Hi everyone, after sending my deposit into Chicago Booth a few days ago, I think I can finally say that I've completed my MBA application journey. I feel like now I can reflect back and give a well-informed story of my experience:
GPA: 3.6 from HYP Ivy
GMAT: 770 (50Q, 45V)
Finance- traditional long only asset management
ECs: volunteering, tutoring, big on team sports
Deciding on Business School:
I've known for a long time that I wanted to get an MBA at some point in my career, whether it'd be full time, part time, or executive. I am a reapplicant. I applied in 2012 and failed miserably, having not done my homework on the application process and receiving literally 0 interviews. I think I failed in 2012 from 1.) not having a realistic post-MBA goal, 2.) not prepping my interviewers at all with my accomplishments, and 3.) somewhat applying to reach schools that I had really a poor chance from the beginning. In 2012, I applied to HBS, Wharton, Stanford, Columbia, and Haas. I went in thinking I could do VC after MBA coming from a traditional asset management background paired with my engineering undergrad. Figured VC is business/finance mixed with innovation so it would be a good fit. It's not like this at all in the real world.
So between 2012 and this application cycle, I continued advancing my career, getting a promotion along the way, while really introspecting on how I can reapply with success this time. I had the hard assets like GPA, Ivy league undergrad, and a strong GMAT score so really it was about filling in the holes in my application and just getting an interview. I was confident that if I could just get the interview, I had a good chance of getting in somewhere. I'll say that based on what I did differently this time around, the two key points really are 1.) post-MBA goal and 2.) recommendations. It makes sense in hindsight because there's gotta be a large variation in writing abilities whether you're an author or whether you're a heads down statistician. It made sense that the adcoms ought to screen for your personal writing ability. BUT what other people say about you really does matter.
Narrowing down the schools:
This time around, I decided that I wanted to go in with the post-MBA goal of advancing my career in finance, which is a lot more realistic. In my opinion, business schools care about two things: 1.) your ability to do well and succeed at their institution and 2.) your hirability post MBA. So I decided to go the more realistic approach. Based on this, I focused on finance heavy schools: Booth, Wharton, Columbia, HBS, and MIT. In this area of narrowing down the schools, I will give credit to a consulting firm- Stacy Blackman
. They offered a free half hour conversation to get an introduction of their services. They helped me get a sharper image of which places I ought to apply and had a realistic chance of getting in. Stanford was out. They also suggested I take out Harvard and apply to NYU. I took out NYU and applied to HBS instead but I found that conversation to be helpful. Beyond that, I didn't use any consultancy. I had enough peers who I could rely on to read over essays. Plus, I felt like my essays weren't necessarily my weak point from the 2012 period.
Applying to schools:
I applied to all schools Rd 2. In hindsight, I felt like I should've applied Rd 1 instead and might have had a better chance at a reach school like HBS. That said, I got married last year and had scheduled my GMAT for late Aug so couldn't swing it. C'est la vie. I remember gathering all the essay prompts and just kind of tackling them one by one, jumping around to whichever one I felt like writing at any given evening/weekend. The hardest essays to write were probably MIT's. For Booth, I opted to write a traditional essay and admittedly used the free form essay for both Booth and Harvard, which only has an optional essay. I thought about doing the four slide thing but decided I was probably going to load it up with a collage of my accomplishments, which I figured many people would do. I felt like I wrote my best essays for Wharton. Booth was okay, MIT was ok, Harvard was OK, and Columbia was pretty good. Even though Columbia's admission process was rolling, I ended up submitting all my apps in the two weeks between Christmas and the first week of Jan 2014.
Interviews with schools:
After sending in my applications, it was time to play the waiting game. My first invitation came from Columbia, which was a huge confidence boost because just getting an interview invitation was already an infinite bump up from 2012. I felt there was hope. Then came the ding without interview from Harvard. I should've known not to re-apply. Then came the interview invite from Chicago. Another positive data point. I felt pretty wanted and knew the interviews were mine to mess up. I looked at the stats and it looked like I had a better than coin flip's chance to get into a program conditioned on receiving an interview invite. Then came the ding from Wharton. That was a wtf moment for me since two strong finance programs in Booth and Columbia both gave me an interview invite. To this day I don't know why I didn't receive an interview invite from Wharton. My speculation is 1.) they lost my application in the pile, 2.) they already filled their asian male finance quota from Rd 1 (I'll never know), or 3.) my previous application to Wharton which they still kept in their systems hurt my chances this time around. In any case, Wharton's loss.
I interviewed with Columbia and got accepted. For those of you who apply to Columbia, make sure you pick a good interviewer. They give you a list of interviewers to choose from. I got a list of six. Choose someone who you think can write an objective review of you and who won't have colored views based on their own experiences. For this reason, I'd suggest you interview with someone who's not in your field. Coming from finance, I chose someone who was in consulting.
I interviewed with a Chicago Booth alumni and also got accepted so scored a nice 2/2 at the places that were kind enough to extend me an interview. I read online that there's the option of interviewing on campus or interviewing with an alum. As you all know, 2013-14 winter was cold. Coming from the east coast US, I figured even though I was a short 2 hr plane ride from campus, I'd do the alumni interview instead so as to not risk getting stranded in either city. I read that the on-campus interviews were more objective because the second year students had a clear rubric and clear sets of questions to ask. Alumni interviews on the other hand could be more varied but whatever, I felt like I had a clear MO and could clearly speak to my goals and aspirations. I felt that I had a great interview with my alumni interviewer.
On a tangent, I sent thank you notes to both my interviewers. One replied, one didn't, both got admissions offers. The whole replying to emails as a herring to whether you get accepted or not is bogus. It really depends on your interviewer. But perhaps you can get a sense by how responsive they are during the whole interview setup. For instance, with my Booth interviewer, I could get a sense that she had a busy career schedule.
MIT notified me last, and put me on their waitlist. Another interesting but wtf moment for me. Maybe they couldn't see my interest in them, maybe again I applied later than Rd 1 and they'd filled their quotas, but they still kind of wanted me enough not to reject me outright. At the time of their notification, I had already been accepted to Columbia and was waiting for my Booth decision. I decided to go pay them a visit. I liked the campus, but based on my interaction with a first year there, it seemed like their finance recruiting was rather light. I actually came away from the visit feeling more lukewarm about the program. On the note of waitlists, I think it's a total crapshoot if you get placed on it. If you want to get off the waitlist, I think you almost have to continue to jump through the hoops of sending them updates, reiterating your interest, etc. At the end of the day, I think you're there for one reason: to fill in for spots based on their offer acceptances. I personally hate waitlists. I'd rather get rejected outright than have to give an arm and a leg to MAYBE get off because someone else has rejected the school.
After getting accepted:
So there I was sitting with two offers from Columbia and Booth. I figured I'd go to Columbia for sure because it's NYC, center of finance, and job environment was more favorable to my wife's career as well. That said, never rule out your choices. At the beginning of the process, I figured I'd have a leaning toward school and that it would be easy to pick because the pros and cons are clear. I figured I'd apply, get into a few programs and have a clear decision. Wrong. During the whole process of applying, I kind of figured I'd be the dime a dozen over represented minority who would get into school with no scholarship money. Well it turns out Booth gave me a nice scholarship which covered a decent portion of tuition. I figured money wouldn't matter in picking a school, but it does, especially if the programs are close to each other in prestige and strength of program in terms of academics and recruitment opportunities.
So what did I do next? Didn't take Booth's offer right away. Called up Columbia to see if they could give me a scholarship too. Told them nicely that I had a competing offer with a scholarship and to see if there's anything they could do. Columbia ended up offering half of what Booth offered. I'd encourage everyone who receives multiple offers, who receive scholarships, to go to their competing offers to ask them to match. The worst they can do is say no. Be nice and respectful but also be forthright. Bschools deal with this kind of stuff all the time and it's the best ROI move you can make for a few uncomfortable emails.
Finally came the admit weekend visits. You have to do your research to try to be as objective as possible. You know that admit weekends are all about hamming programs up. Columbia doesn't take you to Uris Hall because the building is some butt and Booth has their admit weekend at the very end of April because it's as close to warm weather as they could get it without cross the May 1 deposit deadline. Pay attention to what they pitch because that's what they want to market but also do your own independent thinking. I wrote out a list of pros and cons for competing programs and talked to as many people as I could. I also talked to alumni who were not involved in the school selling process and tried to get as many unbiased perspectives as possible.
I chose Booth over Columbia for a number of reasons:
1.) more quantitative program (which is my strength)
2.) more money
3.) more prestige overall (Chicago ranked t5 on average while Columbia is m7)
4.) better personality fit.
5.) big x-factor: Booth put in a lot of effort to convince me to come. Columbia had one first year call me and I had to reach out to people to get my questions answered.
Overall just felt like Booth had way more resources and was a better fit. I'd recommend anyone with choices to do the admit weekends. You can read as much as you want to compare but nothing beats your gut instinct after meeting with potential peers. Go with your gut.
P.S.- as far as visiting schools, I didn't visit either Columbia or Chicago before applying. I did do info sessions and online chats, which I thought would be enough to demonstrate interest. Additionally, I knew I'd be interested in these programs because they were strong in finance. Perhaps not visiting MIT beforehand landed me on the wait-list but it seems like if they're interested in you, they'll still interview you regardless. Visits can be expensive and in my opinion a poor investment for the uncertain return. I'd do the visits AFTER getting in unless of course you're right next door.