, and describe what steps you took to resolve it.” Reason being (unfortunately) is that I am currently involved in a rare care of office politics at the moment… but what’s already markedly different from my behavior today as opposed to my behavior a year ago is that I am approaching this situation from the perspective of a leader. Have I considered all of the conflicted parties’ perspectivesPerhaps the best solution isn’t necessarily the shortest path from A to B but the longer route requiring a higher level of patienceHow do I optimally balance work efficiency with team morale? In short, I’ve identified a pretty gaping hole in the efficiency of my team’s structure, but the changes that I am proposing may step on an important person’s toes. It’s not a situation I am familiar with but hope to be able to handle professionally and logically.

A short conversation with a current MBA student.

This past weekend I spoke with a friend currently attending Booth business school and shared my upcoming plans to apply for the Fall 2013 applications. When he asked me which schools I was eyeing, I told him that my dream school is Kellogg and that I also plan to apply to Yale, Stern, Darden, and Duke. I had originally included Columbia in that list, another dream school, but that I had recently crossed it off my list (a list that is, far from finalized) as I felt that 6 applications may not only be too much, but that Columbia may prove to be too much of a reach for my profile.

“So yeah, as nice as it would be to include two M7 schools on my list, I think I may stick with just Northwestern,” I said.
He let out a laugh. “No one uses that term. M7.”
This was news to my ears. Maybe nobody in Chicago uses the term? Else, why is it floating around so many business school forums? Hmm, something to keep in mind the next time I’m engaged in a verbal discussion about business schools.

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I will know.

If all goes according to plan, I will know of my business school destination by this time next year. I will know whether to call a quaint city of 130,000 my new home or to prepare for the frigid winter winds of a colder climate. Maybe I will be presented with the challenge of hunting for the perfect apartment in a sprawling metropolis of over 8,000,000. I will feel a sense of anxiety as I reach for my virtual purse strings, crunching the numbers towards a debt-free future. I will begin to meet some of my future classmates, some through social networking, some through an anonymous alias, maybe a few in person. I will begin to put a face to the fellow MBA brothers and sisters that I hope to grow, learn, and have fun together with. Best of all, I will know how it feels to have finally made it through this process of business school applications, a process I severely underestimated in years past. (I now look at my friends currently attending business schools in gaping awe). I will know the feeling… the pride of having achieved a goal over a year and countless hours in the making… the humility of rejection as the concept of “reach” replays itself over and over… the excitement of the opportunities to come and seize…

…well, I will know all this, if all goes according to plan.

They say a goal without a plan is just a wish. Well then, what’s a plan without a goal? Probably a business school re-applicant in-the-making.

Over the course of the next few months (ideally, weeks) I will be mining my past, raking through my brain, reading, researching, writing, obsessing, and praying as I focus in on what exactly my end goal is. I know that my time is now, and entering business school is what I want, what I need. But I still need to pinpoint the specific goal I want to hit at the pinnacle of my career; the piece of paper with my name on it and the words Master of Business Administration certainly won’t be my resting point. This end goal will ultimately serve as my backbone throughout the MBA application process, driving my essays and letting the words fall into place around it, keeping me focused and driven despite the increasingly heavy competition and the abundance of negative marks in my application profile.

You know, five months ago the combination of letters and numbers – Q47 V44 AWA 6.0 – would’ve made absolutely no sense to me. I would’ve asked if you’re writing in code. Two months ago I had no idea an entire consulting industry had carved itself out solely for business school admissions. Two weeks ago I didn’t know the term “M7” and one week ago I didn’t know there existed a copious amount of insightful blogs written by MBA applicants, both past and present.

Now I know.