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Weary Traveler needs advice... (schools and next steps)

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Weary Traveler needs advice... (schools and next steps) [#permalink] New post 29 Mar 2012, 18:31
Howdy,

I have been at the business school application game for two unsuccessful admissions seasons thus far and would like to avoid a third. As such, I’d like to share a little bit about where I am at present, how I’ve arrived here, and most importantly, what comes next. I do not know anyone personally outside of some very distance relations who have gone the b-school route, and any advice you have to offer will be greatly appreciated.

Verbose Bio:
I attended a small private school with a decent reputation locally (in IL), but is unheard of elsewhere. After working for a year or so in IT, I realized that I was on course to lead a relatively unremarkable life and decided to change that. After surviving a merger, I relocated twice (first to PA, then to MA). After 3 years in IT, I decided that working in a cost-center was not for me so I looked for a drastic change that would help me stand out. I always had an interest in service and desired to gain some international experience so I joined the Peace Corps. Though I may not have joined for the right reasons, I can safely say that it was the best experience of my life.

While overseas, I took the GMAT and threw out three applications (based mostly on rankings) – Booth, Wharton, Kellogg. After the worst phone interview of my life with Booth, and a waived interview from Kellogg, I had 3 denials and no backup plan. I read here that startups might sound good had considered starting something of my own eventually, and as circumstance would have it, I found myself employed the week I returned back from Africa with a very-early stage startup. While working there, I visited Booth, loved it, submitted an application, and was denied without an interview. Currently, I’m still working with the startup, and taking a few courses online through UCLA’s extension.

By the Numbers:
Undergrad GPA: 3.41 - small private school with a decent local reputation (in Illinois).
GMAT: 710 (92%) – 40V (77%),47Q (89%), AWA 6

Work Experience:
1. 3 Years of IT doing system administration (no reports) for non-big-name companies, relocated 2 times, one time to become the only (lead?) IT person in the office.
2. 2 Years in the Peace Corps serving in West Africa
3. 1 Year working with a very early stage startup (think 3 guys in a basement)

Demographics:
White, 28, Male, lived in the US all of my life (minus the 2 years I was in West Africa).

Extracurricular:
Nothing major here – mostly participation in various organizations. I’d started to get back into martial arts and volunteering with habitat for humanity but moving around gets in the way. Now that I’ve settled down a little, I’ve resumed Habitat and am leaning toward pick up martial arts again. I’ve started to attend local small business workshops once or twice a month but I don’t think that counts.

Goals:
Despite having had several years to think about this question, I still do not have a very good answer. I’ll break it into two parts: Personal Goals and Career Goals

Personal Goals: (philosophically, I believe this experience should be an end unto itself, rather than simply the means to an end. In short, even if I don’t land a specific job afterward, I would like to not have regrets.)
1. Reputation (My undergraduate institution did not have a very strong one and my resume could use the boost. Besides, I’ve never gone to a world class institution and would love to have that experience. I am considering working internationally at some point, and an international brand may help)
2. Network (I honestly only speak to perhaps one person from undergrad. I may not know exactly what I would like to do, but I want to accomplish something and I believe that this is a great opportunity to meet other people who do as well. Also, I would be interested in meeting potential business partners for future ventures.)
3. Career Services (Case and point, I recently contacted my alma mater and asked to set up some informational interviews with people who graduated and went into consulting. Their response: “We don’t track that, but have you tried linkedin?” I’d rather avoid this level of service.)
4. Personal Improvement (This may be one of the last times I really have to understand myself, to improve, and to get critical feedback on different areas that I might not be aware of. A fantastic learning opportunity)
5. Study Abroad / Reputation (I believe I will study abroad, regardless of the institution I attend – having international exposure and forming that bond with students seem like it would be worthwhile.)

Career goals:
1. For the longest time, I thought and believed I wanted to go into Management Consulting. I enjoy travel, I enjoy variety, and the cachet of a big brand coupled with the MBA brand would give me quite a bit of mileage in the future. Recently, however, I’ve started to wonder whether this makes sense given that I am a bit of an introvert (I am quite happy not being the center of attention and prefer serious, substantive conversations to small talk.)
2. I have enjoyed the entrepreneurial experience I currently have and I do believe I will start something in the future.
3. I would like to work for a brand-name firm at some point in my life (I’ve never had that experience and I’d like to see what that is like). If I am to take advantage of the MBA recruiting machine, it feels like now or never.
4. I enjoyed living abroad and would like to do so again at some point. I am not sure whether this means I should go for a post-MBA career abroad, or whether I would like to begin an entrepreneurial venture in the future and bring it international.
5. I have a variety of interests (economics, social entrepreneurship, clean energy, the use of data to improve decision making) but am not married to a specific industry.

Schools: (In no particular order):
1. Darden (Small to me seems to be a plus given that I have 2 years to form relationships. Lack of an urban center encourages community among students. The work required by the case-method would probably do me good. Also, Darden is present on linkedin’s list of entrepreneurial schools – good plus for me. Alumni continue to give which seems to be a positive reflection on service.)
2. Ross (Nice sized network, good reputation on the West Coast (an area I wouldn’t mind ending up). I’m not a big fan of athletics so hopefully I’ll fit in. I haven’t researched this school very intensely yet, but the ERB seems like it has potential, provided I do not pidgeon-hole myself into an environmental career if I change my mind. Also, they seem strong for consulting. Hopefully I’ll still be able to make a few friends, despite the size of the school. Can study abroad at LBS (definitely a plus). )
3. Fuqua (CASE sounds interesting, and I believe they have a scholarship available for former Peace Corps Volunteers. They also seem fairly strong in consulting. I haven’t researched this school intensively yet.)
4. Tuck (Small school, close-knit community, lack of urban center – seems like a great place to form strong relationships. Ivy League school = a plus. I may not be able to get in, but I need to include some sort of a stretch school. Also appears on the linkedin list of entrepreneurial schools – definite plus. Have the opportunity to study abroad )
5. Yale (Solid brand, though not the strongest business program. Alumni community seems incredibly helpful and Ivy League reputation will probably help internationally. I've barely investigated this school but it has potential)
6. Johnson (Small school, close-knit community – seems like a great place to form strong relationships. Also Ivy League, though easier to get into it seems. I may be a bit too old, demographically speaking (7 years work experience to the median of 4).
7. Columbia (Recently started considering this, again, just so that I have something to dream about. Not a school I typically think of for entrepreneurship, but it appears on the linkedin list. Many many pluses, but I should probably shelve it given my track record. Also, it's near an urban center and I wonder if this means students will spend less time together.)
8. Kellogg / Booth - Evening program: This seems to be a decision I would consider making if I chose to go for brand in favor of overall experience or networking. If my current startup is taking off, this might make sense, but otherwise I should probably cross this off the list.
9. I considered LBS or one of the schools in Spain, though I am afraid that if I do so, I will be in a rough place if I decide that international is not the place for me in the short-term.

How do these look, from what I’ve said above?


Possible Next Steps:

1. Narrow down school selection (for obvious reasons).
2. Visit a few schools
3. Complete UCLA Extension courses (A’s in 2 accounting courses, a math course, and an economics course)
4. I was considering re-taking the GMAT to see what I’m capable of (at least 10-20 points higher, but I doubt I can do better than 740). Alternatively, if that won’t make a big difference, I can pursue extracurriculars (participation, not likely leadership positions this quickly) and begin networking with potential schools. Suggestions highly welcome.
5. Look into admission consultants, provided this can be done inexpensively (if nothing else, this may discourage me from editing essays the night before…)

Does this sound like a reasonable plan?

I realize this post got a little long, but if you made it this far, why not leave this weary traveler a couple words of wisdom?

Thank you very much for your help,

- Jim
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Re: Weary Traveler needs advice... (schools and next steps) [#permalink] New post 30 Mar 2012, 07:10
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You should post this in the MBA Apply forum as well because Alex will give you a very accurate and candid response from a real expert.

If you'll allow me to be a splash of cold water, I think you are mildly delusional, and here's why:

The big 4: academics, work experience, extras and career goals. You strike out on all 4.

Academics
Undergrad: No big name and no rockstar GPA.
GMAT: 710 which is "enough to check the box", but for T10 is average.

Plenty of people go to the big schools from ordinary universities, plenty of people go with average GPAs, and plenty of people go with average to below-average GMATs. But it's somewhat difficult to own all three of these. Even then it might be possible if you had a killer track record at work which leads me to....

Work Experience
In your own words, it was backwater cost-center for a no-name company. Plenty of people get in with this experience, but usually it's with a known commodity. Also, you don't have a string of promotions do you? This is sort of the threestripes effect, where someone killed it at work for a rockstar company, and then that trumped the academics situation.

Extracurriculars
In your own words, not much going on. Definitely no leadership card here which is what you need badly. Peace Corps kind of fills this, but it's at the expense of the work experience bucket, which is ultimately more important.

Career Goals
Pure train wreck. You're targeting management consulting, but you don't really have any technical expertise. They like premium undergrads, big GMATs, Fortune 500 experience, and again, you're not bringing any of it. You might actually have a chance if you sold social entrepreneurship and made a linear connection to Peace Corps, but you're shooting yourself in the foot with a moderately unsellable goal.

My advice to you is to take a cold hard look at the facts of your profile, and then begin researching schools in the 20-30 range. By all means, pick 1-3 schools out of the 10-20 bracket, but T10 is really on the outer reaches. The cost/benefit of making a serious run at T10 schools is really not in your favor.

I hope this advice helps, it's meant as a reality check to steer you down a productive path and not see you strike out one more season. Good luck!
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Re: Weary Traveler needs advice... (schools and next steps) [#permalink] New post 30 Mar 2012, 23:46
method wrote:
You should post this in the MBA Apply forum as well because Alex will give you a very accurate and candid response from a real expert.

If you'll allow me to be a splash of cold water, I think you are mildly delusional, and here's why:

The big 4: academics, work experience, extras and career goals. You strike out on all 4.

Academics
Undergrad: No big name and no rockstar GPA.
GMAT: 710 which is "enough to check the box", but for T10 is average.

Plenty of people go to the big schools from ordinary universities, plenty of people go with average GPAs, and plenty of people go with average to below-average GMATs. But it's somewhat difficult to own all three of these. Even then it might be possible if you had a killer track record at work which leads me to....

Work Experience
In your own words, it was backwater cost-center for a no-name company. Plenty of people get in with this experience, but usually it's with a known commodity. Also, you don't have a string of promotions do you? This is sort of the threestripes effect, where someone killed it at work for a rockstar company, and then that trumped the academics situation.

Extracurriculars
In your own words, not much going on. Definitely no leadership card here which is what you need badly. Peace Corps kind of fills this, but it's at the expense of the work experience bucket, which is ultimately more important.

Career Goals
Pure train wreck. You're targeting management consulting, but you don't really have any technical expertise. They like premium undergrads, big GMATs, Fortune 500 experience, and again, you're not bringing any of it. You might actually have a chance if you sold social entrepreneurship and made a linear connection to Peace Corps, but you're shooting yourself in the foot with a moderately unsellable goal.

My advice to you is to take a cold hard look at the facts of your profile, and then begin researching schools in the 20-30 range. By all means, pick 1-3 schools out of the 10-20 bracket, but T10 is really on the outer reaches. The cost/benefit of making a serious run at T10 schools is really not in your favor.

I hope this advice helps, it's meant as a reality check to steer you down a productive path and not see you strike out one more season. Good luck!


Thank you very much for your response. I have been going through this process solo for the most part and can use all of the advice I can get.

In re-reading my post along with your comments I did notice a number of key weaknesses:
1. On-going leadership and extracurricular activities are certainly issues I will definitely need to work to address.
2. Academics - I agree, as it stands, this is certainly not an area of strength.
3. Career Goals - Absolutely a train-wreck. One of those thoughts I have been dwelling on consistently for the past year or so and still have not had much progress. This certainly needs focus.

It also occurs to me that I tend to do a very poor job selling myself (which will definitely need to improve if I wish to be admitted anywhere).

I do believe I may have underrepresented myself slightly, and would be curious to if any of the following additional information impacts your previous assessment:

Work Experience (you asked about promotions):
1. I only worked in a traditional, private-sector position for 3 years prior to Peace Corps. In that time:
a. I was promoted a year and a half after joining (initiated entirely by me, involved me moving to a different office and playing an important role in major office transition)
b. I also relocated to a third office a year later to take over IT responsibility there (again, initiated by me). No title change, but it came with a pay bump and additional responsibility.
2. Company-wise, I should probably say “Top 10 Direct Marketing Agency” (by US Revenue) instead of non-big-name companies.
3. I would consider the diversity of my experiences a reasonable plus, though I am not sure how to sell it:
a. Worked for a company that was acquired
b. Relocating into a variety of offices of a direct marketing agency
c. Living in a developing country (complete with mud hut, and no running water or electricity)
d. Working in schools and computer labs in a developing country
e. Returning home to help launch a startup with a social-mission (with the former CEO of the company I worked for)

Leadership:
I believe you are right in that this is an area of weakness. That said, I do think I have some ammunition here:
1. In college I was a Vice President of my service fraternity and re-chartered another student organization (which is still active).
2. During my Peace Corps Service, I was elected to represent a region of 25 of my peers on the volunteer advisory board.
3. I organized a student scholarship program and got approval to launch it from the country director, though I completed my service before I could get everything up and running.
4. In addition, I launched and lead a number of interesting projects (started a peer tutoring group at a local school, taught evening math classes for a year, wrote a few grants, obtained funding for and initiated a construction project to improve sanitation at a local school, designed and launched a country-wide IT skills program including conducting number of regional trainings, conducted a technology needs assessment for the National Malaria Control Program, in addition to a few other things I can’t think of at the moment).

Academics:
1. I’m in the process of building an alternative transcript, which will hopefully communicate to the adcom that I am serious about this pursuit, and has also given me a bit of a business background (A’s in some accounting courses, a math course, and soon, an econ course).
2. As you pointed out, 710 merely checks the box and I should seriously consider retaking the GMAT (especially if I think I can do even a few points better).

Career Goals:
You are absolutely right in that it sounds very disjointed. Although I will likely take a more traditional MBA career immediately following graduation (have to pay off the loans somehow, though I may omit this interim step entirely on my essays), I believe a clear, social entrepreneurship route is the way to go. Perhaps I should mention that within 3 years of graduation, I intend to launch a socially focused entrepreneurial venture.

On a personal level, I also am not sure that anything over a top 15-20 program will give me the mileage I need. My most recent startup experience has clearly illustrated the value of credibility, both for securing potential clients, partners, and investors. The better the program, the greater the credibility. In addition, the ROI does not seem to make as much sense when you fall below a 100k median along and employment options drop as well.
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Re: Weary Traveler needs advice... (schools and next steps) [#permalink] New post 31 Mar 2012, 06:58
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DeterminedMBA2012 wrote:
I do believe I may have underrepresented myself slightly, and would be curious to if any of the following additional information impacts your previous assessment:

Work Experience (you asked about promotions):
1. I only worked in a traditional, private-sector position for 3 years prior to Peace Corps. In that time:
a. I was promoted a year and a half after joining (initiated entirely by me, involved me moving to a different office and playing an important role in major office transition)
b. [strike]I also relocated to a third office a year later to take over IT responsibility there (again, initiated by me). No title change, but it came with a pay bump and additional responsibility.[/strike]
2. [strike]Company-wise, I should probably say “Top 10 Direct Marketing Agency” (by US Revenue) instead of non-big-name companies.[/strike] Fortune 500?
3. [strike]I would consider the diversity of my experiences a reasonable plus, though I am not sure how to sell it:[/strike] Lots of people can claim diversity of experiences, this isn't necessarily a plus.
a. [strike]Worked for a company that was acquired[/strike]
b. [strike]Relocating into a variety of offices of a direct marketing agency[/strike]
c. [strike]Living in a developing country (complete with mud hut, and no running water or electricity)[/strike] Cool, but no bonus points.
d. [strike]Working[/strike]in schools and computer labs in a developing country. Working? Everything is screaming, I worked, I moved, I relocated, I've been in lots of different places. This is all so screaming passive. What did you do? What mountains did you move? How did you act as a leader where you were? Oh, I went to this office. Well anyone with a plane ticket can go that office, the question is how were you a leader? Did you fundraise for the computer labs? Did you implement some new lab model that reduced costs by X% and allowed 10x more kids to get access? People work at my computer lab and do nothing but refill copier paper, you know?

e. [strike]Returning home to help launch a startup with a social-mission (with the former CEO of the company I worked for)[/strike] No bonus points without results or a role working directly with VC-type backers. Anyone can say they tried to start a company in their basement and it's still in the ramp up stage.

Leadership:
I believe you are right in that this is an area of weakness. That said, I do think I have some ammunition here:
1. [strike]In college I was a Vice President of my service fraternity and re-chartered another student organization (which is still active).[/strike] Did you coordinate some new activity? Lead the service organization in some amazing new way? Or did you just say, yeah I'll go for VP, and then it was business as usual?
2. [strike]During my Peace Corps Service, I was elected to represent a region of 25 of my peers on the volunteer advisory board.[/strike] Ok, you were elected by your peers, which means you're likable. What did you do with that position? How did you really improve XYZ?
3. I organized a student scholarship program and got approval to launch it from the country director, [strike]though I completed my service before I could get everything up and running.[/strike] So close! No follow through = no points.
4. In addition, I launched and lead a number of interesting projects (started a peer tutoring group at a local school, taught evening math classes for a year, wrote a few grants, obtained funding for and initiated a construction project to improve sanitation at a local school, designed and launched a country-wide IT skills program including conducting number of regional trainings, conducted a technology needs assessment for the National Malaria Control Program, in addition to a few other things I can’t think of at the moment).

Academics:
1. I’m in the process of building an alternative transcript I will say though, I'm not sure how much value an alt does for you. A 3.4/710 is enough to show you'll do fine academically, but you can't change it to a 3.9 or Top 50 uni by taking a few extra classes. It's good to do, but not going to move the needle significantly. , which will hopefully communicate to the adcom that I am serious about this pursuit, and has also given me a bit of a business background (A’s in some accounting courses, a math course, and soon, an econ course).
2. As you pointed out, 710 merely checks the box and I should seriously consider retaking the GMAT (especially if I think I can do even a few points better).

Career Goals:
You are absolutely right in that it sounds very disjointed. Although I will likely take a more traditional MBA career immediately following graduation (have to pay off the loans somehow, though I may omit this interim step entirely on my essays), I believe a clear, social entrepreneurship route is the way to go. Perhaps I should mention that within 3 years of graduation, I intend to launch a socially focused entrepreneurial venture.

On a personal level, I also am not sure that anything over a top 15-20 program will give me the mileage I need. My most recent startup experience has clearly illustrated the value of [strike]credibility[/strike] credibility comes from following through and delivering results, not just the brand of a piece of paper, both for securing potential clients, partners, and investors. The better the program, the greater the credibility. In addition, the ROI does not seem to make as much sense when you fall below a 100k median along and employment options drop as well.


You gotta stick to the points where you delivered results. You get no points, and probably negative points, for trying to push "Well, I came up with an idea and kind of got it started, but it didn't/hasn't gone anywhere so far because of excuse/scenario ABC." You don't need a million great points, just a few, but they really need to be little a to BIG Z. Really cultivate the things you launched and got results from.

I still think you're in the same range from my first post. You may think the ROI on a 20-30 isn't so hot, but with your work background, what jobs are you busting down the doors to? A MBA from Georgetown or Notre Dame, for example, should still be a huge boost for someone with your background.
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Re: Weary Traveler needs advice... (schools and next steps)   [#permalink] 31 Mar 2012, 06:58
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