I probably decided to go to business school around this time last year. I'd long been considering where to take my graduate education, and as I work in a field that doesn't have many MBAs (international development), B-school was far from my obvious choice. In fact, I was a little reluctant to consider it. But I finally decided the degree (along with a joint degree in a related field) would serve my interests better than any other, and began studying for the GMAT sometime last March or April.Part One - the GMAT
Everyone goes about studying for The Test differently, but I tend to think that if nothing else, the law of diminishing returns limits how much time you can productively use preparing for it. As a native English speaker who happens to have very strong verbal skills, I wasn't worried about that section of the test - I might have done two practice sections, max, in the entire time I studied. The quantitative section would be my biggest challenge, so I set out to hit it hard.
I bought two books - Kaplan
's Comprehensive book and the GMAC's official guide, with a bunch of real tests included. I resolved that I would begin my prep work by reviewing all the basic concepts and then doing 10-15 problems a day until I killed the Kaplan
book. That didn't take long. Then I began doing a full quant section every few days, and a full test (or two) each weekend. I did that for at least a month. These were all paper-based tests... which, in hindsight, was probably a mistake. I didn't like the Kaplan
software too much and frankly didn't have the patience to simulate real CBT conditions, so I did all my full tests the old fashioned way. Altogether, I probably spent 8-10 weeks on the prep stage.
On test day, I drove 1.5 hrs to the site, sat down and scored a 690. I was pretty satisfied until I saw my score breakdown - I verbal-ed pretty well, but only scored a 57th percentile on quant. Screw it. I took my score and rolled with it.Part Two - the GMAT... again
I took a few months off, scored a hot girlfriend, had a great summer and even got some traveling in for work. I also set about studying for the GRE, which I figured I'd need to apply to one of the joint programs I was looking at. I took the same approach there - a month or two of taking practice tests followed by the real thing. By comparison, the GRE math was real easy. I scored a 760/750 verbal/quant and went home a happy man.
Shortly thereafter, I reconsidered my original GMAT score. That 57th percentile really stuck out, and as a guy coming from a non-quantitative background, I would need something stronger to have a shot at the schools I was looking at. I decided that using my GRE math prep as a base, I would take another three weeks, really knuckle down and try again. This time, I bought a Kaplan
quant prep book and just did several sets a night. I retook the test on my birthday and scored a 700 - this time with a 78th percentile quant. Score.Part Three - Schools
Yale - I spent a summer working at Yale, so I'd seen the B-school, but wasn't about to travel up to New Haven again just to put in an appearance. In retrospect, I don't think I'd want to spend two years in New Haven, and probably could have saved myself the two hundred bucks. Ding.
Haas and Stanford - I have a close friend who lives in Palo Alto, so on a trip to see him I went on visits at Haas (where I met Kryzak!) and Stanford. Haas is easily the most attractive school I saw, and I was very impressed with my tour and discussion with FY students there. I wasn't the biggest fan of Berkeley, though. I was deeply unimpressed with my visit to Stanford. The GSB is simply unattractive. The info session was interesting but pretty general, and the adcom member there was cheerful and helpful, but not all that engaging. (Of course, they have so many prospectives wanting info that I guess accommodating them all would be awfully hard.) Overall, I don't think living in the Bay Area for two years is for me. I applied to both schools more or less because, hell, why not? (Answer: five hundred bucks. That's one.)
Darden - My alma mater. I applied there as one of my "high-mid-range" schools. I knew the school already from my undergrad days, so I didn't go to tour or sit in on a class or anything. I did get an interview, and after it I went on a tour led by a girl who had also gone to UVA for her undergrad. The interview itself was friendly, straightforward and enjoyable. The school is beautiful, the case method sounds fascinating, and the lunch we had with some professors there was very interesting. Plus, I got some really hot blonde chick's number (I later learned she got in and is matriculating - score!). Overall, Darden probably had the best admissions process I went through this year. I declined, though, because they didn't show me any financial aid love.
Duke - Similarly, I didn't do any tour/class visit before applying. At my self-initiated interview day, I met some current FY kids who had some pretty diverse backgrounds. My interview was with a SY student whose questions I unwittingly addressed in my "why the MBA" schpiel, so we had a very easy discussion. The whole "Super Saturday" thing was exceptionally well organized and kinda fun. I was admitted with a generous aid package, and start this fall!
Texas - For lack of a better term, one of my "safety" schools, made particularly attractive because I was interested in a joint degree with their Public Policy school. Similarly, never visited. Their online system is a pain, but the interview I had with an alumnus in my area was relatively easy to set up, frank and painless. Their admit package was easily the coolest of all the ones I got - lots of cool information and very well presented. But even the coolness of Austin isn't enough to make me move to that backwater state.
UNC - Another safety, sort of. I don't think Kenan-Flagler gets enough respect for the strength of its program. I'm a NC resident, so going here was an attractive option... but while my interview was okay, the students I met (all two of them) were kind of unimpressive. I wasn't blown away by their organization, either - I arrived ten minutes early for my interview, and the office secretary wasn't there yet. They were setting up tables for coffee and bagels and whatnot. Their admit package was also cool, but particularly after Duke's aid package brought the COA to comparable levels, I couldn't justify going there over Fuqua.Questions everyone is dying to askHow I picked schools:
Basically, I looked at my numbers and decided which schools I'd have a realistic shot at after I wrote a bomb-diggity essay. I also looked specifically at schools that were strong in areas I'm interested in - social entrepreneurship, the "social sector" or whatever you want to call doing good things with your degree. I wasn't totally in love with any of them, though if I'd had my druthers, I would've gone to Haas. I'm very excited about Duke, though.What would I have done differently:
Firstly, I wouldn't have applied to three "reach" schools. I probably would've nixed the Yale application entirely and instead of Stanford, put in an app at Kellogg, where I would've stood a better shot. I also probably would have done more computer-based test prep instead of on paper. But overall, I have no huge regrets about the process.
Hope this is informative to some folks out there. I'm stuck in a hotel room on business and had some time to kill. Enjoy!