First of all, I would like to thank the gmatclub community who has played a major role in my success story. It’s time for me to share my experience in this MBA adventure because I have been a lurker here.
This post is very long but I have tried to clearly separate by theme so that you can jump to what is interesting for you. Abstract:
In October 2012, I decided to try getting into a top tier MBA for a September 2013 intake. I had a very poor knowledge of the entire process and I had not started to prepare my GMAT. Thanks to internet resources and mainly the gmatclub, I have rushed my application and got my acceptance call in May 2013.Profile:
European bi-national, white male, low-income background, 30 years old at matriculation.
Engineer degree from a French “ivy-league” school.
6 years experience, blue-chip, 3 promotions.
Experience in supply-chain and strategic planning.
International exposure through internships, family origin and travel (perso + pro)
Career switcher to strategy consulting. Want to work in Asia and Europe.
Extra-curricular: not so strong. Sports, music, some associative responsibilities in my company & my university.
Awards: good rankings & GPA during my entire studies, several national medals in piano, 2 RSE trophies won in my company.My schools selection:
INSEAD: target school
+: strong brand & network, FT ranking, very international, good ROI, a campus in Singapore.
-: short for a career switch, no internship opportunity if starting in September.
WHARTON : target school
+: strong brand & network, FT ranking, alliance with INSEAD, very relevant electives.
-: expensive, location (my personal taste only), “aggressive” image.
STANFORD: reach school
+: legendary brand, FT ranking, exit salary, location, “cool” image, beautiful campus.
-: expensive, less alumni in Europe, students have few experience, more academic.
HARVARD: reach school
+: legendary brand & network, FT ranking, exit salary, beautiful campus, case method.
-: expensive, no exchange opportunity, students with lower experience.
HKUST: safety school
+: strong brand in Asia, FT ranking, exchange opportunities, moderate cost
-: network not mature in Europe, lower placement out of HK, high ranking is recent
HEC: safety school
+: strong brand and placement in France, exchange opportunities, moderate cost
-: campus only in France, lower FT ranking than my other choices.
NB : I would have been actually willing and happy to attend any of these schools, even the ones labeled “safety school”. The choice between Insead and H/S/W would have been painful but I have not had to make it.My GMAT story:
1- Initial waste of time
I had no clue of how to proceed at the beginning. I just went to the library and purchased a book with “GMAT” written on it (it was the Barrons). I worked on it for 2-3 weeks. Good point was that I understood that my brain was completely rusted and I had forgotten all my maths. On the other hand, I realized later that the exercises were different from the actual GMAT and that a lot of irrelevant things were written in this book.
2- Let’s rock: at least the right method
Fortunately, I was curious and started lurking in different forums, including here. The first right step I took was to download the GMAT Prep tool. I read all the refreshers and completed the exercises. In November I decided to buy more books. I didn’t find the best books in France so I ordered them on the internet (used versions): OG 2012, PowerScore Critical Reasoning
, Manhattan GMAT Sentence correction
, Manhattan GMAT
Advanced Quant. I worked at least an hour each day after work. During the week-ends, I kept reading and completed one mock-exam (total: 2 GMAT prep + 4 Manhattan GMAT
online which are offered if you buy one of their book). I also downloaded the set of “700+ devil questions” I found on gmatclub, such as the ones from Bunuel. I run out of time before the D-Day: I still had 1 mock test available and so many exercises I could have worked on.
3- Mock exams debrief
I got these scores: GMATPrep1 700, MGMAT1 630, MGMAT2 630, MGMAT3 640, MGMAT 4 670, GMAT Prep 2 720
I respected the real conditions for all exams, and I tried different types of food and energy drinks during the breaks.
GMAT Prep tests were the closest to the real exam. MGMAT were more difficult, especially the quant part. I had pacing issues (had to rush on the last questions) and each time it was taking me down from 99% to 70% on the last set of questions (doing a lot of stupid mistakes).
4- The real exam (taken in last week of January 2013)
AWA: I used the ChineseBurn template. No surprise, but I think I did some typos. Scored 5.5
CR: Was easier than in the mock exams. I finished several minutes in advance. Scored 8.
Break 1: I drank the energy drink and ate the energy bar that had yielded the best results during the mock exams.
Quant: Started well but got upset after 10 minutes because the 2 bloody pens won’t write anymore on the plastic sheet used for scratch paper. I think I had sweated with my forearms on the plastic sheet and it had jeopardized the device. Then I got stuck on a problem solving question for which I knew how to proceed but I had done some calculations error. Found one error, then a second… lost 5 minutes. I was really angry after that and I think I started doing more stupid mistakes from then. Finished 3 minutes in advance. Scored 78%.
Break 2: I ate a banana and drank some water. I felt tired.
Verbal: Found it hard, especially the sentence corrections. I think I mastered the critical reasoning; the Powerscore book was really good. I found it helpful to take notes during Reading comprehension questions: it helped me stay focused. Finished right on time. Scored 96%.
Global Score: 730. Raised my fist when I saw it on the screen. For my applicant pool, it was enough for any school. I could move to the next hurdle: the TOEFL.My TOEFL story:
I purchased a value pack along with my seat for the exam. This pack contained an e-book, several e-paper based mock exams and one real online mock exam. Since I had only 2 weeks to prepare the exam, I went through the book very quickly. During the first week-end I completed 2 e-paper based exams. I found everything was very easy except from the Speaking section. During the first week, I worked 1-2h every evening to train on this specific section. I found useful resources in youtube. Look for Joseph Toefl videos to learn how to structure your answers: this is as efficient as ChineseBurn template for the AWA. I also found a lot of mock Speaking sections in youtube. On the second week-end, I completed my online mock exam and got a “25-30” in each section.
2- The real exam
Compared to the GMAT, the test center (Lyon, France) was a real mess. Dozens of people sitting on the ground in the corridor while waiting to be called, everybody speaking at the same time in the classroom during the speaking section, no physical separation from the candidate sitting 50cm from you etc. It was useful to be faster than the others and complete the reading/listening sections before there room was noisy.
No surprise in the exam itself. It was very similar to the mock exams. I lacked inspiration on the second speaking question and started telling bullshit. Because of this I lost my focus for a moment and I did some mistakes. But again, Joseph’s structure was very helpful.
Scored 116: R29 L30 S27 W30Investigating and writing essays:
Besides gmatclub and other forums, I used the “Guide for Business school application” pdf from gmatclub and the book “Best applicants for best business schools” (Paul Baudine). I only had 3 weeks before Wharton’s deadline so I just skimmed through theses books. Then I took a full week to make a deep introspection and build a comprehensive scheme on which all my essays/interview would rely. I believe it has given some consistency to my applications, and at least it has facilitated my work for the essays. I have re-used some essay material to copy from a school to another for similar questions, but most of the time I have adapted the essays to the school. In addition, I have spent a significant amount of time reading schools websites, electives contents, videos etc.
For reference letters, I have asked the favor to my current and 2 previous bosses to write the letters for all of the 6 schools. I also had to request the help of a colleague for Stanford peer’s essay. Fortunately I didn’t have to build additional applications because my referees’ patience was exhausted after that amount of work in such a short time (1 reference per week). Wharton was the first and therefore most difficult application. It took 3 weeks. Every subsequent application was built in 1 week.Interviews:
I was short-listed for interview by HKUST, INSEAD and Wharton. I have withdrawn my HEC application before knowing the outcome.
2 interviews over Skype: an alumni and an admission director. I was definitely not ready because my interview preparation conflicted with the writing of Stanford essays. The interviewers have attacked me on the feasibility of my career switch. They have expressed their worries about their placement in Europe combined with the need to speak Mandarin in the China area. My arguments were very weak. In a nutshell… I bombed it.
Got an invite on Thursday to be in Philadelphia on the next Wednesday… Well, this is the rule of R3. I asked for another calendar option and was proposed a phone interview. This interview was very friendly, but strangely too easy and too short (20 minutes). Especially too easy to be fair in comparison to the people taking the challenging team interview. I didn’t make any big mistake but I had a strange feeling.
2 interviews in face-to-face with alumni. The first was very challenging, almost unpleasant. However this time I was very well prepared and I think I answered well. The second was very friendly and mainly sold me the school.Outcome :
HKUST: wait-listed after interview
Got an email a month after the interview, stating that I would have an answer within a month. In fact this is their way to say that you are waitlisted.
WHARTON: dinged after interview
On the D-day, at the H-hour (very precise recruitment process by the way), I got an email telling me that my status was updated. I didn’t expect anything good. It was a ding with an encouragement to re-apply in R1 or R2 next year and to come visit the campus.
HARVARD: dinged without interview
Same process as Wharton. But on the D-day, I got a kind of “thank you but don’t come again” message in my profile. Hmmm, maybe I was too old, too weak in my extra-curricular, and especially an international applicant in R3. Well my chances were scarce.
STANFORD: dinged without interview
The worst process of all schools: the lack of transparence was almost insulting. They take your 200€ and then you don’t hear anything until the decision date. Actually I had guessed that it was a ding when the interview deadline had passed. I hated this lack of communication. My ding analysis is the same as for Harvard.
HEC: withdrawn application
Got the INSEAD admit before the interview results of HEC. No need to waste mine and their time. However I was quite optimistic because their pre-application feedback on my profile was quite enthusiastic.
INSEAD: admitted and matriculating
Ultra stressing period after the interviews. There were some rumors about an early decision, and a week before the decision date some people were already reporting their ding/admit on gmatclub forum. Got my call 3 days before the decision day: the dream comes true.
Wow… you have read this post entirely?! Congrats, I’m impressed!
Feel free to ask if any question, but maybe don’t wait until I’m matriculating because I may have less free time to answer in a couple of months.