MBA Applicationland

Apr 09

A Very Long Conversation With Myself

I’ve always wanted to interview myself, so today I decided to interview myself on the books I used during my application process and whether they were actually useful.

MBA Boy the Interviewer (MBI): Hi.

MBA Boy the Interviewee (MBE): Hi.

MBI: Thank you for doing this interview!

MBE: [Fake smile] Of course.

MBI: Let’s start by talking GMAT books. Which books did you use to prepare for the GMAT?

MBE: I originally purchased two Manhattan GMAT books — Sentence Correction and Number Properties — to brush up on my foundational knowledge and also to gain access to the six Manhattan GMAT practice tests that I would eventually take. I later on added the official guide and official quantitative guide as they provided actual questions from past GMAT tests.

MBI: Were they useful?

MBE: Most definitely, and they would have been even more useful had I read them more. In the end, I didn’t go through more than 25% of any of the books — and not because I knew the other 75% of the material, but simply because I didn’t have enough time. Anyway, the official guide is pretty much the one essential book for GMAT preparation. The advice I’d offer, though, is to focus on the questions you struggle with. The book orders questions from easiest to hardest, and so I started at the beginning, answered a bunch of easy questions correctly, then realized that this was not really preparing me for the test in any sort of way. As for the Manhattan GMAT books, they’re great for attacking problem areas. I didn’t really know my problem areas, so I just bought the books that the forum folk seemed to most often recommend. As it turns out, despite being a writing tutor in my past life, Sentence Correction really keyed me on the finer points of the English language. Number Properties proved much less useful as it clearly wasn’t one of my problem areas — I happen to think about numbers all day (even when I should be doing other things).

MBI: How did these books actually affect your performance?

MBE: Well, I took a diagnostic test before I began studying and scored a 720 (Q47 V41). Then, over the course of my studies, I managed to top out at 50 for quantitative (three times) and 45 for verbal (four times) on my practice tests before scoring a 760 (Q49 V45) on the actual exam. Not all of this improvement can be attributed to the books, as mastering the test format can oftentimes actually make as much, if not more, of a difference as learning the material. That said, my verbal score literally jumped straight from 41 to 45 after going through the opening chapters of Sentence Correction, at which point I thanked the book and then set it aside to collect dust.

MBI: Great. Let’s move onto MBA application books. Which books did you use here?

MBE: I did my round one (R1) applications sans books; alas, I did not gain acceptance into any of my R1 schools. As the rejections trickled in, I decided to buy a couple of essay-focused books (Great Applications for Business School by Paul Bodine and 65 Successful HBS Application Essays by Lauren Sullivan and The Harbus) to see if I was doing something wrong. Accepted.com kindly sent me a copy of MBA Admission for Smarties by Linda Abraham and Judy Gruen as well.

MBI: Three rejections in R1 versus an acceptance and a waitlist in R2. Obviously you just couldn’t get it done without the books.

MBE: Truer words have never been spoken. In reality, though, I did things quite differently in R2 after my R1 goose egg. For one, I bought the essay books, but I also spoke with current students at my R2 schools (after stupidly neglecting this tactic in R1) and had one of these current students review my essays (which was a tremendous help).

MBI: How did you utilize the essay books, and which one did you like better?

MBE: I read through a number of the essays to get a feel for what constitutes an effective business school essay, which isn’t necessarily the same as an effective English class essay, for example. One of the things I quickly noticed was that the essays were more direct than ornate — certainly more to-the-point than my R1 essays. The idea being that it’s better to clearly articulate your points in a straightforward manner than to write beautiful prose in which you lead the adcom on a ‘journey’ to discover your underlying message, because what if they never discover it? As a result, I went back and crafted my R2 essays with greater specificity. As for the second part of your question, I’m going to be lame and say that I liked them both equally, and that I would recommend them to any prospective applicants.

MBI: Lastly, what about this MBA Admission for Smarties book?

MBE: I didn’t receive MBA Admission for Smarties until January, so I really only started reading the book after submitting my final application. I promised Accepted.com that I would do a quick review of the book, so I’ll go ahead and do that now if you don’t mind.

MBI: Have at it. I’m all ears.

MBE: Fantastic. For starters, the full title of the book is MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools, and I think that accurately depicts the content within. I think the key merit of the book is that it neatly organizes all the considerations of the business school application process in a concise manner (the book is only 180 pages). You could probably actually go and find 95% of the information contained in the book on GMAT Club, Beat the GMAT, and other sites, but it would take you forever, and you’d sift through an overwhelming amount of information to dig out the gems that Linda and Judy have already identified through their years of experience in admissions consulting. The flip-side of the equation is that, since it’s meant as a guide, it provides a limited level of detail on each of the topics. For example, the book points you in the right direction when it comes to essay writing, but I wouldn’t use it as a replacement for the aforementioned essay books, which go way more in-depth and offer tens of actual essays to boot. In summation, MBA Admission for Smarties is a nice resources that I definitely could have used at the beginning of (and throughout) my process. I ended up sifting through the impossible mountain of information available online, but that doesn’t mean you need to do the same!

MBI: Well, that wraps up our interview. Thanks again for taking time out of your busy day to talk some shop!

MBE: Most definitely. I can’t believe I just spent over an hour talking to myself, even deriving some pleasure from it in the process.

MBI: It was awesome.

MBE: We’ll do it again for sure. Ciao!

Mar 16

Pardon The Interruption

I must interrupt my long-awaited January tales once again, this time to bring news of my acceptance into Tuck. They even threw in a scholarship for good measure. Anyway, that is all, and I promise to resume my January tales without further interruption after a quick three-day victory lap.

Okay, fine. This email from a friend also echoes my current feelings: “SO HAPPY!!!!!!!!! x6789878908789836336383922929222202!!!!!!!!!!!!” (We’re talking serious numbers here.)

Mar 15

Expectations Are Overrated

It is true that I am taking my sweet time telling January tales, so today I’ll pause to shed light on where I currently stand. In the past month or so, Sloan, Columbia, and Harvard each said thanks, but no thanks, leaving me 0 for 5 with two to go (and well short of my original expectations).

Although my results have been underwhelming thus far, God has continually reminded me amidst my disappointment that He is in control of all things and that His plans are good. As a Christian, it’s really easy to say, “God, I’m going to trust in you,” and then turn around, draw out plans of your own, and go back to Him, saying, “God, I really think this is what you want me to do with my life.” Which isn’t actually trusting God and in fact makes it easy to question Him when you don’t get what you want. So while I ardently hope that God plans for me to attend Tuck or Booth this fall, I’m ready to embrace whatever He has in store for me.

Mar 13

January Tales [Part 2: Between And]

Sometimes I get stuck choosing between eating a sandwich and drinking a bowl of soup. Then afterward I oftentimes get stuck between going to the gym and sitting in a chair doing nothing. These are always tough decisions but I usually end up making a choice. January 3 was a very challenging day because I was stuck between and. And Between And is a really hard place to be because what do you really do?

For those of you who read my blog backwards, a week earlier, my Booth recommender had assured me as he left for rural India that he would write my recommendation on his plane ride there. Sounds great, have a wonderful trip, bring back nice stories and maybe some Indian curry. Alas, my recommendation never arrived. And now with the deadline looming less than 24 hours away, my recommender was MIA.

On the one hand, I told myself not to panic. But on the other hand, I told myself I should definitely panic. I called around frantically trying to find a way to reach my recommender, only to find that not even his wife knew how to reach him. I slumped into my chair. Between And is a terrible place to be.

Then I remembered that good things come to those who wait, so that’s what I did. Brilliant. No — really. Because after only a few minutes of waiting, I finally received an email from Booth informing me that my recommender had returned from his hiatus to submit my recommendation.

Feb 17

January Tales [Part 1: What Can You Do, Right?]

Many people have favorite bad habits. Some people love to lie. Some people love to procrastinate. My favorite thing to do is to secretly revel in romanticized future dates. For example, for the entire month of December, I was very excited about The January Dentist Appointment. The January Dentist Appointment was a point in time when all of my business school applications would be completed and it was a day that could not arrive quickly enough. Of course, I forgot to remember that my dentist would also discover my first cavity during this visit, so I should have taken that into consideration.

Eventually, January arrived. The January Dentist Appointment was drawing near, but unfortunately, so were some other things. A triple whammy of application deadlines, to be exact — Tuck, Booth, and Harvard — all due by January 10. One of more of these applications were supposed to be done by now, but the Columbia application that took a baker’s month to complete (I’ll leave you to figure out what that means) effectively voided my original plan.

Did I despair? Actually, yes, I did despair. Thinking about the applications (which was pretty much always) brought me much hopelessness. Kind of like in the aftermath of a heart-wrenching breakup, except that nothing bad had actually happened yet. As I slogged through my essays, I tried very hard to conjure up some inspiration, but inspiration was simply not to be. Instead, I spent many hours staring at the computer screen trying to piece together sentences that refused to be pieced together. I never recalled school papers being so difficult to write.

On January 3, I finished my Booth application with one day to spare. I’m not sure how I did it and I actually felt good about myself for one fleeting moment before I remembered that my recommender was on a missions trip in India and had neither submitted my recommendation nor responded to any of my emails. I called a friend of his to see what I should do. “I’m pretty sure he forgot,” the friend said. “Actually, no — he definitely forgot. What can you do, right?”

Right. (To be continued.)

Feb 03

Twas The Best Of Days, Twas The Worst Of Days

I would like to bring good tidings to MBA Applicationland! This afternoon, an otherwise terrible [work] day was salvaged by a very unexpected but welcome email I received from Chicago Booth: “Dear MBA Boy, Congratulations!  We have evaluated your application and are extending an invitation for you to interview with us in the next phase of our admissions process.” And with that, I breathed a sigh of relief (or was it a gasp of exhilaration, I cannot remember); my first interview invitation had finally arrived. Moments later, I remembered that I was actually in the middle of a terrible workday so there was little time to celebrate.

Alas, I still haven’t celebrated as my workday is far from complete at 11:18pm, so before I get all giddy I must scurry off back to work.

Jan 25

It’s Me, Not You

My dear blog, it’s been way too long. I didn’t forget about you; I just didn’t have enough time. (I know, that might actually be worse.)

So let me tell you what I’ve been up to since Thanksgiving. I got rejected by Stanford. I ate too many cookies during Christmastime. I then finished all of my applications, sweated out another last-minute recommendation, and interviewed at Tuck a week ago. Alas, I am still waiting on that ever-elusive first acceptance letter, but hopefully it shall arrive in due timing.

In the meantime, I will be telling fantastic tales about meeting three application deadlines in six days, dealing with the recommender who has gone MIA in rural India, and learning (in the worst way possible) that there are actually multiple bus routes in Hanover, NH. I’ll also throw in a book review to make up for my prolonged absence.

…So, all is forgiven?

Nov 24

The Thanksgiving Post

It wouldn’t be right for Thanksgiving to pass in silence, so I’m taking a break from work and applications to offer a blog post in honor of what I consider one of the top seven days of the year and probably even higher than that.

Between getting rejected from Wharton and dealing with some health issues, I’ve been subtly entrenched in a nice little rut of late. Receiving my first rejection has definitely tempered the optimism surrounding this entire application process and made the remaining applications seemingly harder to complete. Fortunately, I know I’ve been in a rut (because the worst kind of rut is the kind you can’t even acknowledge) and have so taken measures to combat it. Being someone who draws energy from being others, this pretty much means hanging out with people even during the [increasingly frequent] times when I feel like burrowing in my room and working on applications.

Although the Wharton rejection seems to have played a role in sending into the doldrums, it’s actually among the many things I am thankful for. It’s helped me maintain perspective (on what is really important) and humility, among other benefits that will probably become more evident with the passing of time.

Some other things I’m currently for, in rough order of increasing importance: Stanford and MIT, for not rejecting me (yet). Electricity, after going five days without it this past month. My health, which I oftentimes take for granted. Living Waters, an organization battling homelessness that I’ve been blessed to be a part of, and which has become a second family of sorts to me. My friends, who have stuck by my side through the good and the bad. My two sisters, who are really the two best sisters anyone could wish for. My parents, who have sacrificed so much for me and set countless positive examples for me to follow. God, who has helped me persevere through my hardest struggles and been the source of my greatest joy. Oh, and the four slices of cheesecake currently sitting in my stomach, although I might clarify that, despite being most delectable, cheesecake do not sit atop the pecking order of important things in my life.

Being thankful is popular on Thanksgiving Day, but life could also be all the more more fulfilling if everyone would maintain a gracious attitude the other 364 days of the year. So, to cheesecake and being thankful (for the next 364 days), Happy Thanksgiving.

Nov 12

Sting of the Ding

Yesterday, Wharton sent me a nice little present: my first rejection. Instinctively, I wanted to pity myself and ponder what I did wrong on my application, but neither of those things are very helpful so I stopped myself before it was too late to turn back. The truth is, I felt like I put in my best effort for the application (or at least something very close), so there’s nothing for me to second guess. Anyway, that is all for now.

Oct 31

MBA Boy Disappears And Takes A Pop Quiz

Okay, I’m back from what has been a long autumn hibernation. I bet you don’t even recognize me anymore with my new haircut, or maybe you imagined me as a bald pear since I never actually told you what I looked like. Anyway, many developments have occurred in my absence. For one, I submitted my MIT Sloan application. Pretty much my entire town also lost power (and has yet to get it back). And I was invited to participate in an interview with Accepted.com. For those of you who don’t do well with links, I’ve provided the transcript below. So without further ado, do enjoy:

Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself – where are you from, where did you go to school and when did you graduate; and what prior degrees do you hold?

MBA Boy: I was born and raised in Massachusetts, before departing for college out-of-state in 2004. (I’m keeping the name of my college confidential during the application process, although I’ll say I’m a 2008 graduate.) Additionally, I wrote a post containing other juicy tidbits about my life entitled “Who Is MBA Boy?”.

Accepted: Why do you want to go to business school? What are some of the factors motivating you?

MBA Boy: Well, first off: I think I’m approaching the age where I have to make that decision of going back to school or not. If you look at the trend, most students at top MBA programs are under 30.

I also think that, nowadays, people can get so detached from their jobs. They spend the large majority of their adult lives just going through the motions of their jobs, just doing things, because they have to – to get by in life, pay the bills, support the family – but mentally and spiritually, they’re slowly getting the life sucked out of them. And I don’t believe in that; I believe in calling. I believe everyone has a calling, and that it’s crucial for you to discover your calling and to pursue it, because it injects purpose into your life.

See, I’m actually one of those oddballs who genuinely enjoys investment banking. (Yeah, I’m that guy.) But at the same time I don’t feel called to be a career investment banker; I see other opportunities where I can personally impact people more. And that’s something that’s really important to me. Some people are passionate about making a great product. Other people really care about innovation or getting rich or something else. For me, it’s all about people. I’m passionate about people.

So it basically came down to, do I want to start thinking about my next job, or would I rather go back to school first? And I settled on going back to school, because I think it’ll provide a better foundation in the long run and prepare me for the things I want to do. That said, I’m also a very religious person, so ultimately I’m leaving the outcome in God’s hands. I absolutely trust that I will end up where God wants me to end up, even if it’s not at business school.

Accepted: How important is a “name brand” MBA program to you? Are you only applying to top 10 programs?

MBA Boy: Haha, I want to be careful here because I don’t want to equate applying to top schools with valuing prestige – even if that’s what a lot of people do. While I don’t know how you’d specifically define the “top 10 MBA programs,” the schools to which I am applying are all well-regarded. More importantly, though, I think they’re the best schools to help me achieve my calling.

On the other hand, I’m not going to sit here and tell you I don’t think about the prestige factor at all, because I do. I think everyone does. Anyone who tells you otherwise is in all likelihood lying. But I’m wary of thinking about prestige, since prestige is really synonymous with pride, and pride is a very dangerous thing. So whenever thoughts of prestige arise I make sure I squash them, because if that’s why I’m going back to school, then I’m just doing it to feed my own pride.

Accepted: Would you consider applying to a b-school outside your current country?

MBA Boy: I’ve already finalized the list of schools I’m applying to, so I can answer with certainty that I’m not considering any schools outside of the U.S. I studied abroad in London for a semester and absolutely adored the city, but it probably makes the most sense to stay in the U.S. if I’m planning to work here.

Accepted: How many times did you take the GMAT? Are you happy with your score?

MBA Boy: I took the GMAT once, scored 760, and was satisfied with it. I think it’d be rather bratty for me to say I got a 760 and it’s very upsetting. If you’re interested in reading more about my GMAT journey, I dedicated one and a half decently long posts to it in my blog.

Accepted: How has the current economy affected your decision to attend business school?

MBA Boy: To be honest, not at all.

Accepted: Why did you choose to blog about the MBA application experience?

MBA Boy: I love writing, and it’s a beautiful thing when you’re able to express yourself eloquently through words. I used to jot down random musings about my day, which eventually turned into an obscure blog with an ebullient fanbase of seven or so. Unfortunately, I’m not a terribly fast writer and I just couldn’t find time to keep writing, so I stopped.

One night in August, as I was contemplating essay ideas for my applications, an exquisite inspiration came upon me and I wanted to commemorate the moment in words somewhere. All of a sudden, I found myself blogging again. And so really, I’m just finding an excuse to do something I love; if others can draw inspiration from my writing, even better.