Another update folks: I've also been admitted to Chicago GSB. It really does feel good to be your own adcom now.
I would like to request a longer story, a much longer story.
Sure Praet, here we go...
I'm 26, Nigerian, male. GPA, 4.67, which converts to about 3.7. Undergraduate major, Computer science from a Nigerian University. I graduated summa cum laude, best in my entire graduating school, won a number of awards and scholarships upon graduation, and joined an Energy company (present job) where I have gained a lot of experience in Project Management (6 yrs work experience). I have little (or no) international experience - travelled once out of Nigeria when i visited b-schools. Actually, my visit to these schools coincided with a company-sponsored training that enabled me visit US in october, last year. Timing was perfect - attended Chicago's fall preview, visited Wharton and Harvard. (sorry for digressing)
Not too good GMAT, or perhaps a decent score.
First attempt: 510 (I hate to say this, but some cute lady seating next to me continued to brandish her "@#*^%!" and I lost concentration a couple of times. Let me be frank - a lot of times. The idea here is to be focused.)
Freaked out and canceled the exam. No girl this time.
I applied to three schools - Wharton, Chicago and MIT. No word from MIT yet and i really won't mind a ding from them.
I want to believe that my leadership experience, involvement in community service and my recommendations (i believe) did the magic for me. I told adcom that I held a number of leadership positions (president of a HIV/AIDS campaign in college, school soccer captain, president of system science students in college, founder/leader of a charity program that aids orphans in my community, and some religious leadership positions). My recommendations, i would think, helped. I chose recommenders who knew me inside-out and could tell great stories about me. I knew my GMAT was a key weakness in my application and so I was determined to make other facets of my application rock. In my optional essay, i attempted to give reasons for my GMAT score (work pressure, and some personal issues), focusing on why my score plumetted from 650 to 620. I re-emphasized my high quant score and academic performance. Fortunately for me, making a 6.0 in AWA could have partly (just) prevented adcom from thrashing my application - perhaps he could write english at least. I would argue with some of my friends who say the AWA is not too important. Well, perhaps not, but you never can tell.
Note: I canceled my third GMAT because i completely misread my analysis of an issue and discovered my error when i had just 2 mins to end the section. That costly error destabilized me and it was evident in the way i was trembling by the 7th question in quant.
What I would advice
First, ace the GMAT. While I am evidence that the GMAT is not a show-stopper, i will advice that we all focus hard to do our best in the exam. Ignore my score guys, but I worked extremely hard to kill this exam, but perhaps i always had bad matchdays. Oh, please, please, please, stick to GMATclub. I'm not saying this because i'm a member of the club, but because my score rose by 140 points after i utilized the resources in this club. Not only that, our discussions in SC improved my english tremendously. Review past discussions, go through questions, identify your weak links and fire them. Attempt the math challenges
for it will surely build your confidence. The GMAT, IMO, is all about mental strength, confidence, perseverance, skill and off course, luck.
Second, you need to know what the strengths in your application are, then dwell on those strengths. Talk about what those strengths mean to you, how you impacted people by leveraging the strengths and what you have learnt. Ensure your recommenders know you very well and can say great things about you. Perhaps that you were the best, here and there. The best, the best, exceptional (if you truly are), all the way. Then (key thing) - you MUST address your weakness(es), if any. Explain, explain. I understand that only 10% of applicants are "complete" applicants. The other 90% have one weakness or another - so, it's not a new thing. Visit your dream school and have a first feel of the community. During my visit to Wharton, for example, i was inspired to write my Essay 1 in the student library in Jon Huntsman. I worked all through the night writing the essay and it was as if i was reporting what i was seeing. I poured out my heart and I would think that I showed a lot of passion in the essay. Same with Chicago GSB. The night after fall preview, I wrote the Why GSB portion of essay 1 and i was quite impressed by my write up.
I diversified my essays. My essays collectively represented key aspects of my life, not necessairly professional, but also personal, community development, leadership and teamwork. Sometimes, i was adriot enough to combine some facets of my life in one essay. For example, i didn't address the leadership essay that most apps require, but i was sure to inject some of my leadership experiences in the other essays that i wrote, while maintaining my key point. At the beginning of each essay, i would first ask myself, "what do you want adcom to know about you in this essay." Then i would build the essay around this.
But again folks, work very hard on the GMAT - it's the first step. Whatever the outcome is, be confident to cast your dragnet into your dream school. Market yourself humbly in your application as well. You never can predict what the outcome will be.
I hope this helps, guys.