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First off, I would like to thank you in advance for any advice that you may be able to provide. I, like many others am searching for some guidance concerning my options for pursuing an MBA. I apologize for the lengthy wall of text that follows, however I believe I have a slightly unusual career/life progression.
[b]Stats: M/25/2years experience by matriculation Cornell University 2010, Applied Economics and Management: 3.2 GPA. However, my first 5 semesters were spent as an engineer focusing on operations research. 1st place in Cornell's Spring 2009 Strategic Marketing Competition (restructured a local non-profit with new business plans, brand creation, and a website on a $100/month limited budget).
GMAT: 740 [/b]
Series 7 and Series 66 Certified Currently learning Arabic (for fun at this point). Not fluent by any means, but am quite confident I will be well versed after ~4months. I serve as a professional mentor to assigned freshman students at Cornell pursuing my same major. I volunteer ~5hours a week at the local homeless shelter serving meals and setting up bedding for those staying the night (~100 people) At 18, I spent 3 months in Russia provided technology education courses in impoverished areas (basic computing, establishing webcams, etc).
Employment Currently employed at the largest online retail brokerage in the world (should be easy to google which one that is). I work on the institutional side of the business (not the retail trading side) providing internal strategy and analytics consulting (some project management experience, but mostly profitability and cost/benefit analyses) for wealth managers using our platform. I am in a rotation program, and currently focus on managed account solutions and our ETF platform; final assignment is on our strategy and analytics team which provides insight to all departments within our institutional side of business (primarily ad-hoc requests using SQL and Excel to create presentations to the Director and sometimes President).
Initially, my work experience seems quite brief (7 months working since graduation) but by the time I matriculate I will have worked 2 years with my current employer. However, here is a bit of a curveball.
I was originally class of 2007 but was forced to take a 3 year medical leave of absence when my father needed file for permanent disability. I had to return home due to budgetary reasons and work full time until his approval process had completed to help support my family. I held full time positions throughout this time, however the jobs aren't exactly stellar (full time supervisor at Best Buy, full time working at a local Chase Bank). Additionally, 2 summers ago I started a local business - essentially leveraged a $4000 cash advance which resulted in ~$30,000 in profits in just under 2 months (2 person company that paid for my final year at Cornell).
On top of all of this, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder during my medical leave; it went 6 years misdiagnosed, however I'm doing amazing now that it's been identified. I'm not sure if that's worth noting, but it's a big battle that I've overcome and am unsure whether it would be something to write about in my essays.
Reason for an MBA: I would like to make a significant career change toward the government sector, or even non profit. I enjoy entrepreneurship, particularly with limited resources. I am considering economic development / business development internationally (currently have particular interest in the Foreign Services) or domestically.
If anyone could recommend programs that seem like an ideal fit for my career aspirations I would greatly appreciate it (Hopeful for top 20). I've composed a long list to investigate, but I am quite the novice so far.
On an aside, if it makes any difference... I am half-Korean, half-Caucasian from a farming community in central Ohio. I currently work in NYC, and would prefer a school somewhere on the east coast (Cornell being the furthest West, although I couldn't pass an opportunity like Stanford hah).
Thanks again for your insight.
Wow, what an experience! I think if you're able to channel these different aspects/experiences/characteristics of your life in your application, you should be able to nail some interviews and admissions. A 3.2 and a 740 GMAT pretty much tells the AdCom that you'll be able to handle the academic rigor of its school. However, I think the hardest part for your would be to convey our past and current employment into your essays and applications. They really kind of seem all over the place (with the current consulting, past Chase and Best Buy experiences, etc), but if you can somehow string all those together, I think you'll have a shot. I think most people would agree with me that if you're looking for non-profit, Yale is your best bet. As you mentioned, Stanford is also awesome (but then again, which field is Stanford not strong in....? ). Since you're already in NYC, check out Columbia and NYU (while these are more traditionally know for finance, they do have pretty strong non-profit records).
I think fit is something that's harder to describe and it's so subjective that it's based on individual preference. Duke is a great program as well, but didn't know if you're willing to that south geographically speaking. Also, starting early on application is a great choice, but know what to do other than application. What I mean by this is that some folks can prep their applications for months and months (sort of like prepping for GMAT), but get burnt out at the end. If you're not gearing up for this year's application (class of 2013), but rather gearing up for class of 2014, I'd also suggest visiting some schools and sitting in some classes. Honestly and personally speaking, the way that classes are held in each school is pretty much the same - case method and cold calling. While some schools may play up that portion in their application, some will focus on other aspects, such as extracurriculars and such. By visiting (through admission's office), you not only get to say that you've visited (which may show AdComs your interest, though professionals say visiting doesn't matter), you get to write about your experience sitting in Professor XYZ's accounting class (or whatnot). It just makes your personal statements that much personal. Again, this is only if you have the time and money to do so. Last, but not least, it doesn't matter how long you've been with the company (7 years at Best Buy), it's really about the quality of the work. If the Best Buy experience is that important to you, it would end up on your resume and you'd like the certain qualifications/experiences on it, and frankly, as a manager at Best Buy, you must have some interesting stories to tell! I guess the fact of the matter is don't sell yourself short! I really think you have some interesting background that may appeal to the admissions committee.
Hmm...that's going to be hard, and honestly, I wouldn't know because I haven't been put into that dilemma yet. I've always been the person who believes that with a top 15 b-school, you can pretty much get anywhere you want depending on how much legwork you're willing to put in. I think this would really be something that you'd have to discuss with your close family. If it doesn't matter to you at all whether you attend a top 5 or a top 15, I'd personally say that go with the one geographically makes more sense for you. For me, personally, I'll opt for the best ranking but only because of the field that I want to get into post-MBA is such a realistic field (management consulting).