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

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

Friday, August 26, 2005

And so it begins

I have now done all the research I'm going to in regards to my essays for this year. I know pretty much what to say, custom tailored for each school. But now I must buckle down and start writing. Easier said than done. There's so much that needs to be put together it's hard to know where to start. Well, that's not true. I know I need to start with the "why everything" essay, but after that I'm not so sure. Too many apps, too many essays, too many ideas. I'll probably create a chart of some sort which will identify the key points of each essay I'm planning to put together, then figure out which ones to match up with which app (see previous posts 1 and 2) to tell the best story. But, that'll involve at least outlining every essay I'm planning to write when most of my apps aren't going to be until round 2! Not to mention I might have some great essay-fodder between now and round 2 submission time. Oh well. If history is a good predictor of the future, by the end of this weekend all this insanity might just turn into genius. Time to start finding that fine line...

Friday, August 19, 2005

Squashing a Bug

Got my results back on the CFA Level III exam- I passed! Huge relief that I am now finally done with that retched program. The results had been like an insect clawing away at the back of my mind for the last week. This year Level III was, imo, particularly difficult so I was really worried I wouldn't pass. The thought of having to do all that studying again next year was so painful I forced myself not to think about it.

I think the CFA is a really worthwhile program to give future PMs a solid foundation in investment management, but I don't like the way it's been administrated lately. Seems like they're all about trying to make this thing really exclusive by making the test harder every year. The thing that got to me the most was the crap they pulled last year with the really really low pass rates claiming that the only reason they could come up with for this was that people were not studying the designated materials and were using study notes too much. I only used the study notes and passed! They were just pissed because they were paying people to write CFA branded textbooks and they weren't selling many. The CFAI is supposed to be a non-profit organization. Considering the amount of money they charge for the test and the seemingly low costs, I don't know why they need more money from textbook sales. I'd love to see their IS and BS. I do know that Thomas Bowman, CFAI's ex-CEO, made more than $900K in the year 2002. Am I wrong in thinking that's a lot of comp at a non-profit? I honestly don't know what CEO pay is at non-profits, but $900K is more than a lot of for-profit CEO's make! And I doubt the job is as hard as it is at another non-profit since the CFA program likely provides the organization with plenty of funding. The CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art only made around $500K that year, but I know there's a lot of fundraising work at that job!

Friday, August 12, 2005

Misinterpretations

Obviously I was not clear enough about what I was suggesting in my previous post about tackling essays. I was taking certain experiences I have had in the application process for granted. For all those people just starting out-

1) Don't attempt to write essays about things you think the adcom wants to hear
2) Don't start with lessons and work your way back to questions

I know, this is pretty much opposite of what I was suggesting in my previous post. I failed to note that my suggestion was really only applicable to the experienced applicant who has spent lots of time thinking about essays and how to construct an application. Most will say that the suggestions wouldn't even apply to them, so allow me to clarify.

An application is a self-portrait you present to an adcom to tell them who you are and why you need to go to their school. As any art lover knows, a portrait of a person can be painted in many many ways, each attempting to capture whatever it is the artist sees in the person. When you create your application, you need to know what it is you want to say about yourself. Easier said than done. Most will start out trying to answer individual essay questions. After numerous revisions, a cohesive semblence of "who you are" might eventually start to form. Then you'll realize that the "who" is not necessarily your best face, so to speak, simply because an application is too short to paint a complete picture of who you are so you are left to paint the best incomplete picture and make it seem complete. You'll start to tweak your essays to highlight the areas you feel are your best attributes (in combination), and then, perhaps, you'll actually get an application you're proud of. In my case, I've already gotten to the point of knowing who I am and I've spent much time thinking about what my best face is. Here is where my idea comes in and is different from the commonly prescribed path. At this point, I want to start over with essay ideas. I just want to brainstorm now. Forget the questions for the brainstorming, but pay attention to the questions when I write the essays (duh)!! So I try starting from the end-

What lessons are there to be learned?
Will any of these fit with the portrait I've envisioned?
What experiences led to these lessons?
And, finally, will any of these experiences actually fit with the questions asked by the schools?

One of the main reasons why people who try to write what they think the adcom wants to hear fail is because they do not create a cohesive semblance of a person. Instead, they present scattered fragments that do not a person make. Also, people are not naturally inclined to think about all the different aspects of a person who is not themselves. If you invented a persona for the adcom, would think about this person's favorite color? The little things make us who we are, and if you don't know what those things are you probably don't know who "you" are. So, to all those thinking about making stuff up, leave this practice to the thespians of the world.

So, when I refered to "what the adcom wants to hear", I was really talking about the pieces of my actual self that are relevant to the b-school application and which will, in combination, create the best self-portrait (remember, "best" is relative so you need to think about who your audience is when you determine it). I'm guessing the adcom is not interested in, for instance, the experiences in which I have learned ways to manipulate people. But they probably would be interested in the experiences which have taught me the value of teamwork.

Back to my point- a person can learn many lessons from a single experience, so I am merely suggesting that one starts by brainstorming lessons and figure out how they could together create the right portrait of oneself. Then, think about the experiences in your life which have taught you these lessons, and see if they answer the questions asked. Who knows if they will? Adcoms ask very specific questions because they think these questions will allow you to paint a picture about yourself as well as address key issues related to the MBA experience (ex. leadership, teamwork, values, etc). In the Fog of War, McNamara says something like "answer the question, but when you're asked a question you don't want to answer, answer the question you wish you were asked." Don't do that here. While you may make a better portrait of yourself, you will also not address the issues adcom want answers on, and they're likely smart enough to know what you're doing.

Working backwards could produce undesirable results. Maybe the app as a whole just won't seem right. In regression analysis three or four independent variables might each be highly correlated with your dependent variable, but in combination they do not work. In the same way, there might be a group of lessons that all seem great, but together they do not work. Your portrait might end up looking like a Picasso, which is brilliant to those who can see it, but just looks chaotic to those who can't see past this. The adcom, while experienced "art critics", probably don't have the time to look beyond any chaos. Therefore, a straight forward cohesive application is best. The path I'm suggesting might or might not get you there. At worst I think it'll help one to develop a better total picture of oneself. It probably won't be an easy journey, but the results could be great...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Behind, ahead, or is she just way ahead?

Visited Axechick's blog yesterday and was on the verge of freakin out. Dude, she is so far ahead of me it's sick. And I've already applied once before! I had been planning on starting my apps "early" this year by cracking on them in August, but it would appear that's not even enough to stay competitive. And they wonder why b-schoolers need grade non-disclosure :-). I'm exagerating a bit here, but there is something to be said for how hard it is to apply to b-school. The competition is just so good you really need to spend a lot of time if you want to attempt to distinguish yourself. Axechick is probably just ahead of everyone else (kudos to you Axechick!), but that's the kind of effort you probably need to make if you want to get in to a school like HBS. So many people have great stories, but a lot of it comes down to how well you tell it on paper. I remember hearing that in the early 90s the average GMAT for the top b-schools was only in the low 600s, so I can only imagine what it's going to be like ten years from now. Considering how much harder it is to get into a top college than when I went to high school, I'm sure this competitive effect will carry over for when the current college freshmen go to grad school. I wonder if they're all going to burn out one day...

This year I've decided to apply to a few schools in round 1 and a few in round 2. For round 1 I'm planning to apply to Wharton and Chicago. Wharton strongly encourages its reapps to apply "when they're ready", but really they'd prefer round 1. Some think that in general round 1 is better to apply in because there are less people who apply that round, more seats are available, and it shows you're a "go-getter" or some crap like that. On the other hand, if this "go-getter" self-selection theory is true you'll also be up against a greater proportion of stronger applicants. I'm holding off on a lot of apps until round 2 because I've been doing some extra work on the side at a startup which will address my leadership/managerial needs and I'd like to have more time doing that stuff before I write my essays. More experiences and "lessons" to work off of. So, I'm going to apply to HBS, Stanford, Kellogg, and Columbia round 2/RD. HBS and Stanford don't even bother to keep your apps from last year so I'm not going to bother to claim to be a reapplicant. My app last year sucked in comparison to what I'm planning to put out so I'd rather not have any affiliation with it. Too bad Wharton and Columbia don't give you this option. I thought about applying to Columbia ED but I don't think I really want to commit to going there just to increase my chances of getting in. I'll probably just send in my app early, Novemberish.

Some will note that I added Chicago and Kellogg to the list this year. I still would rather go to one of the four I applied to last year, but I need to increase my odds of getting in somewhere this year. I'm also thinking of applying to Fuqua after hearing some good things about it. Supposedly not a lot of competition for Sales and Trading jobs but a strong alumni network and pretty good recruiting. Add to that nice weather and a fun school environment and it might just be ideal...

Friday, August 05, 2005

Lessons Learned

It's August. Time has crept up on me. Time to start working on the apps. Make a real effort this year. Last year I put together my apps in 2-3 weeks. This time, I intend to create the Uber-App.

Most essay questions have come out and I've begun to think about what to write. My experience last year has indicated that writing about interesting events or creating beautiful prose means jack with the adcoms. Maybe just a little bit. What they really care about is "what I've learned from my experiences". So, I've decided to take a different approach to essay writing this year. I say forget about the questions themselves (expect for the why mba / why b-school / why everything essay which is more or less separate from what I'm talking about here). They don't really matter. What does matter are the "lessons". The things one has "learned". Some may disagree saying that each person's experiences are unique so you can't just start with lessons. I say that while not all lessons will be applicable to a given person, many will because, even though we do not all share the same experiences, different experiences can easily lead to the same lesson. The key is to first determine the lesson, then think back in your life about where you learned it. I think people often take their life lessons for granted so it's easier to start with lessons and think about what experiences lead to them rather than start with experiences and figure out if you learned anything from them. Once you've got your lessons figured out and the experiences which lead to you learning them, you can then try to match them up to essay questions.

So, I started to brainstorm about things adcoms would like to see you've "learned". Here's where I started to falter. The best one I could come up with was "learned to listen to others in a team setting". Honestly, I'm really not sure what kind of lessons adcoms are looking for. That's the thing they don't guide you on. Either that or something's just not clicking for me. I presume they want to see lessons that have made one grow as a human being rather than "learning" how to do something like ride a bike. So, I was wondering if you aspiring applicants and admits had any good ideas? I know I'm asking a really broad question, but I think this would be really useful to every applicant as a starting point for brainstorming their essays. Post some comments and we'll see how it goes!