Hey all, this is my first post, although I've been a long time reader. I would like to get some advice on how to prepare myself for business school in the future. A little about my background: I'm a 24 year-old, first generation, Native American, college graduate coming from a small town in rural Oklahoma. I finished my BS in Computer Science from a smaller university in Oklahoma, graduating in 2007 with honors. I managed to finance my entire way through college by scholarship alone. Upon completion of my undergraduate, I undertook a position as a Software Engineer for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Throughout that time, I learned valuable principles about working with people and managing projects in general; all things that I couldn't have acquired through academic study.
Before graduating, I had tossed around the idea of maybe pursuing an advanced degree after graduating but thought that real-world experience (and a break) would be good for me for a while. That's when I chose to take up the offer at the Cherokee Nation. As aforementioned, the job was good, and I learned some valuable principles, but overall the job wasn't very challenging. After a year and a half, that's when I made the decision to pursue my masters degree. For the past few semesters, I've been enrolled as a full-time graduate student at the University of Texas. If all goes as planned, I will be completing my MS in December.
Although I'm not finished with my MS yet, I'm convinced that I would like to pursue an MBA in the future. I'm entrepreneurial by nature, and I've always had the dream of starting my own software consulting firm, and I'm confident in my skills as a software developer, but not so much on the business side. My question is, what kinds of things can I do right now, while I'm still a 4-6 years out, to prepare myself to be an attractive candidate to admission committees? Besides the obvious areas such as GMAT study and work experience, what can I do to become prepared? I've tried to be involved on campus as much as possible, although admittedly, it could be more. So, out of the list of areas below (and potentially others), could the community please offer their advice:
- GMAT - how far in advance should one start reviewing material?
- Extracurricular Activities - both in terms of on and off campus involvement. Should I be involved in student organizations while I'm still in school? Outside of school? What kind of organizations?
- Job Experience - although the standard deviation is probably spread, what is the average amount of work experience I should be looking at obtaining, and also, what kind of work experience?
- Volunteer Work - kind of an extension of the above, but what kind of non-profit/volunteer work should I look at?
- Project Work - published work and/or personal projects
- Other areas as needed
Not coming from a business related background, I'm not sure how that would affect my candidacy. From what I understand, top business schools consider applicants from every walk of life, so past experience in general is good, but not in one particular area. As far as actual schools, I haven't considered/not-considered any at this time. I'm pretty open right now. From what I've read, some schools tend to be stronger in different areas (finance, general management, etc.), so I suppose that I would pursue schools that have a stronger focus in general management or entrepreneurship, but that's just a though.
I would really appreciate the advice and help, and I look forward to reading all your comments with interest. Please let me know if you need any additional information, and I would be more than happy to provide you with it.