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Time for me to contribute and do a write-up of my application experience. It's crazy to look back and write a condensed version of my past year+. Thanks for all the support from everyone here at GC as well as my readers at http://domotron.wordpress.com/
After a somewhat tumultuous period at work, I wanted to answer the question “What’s next?”. I felt like I needed to take some time out to reset and think about what I really wanted out of my career (and probably in conjunction, my life). Some may call this a quarter life crisis! Having graduated at the start of the financial crisis, I didn’t really have much of a steer on my career initially. It was a case of finding something and sticking with it. Fast forward five years and I am no longer sure my short term future lies in my current industry. That's when I started looking into an MBA.
I quickly realised the application process was anything but straightforward! Being a career changer, I knew I definitely wanted the internship experience. Therefore 1 year courses were out and I focused on 2 year courses. This also shifted my focus to the US because the majority of the UK/European MBAs are 1 year only. My current role paid pretty well and my future prospects actually looked pretty good. In order to justify the cost of these 2 year programs, it was definitely top 15 or bust for me. Using rankings, MBA fairs, info sessions, informational interviews with students and alums, I came up with a list of where and where not for me.
HBS – Little more need to be said about HBS. It’s a fantastic school with a great brand, prestige and tradition. There is a lot of bad press over HBS students but the people I met blew me away. They were all incredibly accomplished yet down to earth. Sure I could quibble at the fact that the class size is enormous but I felt it had a strong culture from my visit. I definitely believed in the case method as a great way to learn. Finally, the campus didn't feel like it was on the outskirts of a big city. It felt enclosed and almost college town like. Undoubtedly I was a longshot to be admitted but I had to give it a go.
Wharton – Part of the fabled HSW trinity of schools. I must admit I knew very little about Wharton at the start. After more research, it definitely felt like these guys knew how to have fun. I had my reservations about the reputation of its competitive nature and the size of the class. But I was swayed by their phenomenal recruiting stats and belief that in a class that big I would be able to find my kind of people, it was a solid yes for Wharton on my shortlist.
Booth – This was a strange one. Because they had a London campus for their EMBA program, I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of Boothies. Through these events, I bought into the marketing blurb about flexible curriculum, amazing faculty, great location in Chicago, etc. On this basis, Booth made the shortlist and I applied. Looking back, I'm not sure what I was thinking. I got less enthusiastic with Booth as time went on. Even when I received an interview invite, I wasn’t particularly enthused. Finally it really hit home during interview day that while it’s a great school, it's not for me. I didn’t want to commute to school from downtown (like most Boothies) and I didn’t like how the flexible curriculum made it feel the learning was individually focused.
Tuck - I fell in love on paper with Tuck on paper as soon as I started my research. The small, close-knit and incredibly supportive community was what I wanted in my MBA experience. The rural location was a huge plus rather than a negative. I just loved the idea of spending 2 years in a college town. On top of that, the recruitment numbers are consistent phenomenal in consulting. What really made the difference though was taking advantage of the open interview. Once I set foot in Hanover, I was sold. I understood what everyone meant when they were talking about "fit'. It was bizarre that I didn't notice it sooner but I realised the schools I really liked correlated strongly with Tuck's values and what it had to offer.
Kellogg – Kellogg for me felt very similar to Tuck but just bigger. I thought of it as almost Tuck+. It had great recruiting numbers and close-knit community. For such a big school though, I was slightly disappointed that they didn’t make a bigger effort to reach out into Europe. OK I did miss their solitary event in London but I didn’t feel wanted. There was also a nagging feeling that between Kellogg and Tuck, I would choose Tuck. Looking back, this was probably why I found it difficult to complete my app and it slipped from R1 to R2.
Stanford / Haas - The idea of spending 2 years at either of these schools sounded great. However, a long distance relationship is tough but having fly back and forth from Cali (as well as the associated time zone difference) meant Stanford and Haas were not an option. I actually thought Haas was kind of like a Cali version of Tuck. One thing to add though, both these schools had crazy low acceptance rates! My shortlist was competitive enough without adding either school on. So I removed them from consideration pretty early on.
NYC schools – I realised really early on that I definitely did not want to live in NYC as a student. In fact, I can’t think of anything worse. I am a Londoner and love living in a metropolitan city but as a student, it’s not the right atmosphere for me. On top of that the cost of an MBA is high enough without living in NYC.
Insead / Oxford Said - I was immediately turned off when I looked into Insead. It really is a MBA factory with a 10month program and I wanted a far more transformative process. Oxford Said on the other hand is an interesting program. It doesn’t have the prestige of its parent university but I really enjoyed my visit there. If I was looking at a 1 year program, Said would have definitely made the shortlist.
Fuqua - I should love Fuqua with its Team Fuqua ethos, great sports teams, beautiful campus and college town atmosphere. The only thing holding me back was that I wanted to leave the door open for returning to London and I’m not sure Fuqua had that recruiting reach. This was a really tough cut to make.
Sloan – It has a very impressive entrepreneurship slant and start-up scene. However it just felt too much like an engineering school with some focus on business. The Kendall Square/MIT campus is pleasant enough but, it felt too much like part of the city rather than a separate campus.
LBS – This was my last cut and probably the toughest one to make. Being a Londoner, I had ample opportunity to visit and interact with the school. It completely blew me away with its diversity and its focus on teamwork. Although it’s in the city, it has a nice little campus right next to Regent’s Park. When it came down to it though, I didn’t want to be a commuter student and I feared that would happen. I needed to throw myself into the MBA experience. I was actually all set to apply but as the deadlines got closer and closer, I just could not get over this fear to apply and R2 passed me by. I have nothing bad to say about LBS though and would still recommend it to anyone (just not Londoners!).
It was a looong year+ and I am really glad it worked out. In one sense I didn't have a decision to make about where I would attend but I think the schools on the shortlist decided for me. It reiterated that Tuck is the right place for me.
It was the school that I did the most legwork on. Of all the schools I applied to, I had by far the most contact with Tuck than any other school. I took advantage of any and all opportunities to learn more about Tuck. Throw in my experience of the open interview and staying in Hanover, I was completely sure that Tuck was the right place for me by the time I applied. Something I couldn't say about the other schools on my shortlist. Before I applied, I actually thought the idea of "fit" may have been overblown but now, looking back, I can really see how important it really is. That "fit" probably got me admitted because my stories resonated more at Tuck than anywhere else and also pushed me to really demonstrate how I would fit into Tuck. Now I can spend the next few months planning my escape to beautiful (and sometimes very cold) Hanover and looking forward to meeting my future classmates.