We’d like to introduce you to LastChanceMBA, an anonymous MBA reapplicant who blogs at Last Chance MBA. LastChanceMBA shares with us here lots of valuable tips from his previous application attempts; and as you’ll see, this time he’s positioned for a successful application season! Thank you LastChanceMBA for your advice, and best of luck to you!
Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? Do you hold any other degrees?
LastChanceMBA: I grew up in a suburb in the Deep South. I come from an immigrant working-class background, so financially my family was never well off, but my parents worked hard to take care of us. I eventually went to an Ivy League school for undergrad, where I double majored in history and philosophy and then completed a master’s degree in political science at another top school.
Accepted: When did you apply to b-school the first time? What do you think went wrong that time, and how do you plan on reapplying successfully?
LastChanceMBA: It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I guess you can say I’m a super re-applicant. I have applied to business schools unsuccessfully 3 times. My first app was back in 2008 right after the financial crisis. The second one came two years afterwards, and then my third attempt was this year. In my first two applications I had no idea what I was doing; this time I thought my application was strong, but in hindsight I did a very poor job of executing and did not convey realistic career goals. Simply put, I did not do a good job of selling myself to adcom. Moreover, traders have a very difficult time getting into top business schools; I articulated the reasons for this in one of my blog posts.
For my next (and last) app cycle, I am going to do several things: articulate career goals that are in line with my experience and which an MBA will actually help me to achieve, emphasize more forcefully my leadership and teamwork skills, and explain my non-traditional story in a more convincing manner. I am hoping that my current startup work and extensive nonprofit work will bolster my profile.
Accepted: Where do you plan on applying? Which is your top choice program?
LastChanceMBA: I don’t have my school selection finalized yet, but my “core” schools are Wharton, Booth, Sloan, Columbia, Kellogg, and Tuck. I may also apply to some combination of Haas, Stern, Anderson, Yale, depending on a number of factors. My first choice is Wharton: it is a perfect fit for my interests, and I absolutely love the culture and dynamic student body. The atmosphere there is simply electric!
Accepted: As an “older” applicant, you clearly have more life and work experience. How do you plan on emphasizing to the adcoms that your age is an advantage?
LastChanceMBA: I have several challenges. As someone who applied several times before, I have to demonstrate what has changed in the last year and show that my new responsibilities are a step up from my previous job. I also need to articulate very clear career goals that are in line with the MBA and make sense given my past experience. I’m not entirely sure on what my strategy is yet, to be honest. I think I’m going to have to pick some compelling examples of leadership and teamwork, to demonstrate that I have been progressing despite the fact that trading is not very conducive to traditional promotions. I will probably use the Booth power point to tackle the age issue in a humorous manner. We shall see.
Accepted: What is your current position? Do you plan on continuing in the industry/function after you receive your MBA or switching careers?
LastChanceMBA: My current job title is “Managing Director of Automated Strategies” for a trading software startup. I can’t go into too much detail on what we do, but to put it simply, we use technical price indicators and proprietary research to create a customizable software that clients can use to trade, manage risk, and backtest strategies. Post-MBA I am very much interested in transitioning to risk consulting, focusing specifically on financial markets and trading risk. I believe that with increased regulations and the uncertain macro environment we live in, there is going to be a lot of opportunity in this field, as large financial institutions aim to cope with this new reality while still trying to maximize profits. Because much of my work experience has been at the intersection of trading and tech, I think I can bring a lot to the table in such a role. The MBA will allow me to integrate finance, statistics, and operations, so that I can develop a comprehensive framework for analyzing risk. This education will take place in a very team-oriented setting, thus allowing me to test my ideas with very bright classmates and learn to sift through nuances in a dynamic environment. I believe that such interactions will serve me well in consulting.
Accepted: As someone who has been through the application process before, you must have a lot of insight to share. What would you say are your top 3 tips for first-time applicants?
LastChanceMBA: Several tips. First, make sure you get your story straight, in terms of career goals, why an MBA, why that school, and your overall narrative. Lot of qualified applicants get arrogant, hoping to coast by on their stats and resume and then get hurt badly.
Second, give yourself AT LEAST 3 months to work on essays. This past year, I did not start working on my essays until late October due to the GMAT. Even that was not enough time. I think applicants underestimate how much time it takes to write truly effective essays. Oftentimes, they look at the questions in say August and tell themselves, “Oh these questions seem fairly easy. I’ll worry about it in November since I’m applying in round 2.” That would be a HUGE mistake. Trust me on this one.
And third, make sure you present a multi-dimensional portrait of you, both professionally and personally. I think finance and consulting people tend to rely on their quantitative and analytical skills without placing enough emphasis on their interpersonal skills and ability to overcome personal obstacles.
Remember that the entire application is one large marketing scheme, with the sole purpose of gaining you admission. If you don’t get in, it most likely means you failed to properly sell yourself to the school. I would say about 70% of the applicants at most top schools possess the raw credentials to get in, so think about what truly sets you apart. To put it another way, why would a smart talented professional want to spend $150K to sit next to you in class? What do you bring to the class that very few can offer?
Accepted: Why did you decide to blog about your reapplication experience?
LastChanceMBA: I have always loved to think and write. My good friends who read my MBA essays were shocked at how bad my essays were, even though I’m a pretty good writer. I realize that MBA essays are more of an art form than a science and that I need to drastically change my approach. A few people, such as MBAOver30 (best MBA blog by the way!) recommended that I start a blog in order to improve my “MBA writing” and further clarify my thought process along the way. In a way it will serve to prepare me for writing application essays. Furthermore, I really enjoy helping people, and I hope that my blog will offer some useful nuggets to other applicants.
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