I don’t know where to start. Primarily because I already wrote this once and my computer crashed. Anyhow, so here we go. Why –
I always knew that I would head to business school one day. My pre-MBA role required a business degree and market always had a good supply to fulfill the limited demand. I realized that I required a platform (and some pedigree) to go where I wanted. Also, I was really interested in studying business. MBA was an easy answer.The first season –
I applied to Duke and Ross in the previous app season, without any success. It was a really tough year for me – professionally and otherwise. I wasn’t ready at all, but a few senior colleagues persuaded me to ‘test the waters’. In hindsight, it wasn’t good for my confidence, but made me realize the hard work that lay ahead of me. It also prompted me to retake my GMAT, and I was able to bump my score by 50 points. In the subsequent months, I prepared myself better by talking to a lot of people – current students/alumni/consultants etc. to learn more about the process and my target schools. The following year, I went all out and hoped for the best. School selection –
- Coming from a healthcare background, Wharton, Duke, and Kellogg were always on my mind. For the same reason, I also wanted to explore valley and Boston areas. So, applied to Haas and MIT, too. Tuck and Booth also interested me because I really liked the conversations I had with the current students there. Where not
– I wanted a 2 year MBA program and therefore, ruled out EU schools pretty quickly. The economy and visa/language troubles helped me solidify my decision.
I come from an over-subscribed demographic, and with no gold dust on my resume I knew H & S were out of reach. And I didn’t like the vibe from NYC schools. Also, after my visit, I thought I might not be very comfortable at MIT. However, I did apply to Sloan because I had already written my essays.
I did not want to go beyond top 10 schools for the shear reason that I wanted to return to Asia. Obviously, this is very subjective, but I felt that network/brand of other schools wouldn’t have been worth the cost/effort. I drew my line at Duke.
As you could see from my range of schools, the concept of ‘fit’ was a bit nebulous to me. I understand how people would want stay in a big city/small town or would want to do cases all the time, but not beyond that. I had no such preference and felt I could fit at a variety of places. It seemed like stereotyping programs and people who attended them. In due course, I realized that the stereotyping was true to a certain extent, but I still don’t buy it completely. Also, because I wanted to come back and expand my family business, I was always looking to get into the best school I could. Results –
I interviewed everywhere except Sloan, and was really anxious heading into that dreadful December week where 5 schools would release their decisions in a span of 4 days.
After getting dinged at 4 schools, I was accepted at Duke on the final day of the week and later, was waitlisted at Booth and Haas. It was a week of many lows and although I knew I had applied to a lot of stretch schools, I found it hard to pick myself up even after the good news from Duke. But, I was mightily relieved.
However, getting on the waitlists was a truly sorry feeling. I wanted it to get over soon and waiting for more time was just a terrible proposition. I knew it was a crapshoot, but I just wanted to give my all before I quit. Really, that’s the only thing that mattered at that moment – whether I could carry on and give my best shot. Created videos, sent rec letters, update letters and what not. Booth didn’t work out and I eventually withdrew from Haas because I thought I’d be happier at Duke.
Actually, I’m really excited to be heading to Fuqua. When the dust settled, I remembered my visit to Fuqua Friday last fall and how I loved the vibe at Fox center. It seemed like such a happy place. Also, I believe Duke’s HSM program could give me a real good foundation. And, I’m a sports person. It is funny how I think back and realize that Fuqua was the first school I researched a couple of years back and instantly fell in love with. I have all the reasons to be happy and look forward to a great journey.
Also, I’ve quit work and I’m really enjoying my pre-MBA unemployment. I had a few things that I always wanted to try and I would have never gotten a better time!
If you were looking for tips, here they are (random order) –
1.) Your application is not your life – If you are starting way too early, don’t make your career choices on what you feel is going to look nice on paper. Remember, schools want to know what motivates you, not how you cracked the code to get into a business school. Having said that, avoid common pitfalls – switching too many jobs, switching very close to deadlines etc.
2.) Your goals are important – for the sole reason that the admissions committee (except Sloan’s) wants to know that you have thought this through. They want people who know what they are doing and have an idea of where they want to be. Also, you can’t be Microsoft’s CEO or open a $1B VC fund in Africa. Or maybe you can. But, it won’t work on the applications. Be plausible, back your goals with reasons, and connect them with your past experiences. For this, it is quite important to study a bit about various business functions/industries/recruitment.
3.) Listen and Read – Hang around here more often - people here are truly brilliant and very helpful. Unreservedly, this is the best online community if you want to learn about pursuing an MBA. Connect to people on other social networking platforms. Read blogs/other people’s essays. Have your go-to team and never hesitate to ask for help. Really, that’s the best way to know what works in this crazy process.
4.) Consultants – Decide early if you want to hire them. Don’t go with their comprehensive packages unless you’re really short on time and don’t know anything about the process. I followed this approach - Prepared drafts, asked my go-to team to edit/review, and if I wasn’t satisfied with the final product, I approached a consultant. Never submit essays without getting them reviewed by someone who has gone through the process/is a good writer. Also, there are tons of consultants out there. Make sure you do your due diligence by talking to people who used their services.
5.) Start early – Like, now. The process is exhaustive and takes the life out of you. Taking breaks or having a few buffer days is a luxury. Also, you would always save a lot more by starting early – you are in a better position to negotiate with consultants, you may avail their off-season discounts, book tickets/hotels early for school visits etc. Also, target EAs/Round 1s, especially if you come from an over represented demographic.
6.) Social Media - Follow your target schools’ GC thread/blog/you tube channel/twitter/fb page. There are tons of other benefits apart from getting to know the school better. To list a couple –
• I connected with quite a few people who shared their application strategy, which was very helpful.
• I won an fb contest and one of my target schools waived my application fee. Not to mention, it was a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd.
7.) Visit – Take out time to visit your target schools. You get to learn more about the school culture and it definitely, solidifies your essays, too.
Some random tips for internationals - Take a 2 week break if you can and visit all the schools you’re planning to apply to, use airbnb – it is actually fun, learn when your target schools are offering class visits and then prepare your itinerary, and interview on campus wherever possible. (I was able to visit 7 schools in 2 weeks (both east and west coast). Most schools release their visit schedule in July, make sure you visit their websites frequently). Domestic applicants have the luxury of spreading their visits over months. However, I’d suggest visiting before sending in your application. Incorporating your visit notes to your essay drafts will definitely make them more impactful.
8.) Believe it can be done. But, also know that you will be competing against best of the lot and it is not always about you. Sometimes, your fate is decided by other factors, which are not in your control. Give your all, and move on. Don’t stick to a result/school. Also, dings and waitlists are emotionally draining. Keep your liquor stock handy.
9.) GMAT – All I had to say is - here
Summary – Some of us are better test takers than others. Start early & schedule your exam when you peak. Don’t expect miracles on the test. Hard work pays. The test is important.
10.) Manage your expenses - Even applying to business school is a crazily expensive process. Prioritize things and divide your funds accordingly. For instance, I chose to visit schools rather than spend that money on hiring a consultant.
Manage your time – Stay on top of things – deadlines, essay releases etc. Create a timeline for yourself and follow it. You wouldn’t want to be rushing in your essays to your top school. By the way, be ready to sacrifice some of your social life.
Just a final note – take this opportunity (application process) to think about what you want. What you truly want. After my interview, my Haas interviewer said that it is sad that we need this binary decision at the end to make us think hard on what we want from life and contemplate how our decisions have shaped us. He was so right. I’m sure most of my fellow applicants would agree that we came out with a better understanding of our motivations and priorities.