Or more affectionately known as "How the last two years of my life seemed like 10!". I will say this at the beginning in case it's too long and boring to make it to the end (which it seems is very possible given that my session timed out while I was writing this), if you have any questions about the process, my impression of schools, or anything else please, please, please ask. I am more than willing to pay forward what so many here gave to us.
I promised I would write this up and I'd encourage other applicants that are finished with the process to do the same.
I decided fairly late in the game that I wanted to get my MBA - probably Spring of 2008. I decided to take the GMAT and spend the next year getting to know the schools. So I spent a couple of months studying and took the GMAT in July 2008. I spent a lot of time in the next couple of months figuring out exactly what it was that I wanted to do and putting together my 2/5/10 year visions so to speak.
The next year I had the good fortune to be able to pick a lot of work trips to places that also had top MBA programs. I also visited all the places close to home. I combed through the school websites. I compiled a list of questions for students and sent them to students in clubs with areas I was interested in. Almost every student replied with info and was willing to talk via phone. As a female, I signed up for a couple of different women's events - these were very helpful.
I picked three schools that I felt met fit me. Around March '09 I started writing goals essays. Goals essays were frankly fairly easy for me to write given the work I'd put into figuring out my career aspirations. I wrote drafts of the schools' old essays (just one draft each, no revisions). When the final essays came out, some were different, but most were the same, so I went to town revising the essays.
I went through the old interview posts on gmatclub and answered a lot of the questions. For the very common ones, I put them together in a sample audio interview recording to listen to on the way to interviews. I get nervous when meeting new people. My mind tends to exaggerate and envision these horrendous things happening, so for me trying to ingrain this stuff into my head was a must. I don't know how much it helped, hopefully some (it was really boring to listen to over and over though).
I was in an awkward spot with recommendations because my company is a bit funny about departures. I couldn't possibly tell any of the supervisors I'd worked with, so I chose one that had voluntarily left a few months prior & then I ended up using a customer. My lack of choices was one of the reasons I kept the # of schools low. For each of them, I prepared a one page listing of goals, things that I would be discussing in my app, and accomplishments, plus a resume & one set of essays (the one for my customer was different as it contained info about other clients).
For essay review, I used some folks on gmatclub, a review from a friend that had no knowledge of the MBA process, a very brief read from an MBA student, and my recommender reviewed the set I sent him.
I think that about covers the process, on to my lessons/tips.
Lesson #1: If you are a native speaker with a good math background you should have no problem with the GMAT. See how you do on the practice tests, but a couple months and you should be golden.
Lesson #2: I visited a lot of schools. I think many current students will agree with this, but save a few unique things, schools are not that different. Unless you know MBA students across a lot of different schools, you are probably not going to get information that differentiates them (and maybe not even if you do). Pick the top three things to you. It may be rankings, location, and facilities. It could be specialties, location, and best social experience. Just pick three and make a list of schools that you think fit. Yes, you will spend two years of your life there (2%) and you really want to enjoy it, but on the flip side, the chances that you don't enjoy it are small - after all, you just spent 3-6 years working, school will be a "break". If there's one thing I've seen from visits, I could have fun at probably any of these schools.
Lesson #3: With that said, you have to visit the schools if possible. While I've said they all seem the same, you still may notice a different vibe. MIT was top on my list for an entire year and after I visited I didn't like it (and this was after having coincidentally known my student guide, not related to my not liking it btw).
Lesson #4: My resume could have used some work. My work portion was okay, but probably still could've used work. I didn't elaborate enough on the EC portion and the application itself didn't allow much detail, so this was an area that I felt I didn't deal with well.
Lesson #5: You may need to deal with your recommenders differently. I had one recommender that I knew was going to do a good job. He kept me informed about his progress and I only had to ask him one time near the deadlines about when he'd finish. I had another that I wasn't as sure about. He initially lost all the information I'd sent him and after I resent it, four hours later my recommendations were finished - I'm reasonably sure they weren't that good. He had an advanced degree (not MBA), so I thought he'd sort of know what to do. In hindsight, I probably would have scheduled time to go over each question with him and just discuss what to write. Not the way I'd prefer, but it may be necessary.
Lesson #6: Do your research on your chances and be confident with your picks. I had a good idea about my chances at the schools I was applying to and so the waiting wasn't that stressful for me (until my first decision was a deny
). If you are debating whether to do a safety R1 or R2, prior to this I would have said R2, I now emphatically say R1. While my Kellogg ding was frankly not that depressing to me, it gave me the worst case of nerves about what would happen down the line. Having a decision in R1 can make you less stressed in the spring.
Lesson #7: Converse to #6, don't leave anything on the table. I sometimes find myself wondering with the state of the current economy whether I should've applied to a few more top 7 schools. In the end I'm happy about where I'll be, but if you tend to live in the past, spend the extra $400 to not have any doubts.
Lesson #8: Finally, back to the 2 years that seemed like 10, I think my timeline was too long, i have been dying at work and really wish that I would have applied last year. This is different with everyone, but if you're thinking about sitting out next year to be able to take a lot of time to think things out, I might rethink that decision. I had a lot of downtime and I would've preferred to just be super busy last year and be in school right now (hopefully the jobs situation will be better and it will all work out better anyway).
With that I'll sign off & hopefully in two years I can write a summary of the next two.
"Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity." - Frank Leahy