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Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year?

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Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 18 May 2009, 09:19
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err... thanks

Last edited by kbellaiche on 12 Jul 2009, 06:51, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 18 May 2009, 11:35
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Here's the problem and you probably don't want to hear it.

You are:
- Asian-American
- brand conscious
- studious/bookish/academically oriented (high GPA, GMAT, thinking of PhD for a while)
- hodgepodge of extracurriculars that seem more like "busy work" than an extension of who you really are
- orchestra (you'd have to be Filipino to venture beyond classical music)
- research/analytically oriented career path and internships (finance, research).

These characteristics are so archetypal of the Asian-American that the biggest risk you face in the b-school admissions process is that you fail to come across as an individual -- that you risk coming across as a caricature because nothing in the above really separates you from so many of the other Asian-Americans applying (and no, in b-school admissions your strong academics won't compensate for anything - it's not about being "exceptional" it's about being "good enough" with the books).

Regardless, you should apply next year, not this year because one year of the kind of experience that you have simply isn't strong enough for any of the schools you mentioned.

Assuming you apply next year, being completely cookie cutter with your profile may be just good enough for schools outside of HBS, Stanford or Wharton. However, for these three schools you do need to convey something about YOU that goes against the conventional Asian-American experience (and adcoms are VERY well aware of what the archetypal Asian-American experience to the point where they may develop prejudices without even realizing it or being unwilling to admit it).

Again, you could get lucky with H/S/W being conventional, but more often than not the kinds of Asian-American folks I've seen (particularly at H/S) have something in their background that isn't stereotypical:

- single parent (woman) with a lib arts background from a highly patriarchal society (I'll let you guess what country that is)
- gay, bisexual, transgender (AND are involved in LGBT extracurriculars/activism)
- nationally ranked athletics (figure skating, gymnastics, water polo, swimming, table tennis, pro golf, etc)
- arts (anything other than classical music -- could be filmmaker, screenwriter, actor, jazz musician, working at music label, etc)
- community service awards
- culture, religion and politics (significant leadership/service awards in cultural/political activism)
- non-analytical background: lib arts, speechwriter/PR/advertising/arts/nonprofit/etc
- serving in the military

A lot of this stuff goes against the grain of what Asian-Americans have been "pre-programmed" to do from their parents, but that is sort of the point all along - adcoms who see *so* many Asian-American applicants over the years are hoping to see if you have a history of defying the conventions and even stereotypes that have been so ingrained in the adcom offices at so many US universities. ESPECIALLY if you're going into entrepreneurship. They're not looking for a bunch of daredevil risk takers (MBAs as a group are primarily risk averse), but if the pendulum swings way too far in the direction of convention, they'd rather take the person who has some capacity to beat to their own drum.

Sometimes I wonder if I should even write all of this in mixed company (it's an issue specific to Asian-Americans and the obstacles - both self-imposed and otherwise -- that needs to be addressed), but hopefully it doesn't open up a whole can of worms...

I don't want you to change who you are for the sake of admissions or anyone else, but just wanted to make you aware of how adcoms may perceive you.
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 18 May 2009, 11:59
Alex,
Thank you for the honest feedback. You've pretty much hit the nail on the head; I'm aware I fit the mold of many asian americans who are applying to top schools. Hopefully Ill try to separate myself with essays and recs. If i don't manage to get admitted to any of my choices, maybe business school was probably just not meant to be and I'll stick around work/try something new for a while. Thanks
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 18 May 2009, 12:18
kbellaiche,

You've got time on your side my friend. Most admits to top MBA programs, (regardless of ethnic/gender/professional background) have at least 3 yrs WE, most probably have 4+. Take some time and look at some of Alex's other recommendation posts. There are tons of jewels in them, but I think the theme that speaks loudest to me is that before you decide you want an MBA, and what school it must be from, you really need to take the time to figure out why you want an MBA and what it is going to help you accomplish. The reason that top programs tend to admit applicants with more than 2 yrs WE is because they have had enough real world experience to answer this question honestly and logically.

Truly, I don't think your mindset should be MBA from H/S/W this year or bust. Instead, perhaps you should see this as an opportunity to spend a couple years exploring (both professionally and personally) so you really can articulate why you are more than just a statistic.

Just my two cents.
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 18 May 2009, 16:36
im pretty similar to the OP but was wondering, isn't that a little extreme to say that asians are stereotyped into that category because they have high scores and are academically oriented? like some of the stuff is that asians should come from a more "non-analytical background," which goes against the analytical skills that b-schools are looking for. seems like asians should be liberal arts majors with unimpressive grades/scores and non-analytical jobs" whereas everyone else should strive for the opposite
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 18 May 2009, 17:37
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First, b-schools are looking for people with *reasonably* decent quant skills. They're not looking for math geniuses. So long as you can show *sufficient* ability in the math skills dept, they could care less whether you're brilliant (academically) or not.

Stereotypes cut both ways. That's the problem with the "model minority" tag that Asians have - it's mistakenly believed to be a *good* thing, when in fact it's limiting and destructive in unintended ways.

The positive inferences of an "academically inclined Asian" is that he/she is studious, hard working, disciplined, and you know, good at math. We're all supposed to be good at math right? :roll:

It's the *negative* inferences associated with it that become an issue. That "because Asians are great at math, the assumption is that they suck at everything else." Or that the academics become immediately discounted or taken for granted because "you're Asian; you're *supposed* to be good at school, right?" Or that the flipside of studiousness is a lack of leadership, a lack of "street smarts" because the image of the overly bookish Asian student is ingrained in academia.

I'm not saying that such inferences are fair or justified -- it's that when you're an university administrator inundated with applications from people from a certain demographic whose strengths are so concentrated in one area, such strengths will get taken for granted especially when the *PRECONCEPTION* is that bookish Asian students have little else to offer beyond academics. And sadly, it's true enough for a good chunk of the "stereotypical Asian" that it makes it easy to paint broad brush strokes across an entire demographic that it ends up hurting those who may have more to offer, but who aren't "different enough" on the surface to show that they are more than that.

Also, it's not about being "unimpressive" academically -- the opposite of "studious Asian" isn't "dumb Asian". That just plays into the self-imposed cultural trap that Asians believe that the primary medium to develop your talents is in the classroom. In plain English, there are many, many ways to be "accomplished" -- but that culturally Asians limit their definitions of that to academics, and see academics and math as the primary (or only) way to getting ahead. "If I need to improve my profile, I'll retake the GMAT." "I need to get a higher GPA." "I need more schooling to get a better job." "If I take a course or certificate in this I will be more marketable." "If I take an exam like the CFA, it will help me." And so forth.

It really comes down to being accomplished in a way that forces the adcom to see you as an INDIVIDUAL, and not as a stereotype or caricature. And that often means having something in your arsenal -- a skill, experience, accomplishment, etc. -- that is not conventional for someone in your demographic. Going against the grain, so to speak.

That's one of the bitter ironies of the Asian-American experience -- that so many go through life with the maxim (most likely drilled in by their well-meaning but misguided parents) that "if I only work hard in school and color within the lines prescribed by convention, everything will take care of itself" without realizing how self-limiting that can be when taken to that extreme -- and that while education is important, it ultimately becomes self-limiting if one fails to color outside the lines - *especially* as an adult.

Racial politics does make its way into admissions -- but not necessarily in as simplistic a way as one may think (i.e. "Asians are held to higher standards, blacks/hispanics held to lower standards, etc.). It's far more nuanced and complex -- and because the subject can get very touchy, a lot of university administrators just don't want to have an honest and frank discussion about it because of the fear of being misinterpreted (or even in some cases, because it's only talked about in shorthand behind closed doors and "off the record" it may be even difficult to admit to one's own views or biases even to one's self).
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 19 May 2009, 06:33
Alex, could you explain why you describe the OP's ECs a "hodgepodge of extracurriculars that seem more like "busy work" than an extension of who you really are" ? It seems that the OP's has mostly been involved in homeless volunteering and orchestra, plus a few other activities. If someone has been involved in 2-3 things, does it really come off in that manner to adcoms?
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 19 May 2009, 19:02
It was a hunch, based on the tone of the writing. Adcoms don't have some scientific "well, if there are X number of activities it therefore must have conviction behind it" perspective. It's no different than in dating -- depending on the individual and how that individual comes across, the adcom will either *sense* that it's "busy work" or that it's a "life's conviction".

Again, I'm not saying that the OP did these things purely as resume builders, but that even if the intentions were sincere, these activities aren't a core part of this person's identity -- hence my hunch that it was "busy work". I could be wrong, but that's how it comes across.

Part of it also is because the activities are so compartmentalized - it's not like music or "the cause" that he's volunteering for bleeds into his personal or professional life.
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 20 May 2009, 20:40
This is a fantastic thread. Thanks to all who contributed so far.

The one thing I took away from it is that everything in an application... background, work experience, extra curric should tie into one or two concentrated themes behind an individual, whether it be a background/cultural story, or a lifelong interest/passion, etc. Sounds like building a seamless, cohesive overall application is key, rather than highlighting individual areas. Would you agree Alex or am i misreading here?

Also, do you think that the "entrepreneurship angle" as the answer to "why an mba" question in itself is a means by which asian-americans can somewhat distinguish themselves from the stereotypical pool (I assume most of the people in this pool want to get into IB/PE)? This is (truthfully) the reason I want to do an mba as well...
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 21 May 2009, 08:43
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Pretty much - it's about "what makes you tick", not a random bunch of things.

And no, you don't distinguish yourself based on your goals -- you distinguish yourself based on what you've *done* - your prior achievements and past experiences.
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 21 May 2009, 08:59
You mean to say that your reasons for doing an MBA won't hold much weight in the adcom's decision?

I would think that between two identical candidates in terms of experience, background, etc, they would be more interested in the one who wants to start a business (and can clearly articulate his vision for the business) vs. the one who wants to go into IB/PE no?
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 21 May 2009, 09:03
Look, there is a difference between raw candidacy and application execution. Both factor into the admissions decision. Career goals make a difference in the quality of the application, but it has nothing to do with your raw candidacy -- what you've achieved, your background, experience.
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 21 May 2009, 10:49
Great thread and useful information. However, sometimes I feel as though Alex is a bit harsh/pessimistic on people's chances. I mean, clearly very few people have a strong chance of getting into H/S/W, but its not as though every person at the school is a national champion, human rights activist, started his own international charity...etc. There are still going to be candidates who are strong in major areas, no real holes in the application, who have a decent chance at getting admitted. From the responses, however, it seems as though this person has a very slim chance at MIT/Columbia/Chicago and an even slimmer/near impossible chance at H/S/W. I would be a bit surprised if he didn't get into 1 of the 6...

e.g. i was also going to bring out how alex got the notion of a hodgepodge of extracurriculars... really seems like 2 things he's done through college and continued afterwards (and perhaps started before college)
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 21 May 2009, 19:58
I think the point that Alex is trying to make, and the one you're missing is this: the individual parts may be good, but the sum of the parts don't necessary make a nice picture.

The OP has impressive achievements, but if you follow the stereotype then an accomplished Asian-American would,
1) be good at a technical/quantitative field (e.g. engineer, doctor, accountant, lawyer, etc.)
2) be good at one musical instruments (piano and violin leading the way, with cello not too far behind)
3) have at least one impressive EC, usually some kind of social work/volunteering.

You might now think, "Hey that sounds like a formula for a pretty good candidate." and you would be right, and that's why the stereotypical Asian parent pushes his/her child to do all things listed above. They (the parents) know that good grades alone are insufficient, so they push their children to learn (and be good at) at least one musical instrument, and be involved in some kind of volunteering activity. I'm not saying this issue is unique to the Asian-American culture; however it does seem to be much more prevalent in that ethnic group, hence the bias. Which is why I think Alex pointed out the OP's ethnicity as the first issue.

This is unfair (as with many things in life), but the OP has overcome this stereotypical bias and show that he accomplished all these things he has done through his own initiative and not through the scheming of his parents. Perhaps he will be able to tie it all nicely into one coherent application, but perhaps he won't. I think that'll be the key to his application.

I hope I'm not too presumptuous by speaking for Alex.
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year? [#permalink] New post 21 May 2009, 22:47
Thanks xenok.

As an applicant, you want to avoid giving the impression of a "check the boxes" profile. You are an INDIVIDUAL human being. Not a flat screen TV at the Best Buy whose features can be compared side by side.

If anything, my post probably touched upon the paint-by-numbers approach to childhood development that so many misguided Asian parents put their kids through --which has its downsides in adulthood. This isn't unique to Asian culture, but it's certainly more prevalent.
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Re: Evaluation for Top 5 MBA, should I wait 1 extra year?   [#permalink] 21 May 2009, 22:47
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