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# The evolution of your B-school pursuit

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my story's pretty much summed up here. i had sort of an unclear path during undergrad and afterwards as well. considered law for a while. also had a low gpa issue. and i guess at the end of it all, after all these yrs...everything worked out.
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This post will cover the basics: when, what, where, etc but I've decided to put more emphasis on tips and things I learned along the way. Things that if I had known ahead of time, would have made life a lot easier.

When and What: I've always liked business, even growing up. Being born behind the iron curtain in Eastern Europe I remember wondering when I was a kid, hey how come some economies thrive and are able to produce huge conglomerates, while others aren't? I always wondered if it was sheer luck or if there was something some people were getting right while others weren't. So when I was a kid, I became determined to get an education in business and economics at a "Western school". Well little did I know something as simple as obtaining a college degree would turn out to be one of the most challenging experiences of my life. Relying only on myself in a different country forced me to become more mature and responsible that other kids I met. I knew that I had to learn quickly or would be sent home packing. My whole UG experience was really painful, but I felt an immense sense of accomplishment when I finally did it.

So then degree in hand, I found a job at one of the biggest advisory shops in Canada. I wanted to learn from the best even if that meant that I wouldn't make as much as money as I would have had I gone somewhere else. I knew that long-term I wanted to be in finance. Initially, I was interested in asset management for one of the big institutional investors in Canada (there aren't that many), then as I started to do more networking, went through a bunch of the Vault career guides, I realized that PE/VC is more the career that I wanted. Intellectually challenging, rewarding and with great exit opps. Perfect I thought. Along the way I also realized that the way we conduct business today, the whole incentive system is flawed. Regardless of what you believe the impact of business on human life (especially in poor counties), the environment, etc is, we all know there is one, the question is do you care enough to change anything. I began thinking about a new way to view margins and to give everyone an incentive to internalize the costs they incur, since we currently only internalize direct costs. It’s always bothered me that there's no internalization of livelihood of anyone or any social environment costs that businesses incur. I knew that an MBA was the best way to get me there - I knew I needed the knowledge, the contacts and the exposure to opinions different than my own. I decided to not take the social enterprise angle to my applications as this was somewhat of an add-on that I wanted to work on initially. I needed the fundamentals first.

Where: I firmly believe that school selection is one of the most important factors especially for applicants that have a pronounced weakness in their profile or have very unique post-MBA aspirations.
Another lesson I learned, and possibly one of the most important ones, was to not sell yourself short. You're from an overrepresented demographic? You can do it! You have a really low GPA? You can do it! You're a career switcher and your background to date doesn't have much to do with your post-MBA goals? You can do it! Be realistic but always dream big.

I also decided to focus on 3-5 schools tops but really put together compelling applications. For those of you who don't know my story, just look to the left of this post and notice I'm rocking an awesome GPA of 1.87 (yes that is on a scale of 4.0). For more info on how I overcame this, take a look at this thread: profiles-admitted-to-top-b-schools-w-low-gmat-or-low-gpa-73999-60.html

So I realized that not spreading myself thin was important. I ended up applying to only 4 schools, and got into all of them. I put my heart and soul into every application and genuinely saw myself at every school whose application I was working on at the time. I really think that shows. As you start working on an app, you start liking a school more because you get to know what it's really about. So go to that happy place in your mind and then start writing - be genuine and enthusiastic.

I ended up applying to Ross, UNC, Cornell and INSEAD. Here's what I did for every school:

- I read blogs, the school website, employment reports, memos and press releases. I wanted to know specific facts that were pertinent to the industry I was interested in as well as the broad direction of the school. All schools are somewhat different, but there're a lot of similarities at the core. I'd even argue that beyond a certain point (yes they all have a somewhat unique culture), they're all pretty much the same. Capturing those nuances however, is what’s going to make you stand out. Most people don't bother to do that much research though, so great potential to be realized there.

- Went to MBA conferences and fairs. Tried to get face time with someone from admissions at the schools I was interested in. They won't remember you later, so don't try to impress them - just ask questions you genuinely want to know the answer to, and also don't forget to take their card. Voila, now you have a contact at the school (only use as needed, stating the obvious here but being pesky won't get you far). Also a lot of the apps ask for people you've talked to at their school. Now you have this cool card in your back pocket. Add that to the list of students and alumni you've already reached out to.

- Scheduled school visits. Those are a bit overrated. Yes, it's the only way to know how you truly feel about a school and there's so much those glossy brochures, which by now are flooding your mailbox, would never be able to convey. So by all means, if you don't live too far, try to visit the school, but don't expect to learn anything too earth-shattering for the most part. Those emails you've been exchanging with current students are likely to give you more fodder for your essays/interviews than a school presentation ever would. Prior to visiting, I also emailed a couple of the current students I had been exchanging emails with and asked if they'd have time to chat over a quick cup of coffee. That's how I met in person a whole bunch of current students. By then I knew a lot about the school, but I always knew there's more to learn so every time I went with an open mind and an open heart hoping that someone would teach me something new, give me a new perspective I never thought about.

- last but not least: use this forum early and use it often – it’s free and its members are some of the most driven, intelligent and friendly folks you’ll meet in any online community. Become a regular, let us get to know you and don’t be afraid to ask questions. There’s a huge wealth of information out there that’s taken years to compile, take advantage of it!

None of the above advice is particularly earth-shattering and it’s stuff you encounter on multiple posts on this forum, but if you do the above, I guarantee you your essays and your whole story will stand out from the rest of the pack. That’s a HUGE leg up right there.

I'm not going to go into much detail about every school I applied to (there're a few items in my INSEAD vs Ross vs Cornell thread), but in the end it came down to location and post-MBA goals for me. Since after this whole ordeal (and now that I know myself a lot better - which might just be the biggest benefit of this whole experience), I have finally decided that I'll be pursuing a GM rotational program.

Anyway, I’m going to wrap up before I put you all to sleep, but seriously this whole process has been incredible. I learned a lot about myself, met some wonderful people and now have a shot at a life I never had before. I want to thank everyone on here who has helped me along the way. The least I can do is pass along the knowledge and help others offered when I needed it. I hope this helps someone out there and best of luck as you embark on this journey of a lifetime.
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thanks a lot ariel. Very well done.
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we need more stories in this thread!
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we need more stories in this thread!

Agreed, I think these are terrific reads and really do possess candid, valuable advice...come on folks, you know longer are putting together applications and we're in a dead period, post your stories
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This is an awesome thread, and I'll be sure to post to it in December-March, when I actually have news to give people and advice for those earlier in the process.
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Great story. Very inspiring. A lot of times you think that your past background may get in the way and it's frustrating, because you can't go back and change stuff. This is a major problem for people who had no plans for applying to an MBA program from the very beginning (undergrad school) and their career is just a different representation of their future goals. So thank you for sharing your experience and once again getting it out there that it's just a matter of how much you want to succeed - cause it's hard, but it's doable.
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When: While I was finishing up my Bachelor's Degree, I had all intentions of getting my MBA in Sports Administration from Univ of Oregon. After a job/career change, first child, and a cross country relocation (Portland, OR to Charlotte, NC), my wife didn't want me to spend time away from her and my daughter. I continuously mentioned it about once a month, just to get her take on it. Out of the blue, she mentioned that she wanted me to, so I started the research process, and here I am.

What: Instead of Sports Administration, I am planning on going back in either finance or General Mgmt.

Where: Given my current location and time commitments, I need to get my MBA via an online program. By looking at the Top MBA programs with an online program, I am considering Indiana, Penn Stat, Florida, & Arizona State. South Carolina is an option as well, since they have a program based in Charlotte.

Where continued: After researching and doing some soul searching, Penn State and Indiana have emerged as the front runners.

Where, NOT: After much thought, it will be extremely difficult to take two nights a week and every 3rd Saturday away from my daughter. So USC is out. The trip to Florida, 4 times a year, is going to be very strenuous on my career. Would mean missing month ends and closing which are essential to any accounting career.

Maybe where: That leaves Arizona State, which is a good possibility, but the admission requirements are almost identical to those at Penn State, my #1 school. The problem is that the application deadline is before Penn State's.

The decision: I have decided to go all in with Penn State, and apply early enough so that I can maybe apply to Arizona State if needed. Indiana has the "home school" feel to it, since I went to Louisville for 4 years and most of my family is from Indiana. With my work paying for the program, it is a simple solution to help all involved. Now it is just a matter of time to improve my GMAT, and finish the appllication process.
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First Post! I don't have a B-school pursuit to retell yet so I can fill in my own story as the process continues over the next several months. It's incredibly helpful to get a sense of the timing involved with each step.
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How has your B-school plan evolved? When did you decide to pursue this, what were you goals and have those changed, and of course the rotating decision on what schools and which is your top?

When: June of '07. I had been a career switcher for the previous year, moving from an Engineering role in the Petrochemical Industry, into a Business Development role in the Engineering Staffing Industry. With this new exposure, and the numerous pitfalls of my current company, I realized that there had to be a better way to run a business, treat people, etc. So, while learning what not to do in running a company, I decided I wanted to pursue my MBA to help guide me towards the right way.

What: I've always loved figuring out the best way to do it, with what you're given. To me, that is why I became an engineer, a problem solver. I was a stickler for detail, procedures, and optimization. Getting into Business Development helped me realize how important strategy was in attaining my optimum goal. Then, with how poorly our leadership treated its employees, I realized how I didn't want to be a worker bee treated like crap, but wanted to be a leader who could encourage change and improve morale amongst people that I work with. Hence, Strategy and Leadership.

Where: Simple. I moved to Atlanta for my soon to be wife and fell in love with the city. I wanted to go to the top school in the Southeast because this is where I want to live. Well, the top schools to me were Duke, UNC, and Emory. Emory was my number one because of location, and their stress on leadership and community, which I really liked. Also, I didn't really want to move, so UNC fell first, then Duke second. I only applied to Emory. The only other place I considered was Georgia Tech, but never seriously.

The decision: Simple, again. I only applied to one school. I had done a ton of research on Emory. Visited campus a couple of times. Sat in on classes. Visited with alumni and current students. I loved it there. I got my admit on December 10th, 2007. Without a doubt I will be going to Emory and I will champion their program all the way.

Summary: I guess their wasn't much evolution in my decision making process. When I made up my mind I wanted an MBA, Emory was my top choice then and still is. I never would have even thought of other programs had I not feared putting all my eggs in one basket. Once I got over that fear, and knew I put together a good application, I stuck with my guns and never doubted myself. I guess you can call me the Sniper of the '08 applicants.

this might be a little besides the topic but i need help
I read this post about the app. process and there are striking similarities about what im going through at this point. I am a petroleum engineer working in a petrochem. company plagued by management problems and an overall lack of competent leadership. I have been working with this company straight out college for the past 4 years. Now here is where my confusion arises and i was hoping that talking to you guys would put things into perspective.

I do not want this company to go heads up, and i want to be in a position to do something about it "BUT" its the how thats getting me. I don't seem to have a clear plan. I wanna do an MBA thats for sure. the degree is gonna equip me with the tools to make sure im not in a situation where in i know the problems and, in part ,some of the solutions but cant do anything about it. That said, i thought about management consulting, (consultants = "fixer-uppers") and it ties in closely with my engineering background (i.e problem solving/debottelnecking) but as said in the above post, i dont wanna be a worker bee forever. I wanna leave my mark on the organization i work for and/or start something of my own

so you see i am throughly divided as to how i wanna proceed. and im confused bout which schools to apply for cuz i dont even know what i wanna do after i graduate (consulting? if so why? just cuz of the engineering background? doesnt sound concrete to me, dont even wanna imagin what the ad com is gonna think bout it) a little guidance from you guys would go miles in helping me to gain a clearer picture bout what i wanna do.
Thanks
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Background: Always wanted to be in business. I started studying it at the age of 14 which was when it was first offered as an elective in my school. After high school I attended Manchester Business School, a very well recognized business school in the UK. I went on exchange for a year to the University of Massachusetts where I met my girlfriend (6 years ago!). After completing my degree I went back to Boston and worked as a general manager for a Boston based engineering firm. I was then offered a job as the head of marketing in the EMEA region for a Japanese software firm which I took. Turned out to be a bad decision, I hated the job and the company was poorly run to say the least. I stuck it out for 18 months and then decided to leave. I have spent the last two years running my own business importing magnetic products from China.

Why: I have always wanted to take my academic career to a very high level and my interest in business meant that the MBA was always my postgrad degree of choice.

Why Now: My own company was providing a decent income but was unlikely to grow much more. It was also very easy and I was getting bored (oh how I yearn to be bored again!), I decided that it was the right time because I had no responsibilities and no real financial commitments, I also wanted to move back to the states and be with my girlfriend (we are lucky enough to see each other a lot but not enough). I figured an MBA would give me the ability to pursue an international career.

Where: I had taken the GMAT during my final year of my undergraduate degree so I knew roughly where I should be applying. I enjoyed my time at Manchester Business School immensely and I know the professors and staff really well. I (arrogantly) assumed that I would walk into the school without any difficulty and, (really arrogantly) assumed that I would be given a scholarship as well. I used Manchester as my starting point and, after extensive research, chose four more schools evenly spaced throughout the FT rankings above Manchester. I opted for Judge in the UK as I love the campus and the city, (I nearly added Oxford to the list but I decided I didn't like the school), and then in the states I chose HBS, Tuck, and Yale. HBS for me was just a case of throwing in an application just in case someone read it and I got a place. Tuck was always my dream school, I'm quite outdoorsy and I didn't really want to be in a big city. Yale has a great fit with my desire to be socially responsible (yeah I know that sounds a bit corny). Also all three schools were within two hours driving distance from my girlfriend and after two years of long distance I really wanted to be close again!

GMAT: I took the GMAT again after I had decided on the schools I wanted to attend. I set myself the target of not applying to any school without being within ten points of that schools average. I got a 660 on my second attempt (4 years after the first). Decided I could do better, studied for another 6 weeks and then ended up with a 710. Unfortunately my decision to retake the GMAT meant that I missed the first two application deadlines for each school and ended up submitting my application in the April round, making life hard for myself.

What Now: I'm still a bit lost at the moment. There's a lot to do and a lot to take on board. I called Manchester and let them know I had to decline their offer, which I felt bad about because their adcom had been excellent. Now I'm waiting for my financial aid package to come through so I know how much I have to get in private loans, trying to sort out housing and a visa, and introducing myself to my classmates... Happy as a pig in sh**!

Takeaways: The connections I made at Tuck were key to my success, and the friends I made in such a short visit were incredibly supportive and really helped me through. I should mention that I reached out to these guys prior to submitting my application. I identified some clubs that I was interested in and got in touch through them. I would recommend everybody try to do the same at their target schools. MBA applications are about understanding yourself more than understanding the school. If you know yourself well then the school that fits you best will be obvious to you and to the adcom. I seem to see a lot of people trying to game the system and who believe that if they do certain things in a certain way that they will be admitted. I would suggest that they spend a little more time soul searching and understanding themselves.

I don't think I've done a very good job describing just how stressful this process was. The GMAT made me sick just thinking about a retake and I have missed so many nights sleep over the last six months it's not even funny. The essays were a real *complain* both in terms of time and worrying about getting it just right. At times the process made me feel stupid, and to be honest this website added to that, how is everybody scoring 760?!?!?! Funding is a nightmare in the UK at the moment, credit crunch and all that. And finally I have nobody around me who has any clue about MBA's or Schools, GMATClub has been my support network. Not having anyone to talk to has definitely made this journey harder.

Anywho, all worth it in the end eh?
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Wow, glad to see this one pop up...its a great thread to show people just prepping for applications that they aren't 3 years behind the curve in terms of prepping for getting an MBA. Funny to think I started this thread 3.5 years ago. Time flies when you are having fun.
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Ooh, fun thread! I can’t believe I missed this one when I was going through the application process this past year! Here’s my LONG response.

How has your B-school plan evolved? When did you decide to pursue this, what were you goals and have those changed, and of course the rotating decision on what schools and which is your top?

When:

I always thought I wanted to go back for my MBA… at least that’s what I told my parents when I graduated from college with an undergraduate degree in business back in 2003. I moved up to middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin (which I loved) and began working for a great CPG firm in supply chain management. I considered starting a part-time MBA at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh but I was loving being out in the working world and couldn’t get myself to so quickly go back to school although I did take classes at a local community college to work on a supply chain certification. After 3.5 years, I was recruited away by another great CPG company located in Minneapolis.

To my parents, who had never stopped asking me about my MBA, I told them that now I’d have the opportunity to enroll part-time at the University of Minnesota (Carlson) which is a top 20ish program. However, during this time, I was starting to really get into supply chain management and I knew that if I wanted to devote my career to this field, an MBA was not something that was particularly valued. I put the MBA aside and went on with life. I met a girl, fell in love, and in a blink of an eye, three more years had disappeared.

Ironically, it was my last promotion that tipped the balance for me about returning to school. I was a middle manager in supply chain and designated as a high potential employee on track for a very successful career. Throughout my life, I’ve always felt the need to be uncomfortable or slightly on edge in order for me to grow and not become complacent. The idea of settling down in Minnesota, starting a family in the suburbs, and having a great career working for a great company was extremely tempting but it also felt safe and… easy. I wanted to do something more impactful with my life.

Still uncertain about the MBA, I signed up for a GMAT prep course and I decided to let the GMAT determine my fate. I told myself that if I got a 700 or higher on the GMAT, I would apply full time to a top 10 program and if I did not get that score, I would either go part-time at the University of Minnesota or not at all. I think subconsciously, I really wanted to go back to school full time as I spent nearly every waking moment outside of work for two months studying for the test and I was fortunate to get a 750.

Where:

Being surrounded by high achieving friends (graduates of MBA programs from Harvard, Stanford, Kellogg, Booth, etc.), they gave me to confidence to believe that I had a reasonable shot at a top school. I knew that I needed to attend a top school since I was already making a decent living and I knew that I needed a well recognized program to make the investment worthwhile from a salary standpoint as well as the jobs that I would be looking to recruit into after school. Initially for my GMAT, I submitted my scores to Harvard, Stanford, MIT Sloan, Northwestern Kellogg, and Dartmouth Tuck. While I was enamored with the idea of attending Tuck and I enjoyed the information session that I attended locally, I knew that finding a meaningful job in Hanover as well as living in a small city would be challenging for my wife so I ended up adding Chicago Booth to my list in place of Tuck. I didn’t apply to Wharton because of the cities I was deciding on, Philly just didn’t make the cut. I am originally Chicagoan, I had friends in Boston, and the west coast… was warm. I figured that as a fairly competitive applicant (biggest red flag being my age – 30 years old at matriculation), if I applied to 5 schools in round 1, would have a decent shot of getting into one school.

Stanford: To be honest, this was my dream school. I was enduring one of the harshest winters ever in Minnesota and the idea of studying amongst the palm trees was endlessly appealing. I also liked the small size of the class and as someone who was interested in tech product management and startups, I knew that Stanford was the Mecca for those areas. While I think I submitted a pretty good application, I was dinged without an interview from Stanford.

MIT Sloan: Okay, I didn’t know that MIT had a business school until I began researching MBA programs let alone a world class program. As someone who once considered engineering in high school (before falling in love with English), MIT was a powerful name for me. A good friend of mine worked closely with the MIT MBA program and with strong encouragement, I applied. I even made the trip over the Boston to visit MIT during one of their Ambassadors events. However, I think the strange timing of MIT’s applications really was my downfall there. After spending countless hours working on the first 4 applications, I put together by far my weakest application for MIT and I submitted it rather carelessly. It was hard to have much emotionally invested in MIT because at the same time I was waiting for an interview call from MIT, I had already received decisions from other schools higher on my list. They saved me from having to withdraw my application by dinging me. I feel that with the application I submitted, I deserved it.

Kellogg: Having grown up in the Chicago suburbs, I was well acquainted with Evanston, knew the Northwestern campus, and held Northwestern in high regard. We always considered it the “Harvard of the Midwest”. I never visited the school but I did attend an information session locally and interviewed locally with an alumni as well. I wasn’t thrilled with the heavy emphasis on teamwork but I loved the Kellogg community spirit and particularly I liked the strength of their network for partners (JVs). I was thrilled to be accepted into Kellogg.

Booth: Booth was never on my radar because 1. it’s located in a neighborhood that used to be rather notorious when I lived in Chicago and 2. because I associated the University of Chicago with pure academics. However, on the encouragement of a close friend, I signed up for Booth Live – Marketing and I fell in love with the Harper Center and the Booth program. The school inspired me and it quickly shot up to the top of my list. I again interviewed locally with an alumni since I had previously visited the school. I was happy beyond words to receive a significant scholarship upon acceptance and later on I interviewed and was offered the coveted Kilts Fellowship in Marketing which came with the opportunity to be mentored by a marketing executive for two years. It was a tremendous honor and I loved Booth for their transparency and helpfulness throughout the application process.

Harvard: What can you say about HBS? I applied because it was Harvard. As an older candidate, I didn’t give myself a real chance to attend and I had tons of negative stereotypes in my head about Harvard despite having tons of wonderful friends around me who had attended that school. I didn’t particularly like the campus (the neo-Georgian architecture reminded me of my undergrad) and it seemed really big and institutional (required curriculum for the entire first year). I wasn’t really that high on my list except for the fact that I knew that my company (and many others that I was interested in) considered it the top MBA program in the world. I interviewed on campus and it was an amazing feeling to be accepted at a school that I had previously placed on an untouchable pedestal.

What Now:

Well, as many of you know, after agonizing between Booth and HBS, I ultimately chose HBS after attending both admitted students weekends. I found the HBS students and faculty to be accessible, friendly, generous, smart, and whatever other nice adjectives I can think of. Every misconception of that school was smashed (I drank the Koolaid and it was delicious) and I’m proud to a part of the HBS class of 2013. I’ve written a few more words about this on my blog… https://www.shoescount.com/?p=42
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How has your B-school plan evolved? When did you decide to pursue this, what were you goals and have those changed, and of course the rotating decision on what schools and which is your top?

When:

As committed as I was back then, I did do a poor job of defending the \$1,500 investment in the Kaplan course I had signed up for, and scored a low 600’s GMAT on my first take. Realizing it was top10 or bust for me, I got my sh!t together and committed fully to a mnhtn gmat course, and scored 700.

Where:

I began the school search, speaking with friends from my country that had attended some of the schools I was looking at. I started with HBS, since I was – and to some extent still am – a naïve prick. Of course I’d have to add Wharton to the list, as I had a few friends that had attended. My HBS friend told me about Tuck, which I’d never even heard of (…), and I also checked out Columbia. Duke was added to the list, as was YSOM and MIT. Clearly, they are all quite different programs, so you can see the criteria for selection was somewhat unclear.

I fell in love with Tuck, and Columbia as well. Went to Tuck summer visit day, signed up for diversity conference and had my interview there etc. Same for Columbia, really. H/W I applied to as well, and the applications were sound – but no real drive and I think it was pretty obvious I had just applied because of their names. It was different with Columbia and Tuck, though. I was fortunate to have friends that had attended all the programs above, so I received first hand experiences.

As I matured through the process, I became very giddy at the prospect of actually learning “stuff”, being immersed in a diverse environment with people from different cultures and backgrounds. I didn’t care much whether it’d be 250 kids in Hanover or 900 in Morningside Heights.

What Now:

I was accepted to Columbia (ED), and it couldn’t have come at a better time. It took the stress off my shoulders, and I could finally start to relax a bit after intense preparations. I never received interview invites to H/W, and I must say that while OF COURSE anyone would have issues turning down either those schools, I honestly wasn’t let down by the fact I didn’t make it through there. I still haven’t heard from Tuck, but I have since been back and forth to Morningside Heights, met students, spent time on campus, etc – and am exstatic about attending Columbia. I’ve wired them my deposit, and for me to disregard all those things, I think Tuck would have to show my a pretty sweet financial aid package. Which I don’t think will happen, and on some/many level/s I hope doesn’t happen. In fact, I kind of hope I get dinged there. Regardless, I’m off to school.

I should mention that Gmatclub has been a tremendous resource through the entire ordeal, and that I am grateful for the contributions so many of the members make on this board.
SVP
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Director
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