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:
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?
1) Frankly, older applicants with entrepreneurial (or family business) plans are the easiest for the b-schools to accept. The big obstacle to those older applicants is the recruiting process following graduation, so if you take that out of the equation for yourself, your application improves. You are not sounding rigid by having this clear business goal in mind.
2) There doesn't seem to be anything to explain about the transition to entrepreneurship in China. A lot of people go abroad and start by teaching English until they get the lay of the land and then find out how to fit into it or start their own business in it. Your progression fits that pattern. You can certainly mention the booming sector and the opportunity you seized, but do so to demonstrate your entrepreneurial mindset, not the legitimacy of your path.
3) You need to research the schools a bit to understand the differences among them, but since your goals are entrepreneurial there is little to frame about them for the programs. What does need to be explained well for each of these applications is the need for this MBA and how it will put you on the path to where you want to be. Don't make the mistake of using a generic template about that issue: know what each school teaches well and why that particular facet of the business education will be so essential to your path forward.
While I do think your chances could be good in the top 10, I also want you to consider programs like Stanford/MIT/LBS Sloan Fellows/Masters and USC's IBEAR, which are designed for older students. Columbia's January program also makes sense since you do not need an internship.
Best of luck in the applications and your career goals!
Jennifer Bloom, CPRW
Follow Accepted on Twitter
Friend Accepted on Facebook
Subscribe to Accepted's Blog