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Any chance of little advice?

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Any chance of little advice? [#permalink] New post 05 Apr 2012, 22:07
Hi there,

Per the suggestion of another gmat clubber (along with my personal interest in gaining additional perspective) I wanted to solicit a little advice.

Somewhat verbose bio:

I am a 28 year old non-minority male who grew up in Illinois.

University (small private university in the state with a reasonable local reputation)
- Graduated cum laude with a 3.41
- Double majored in Computer Science and Psychology
- Served as Vice President for our service fraternity
- Re-chartered and Re-Activated another student organization, becoming the first president

After graduation, I worked in IT for 3 years.
- After the 1.5 year mark, I suggested that I relocate to help transition one of our offices through an acquisition. I was promoted and helped to transition an office away from the support of consultants, effectively running IT in the office of 40-50 people (reporting into another office). I also helped train an additional IT staff member (co-worker, not a direct report).
- After one year there, I offered to take over a different office and become the first on-site IT person there (no title change, but a pay bump and increased responsibility).
After 6 months there, I joined the Peace Corps and served in a small West-African country for 2 years.
- I independently sought out work opportunities at a number of local schools.
- I designed an IT training resource (manuals, videos, free tools, etc.) to help local professionals update their skills and conducting 6 regional trainings throughout the country, reaching approximately 100 individuals.
- I worked with a local school to write a grant, obtain funding, and started construction to upgrade sanitation facilities.
- I launched and ran a high school peer tutoring group for over a year, which ultimately reached 25% of the study body.
- I started a small evening math class for 7th-12th grade girls at a local hostel which I taught for a year.
- I worked with the school library to ensure all students had daily access to the library, obtained additional books, and ensured that librarians were hired and trained.
- Obtained approval from the Peace Corps country director to launch a scholarship program to be run by volunteers and organized a steering committee.

After returning home in August, I joined a very early stage startup (Currently 2 co-founders and I)
- Online startup, socially focused with a very unique concept and business model
- I manage most interactions with our web development company
- I advise on business strategy, business operations and everything else (it’s just the three of us) – it seems like we’ve all had our hands in everything.
- We spent our first year in the design-stage and now we are beginning to obtain our first customers.
- I have been attending small business workshops 1-2 times per month.
- I also volunteer 1-2 Saturdays per month with Habitat for humanity.
- I have completed 2 Accounting courses and a math class through UCLA extension, all A’s.

While in the Peace Corps, I obtained a 710, 40V (77%),47Q (89%) on the GMAT.


Career Goal:
- Post-graduation, I intend to launch a socially-responsible business. (While working with entrepreneurs and taking several classes has filled in some of the gaps from not having a business undergraduate education, I look at the MBA as a way of completing that process while giving me the opportunity to build a network and to meet business partners as well.)

I wanted to provide all of the information above so that I can obtain a fairly realistic response. I’ve always found responses of “strong extracurriculars” or “some extracurriculars” to be very subjective. Now that you have far too much information about me, I was hoping I could get a little bit of candid advice:

1.) Do you think that schools like Fuqua, Darden, Ross, or Johnson would make sense? Am I selling myself short, aiming too high, or am I in the ballpark?

2.) From a “next steps” perspective, I’m planning on taking one more course to complete an alternative transcript (4 courses, hopefully all A’s) and I am looking to re-take the GMAT as well (my gmatprep results were 10-20 points higher than my actual score and now I will be studying with access to electricity). I am also going to try to get involved a little more in my community, possibly with another local organization - Does this make sense?

3.) Having had some experience with the application process before, I have learned the importance of having a consistent message. Should I not mention the possibility of taking a more traditional MBA position short-term, post-graduation even if I consider that to be a fairly likely possibility?

Thank you in advance for all of your help - I’ve been working primarily in a vacuum, and can certainly use all of the advice I can get.
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Re: Any chance of little advice? [#permalink] New post 06 Apr 2012, 08:00
My personal advice is that the schools you are targeting are probably within your reach. I might add a couple lower schools to the mix just to be on the safe side.

A few comments to help you out:

1) Only retake the GMAT if you really believe that you can improve your score by atleast 30 points. Anything less will really just be a waste of your time, and in fact, you would have a large chance of lowering your score b/c the test has only gotten more competative since you took it, and you haven't studied in year(s). Plus, the alternative transcript you are putting together is a great idea, and I'd encourage you to continue. Stats, Accounting, and Calculus are great. Plus, UCLA offers an extension called "Managerial mathematics for Management" (https://www.uclaextension.edu/r/Course. ... 0&dc=MGMNT) which is directed towards MBA hopefuls.

2) You are really going to have to figure out a good story for the Peace Corps (PC). As great as the PC might seem, this type of work isn't actually looked upon that highly by Adcoms. The reason for this is that most people that go to the PC after working in the corporate world are looking for a change. They either hated what they were doing, or have no idea what they want to get into, or just can't handle being a working professional. The fact that you went into a startup after returning is only going to perpetuate these thoughts. Adcoms want people that are extremely driven to achieve their goals, and spending 2 years not trying to achieve those "goals" may make it look like you don't have any direction. My advice is to really start taking that direction at what you really want to do. Even if you don't know, formulate a stronger story than "a Socially Responsible Business". This is too vague, and will not make the Adcoms say "LETS GET THIS GUY! HE IS GOING TO BE SUCCESSFUL". Tell us what kind of business, how, when, where, and how XYZ business school will teach you XYZ skills to take you there. And with your XYZ skills from your previous experiences will be a match, and how you experiences will now only help you improve your classmates but make you successful moving forward... yada yada yada....

3) Also, at this point, I don't think taking a new job will necessarily help. You are 28, and you'd have to put atleast a year or two in at a new job to really get full credit for a new position. Once you hit 30, you will be slightly less appealing to full time Bschools. So if you do really want to start your own business, the experience you are gaining now might be great for that. Plus, we all know that people in small companies, especially startups, do gain insight about business creation that persons in the corporate world do not. Although you do miss out on other corporate experiences that business schools like to see. So it's a trade off.

4) Like you said. Keeping a consistent message is key. This is why your Peace Corps explanation will be paramount. I would not mention your more traditional route posibility after the MBA if you also decide to go the entrep. route. It will make you look like you don't know what you want to do. Make the Adcoms know that you're going to do this with our without their school, and be a huge success.

Best of luck to you! I hope my words are able to help you on your journey
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Re: Any chance of little advice? [#permalink] New post 06 Apr 2012, 12:05
I disagree with the above poster. But keep in mind that these are all opinions (take both of our opinions with a grain of salt as I'm sure you will, and come up with your own gut feel for what you should do).

1) Honestly I think you can aim higher. I may be preaching to the converted here, but I think the Peace Corps experience is a great thing. Having worked with folks in the past with PC experience (and knowing people in my personal life who did it), it is hard for it to be anything but a life changing experience. Even if one goes into it with less-than-noble intentions. In other words, even if one goes into it with a resume-building mindset, once you're living, working and immersing yourself for 2 years in world very much unlike your own (usually destitute, different language and culture, immersing oneself in a local way unlike any "expat" experience of a consultant/banker/corporate worker whose idea of "cross-cultural immersion" is conducting a meeting at a Hyatt in Nigeria) - the experience will change just about anyone who does it - it's not like any other "casual" community service activity because you're living and breathing it. I am sure you are a changed person from having done it, regardless of your original motivation for joining the Peace Corps. Put it this way - had you stayed in the US and continued on the IT path, your world and your life experience would've been that much more limited than it is now. And adcoms know that. Even if you're not planning on working in non-profit in the long-term. They know that the PC experience will stay with you and that perspective will stay with you and influence how you manage people and how you manage a business even -- no matter what industry you go into. It not only makes your resume/profile more dynamic - it makes YOU a more dynamic person (and I think you know that). They've seen enough Peace Corps alumni at the top b-schools and they do value it. As such, I think schools like Fuqua, Darden, Ross and Johnson are good sweet spot schools. You may want to include 2-3 stretch schools (Kellogg, Booth, Sloan, Tuck, Haas, Columbia, Wharton, maybe even HBS and Stanford).

2) Your GMAT/GPA combo should be okay. I don't think you need to do as much as you've listed here. If you had to make tradeoffs because of time, I'd focus on the GMAT retake - it will take less time (and hopefully be less painful) than trying to build an alternate transcript. Even if you can get 10-20 points higher it could help. Again your GMAT is fine as is, so worst case is you submit the app with a 710. As for the GPA, it's not really essential to build an alternate transcript unless your GPA really sucked (usually below 3.2 for non-engineering, and below 3.0 for engineering). I wouldn't worry too much about trying to do more community service for the sake of the application - only do it for its own sake.

3) The whole career goals thing is overblown. Too many applicants are stuck in the pre-2008 era with this. In the last few years, adcoms have changed their perspectives on career goals (read: being much more realistic and making it less important). What matters is authenticity and credibility more than anything else. The focus is more on the short-term goals than the long-term. Simply put, they just want to know that you can find a good job right after b-school - that your job expectations in the short-term are rooted in the reality of the current MBA job market, given your background. Long-term, it's more about whether you have some ambition, but again they're not going to admit or deny you based on your long-term goals (read: don't overthink it; sometimes the most straightforward answer is the best one) - in other words, adcoms know that in the long-term everything changes and that careers are rarely a linear progression because LIFE and circumstances change it (marriage, kids, unexpected opportunities and setbacks, etc. all have a way of making you take non-linear changes in "how you bring home the paychecks" so to speak). In your case, it's more straightforward than you think: you could talk about loftier goals if you feel that those goals are believable given your background, or you could just talk about a more traditional MBA job (consulting, industry, etc.).
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Re: Any chance of little advice? [#permalink] New post 14 Apr 2012, 14:31
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First and foremost, I wanted to thank both of you for your replies. Yours were the second and third opinions I have received after putting up my profile for review and the results have been informative. Thus far, I’ve heard that I might be aiming a little too high, I may be just right, or there may be a chance of doing slightly better. I believe that this illustrates the level of variability and uncertainty in the application process and may also suggest the importance of execution.

To be honest, both of your replies helped me to provide me with some much needed perspective. Full disclosure, I have applied twice thus far but upon reflection, both my attempts were seriously flawed my first attempt included only 3 top-5 schools while my second contained only 1, top-5 school. In almost all cases my essays were rushed to the point of including re-writes the night before. (I found it telling that in the only case in which I did not write the essays the night before, I received an interview.) Still, based on these results, my confidence was a little shaky and I certainly waivered a few times about making another attempt.

As far as the Peace Corps experience goes, I honestly believe it was the best decision I have ever made. Although my tangible accomplishments were limited in scope and duration, the perspective shift has made a world of difference. Trite as it sounds, I know I began to look at every element of daily life and humanity from an entirely new angle. Alex - thank you for comment about going into things without the most noble of intentions; I can see you really HAVE worked and spoken to other volunteers. I for one certainly fit into that category. Ultimately, it is not important which lessons you expected to learn while you were there, but rather those you came away with.

Unfortunately, the broadening vantage point does very little to help someone lost in the wilderness find their career direction. I know that the level of uncertainty I conveyed during my interview last year disappointed the adcom person I spoke with. Having a goal or aim is important when heading off to b-school, if for no other reason, than to provide solid justification for attending in the first place. Given that this is the greatest uncertainty for me at present, I think this will take top priority. As I think about it, I have often gotten caught up in the trap of looking at life from the angle of outcomes rather than from the perspective of a participant. It’s easy to sit and think “I’d like to devote myself to cause X” but less simple to think of the actual steps and activities you’d like to be involved in. To that end, I’ve begun looking at career steps as prospective life experiences. Perhaps consulting will be a great life experience to have because it will allow me to look at different problems in different geographic locations from a variety of angles. Perhaps working for a multinational will be a worthwhile experience because it will bring me (hopefully) to another country and will involve responsibilities that last longer than a short-term consulting engagement.

Either way, the immediate plan is to wrap up the alternative transcript (I’ve completed 3 courses, so I’ll finish one more and call it a day). I’ve picked up the GMAT books and started studying for that again as well. If it looks like I’m back in 700+ territory after 2-3 CAT’s, I’ll schedule the real thing and go from there. From a career goals perspective, I’ll have to become a more active learner here, actively researching potential industries to see what keeps my interest - nothing cures daydreaming as quickly as actual substantive content. Hopefully I’ll be able to contact a few alumni from perspective schools as well to see what they have to say. With any luck I’ll get all of this done in time to apply in the fall – there’s nothing like being 28 and moving through the MBA application process to make you feel old (at least according to class profile statistics)! The clock is ticking…
Re: Any chance of little advice?   [#permalink] 14 Apr 2012, 14:31
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