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MBA Applications – Lessons from the journey

March 27, 2009

Half a dozen applications or more and travelling from uncertainty about the entire process to the certainty of pursuing an MBA have offered me a complimentary gift called experience. And what an experience it has been. I got a shot at it only once, but I got shot more than once. I still survived to share this with you. Had I been able to afford another chance, these are the things I would have done in addition, done differently, or not done at all while applying for an MBA. If you are looking for tips, I hope you’d have the knack to derive them on your own from my lessons below. Read on.

1. I want to do an MBA. Full stop.
I had a burning desire for an MBA for years before I started looking at schools abroad last year. Like it usually happens, there was no structure to that desire. The motivation had always been extremely strong, but all I knew was that I HAD to do an MBA come what may. Within a month of researching the US MBA application scene, I could make out that some more questions needed to be answered, correctly if not accurately, if I was going to stand a serious chance of getting accepted. I had to drill through my desire for an MBA and come up with answers to why exactly did I want an MBA at this stage, what did I expect to gain from it, and how would it all be useful and relevant for me? This was a lesson I did learn and apply during my applications, although I don’t think I got sufficient time to think through it all. In hindsight, I’m far more clearer today about what I want and how I can get there, than I was at the beginning of the process.
Though I learnt quite early that an MBA could only be the means to what I finally wanted, I got so caught up with the application process that I went ahead with the idea that the process would eventually provide me my answers. By the time I could develop the clarity I have today, most of my applications were already submitted.
Lesson # 1 – A larger part of the time I spent researching B Schools after my GMAT should have been spent on first answering the basic questions. I should have been clearer from the beginning, and not now when the game is almost up.

2. This is my only shot. I should apply to the max I can.
Though I don’t regret any of my applications, I would have done better if I had limited my applications to 4 schools. When an application even with my utmost effort and sincerity is not coming through, you should rest assured that a half baked attempt would get you nowhere.
Lesson # 2 – I took on so many applications, only later to realize that there’s more to an application than meets the eye. I should have spent more time in perfecting applications to schools that were my top choice than including as many schools as I could to think(wrongly) that I stood a better chance that way.

3. The net rules. My research is complete.
Don’t underestimate the importance of researching a school offline. That is, going beyond forming perceptions about the school through all the resources present on the net. The MBA is all about reaching out, discussing perspectives, and sharing experiences – and it has to begin well before you head for your MBA. I did my fair bit of it but I feel I should have done more initially. The more number of students and alums you can reach out to, the better informed you’d be about your school choice. The net has a lot of information, but its never enough.
Lesson # 3 – When you don’t know, apply the age old trick that works – speak with people who DO know. With students, alums, admission consultants, other applicants – I should have discussed much more and that too earlier in the process when I was just beginning it all. I feel its the best way to get most of the things right, your fit and the right school choices being one of them.

4. Career goals. This is as far as I can go in making sense of it.
Frankly, I feel my career goals is one area where I could not convince the adcoms enough. Helped only by my introspection and limited research about my career goals, and after speaking with other successful applicants now, I wish I could get more specific about where I want to end up post MBA. The admission decisions lead me to believe that being a generalist, and a good one at that, isn’t considered a great virtue.
Lesson # 4 – Even when you think you’ve figured out your career goals, get as specific as you can and back it up with a detailed research. I should have presented my career goals better, as it would have demonstrated not merely my desire for an MBA but the strong determination that comes with it as well.

An MBA application is more than the application form that you submit. More than just providing your demographic and other details and locking yourself up in solitude to come up with your best essays. More than wearing a perfect suit or modulating your voice and smiling frequently so that it can be heard over the phone, more than getting that half an hour interview right.
The markets would bounce back, or dip again. Your applicant pool would grow in size, or perhaps be at its highest. There are factors which you cannot control, and then those which you can. Even before the competition begins, the MBA application pits you against yourself. Ask yourself, are you doing enough ? Your time begins now.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2009 5:24 pm

    Good stuff man! I especially like #1.

  2. March 27, 2009 10:32 pm

    I totally agree on all points – I was thinking of the same lessons I learned after I finished not only my applications but my interviews as well.

  3. April 1, 2009 7:54 pm

    I recently came across your blog. Thanks for sharing your journey to B-school and especially for the post on the lessons learnt. Could you elaborate on item 4: “Career goals. This is as far as I can go in making sense of it.”? How specific should an applicant be in terms of career goals? And how can an applicant narrow down the career goals to a specific one when one is really going in to become a generalist?
    Many congratulations and all the very best for your journey ahead!

  4. ahembeea permalink*
    April 1, 2009 8:44 pm

    D.G. & Helen – thanks. We keep learning, don’t we ?

    RP – Answer is – as specific as one can get, and more! Whatever your goals are, the person reading your essays or interviewing you should be convinced that you have given your career goals a good thought. My advise would be to do a solid research into the area where you’d like to end up post MBA, and then supplement your answer with how a particular MBA will help you get there. For example, most applicants end up saying Consulting, and then imagine that adding Strategy Consulting or Management Consulting makes it specific enough. Researching some of the target Consulting companies and seeing whether you’d fit into their work requirements and culture, identifying a function or industry where you’ll be able to leverage your past experience, and talking to people in these companies who went there from a profile similar to yours would add a lot of credibility to your goals.
    Thanks and wish you all the best with your applications!

  5. April 3, 2009 11:38 am

    Love the new look btw. the Blog looks great!!!

    I wish I had read this post when I was applying. I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said. Research, Research, Research is the mantra for a great app.

    If you’re ever in my part of town let me know, would love to catcup with you!

  6. April 3, 2009 7:55 pm

    Ahh! the new is look is pretty refreshing. I wish everyone could understand the importance of point#3 mentioned by you. In that case applicants would be be to get answer to the questions such as “Is X Business School better than Y Business School?”. For someone X might make a better choice and for someone else Y would make the best fit. Only if people could put in a little extra effort at researching and reaching out…..

    Well written post!

  7. April 3, 2009 7:56 pm

    Wow! I love that one tooth in my avatar. 😀

  8. April 7, 2009 12:46 am

    This is very very well written! Really…do post this on your profile on Facebook/Orkut/Linkedin or any other networking site ur on…this is very good stuff for all applicants, especially the ones just starting out…

  9. April 9, 2009 3:47 am

    Such a great post. Thanks so much for sharing these lessons!

  10. April 9, 2009 9:51 pm

    Great insight! The good news is that you’re still relatively early in the overall process. You have the actual MBA program ahead of you and that is where it really counts to make the most of it. Best of luck!

  11. ahembeea permalink*
    April 10, 2009 5:20 pm

    Beat The GMAT & MBA Podcaster – thanks!

  12. July 28, 2010 12:44 pm

    That burning desire that you describe is what you need to succeed. Even if you (or anyone) were not to get in to a MBA program, you can still succeed with that go-get-it attitude.


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