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Career Vision advice for Older Applicant

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Manager
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Career Vision advice for Older Applicant [#permalink] New post 20 Dec 2011, 20:37
I am a 30-year old entrepreneur in the dreaded “older applicant” bracket. I would love some advice on how best present my career goals/vision, and how (if at all) to explain what may seem like an odd career progression.

My relevant stats are as follows:
GMAT- 750
GPA – 3.43 (from top five liberal arts college)
Work Experience (all in China) in order – One year on prestigious teaching fellowship, 3 years as a business journalist for top publication, 4 years as an entrepreneur in the private education sector.
Background – American, Caucasian

I founded my company in 2007/2008. We began as a test prep program for Chinese students hoping to go to school in the United States (TOEFL, SAT). We have since diversified and most of our current growth comes from managing the international divisions of Chinese high schools (we handle test prep, counseling, and non-math/science curriculum). We now operate in 14 Chinese cities and are expecting a valuation of around 10 million dollars later this month. I manage a staff of around 40.

My post MBA goal is very specific. I want to expand our enterprise to the United States. This would not be test prep/counseling for the US market. Rather, it would be US-based academic immersion programs for Chinese students. This may seem like a niche market, but its potential is staggering (as in worth well over 1 billion dollars per year in the near future).

My contacts in China will provide me with channels for student recruitment from the first day of operation. However, I do not have access to American investors. More importantly, I do not have a community of savvy American businesspeople to help me hone and improve my plan. While I am a competent manager of my small team, my present management skills are insufficient for the scale I envision for this enterprise.

I think that this is the right time for me to pursue an MBA for three reasons 1) I think that the timing is right for this particular venture, 2) My business in China has reached a point of stability such that my Chinese partner can handle operations without my hand in all day-to-day operatons, 3) I am old, and yet, somehow getting ever older.

With that long preamble, here are my questions:

1) When it comes to career goals, how specific is too specific? My sense is that given my advanced age, specificity my assuage concerns about employability since 1) I will not be switching sectors, 2) I will be creating my own job, and 3) if worst comes to worst, I can return to my company in China….. My concern, however, is that I may give off the impression that I am too rigid or set in my ways. This is not the case at all. I am both very open to new ideas and learning new things, and am constantly overwhelmed by the sheer tonnage of what I still don’t know. I am not being disingenuous to claim that I both need the guidance of business school and would approach the experience with great humility. What do you think of how I should tow this line?

2) How, if at all, should I address my career switch from Journalism to Entrepreneurship. In China, it is not rare for Americans to start by working in fields that afford them a broad view of the market before launching their own enterprises. From the outside, however, I sense this seems like a less logical progression. In my case, I wrote a series of features about China’s booming education sector. The experience gave me a strong network of contacts and insights into opportunities in the market…. How should I explain this decision? Given that my future goals relate to my current position and not my past work, does it make sense to explain the transition at all?

3) Does the way in which I am presenting either of these vary greatly depending on the school in question? I am applying to pretty much the entire top ten. Would Yale or Fuqua view these issues significantly differently than Booth or Wharton? Are the ways to frame my goals that might make Stanford or Harvard less concerned about my age? Any thoughts?
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Re: Career Vision advice for Older Applicant [#permalink] New post 19 Jan 2012, 22:42
Expert's post
Hello jonnyh, thanks for your question.

I’m not sure there are definitive answers to your questions, but here’s my opinion:

1. I think you’re on the right track in presenting specific career goals. The more specific you are with the goals, the more specific you can be with why exactly you need business school, which enables you to be more specific in terms of how those programs can address your career needs. I wouldn’t worry about coming off as too rigid or set in your ways. The fact that you are applying would mean that you have identified some gaps that you would like to address, at least in my mind.
2. My usual thinking is that you should paint a career picture that cohesively ties together your past, present, and future. Not everyone has a straight forward, vanilla career story, so I think as long as you provide adequate context to admissions committees, they will understand the transition. I think you should tell the whole story, as opposed to leaving out your journalism background. Your explanation makes sense to me, and it does not seem like the transition came out of right field.
3. Tough question, since I do not sit on the admissions committees of all the top ten programs! But, that said, I think those schools would generally view your story in the same light, for the most part. The biggest difference that I’ve noticed is the amount of space each school gives you to answer the personal statement/career question. HBS and Wharton give you not that much space (400 and 300 words, respectively), while a program like Haas gives you 1,000 words. And, of course, there are schools that will be in the middle with 500 and 750 word requirements. To me, that’s the biggest difference. The approach is the same, but you have to execute differently depending on the word count.

Generally, your age is your age. I wouldn’t apologize for your age (and the experience that comes with it). Put forth your story and that’s all you can do. I guarantee you there are people your age and older at every top program. That said, Wharton and Booth – out of the top programs – seem more open to more experience candidates.

Hope this helps.

Best of luck,
Brian
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Manager
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Joined: 20 Dec 2011
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Re: Career Vision advice for Older Applicant [#permalink] New post 20 Jan 2012, 00:04
Thanks for your insights, Brian. I appreciate you taking the time.

The apps are in now. I will return with my tale of exultant triumph or desperate despair when I hear more.
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Re: Career Vision advice for Older Applicant [#permalink] New post 23 Jan 2012, 08:43
Expert's post
jonnyh, I look forward to hearing whatever news you receive. Let's hope it's exuberant triumph!

Stay in touch,
Brian
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Brian Eng
Senior Consultant
mbaMission

646-485-8844

Website: http://www.mbamission.com
Blog: http://www.mbamission.com/blog
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Manager
Manager
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Joined: 20 Dec 2011
Posts: 54
Location: United States
Concentration: Entrepreneurship, International Business
GMAT 1: 750 Q46 V48
Followers: 1

Kudos [?]: 13 [0], given: 0

Re: Career Vision advice for Older Applicant [#permalink] New post 30 Mar 2012, 23:20
Brian,

I wanted to send an update and thank you for your advice.

As predicted, I was dinged at HBS but I am not convinced it would have been the best fit regardless. The rest of the responses has been all good news with admits to Booth, Duke, Yale, and Wharton, and an interview from NYU (still waiting for the result).

Thanks again for all your help
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Re: Career Vision advice for Older Applicant [#permalink] New post 01 Apr 2012, 09:01
Expert's post
Congrats, Jonny! Where do you think you'll end up?

Best,
Brian
_________________

Brian Eng
Senior Consultant
mbaMission

646-485-8844

Website: http://www.mbamission.com
Blog: http://www.mbamission.com/blog
mbaMission Insiders Guides: http://www.mbamission.com/guides.php?category=insiders
Free Consultation: http://www.mbamission.com/consult.php

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Manager
Manager
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Joined: 20 Dec 2011
Posts: 54
Location: United States
Concentration: Entrepreneurship, International Business
GMAT 1: 750 Q46 V48
Followers: 1

Kudos [?]: 13 [0], given: 0

Re: Career Vision advice for Older Applicant [#permalink] New post 20 Apr 2012, 01:32
I don't know... What do you think?

I have been vacillating between Wharton and Stern. Stern gave me enough money that I would graduate without any debt and I have family reasons to be in New York. Then again, Wharton is Wharton. I am giving myself 24 more hours to try to get some clarity, then I will probably just have to flip a coin or test the tea leaves.
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Re: Career Vision advice for Older Applicant [#permalink] New post 21 Apr 2012, 06:15
Expert's post
This is a high quality problem! First of all, Wharton is, indeed, Wharton, and Booth's reputation has been in ascendance for some years now, albeit w/o the name recognition of a Wharton. I think it's fair to say that Stern is a tier below, but money is always an important factor.

I can't really tell you what would be best for you, but I can say that some years ago I faced similar situation to you: Wharton vs. Stern. I chose Wharton because - as you said - Wharton is Wharton... Of course, that same year a close friend chose Haas with a significant amount of money over Wharton and I do not think he has regretted that decision.

I hope this is helpful at all?

As I said, high quality problem - congrats either way!

Best,
Brian
_________________

Brian Eng
Senior Consultant
mbaMission

646-485-8844

Website: http://www.mbamission.com
Blog: http://www.mbamission.com/blog
mbaMission Insiders Guides: http://www.mbamission.com/guides.php?category=insiders
Free Consultation: http://www.mbamission.com/consult.php

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1 Experts publish their posts in the topic Career Vision advice for Older Applicant jonnyh 3 20 Dec 2011, 20:38
Experts publish their posts in the topic Career Vision advice for Older Applicant jonnyh 1 20 Dec 2011, 20:38
Career Vision advice for Older Applicant jonnyh 1 20 Dec 2011, 20:37
Career Vision advice for Older Applicant jonnyh 0 20 Dec 2011, 20:36
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