The journey so far – v.1 – B School selection, Essays, and all that.
‘Longer than you thought’ post warning.
The decision to do an MBA isn’t recent. Its been with me right since my college (undergrad) days. The day I got my first job on campus, my attention shifted towards cracking CAT. My experiences with CAT would require reams of pages, and I don’t have the patience to do so now. Suffice to say that I did crack it, got a 99%ile plus score finally in my 4th attempt, but missed a sectional cutoff, and the chance to go to the IIMs.
That was more than two years ago. I noticed, surprisingly, that I had started excelling at my work, even though I wasn’t giving my 100%, and decided that it was time that I did. The idea of an MBA was dormant for a while as I took upon a challenging assignment outside India, but not for long. This was a year ago, when I decided to apply to ISB. Gave GMAT, got a 690, applied to ISB, and was dinged without an interview in October. Realizing what I was competing against, I took the GMAT again, and until my second GMAT, I hadn’t even given a thought to an MBA from outside India. The score this time forced me to re-think. It took me 6 long months since then to make up my mind for pursuing an MBA from abroad.
Why was my mind so shut towards thinking of an MBA outside India?
It was always out of question. I had never thought about it. I couldn’t afford the money, and I couldn’t afford the instability that it’d lead to for my family. Plus I had this romantic illusion of realizing my dream from India only. In a way, I hadn’t gotten over the IIMs yet. I had taken my GMAT with the IIMs and ISB in mind, but it triggered a change in my thought process. I started considering a 1 year MBA from abroad, and started looking at all the top options. INSEAD and the programmes in UK. People suggested an MBA from the US, but I was still not open to the idea. Considering I had my GMAT ready and done by last December, I could have spent the time more judiciously by researching the schools; but I didn’t.
Sometime in May 2008, I finally began to ask myself the real question. How would an MBA help my career? Until then, I think it was only about the grand idea I had in my head of doing an MBA. I could not relate the ‘why’ (though personally clear to me) with ‘how’ it’ll help my career. I had vague ideas, and knew the big picture. And I looked at the options available to me – the 1 year courses in India and abroad, and started questioning my mental block. Would they really get me where I wanted to be? And where exactly did I want to be?
B School Selection
The Chicago GSB site said it clearly – “We’ll take you there, wherever ‘there’ is”. Around end of May, I started surfing the websites of the top 10 minus H/S/W schools in US. I admit, barring Kellogg and Yale, these were schools I had never heard of. And these were interesting names for an MBA school, phonetically so similar to you know what – Tuck, Fuqua. Very soon I was faced with the dilemma that hits you as soon as you get started on this journey – to WHICH schools should I apply?
People talked about getting the right ‘fit’. Admission consultants tried their best to convince me to give it a long thought, matched by thorough research.I was still clueless, as I liked the programmes of almost every school that I touched upon.To cut the long story by half, these are the schools I selected, which I felt I ‘liked’ more than the others –
Then began the filtering process for elimination. There’re only so many schools that you can manage.
Chicago,Wharton,Kellogg,MIT – eliminate MIT given my profile, eliminate Wharton given my chances and fit, eliminate Chicago – well, not completely, but I wanted only 1 school in the top 7. Kellogg fitted the bill perfectly.
Yale – eliminate for selectivity, UCLA – eliminate for TOEFL(!!). Darden – will do in R2, UNC – no non-cosignor loans, may consider in R2. Emory – high probability that I’ll apply there in R1.So its down to Kellogg, Tuck, Ross, Duke, Emory in R1. They will all help me with my focus on strategy,a post MBA career in consulting(still researching abt Emory),and with the kind of MBA that I want.
The fit can be arrived at cognitively, and be reaffirmed by research. Took me 2 months to get that right. (I hope!).
Some Dos to help you in your school selection –
– Be clear.’Detail’ what you want to do with your career. It can be a painful process to break your grand notion of changing the world down to short term and long term career goals, but go through it.
– Introspect hard.Do you think you’ve got it right by answering the above? Are you sure? Convinced?
– Research.Understand the programmes, try and see how they are different. Look at what each of them is focusing on. Try to match with your requirements. More on this once I get through and have more authority on advising you in your selection!
– Be realistic. You don’t really need to follow this one, and to each his own.
Down to the real thing. You are at a juncture where you can’t change your GMAT, your GPA, your UG or your work experience. You can just do two things, one is selecting the school wisely, and second is writing their essays. I don’t know the best way out there, but let me tell you the way I’m doing it.
Each school on an average has 4 essays. The essays are known for almost all schools by end of July, in fact some are out months ago, and most of them stick with the same basic essays every year. I just had a glimpse of all the essays for all my schools, listed them all down on one page by beginning of August, and then went on to researching the schools further. There are 2 things you need to know extremely well before you can begin your essays – a) yourself, and b) the school. Provided a) is already known to you, spend as much time as you can in getting to get b) right.
Considering the number of schools I’m applying to, I can’t give more than 10 dedicated days for essays per school. I know. People write it for months. I can’t afford that luxury. I’m giving 10 intense days per school, with the first 4 days completely spent in getting the ‘feel’ of the school right. That means having just this school at the back of your mind while you’re eating, sleeping, drinking, or whatever. Its important for me to get the ‘feel’ right, so that the essays can ‘belong’ to that school, and not to any other, even if the topic is the same.
Coming to the topics, the themes are –
– a career goal essay (the whole of job description,short term, long term, why mba, why now, why us). Each school has this essay, though the angles at which they pose it might vary. Accordingly, the tune of the essay needs to be adjusted so that it sounds perfect for that school.
– leadership experiences, accomplishments etc.
– failures, challenging times.
– distinct essays, specific to each school.
While discussing the process with another applicant, we concurred about two things to keep in mind while penning these essays –
a) Wisely honest – Be honest with yourself, but exercise wisdom as well.
b) Practically passionate – most of the essays would give you a chance to become personal and show the ‘real’ you, but don’t go overboard in your attempts to evoke passion.
and if I can add another one,
c) Genuinely diverse – No matter what you think, you are different. Flesh that difference, genuinely, and how it makes you unique. Pen all your essays dipped in the ink of this singularity.
Thats it for now. Its the KELLOGG week for me, and I’m completely immersed into it. Next week would be Ross’.
Must thank ClearAdmit for their ‘project’!
And let me thank all the wonderful blogs, websites and forums that keep me engaged when I’m not burdened with the intensity of the essays. (Must say that I find BW forums quite interesting, but visit them only if you have time to spare!)
Getting back to work, and essays, and working on the essays!