My life, my blog, and B-school somewhere inbetween

A catalog of one reapplicant's journey towards an MBA in 2008

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Two women want me at the same time...

So there's good news and bad news to this story. The bad news is this is not every guy's fantasy come true. The good news is that I got an interview with Columbia!!! Got the letter from Nancy Schauf and Michelle Stockman telling me they'd like me to meet with one of their "Ambassadors". I was really surprised to find the email in my inbox because it came only about a week after my application went "under review". Everything I'd been reading on the message boards seemed to indicate it'd take much longer. So, naturally I'm trying to read something into this like any neurotic b-school applicant. The likely situation is that the first reader decided to call me in for the interview before the others had read it. I highly doubt more than one person got to it so quickly. Either that or my application went "under review" earlier than they told me. One of the three Ambassadors they've given me to choose from does almost exactly what my long term career goal is so I'm going to try to interview with her because I think she'll have a greater appreciation for what I do now and how an MBA will help me with my goals. But I haven't got the call back so it might not work out. We'll just have to see...

Well, it may not be every guy's fantasy but I'll certainly take it :-)! Good luck to all those that are still waiting.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

O Blogger, Blogger! Wherefore art thou Blogger?

It seems like there has been a substantial lack of blogging lately by those in the "blogs I read" section. There are some who are always blogging without fail, but most these days don't seem to be sharing their recent thoughts and experiences as often as they used to. And who am I to talk? I haven't blogged in any way that could be described as "frequently". As a blog reader, I very much enjoy having something worth looking at on the internet to distract me from the day-to-day toils of corporate finance, so I thought I should be motivated enough to provide something to all those souls out there who have nothing better to do than read my meager little blog even though I have nothing of any significance to say at the moment.

Actually, I did just get a call from a headhunter today telling me something like she "only works with people with my kind of background", and she started to describe some positions she had available. It only made it all too clear that b-school really is the best direction for me at the moment. Obviously there are better things out there, but given where I am and what that implies in terms of probable positions I could get, I am best off playing the "start-over card" that is the full-time MBA and start down the path I really want to be on. Part of my career goals straight out of college was to never have to do an MBA. I always thought its best value was as a way to essentially reset your resume so that you could get a job completely different than what you're currently doing. And since it was only something you could do once, you really had to make it count. At times I ask myself if I'm really in that position now, but after hearing the current opportunities the headhunter had to tell me about and hearing about the type of offers my friend at Chicago GSB is getting for the summer, I'm pretty sure the time has come. So, if I don't get in to Columbia this year, a re-applicant I shall be...

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Touché Wakechick...

Wakechick has made an excellent comment in regards to my previous post on my thoughts about the b-school process. Let me say "thanks" to Wakechick here before I forget. Anyway, she felt that my idea that people should say they want to be C_O of a company, etc. is not right. And, after some reflection, I realized she is right. The fundamental flaw with this idea is the presumption that anyone can write a convincing essay about something they do not necessarily believe in. It is not realistic to presume that if you want to, say, run division X of company Y in the long run that you'd be able to articulate clearly and effectively reasons you'd want to be CEO instead.

"I also think it's extremely important to be yourself and be completely honest." - Wakechick

This quote, in a way, supports what I'm saying because most people write their best when they're being honest about how they feel. If someone could convincingly write lies about how they feel, it is akin to the talent an actor possesses, just expressed through the pen (or keyboard). This is clearly not a skill everyone possesses. So, if you do wish to venture down this avenue because you think it'll be better received by the adcom, be sure that the essay will actually be as good as you think it'll be. Better writing is often better than better words.

The second point Wakechick makes is equally valid. If you write an essay about wanting to be C_O just like everyone else, you won't be able to distinguish yourself from the pack. The logic is sound, but, to be honest, I have no idea if that is necessarily a good thing. I am undecided, but I'd like to throw out two thoughts. When I went to some school's info session one of the adcom members made a point that trying to write a "different" essay was kind of a waste of time. She said she and the others have read so many different essays before that nothing you're going to say is really all that "different" or "new". So I think in general trying to distinguish yourself with one point is an extremely difficult task. And since b-school applicants have long term career goals that do not vary that much, I think you'll always be in the same category as a ton of other applicants no matter what you say you want to do. What makes a single applicant unique is the some of all his or her parts, so having some things that are the same as others is not necessarily bad.

The second observation I'll make is a general comment about b-schools as well. Every adcom says they want to add diversity to their class. It is one of the most important points to them. A diverse class is useful because it allows for different thought processes to go on which will bring about different ideas and conclusions, thus enriching others by seeing the world through another's eyes. I think this is very important to the learning experience. But at the same time, every school has a "fit". Schools will not accept you even though you are an outstanding candidate just because you don't "fit". This is typically used as the explanation for why someone doesn't get into Harvard but does get into Stanford. Even I saw myself as "fitting" into Wharton much better than Stanford or Harvard back in round 1. So, if schools are truely seeking a "diverse" class, doesn't having a "fit" seem like an oxymoron? I'm sure someone can come up with a great explanation as to how "diversity" and "fit" can co-exist in b-school, but I think b-schools may be missing out on the true benefits of diversification. Now, some may argue that being too diverse will lead to anarchy in the classroom and prevent progress from being made on a given topic, but I think the real reason b-schools don't want to "diversify" their class that much is that they ultimately want all their graduates to be similar. There are definite stereotypes that accompany any HBS, GSB, Tuck, Wharton, etc. graduate, and most of the good ones (and some of the bad ones) are based around the "fit". If all the admits conform to a certain "fit", then the "diversity" is probably best measured by each candidate's life experiences, not by the way they think, which defeats the key benefit to diversification. I'd love to see the progess made by putting a graduate from each school into a classroom and just letting it go. The process would be long, but I'm sure the result could be great (assuming the whole anarchy thing doesn't set in). I'm sure each school has an idea as to the way to train the future leaders of the world, and since they only have two years to do it they want someone who already conforms to the process from the start and will have a much easier time accepting their method of education. And if this is the case, then if you want to get into a specific school I think you might have to tailor your experiences and goals to conform to their fit, unless you already happen to be that way. Fortunately, most schools' fits are fairly broad allowing the opportunity to be just one person (hopefully yourself) and get into multiple schools. I think this logic could be applied to the way discuss your leadership experiences as well.

It seems this post could have been called "Thoughts, Part 2" or something (sorry if it's also too long), but I only really came up with them after reading Wakechick's comments so, again, much thanks to her. And I apologize if I've misconstrued your meaning or twisted your words.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Some of my thoughts on the B-school application process

Before I go into this, keep in mind that these are just my opinions about the process and do not necessarily represent fact. I'm sure my description is full of inaccuracies, but this is just my best guess as to what it really is and my opinions on that based upon my experience thus far.

Getting into business school is rather unique when compared to other graduate level eductional programs. From what I understand, getting into law school, for example, is dependent primarily upon your LSAT and your undergrad GPA. Essays and experience are secondary conerns. I would imagine many, if not most, graduate level programs are similar in cases where there is some form of standardized test relevant to the program. If the graduate program only has the GRE to rely upon for a universal method of comparison, the admissions board may not lend much credence to it if the skills required to perform well on the test are not really relevant for success in the program. Anyway, business school is unique because it has a standardized test specifically designed for it, the GMAT, yet the GMAT is not a primary factor in the admission decision making process. I'm sure many people think it is, but my experience with the application process has indicated that it is not. It is, however, a strong secondary factor. The GMAT functions primarily as a simple "yes, no, or maybe" tool to see if you can handle the "academic rigour", but also serves as a minor indicator of what I'll term "potential intelligence". If you score greater than 700 (with >=80% in both verbal and quant), it's a "yes", between 600 and 700, "maybe", and less than 600, "no" (this is an oversimplication of the process and the numbers cited are just approximates. The "true" method is more complex in the below 700 range, which accounts for people with scores in the 400s getting into a school like Stanford). Anyway, basically if you "pass" the GMAT test then it becomes all about your essays and work experience. Really, no matter your GMAT scores it's all about your essays and work experience, but if you "pass" the GMAT test you don't have to be as exceptional as you would if you "did not pass" (note that you don't really "fail" the GMAT test. You just don't "pass"). However, schools will give a candidate with a 800 a bit more credit than a candidate with a 710 because of the "potential intelligence" factor. I don't think this credit is very significant though. So, basically, the higher the GMAT the better up to a point. After 700, there are diminishing returns up to about 750 where it's becomes hard to distinguish.

So, a candidate with an 800 on the GMAT does not have as good a shot of getting into business school as a candidate with a 45 on the MCAT does of getting into medical school. Clearly, MBA admissions committees do not view the GMAT as the universal measure of a candidate's suitability for their program. The presumption we must make about any graduate program is that they want their graduates to succeed at their endevours (see my previous post in relation to this topic). Most likely, if a student goes to a graduate school to learn to be a doctor, that is the endevour they will most likely follow. If he or she were instead to go and build a company or become a professional athlete, as long as he or she was successful at it I'm sure his or her school would be happy with it. But as the admissions committees cannot usually know what a candidate is going to do after graduation, they must assume that it will be something related to the program they are applying to because that is what most of their graduates do. So, the MBA adcom is looking for candidates who will succeed in business (I know, you could have told me that without even thinking. Apologies for my need to do semi-formal proofs).

So then the MBA adcom must ask itself, "what makes for a successful business person?", to which they have decided "leadership" as the prime factor, and perhaps "analytical ability" as the second factor. Analytical ability is partly measured by the GMAT, so the essays can be mainly used to judge leadership and one's intended path towards success. Now, the question becomes whether leadership is in fact the best proxy for success in business. I think if your goal is to become an corporate executive or MD, then yes, leadership probably is. The key is to remember that "leadership" encompasses more than just the desire to be the guy that runs the show. It also covers your ability to organize, execute, etc. But, as I mentioned in that other post, I do not think leadership is necessarily the best proxy for all forms of business success. I believe that not everyone can nor wants to be a manager or executive, but does want a career in business whose success will depend primarily upon aptitude (I will not expound upon that here though). And as the system might require an MBA to proceed towards that person's goal, said person must write a bunch of bullshit about how great a leader he or she is in order to tell the adcoms what they want to hear because otherwise he or she probably won't get in just by non-leadership based merit or ability alone. (And if you're wondering, no I did not do this and am just being sour. I just wrote honestly about what I wanted to do and why I thought I was a good candidate, which may or may not include being a CEO in XYZ industry.)

I've strayed a bit from the topic. Basically what I've figured out is that your essays and work experience mean everything. Nothing new. But what I can tell you are some things to and not to write if your concern is just about getting in. Some other blogs written by applicants admitted into top programs have done this, but I thought a perspective from someone who has been dinged by top programs might be useful. First, don't write a long term career goal that doesn't involve being a manager of some sorts. In fact, don't aspire to anything less than an executive or owner of a business. Say you want to be C_O (fill in the blank) or you want to run your own hedge fund or private equity shop. You might even be able to get away with saying MD of this or that group, but I think it would look better in the adcom's eyes to say your want to run your own shop that does "this or that". No one actually expects that you'll definitely do whatever it is you say. A ton of people change their minds about their careers just after entering school! Also, you must state some sort of short term career goal that is a natural step towards attaining that long term goal and demonstrate that you can't attain either goal without the MBA. For example, get a job in PE so you can one day run your own PE shop, but you work in IT so you need the skills only an MBA can offer to make the career transition. Something like that. And be explicit because it's not necessarily so that the person reading your app will know anything about what it's like to get a job in XYZ industry. I know I did not do a good job explaining why I couldn't just get the job I wanted without the MBA after I described it and what I currently do to a consultant friend and he thought it shouldn't be hard to get the job without the MBA based solely upon what he knows. If he didn't know about some of the intricacies of careers in finance, why would the adcom necessarily? I'm sure there are people that just lie and customize their "short and long term goals" to be whatever will most necessitate an MBA and look most appealing to the adcom. They'll do something like say they want to be CEO of a great charitable non-profit when in fact they're just some cocky finance kid who's only in it for the money. I, personally, hate that fuckers like that get in to b-school shafting the honest folks out there and cannot in any way condone such actions. But I suppose that's a lesson to be learned in the business world. Anyway, that covers the "intended path towards success" part of the essays, but the same concepts can be applied to the "leadership" part. Be explicit. Don't just assume that if you write about how you ran this group or came up with this great thing that made your company lots o' $$ that the adcom will see it as "leadership". You should explicitly say "I demonstrated leadership by running this group, etc" and then talk about how that act actually does in fact demonstrate leadership. You're better off talking less about the details of the event than describing how it shows you're a great leader. And if you developed some great new product for your company or something then don't just write about that and how great a success it was, you have to explicitly draw out the link to how this means you're a great leader. And honestly, I doubt there'll always be a link. But if there's not, then you have to think harder and come up with something. You just got to keep drilling it into the adcom's heads that you are a leader and that you'll be successful. Of course, some actions are hard to mistake for anything but clear proxies for future business success and general leadership, such as starting your own company or organization. Though, if I were an adcom member having to read my share of 5,000+ applications, I probably wouldn't spend a ton of time thinking about how this or that might indicate leadership. If it's clearly laid out for me, it makes it much easier.

Since the primary factor used to determine a candidate's potential admission to a school is determined entirely by the candidate, it's clear that this system can be gamed. The GMAT and your GPA are determined by others and are meant to reflect some of your abilities. The recommendations, assuming you do not "influence" them, have the same property. But, your essays are (theoretically) written entirely by you about you, and you can say whatever you want. So, it is relatively easy for a candidate to make his or her application seem better than what he or she truly is if he or she writes the right things in his or her essays. Of course, some actions are hard to mistake for anything but clear proxies for future business success and general leadership, such as starting your own company or organization. Assuming you have a certain level of aptitude as measured by the GMAT and GPA, it's possible for anyone to get in to the most desirable of business schools. It's just a matter of how well you can paint yourself to fit the colors of each business school. I don't think other graduate programs offer this "opportunity". It would appear intelligence is not the deciding factor for admittance to an MBA program (although one could argue that the "intelligent" people are the ones who are smart enough to write essays that will get them into b-school). Some actions, like starting your own business, will speak for themselves, but many will not. Your fate is entirely up to you and how well you can spin the details of your life to fit those of the "ideal candidate". Perhaps those with a political background would fair very well with the adcoms...

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

I'm Back

So, I've been in India for the past two weeks or so visiting family. It seems all of my relatives there have become super religious. As an Indian born and raised in NY in a 90%+ white town with little contact with "my" religion and culture, this was somewhat intriguing to me. My mother is now pretty much non-Indian. My father has done daily poojas (basically Hindu prayers/rituals) his entire life, yet somehow managed to forget including either my sister or myself in the process while in the US. From an intellectual standpoint I doubt the existence of "God" as commonly believed by man. I believe something created man, or perhaps life in general, and this entity can be characterized as "God", but as for the all-knowing or all-powerful stuff or that he/she/it needs to be worshipped, not so sure. In India I am expected to participate in poojas 100%, which typically involves me sitting there like an idiot for 3 hours not knowing what's going on and thinking things like "I wonder if God is going to damn me for this basic heresy...." I can't just not participate either because it means so much to my relatives and I'd hate to disappoint them on something that is so important to them. And considering that I'd just be sleeping or watching tv otherwise, I think I can manage the sacrifice. If Hinduism is "right", I'll at least be doing something man is supposed to.

Anyway, it's good to be back. The parting gift of "backdoor trots" India gave me was, well, let's just say sentimental, but I would have been happy to have gone without it. But, coming back also meant I had to deal with checking on my decisions from HBS and Stanford. As I had not been interviewed by either, I knew I was going to be rejected. I had slight hope for waitlist, but the odds on that are so tiny it wasn't even worth considering. So, I decided to just not check while I was away as it would only lead to having to think about what I was going to do if I didn't even get into Columbia. I did check after I landed back in NY, and yes, I was rejected from both. This whole process made me realize I did not put out the strongest application I could. Actually, that's not right. What I should say is that I did not put out the best application suited towards getting me in. But I will expound on that in a post full of complete honesty about my opinions on this process tomorrow. Congrats to all on their acceptances while I was away.