Exactly 10 months to the day after I began, my B-school quest has finally ended. I’ve gone through different agonizing stages to finally reach this point, and what a journey it has been! Without the help of GMATClub, I would have never reached here. It took me a lot of time to type this out, but I hope it’ll give future generations of GMATClubbers get a glimpse of my application process and maybe help them tailor their own b-school quest better. Like always, if you have questions or comments, post and I’ll try my best to reply.
I apologize for the length and “stream of consciousness” style of this post. If you don’t want to read me drone on, just go to the end of each section where I share some of my hard-earned words of “wisdom” (if you can call it that
As recent as 2 years ago, I was still a pretty hard core engineer who thought, “MBA’s are useless. What can I learn in class that I can’t learn on my own with books?” But after growing more and more dissatisfied with my job, which was originally a small proposal (think startup within a big company) and grew into a multi-billion dollar government program, I had a very crucial heart-to-heart talk with one of my best friends. He pretty much told me that an MBA changes the way one thinks about business and leadership just like a PhD changes the way one thinks about a technical problem (he has a PhD). That discussion prompted me to look for some business-related jobs within and outside of my company to see whether I would like the business world first.
After searching for jobs in product management or business development at big and small companies (using all the job search engines available), I realized that no one wanted to hire an engineer with 5 years of engineer experience in a very niche field in the defense industry, especially for business related jobs. Not discouraged, I decided to look for BD opportunities within the company. It took 2-3 months of talking to all my mentors, having them refer me to others, and then getting referred to even more people, before I found my current manager. After a grueling 4 hour interview with 5 people from the group, I was offered the job.
The job was a perfect combination of market analysis/research and applying some of my technical background. On the one hand, I learned a lot of new skills regarding researching for industry, customer, and competitor data, then generating an analysis based on that data to help our strategic planning group. On the other hand, my technical background allowed me to quickly familiarize myself with the technologies that I’ve never dealt with before.
Over the first year on the job, I was sent on many training classes, usually taught by former B-school professors. Getting exposed to basic business principles (similar to mini-core classes at b-school) got me interested in learning more. Talking to the B-school professors gave me more insight on what an MBA can offer me: the network, the experiential learning, and the ability to do a career switch.
Almost exactly 1 year ago from today, I took the first step on the long and grueling road to b-school.Preliminary Research:
Of course, being the procrastinator that I am, and being hit with some pretty crazy hours in May and June of 2007, I didn’t really do much to progress towards my final goal. Having no FT MBA friends or colleagues to talk about the process, I didn’t even consider doing class visits around this time or prepare for the GMAT. It was only after coming back from a short vacation to Canada that I decided to buy some GMAT books and start to pick the schools I want to go to. (Roughly end of June)
I first decided that in order for me to do a career switch, I had to go to a top 15 school (Ultra Elite/Elite for us GMATClubbers) to maximize the ROI. I made a list, and within a week or two of reading up on the school’s websites (and visiting some schools in my previous work travels), I narrowed it down to 7 schools: Stanford, Haas, Anderson, Kellogg, Chicago GSB, Stern, Columbia.
To me, location of the school, culture, and strength in technology/entrepreneurship were key factors. Thus, all the schools I’ve applied to must be in big cities that I would live in.
Here is a rough ranking of my decision factors:1. Location, Location, Location.
2. Culture, Atmosphere, Student Body (collaborative vs competitive, how liberal is it?)
3. Is it strong (i.e. provide good education and opportunities for networking) in the programs I'm interested in (Entrepreneurship, Hi-Tech)?
4. How flexible the curriculum is.
5. Alumni support (quantity vs quality)
6. Class Size
7. Overall Ranking Tier (UE, Elite?)
8. Student Clubs
9. How friendly and professional the adcom is.
For me, program strength/rankings is important, but not as important as where it is and who consists of the student body. If I'm not happy at the school for 2 years, then it's not worth going to that school, no matter how highly ranked it is.
I eliminated Stern and Columbia because they probably wouldn’t be able to get me into the tech industry on the WC, even though I wanted to live in NYC. So it’s down to 5.
Here’s the full list (taken from a previous post) to see how I got down to the final 5 schools.Harvard - NOT my personality or culture at all. Not somewhere I want to spend 2 years. I also didn’t like Boston (sorry) after 2 visits. The facilities were amazing though!
Stanford - DEFINITELY applied, even if it's easier to win the state lottery than to get into Stanford. One of my alma maters, perfect fit of culture, entrepreneurship/hi-tech strengths, and location advantage.
Wharton - NOT a city I want to live in, nor do I want to do finance or GM.
Kellogg - Could be a possibility, but Chicago is cold, and Kellogg isn't known for its entrepreneurship or high-tech, but it's working in those areas and the brand name could go far. The people there are wonderful and the culture is a perfect fit. Plus, many Stanford alums recommended I take a look at it.
Chicago - Considered it, visited it, been convinced by Rhyme to look at it. But in the end, didn't feel that I had a perfect fit, wasn't too thrilled by the area, and to be honest, I was just plain lazy and didn't want to write another application (and my recommenders would have killed me anyways).
MIT - Didn't like the campus, Boston, nor the East Coast focus of their entrepreneurship/hi-tech. Never wanted to go there even for BS or MS in Engineering.
Columbia - Wanted to go, but the program didn't fit what I wanted to do.
Haas - DEFINITELY applying. Alma mater, perfect fit culture wise, strength in hi-tech, entrepreneurship and VC, and allows me to work closer with the engineering society I mentor. Top choice with Stanford.
Tuck - Location, location, location.
Ross - Location, Location, Location.
Anderson - Good fit, great programs (though the worst at marketing itself). Good Entrepreneurship support.
Stern - I really wanted to go there, but the brand name doesn't carry out on the West Coast (had a friend who's a recent alum who had problems finding a job out here in the West). Otherwise NYC would have been fun.
Darden - Location.
Fuqua - Location.
Yale - Location
Cornell - Location.Kryzak’s Thoughts
As you can see, preliminary research is EXTREMELY important, especially if it helps you narrow down your choices. The reason is three-fold:1. You don’t have to do as many essays, so you can spend more time refining them. Your recommenders will also thank you.
2. You can use the “sniper” approach and really learn about a school. The more you know about a school and show it in your application essays, the more likely you’ll get in.
3. Once you get into schools, you can dig deeper into each to learn about their culture and fit with your goals and personality. It’ll also save you time and anxiety when you know that you most likely won’t make a big mistake picking any of the schools you’ve been admitted to.GMAT:
While reading a BW article (I think it was the 2006 Rankings BW issue), I saw a “gmatclub” mentioned in it and googled it. Found this site around April/May time frame, but didn’t really do anything until I started to prepare for the GMAT on July 4th, 2007. I set my test date on August 3rd, so I had 1 month of intensive studying to do!
GMATClub helped me tremendously in figuring out what books to get, how to study, and what to focus on. I have an entire “guide” written about this in my profile and in the GMAT forum, so you can search for that. In the end, I studied about 2-3 hours a night 2-3 nights a week, and usually 6-8 hours on one of the weekends. The two weeks leading up to the test I studied almost every weeknight and both weekend days.
After getting very sick of practice tests, I took the GMAT. I did all the tips and tricks that other GMATClubbers mentioned (washing face with cold water between sections, eating a granola bar, etc…), and thought I bombed both section. Then the score came up (the longest 5 seconds of my life!). 760! I almost jumped out of my seat! At that point, I felt that my work was done and the hard work paid off! (How naïve I was, heh heh heh). I went home and took the next 1-2 weeks easy to learn more about schools. Now looking back, I probably wish I took those two weeks back and focused on getting the Kellogg application in R1, but it all worked out in the end, so I’m not complaining. Kryzak’s Thoughts
Go read my GMAT Experience post. I hope that will help many of the future applicants here.Applications – School Research:
This part is all a blur to me now. But I spent August – October contacting alums from each of the 5 schools I intended to apply to. With Haas, I knew a couple friends who just got in and started in August, so that was easy. Through them and the abundance of emails on the student club websites, I was able to talk to many of them. I visited the campus so much that people joked that even the janitor’s mom knows me.
With Stanford, I went through the engineering alumni society to find someone who new a Stanford GSB alum who then referred me to others. For Kellogg, I found some students on the club websites and they were all very happy to help me out. Chicago GSB had rhyme and some other students I found on the web. Finally, Anderson was the toughest to get ANYONE to respond. Their student ambassadors’ email alias had an “out of office” reply (could you believe that?) and their admissions office kept on referring me to the student ambassadors… no help at all. It wasn’t until “zakk” from GMATClub referred me to one of his part-time alum contacts who got me in touch with a FT program alum (who then referred me to some students). Once I got through to the students and alum, they were all very helpful and I got to bypass the very dysfunctional Anderson admissions office.
Stanford and Haas I visited regularly and signed up for all their class visit and tours because they were nearby. Anderson I visited once before school started (9/21) and once after school started (10/8). Both visits were good because I just went around poking my head in the different offices and talked to whomever was there. Kellogg and GSB I visited in early November. I caught strep throat the moment I landed, so that was not a fun weekend for me. I did manage to make it out to GSB and Kellogg on Sunday and Monday, when I recovered enough to walk around.
After these visits, I decided to drop GSB, partially because I could not write one more set of essays and partially because I didn’t think the school culture fit me as well as Kellogg. The school is great and the facilities magnificent, but I didn’t think I would go there in the end.Kryzak’s Thoughts
DEFINITELY visit a school if you can before you apply. The “feel” of each school is very different on paper than in person. I was wavering about GSB until I went to visit (I still liked it a lot, but didn’t think it was a good fit for me). Try to meet students in their every day environment (very different from when you meet them at admit weekends), see some classes, talk to some staff (see how helpful they are), and in general get a good glimpse of what student life is like on campus while you’re there. It’ll help you tremendously later on in deciding between schools.Applications – Recommendations:
I told my boss about my intentions to apply to b-school around late June. I was pretty nervous about doing so (as most of you understand), but he was super supportive! He immediately said I “had to” apply to Stanford and he’d try everything to get me in. My other recommender was my previous manager, who originally asked me to write the rec myself and he would “edit and sign” them. I refused, showing him the Stanford guidelines, and he agreed to a detailed outline that he can use to write the letters. If there’s anything I can tell future applicants, it’s “GET STARTED ON PREPARING YOUR RECOMMENDERS ASAP!” It took me about 2 weeks to compile my school and work history, along with my story, my positioning, and examples I wanted them to use. The 40+ page “opus” in the end may have had too much info, but I did clearly mark which parts they needed to read and which they didn’t. But even with 1.5 month lead time, both managers barely made the Stanford and Anderson submit deadline. Even though Haas was 2 weeks later and Kellogg months later, they still submitted it only a few days ahead of time. Kryzak’s Thoughts
Give the recommenders at least 2 months and “nag” them politely every 2-3 weeks to make sure you get the recs in! Give them as much information as you have time to give and ask them how much they want. Keep on top of this, else you may end up panicking a few days before submission with no rec letters!Applications – Essays:
The most painful part of the entire process. After reading a lot of suggestions on GMATClub, I decided to work on Haas’ essays first, because it was due last in Round 1. This will allow me to “finish” the essays so I can use the more polished versions on my other applications. I saved Stanford for last because I needed that to be my best set of essays. My first drafts were horrible, as expected, and pretty much had the “biryani” effect that everyone spoke about. Even though some of my reviewers of my first draft (which took 2 weeks to complete) said that it was one of the better essays they’ve read and one even said it was better than what he submitted as his final draft, I marched on. Articulating my goals and my career progression that led to my goals was tough, especially in 500 or 1000 words. I had to really use the 65 Outstanding Harvard Essays to see how anyone could convey enough information in 300-400 words. After about 1 month of on-and-off working on the essays, I thought I had a good submittable set.
Anderson was easy, since most of it was the same as Haas, except for the family essay. I know many people advise strongly against reuse, but I’m a big proponent of reusing pieces of essays, AS LONG AS you carefully tailor each set to the school you’re applying to. Don’t just blindly cut and paste. Massage it until it looks like you wrote the essays just for that school. I would say I only had to write one new 500-word essay for Anderson, and the rest were just slight “massages” of Haas essays. This set took about 1-2 weeks.
Stanford was the most painful. I was able to use about 40-50% of the stuff from Haas and Anderson, but the “What Matters Most” took me almost 2 weeks by itself. I had to give up my Kellogg Round 1 goal to get the Stanford application done. In the end, I am quite PROUD of my work for Stanford, as the four essays link and flow into each other seamlessly (at least I think so
) and specific themes from previous essays were reinforced from different angles in subsequent essays.
Finally, I went back to Haas and realized what I originally thought of as “finished” essays were far from finished. The amount you learn after working on 3 sets of essays is really dramatic! That’s why I strongly urge people to start early and work on an application that is due the latest within a round, so that you can get your worst set of essays out of the way (the first set) and then come back to it and rework it before you submit.
Kellogg ended up being the toughest set of essays to complete, partly because the questions were very difficult, but also partly because I really didn’t want to write another essay. After struggling with whether to apply to Kellogg or not, with the help of GMATClubbers (everyone pushed me to complete the essays), I was able to complete probably my best set of essays. I reused about 60-70% of my work from the previous 3 schools, and wrote new material for the “Uniqueness” and “Leadership” essays. Thanks to great feedback from Avi, NC, River, Nervous, and others, I was able to complete these essays in 3 full days. Kryzak’s Thoughts
Essays are probably one of the most important parts of your application, the one you can control completely and tell your story. Give each school about 1 month time to work the essays, and have about 3-4 people review them. Too many and you’ll get divergent opinions. Too few and you won’t be able to get good feedback. As for revisions, everyone is different. I had about 4-5 major revisions (and lots of minor tweaks) for each essay (if written from scratch) and very few revisions if I reused old material. Others like 20-30 revisions. Do what works best for you.
For an older applicant like myself with no spectacular achievements, I focused on solid leadership and my varied job experience within the same company. I also focused on what I can bring into the classroom: the knowledge of the defense industry, which operates very differently than the market most people know, and my background experience as both an engineer and a business development person. For those of you non-traditional applicants, make sure you use your essays to bring your uniqueness (or rarity) out and show them how you can add diversity of thought into the classroom. Applications – Interviews:
After I submitted Haas in Round 1, I left for South America for 3 weeks and didn’t think about essays at all. All the time, I was hoping I would get an interview from the 3 schools, but nothing. After Thanksgiving, I almost gave up, especially after hearing people from GMATClub (river et al) and in real life getting into Kellogg or getting interviews from Stanford and GSB. Finally, I got an email from Anderson for an interview early December. I’ve always been good at behavioral interviews, so I really didn’t prepare much other than review my essays (that’s when I found out I said “International Business Development” (at Haas) in my Anderson application rather than “Global Management”, oops!), know my “Why MBA, Why Anderson, Why Now?” story, and pick a few good teamwork examples where I led, followed, had conflicts, etc… to use in answering questions.
The interview was very relaxed. The detailed info can be found in my profile or in the UCLA thread. The alum was very friendly and helpful.
Kellogg’s interview was a whole different story. I was wondering why I haven’t heard from them regarding an interview even though I submitted November 1st. Then I realized that I had to log into the Kellogg status check website to find the interview letter. Oops! I checked it sometime around New Years, and found a letter dated November 5th! Good thing the interviewer was very friendly about it, and we decided to interview right after New Years. The day of the interview had the worst rainstorm that the SF Bay Area has seen in a while. Trees were on the streets, the freeway was completely flooded and impossible to see because of mist, and many blocks had their power knocked out. The two of us had to brave “horizontal rain” and go to two different Starbucks (both with power out) until we ended up at a diner. I was a bit flustered by it all, and thought I gave some pretty bad examples for leadership and what I can contribute to Kellogg. The alum seemed very nice about it and thanked me for getting through one of the craziest interview experiences she’d seen.
I didn’t get my Super Saturday Haas interview invite until sometime in January, but was ecstatic when I got it. By this time, I haven’t heard from Stanford at all, and chances for getting an interview with them was slim to none, so Haas became my sole #1 choice. Super Saturday was a blast, with tours of the buildings, student panels, and alumni panels. I got to do the interview first, so that was a relief. I interviewed with a very cool alum that I’ve met before, and we had a very good time talking about my goals and leadership experiences. I think this was by far one of my best interviews. Kryzak’s Thoughts
For all these interviews, I would recommend the applicant to “know thyself”. If you know all your motivations and your past experiences, and can bring them up to answer relevant questions, you will do just fine. Of course, everyone prepares differently, so make sure you know what works best with your personality.The agonizing wait for decisions:
As many of you know, I was praying for a pre-Christmas admit so I don’t have to worry so much about it during the holidays. Anderson pulled through for me, giving me my first admit the Friday (at 4pm) before the offices closed. Avi was with me at the time, and he can attest to the relief I had knowing that I will go to business school for sure Fall 2008. That feeling is just indescribable, especially after the 6-month grueling application process. While it was easier to wait for the future decisions, waiting for Haas and Kellogg was still tough.
Near the end of January, I knew I wasn’t going to get into Stanford because of the lack of interviews. While the feeling sucked, I kind of had a long time to prepare for it, so it didn’t devastate me as much as I thought it would. Of course, when Pete Johnson called me a few days later from Haas, all the disappointment with the Stanford ding was erased! That was probably the best phone call I’ve received, and I don’t really remember what I said in our conversation… I must have sounded like some moron who couldn’t carry a conversation, haha. I was completely content at this point, since Haas has always been one of my top choices, and the admit allowed me to not worry anymore. When Pete told me about the scholarship, I was completely floored, especially since I was just happy to get in, let alone get some $$ out of it. That was a pleasant surprise.
Months later, Kellogg began it’s cruel 6-week rolling admissions process. I was not called until the beginning of the 5th week for some reason. Even though I didn’t care as much, it still drove me a little bit crazy to be in the dark when everyone and their mother were getting calls on BW forums. The call was still sweet though, and of course the scholarship was a big surprise too.
Now all the results came in, I thought it would be smooth sailing from this point on… little did I know making a decision would be just as tough as any of the previous phases of the application process.Kryzak’s Thoughts
The wait is painful… other than try to not think about it and not obsess about it, I don’t know what else to say… sorry! LDecision Making:
By the time I got my Kellogg call, I’ve already attended Anderson Days (see my report for that in my profile or the UCLA thread). I’ve pretty much decided that Haas was a better fit for me at that point. Kellogg threw everything into the air again. With a huge contingent of people going to the Chicago schools this fall, along with Kellogg’s strong brand name over the past decades, it was hard to give up Kellogg for Haas. I enjoyed talking to students from both schools, and both schools offered very good opportunities for what I wanted to do, so I had to let the admit weekends decide for me.
After attending Days at Haas (see profile or Haas thread), I was pretty much ready to turn in my deposit check, since it was close to everything I wanted in a school. But I knew that I had to give Kellogg a fair chance, especially since I don’t know as much about the school from first hand experience due to the distance. So I patiently waited one more week to go to DAK (see profile or Kellogg thread). DAK was equally amazing as DAH, and the gut feel at the end was slightly for Haas. I still had a few questions I had to get answered by Haas students and staff on Monday and Tuesday (4/21-22) before I could make the decision.
Funny thing is, I had a gut feeling that Haas was leading Kellogg 55-45%, but the engineer in me decided to make a spreadsheet with 30 decision factors with scores for each school from 1-5 and various weights from 1-5. The total score ended up being 54-46% in Haas' favor. I call that a "sign".
So the agonizing is finally over… As much as I loved Kellogg, Haas made a lot more sense for me in terms of hi-tech entrepreneurship, VC, and the culture of taking risks and doing things “differently”. I think those minor differences are what made the decision for me. Feel free to check out my other posts breaking down the pros and cons of the two schools to see my thought process. Kryzak’s Thoughts
Even though people keep on telling me that I “could not make a wrong decision” or “follow your gut” or “this is a good decision to make”, trust me, anyone who has been in the situation knows it’s NOT easy when picking between two great schools. I know I can’t make a mistake, but there are things about each school that fit better than the other. If only we could do exchange programs between US schools, I would easily do one quarter/semester at Kellogg, haha. All I can say is, know what the most important decision factors are for you and yourself only. Ignore the “brand name”, rankings, heresay, opinions, etc… that floats around everywhere. Dig deep into yourself and compare every aspect of the schools. Try to figure out as much as possible what you want to do, and whether the school can get you there. Make sure you will be happy at the school, as I believe it’s not worth the time and money to go to a b-school where you’ll feel like an outsider. Talk to the students and alums OUTSIDE of admit weekends (since those are well orchestrated “sell machines” that play on emotions
) and ask tough questions. If the schools are still pretty equivalent, then make a spreadsheet like I did and evaluate all the minor factors. Most of the time, one school will emerge as the better choice, even if it’s only slightly. Conclusion:
So if you had the patience to read through my stream of consciousness to this point, I thank you. The past 10-months was a transformative period for me. I learned so much about myself, what I want to do, why I wasn’t happy with my job, and how I can make a meaningful change in my life. I’ve been fortunate enough to get accepted into 3 of the top schools in the world, something I would NOT have expected at the beginning of the process. Even though I didn’t get into Stanford, after thinking about it more, it was probably a blessing in disguise, as the more enthusiastic/energetic and quirky culture of Haas is probably a better fit for my personality.
Now that all is said and done, I can finally focus on the next stage of my life and make my dreams of finding a job I’m passionate about come true.
More than that, I’ve made a LOT of friends, both online and in real life, through this process. These are friends whom I would do a lot for and stay in touch for a long time. Without my GMATClub buddies, I would not have made it through. Without people like rhyme, avi, river, nc, kwam, nervous, aaudetat, mNeo, pelihu, Praetorian, terry12, amongst others (sorry if I can’t list everyone here, there are just too many of you!), I would not know how to focus my essays, prepare my recommenders, do interviews, survive the wait, and know how to dress for my interviews.
I cannot thank you
all enough for the support you gave me and I will always cherish the family we formed here in this virtual space. Everyone I’ve met in real life from GMATClub have been so wonderful, fun, interesting, intelligent, and exciting to be around. This speaks volumes to the quality of this site. Thank you Praetorian and bb for starting the site and keeping it running.
Alright, before I bore you to death, I will end here. I hope this post has been useful to future applicants and interesting to current admits. I look forward to meeting more of you in the coming years and also helping future GMATClubbers get into the best schools for each of them. Just remember, even in your darkest hour when you think everything is falling apart, there will always be a ray of hope. So keep your head up high and keep pushing forward.
I will leave you with this profile eval from Accepted.com
1. Minimal at Stanford, slightly less minimal at CBS, unlikely but possible at Haas, possible/maybe at NYU and UCLA.
You appear to lack formal or unusually strong leadership in your worklife, and your overall profile, while strong, is not terribly unusual. There's not much 'wow' factor, just a lot of solid to good credentials.
Kryzakyeah, 5200+ words, kinda scary!
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