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Taking a class or two before applying: Good idea?

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Taking a class or two before applying: Good idea? [#permalink] New post 29 Aug 2013, 19:44
Whoa, this forum seems intimidating! I just discovered it by doing a search for "MBA forum." I'm brand new to the board, so feel free to point out any conventions I should know about for this one.

So, I tried posting this exact same thread on grad cafe, with no takers. I'm in the beginning of my MBA application process, and this is my situation:

I'm 30, and applying to MBA programs. I graduated from college several years ago, and have a very spotty undergraduate record with some very bad grades.

Now, I'm doing what I can to offset it - studying hard for the GMAT, crafting a careful addendum to explain my grades, securing excellent letters of rec, highlighting my leadership experience over the past several years, etc.

I'm also wondering if it's worth my while to take a couple of night courses this fall as I apply. I took no business or finance courses in undergrad. I did take a few economics classes, and didn't get the best grades. I took Calculus II my freshman year and got an A, and that was the last time I took any math.

I live in Chicago, and I work full time as a consultant, though I could go down to part time for the duration of the course if I wish.

It's too late for me to sign up for UIC courses (apparently they started this week). I did meet with an advisor at Northwestern Continuing Studies today, and we agreed that an intro to stats and a microeconomics class would be a good fit. I'm meeting with with the continuing ed advisor at University of Chicago tomorrow. I'm not sure what other opportunities there are in Chicago for challenging coursework.

Any thoughts or advice?? My experiences with continuing education has been mixed. If it will help with my applications, I'll do it, but I would like it to be worth my effort, time, and money. Should I put in the extra twenty or so hours a week over the next few months in addition to my job, GMAT prep, and applications? Any advice would be much appreciated.

Thanks!
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Re: Taking a class or two before applying: Good idea? [#permalink] New post 29 Aug 2013, 22:29
Hi wendella1,

Advising you on this matter without having a good idea about your goals and more details of your background is rather difficult. Very generally, I can say that taking up some quality courses that are linked to your future goals might add value to your application. It will show you are preparing hard for your future both in terms of the MBA as well as your career. And any knowledge that you gain is always useful! However, are you very sure that you will be able to invest time and do well in them?

Again, this is very generic advice. I do not know how many years of work experience you have and whether you have already acquired sufficient knowledge/skills that will help you with your future goals. Do you have enough impressive and relevant achievements to your credit that can offset your "spotty" academic records? Also, why do you want to do the MBA and what do you want to specialize in? Is it to learn more about a completely new domain to which you have no prior exposure but something that will figure greatly in your future? Are you planning on a career shift or just want to enhance your current profile? So, you see there are many questions that need to be answered before deciding on whether you should take the extra courses or not.

As for explaining your grades, I am sure you know that this has to come across as a sincere "explanation" and not an excuse. Also, be sure not to bring up anything that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. So, being 'careful' about this is rightly the way forward for you!

If you can provide some more details, I would be glad to help you out further.

Wish you very good luck with your MBA!!

Best Regards,
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Re: Taking a class or two before applying: Good idea? [#permalink] New post 30 Aug 2013, 11:31
Hi Sinchita,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful response.

I'll tell you a little bit about my background and my thought process and my goals. I'm still working to really put together something polished and coherent, but I am sure that an MBA would be the best fit for me. I'm putting a lot in this post, and know that others are busy, so feel free to respond to just a part of this post.

So, I've spent a good part of the last several years working in nonprofits, mostly targeted towards youth in low income communities in the US. I worked in social services, in which young people with behavioral and emotional disorders would be referred to work with me 1:1. I also did some teaching. Later, I moved into political campaigns, working in a couple of congressional campaigns, and, more recently, as a staffer for the Obama campaign. Though all of the jobs that I've worked have taught me a lot, my work with the Obama campaign has allowed me to grow the most as a leader. I managed a small team of paid employees, and several hundred volunteers, and lead my region with respect to set goals.

As far as what I'd like to do, I'm afraid my goals aren't very specific with respect to actual field, though I have to say I'm more concerned with organizational structure than anything else. I'm a general "do-gooder" with many interests and many ideas, but when taking on a position, I'm more concerned with the accountability and evaluation and structure than the subject matter of the work. I could say a lot about the nonprofits I've worked with and what I've learned and what ideas I have for them to have done better. I don't know how "impressive" any of this is - most people I talk who are knowledgeable about MBA programs think it sounds like I have enough work experience, mostly because I relate a lot of ideas about what works in a team and what doesn't.

Anyway, so I had first begun thinking about public policy programs. And if I were going to school for academic interests alone, I would get a degree in public policy. But I'm focusing more on professional goals than academic interests - the coursework and subject matter i see in MBA programs is what I see mostly applying to the work I've done so far and the work I'm planning to do. I can bring my experience into an MBA program, and would love the chance to learn from my peers and learn about scientific approaches to management and how to bring it back to the work that I do.

Now, I'm not tied to the nonprofit and public sector. To tell the truth, I don't like it, and generally feel like the mindset of the private sector needs to have a heavier influence. Some of the best organizations I've worked with were heavily influenced or led by people with private sector experience and/or MBAs. And part of the appeal of the MBA to me, frankly, is that I hope to have some options to move into the private sector if I wish - there are many large corporations with philanthropic branches, and I would be happy to work in such a position down the road.

My plans right now: after I finish applying in December, I'm going to try my hand at international development in India. This is not on a whim - it's to address a social issue that I've been thinking about it since I was 10 years old. I've witnessed and experienced the problem first hand, and I've spent the last ten years reading about it and collecting information about it. My family is from this city, and I'm familiar with the language and the culture, so I will not be spending time trying to become culturally acclimated. Specifically, I'm going to help by community organizing - I'm developing an organizational model that will seek to empower the work of the amazing people who are already doing great things. This will specifically be an earned media campaign (I've been doing earned media for a consulting firm for the past few months. I've also done it for other organizations on a volunteer basis), which is fascinating because of the structure of the press in India. I bought a one-way ticket, and I guess I'll be there until next fall (I'm going to rent out my condo in Chicago, which is paid off, and use that money to survive in India). If things go well, it might very well be that I would want a permanent switch into international development.

So, I know how this sounds. I sound unfocused and flighty, and if the people on this board are like other boards I've been to, I'll probably be told "unfortunately, grad schools are looking for people with focus and a specific plan." That maybe I should take a couple of years to think more about what I want to do and take some coursework before making this huge investment. Etc etc. However, I can tell you this - my personality isn't going to change in the next few years. Also, I'm going to go after my goals whether I get the MBA or not - the MBA will help me and make my work more productive, and the network of others who have big ideas and huge diversity of knowledge that I can get from a program will be vital. But I should also add that I've spent the last several years with the "if only" game - if only I had more education, if only I had more work experience, if only I knew more about X, if only I know how to Y, etc, and this is the first time in my life that I feel confident enough in my abilities to actually move forward with what I want to do. And that's a pretty big thing for me.

Oh yes, and my grades.

I'll admit that I'm still not sure about what will be my addendum. I am convinced that I should keep it as professional and unemotional as possible, and not make any excuses. I honestly don't have a "good" explanation. The fact is that I was battling with depression and very complicated family issues, and I don't even know if I want to mention that. I was never diagnosed with anything anyway, but the bigger issue is that I don't want to present myself as a victim or someone who sees herself as a victim. And I don't see myself that way - i had some shame about it for years, but honestly I've been happy with my life and am looking forward to all the things I will do. I'm more interested in making a case for the fact that the factors that negatively influenced my performance in undergrad are no longer present in my life. I didn't really want to include an addendum at all, but admissions counselors have convinced me that with the grades I have, an addendum is practically a necessity. By the way, there was a downward trend to my grades.

So, back to the original question of taking coursework. Sinchita, you mentioned that any knowledge would be a good thing, but honestly, I have several other options for that. I'm involved with a political organization that wants me to do leadership trainings around the country on the weekends - it's on a volunteer basis, though they'll pay for airfare and expenses. Teaching leadership is a rich experience, and I'd like to devote a chunk of my free time to it until I fly to India in December. Additionally, I'd like to spend some time getting ready for my project. This is all while I work full time and study for the GMAT and apply to grad school. So, if I were to take some coursework, I'd be backing out of my leadership trainings and probably wouldn't have time to develop the earned media project in India until later.

I admit that I'd *rather* not take any coursework. That said, I recognize the reason - as humans, we have the natural tendency to invest in our assets instead of remedying our weaknesses. I was asked to do leadership trainings because I showed an aptitude for facilitation and adult learning techniques, so I'm mostly excited to do more and get even better, especially since it's useful to my work. But, thinking *strategically* about what I need to get into an MBA program - my grades are my biggest weakness. And since I'd like to make the case that the factors that influenced my earlier problems are no longer present in my life, the logical thing to do is to actually demonstrate it with some current coursework and good grades.


Anyway! That was way more information than you asked for. So feel free to address the issue of taking coursework over the next few months. And definitely feel free to weigh in on anything else you'd like to - I'm open to all sorts of feedback.

Thanks!
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Re: Taking a class or two before applying: Good idea? [#permalink] New post 31 Aug 2013, 08:51
bah! It looks like I started out with too little information and have now given too much.

Anyone else have any ideas on the value of taking coursework?
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Re: Taking a class or two before applying: Good idea? [#permalink] New post 02 Sep 2013, 05:06
Hi there,

Sorry for responding late on this and thanks for sharing so much information. Your profile seems very interesting with some good leadership highlights that will surely support your cause at a b school. You have also identified international development as an area of interest and you seem to have/will be acquiring some relevant experience of this soon. However, there are still many questions in my mind that need answering. To cut a long story short, I will ask you only two now:

1. What was your major in undergraduate studies and what were your percentages?

2. Knowing that I sound cliched, let me again reiterate - what are your goals, very specifically? You are already aware that everybody keeps asking the same question when it comes to pursuing an MBA but that is precisely the point - goals DO take the center stage when it comes to an MBA. It is not just about appearing focused. Your entire application will revolve around your goals. Your background/experiences will show how you have developed an interest in the field and how well you have prepared/are prepared for that future. The ad com would like to know what is the place of this degree in your plan of action (and for that you should indeed have a well-defined plan of action). They would like to know whether you really need this degree, whether this degree is going to give you a definite advantage in terms of your aspirations (with respect to time, subject knowledge, network, exposure - so everything correlated to your goals again). They would also like to know if you will really use this degree in the best possible fashion and with the impact of your work in the future, become an excellent brand ambassador for them. Your goals will also tell them if you are employable. So, basically, everything in the application (including the courses that was our main agenda) would be/should be related to your goals.

Let me tell you here that you are not that non-specific as you might feel. You do have a great 'story' going in the international development arena that seems to have a strong personal motivation and if you can acquire some experience, it would really make a strong case for you. However, since you are planning to take it up after applying, you should have some good points to discuss about it in the application as well. Further, you want to transfer your experiences to the private sector. So, that is again not very fuzzy. Overall, I think, with a little more thought, you can really define a good set of specific short and long-term goals for yourself and thereby address all the points I have mentioned above.

Now, coming to the main issue of coursework. The leadership training you have mentioned sounds great! I don't think I would want you to sacrifice it. So, to still accommodate some additional education, have you considered online courses that are offered by Coursera, edX, or Harvard Extension School? They are arranged and recognized by many international universities. You get a completion certificate at the end if you finish their coursework and assignments on time. So, think about them if you have not done so already.

As of now, that is all I can share based on your inputs. However, if you can send me your resume comprising details of your work experience, education, and extra-curriculars in a private mail, I can also arrange for one of our profile building experts to review it and advise, which I can pass on to you. This is generally done over the phone, but since you are based out of India, I am not sure if this will work for you. If you are interested, I can give you the contact number of one of our experts with whom you can schedule a free session and discuss.

Hope this helps and do PM me if you are interested in the free profile building session.

Best Regards,
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Sinchita Ganguly
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Manya - The Princeton Review

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Re: Taking a class or two before applying: Good idea? [#permalink] New post 03 Sep 2013, 10:05
Sinchita, I actually live in Chicago, not India (hence my original post about courses in Chicago). So I could definitely talk on the phone.

I'll pm you shortly. That said, I'm going to continue with this thread and answer your questions in case anyone else on this board would like to weigh in.

1. English and Philosophy, with many courses in Economics and biochemistry and biophysics. In other words, I kept changing majors, and at one point just decided to double up on humanities courses so I could graduate. My GPA is 2.9. It pains me to say it.

2. I would definitely like to talk to someone about developing specific goals. It seems like I have them in my head, but when I try to verbalize it to others or write it down it seems a lot more vague. I organized a career discussion breakfast for women on Labor Day morning, and I found that though I was skilled with helping others develop their personal story, I could not look at my own with the same sort of objectivity, so it would be great to have someone else do it.


I did look into online courses. I know they're reputable, but I have no idea how challenging they are - I was under the impression that they're for everyone, regardless of background, and I wanted to prove that I could handle challenging coursework. I mean I've even taking classes at Harvard Summer School, years ago, and they were extremely easy classes - much easier than any of the courses I took at my state school. Anyone have thoughts on this or can give me feedback on this? Are there *particular* online courses that have a reputation for being challenging, preferably quant based courses?
Re: Taking a class or two before applying: Good idea?   [#permalink] 03 Sep 2013, 10:05
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