Hard to believe I’ve been at this blogging thing for a year now. It was about 15 months ago that I began working in earnest towards my goal of enrolling in an MBA program, a goal that I set 6 years ago. And in just 3 short months, I’ll be back in school starting the next phase of my goal…completing my program and pursuing my dream career. Pretty damn cool when you stop and think about it. I’m really glad I have my blog, so that I can read back and reflect on what has transpired. It’s also been very rewarding to be part of the online community.
What I haven’t done yet, and what I promised to do awhile ago, is a review of my application process and the outcome. I think this is the perfect time do it since it was around this time last year that my preparations began, and maybe those preparing for Fall 2006 applications will find a post-mortem of my application process useful. What I am not going to do is tell people what to do or give advice. Every applicant is unique and so should be his or her application strategy. What worked for me may not work for others, and vice versa. I’m just going to use this post to do a sort of self-assessment, and I think in another year-in-review post I’ll link to the highlights & lowlights. I didn’t participate in any feedback sessions so these thoughts are all just my opinions.
What I did well:
1. Rocked the GMAT. I took it during my senior year of undergrad and I think that definitely worked in my favor. I was in the studying/school frame of mind, I had time and energy to take full practice tests (the most critical piece of my GMAT prep), and material was fresh in my mind. I’m not sure that I could post the same score today, in fact I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t. Five years of corporate life may have added to my practical experience, but it’s been a bit of a brain drain on the other facets of knowledge. I’m also glad I didn’t have to worry about studying for and taking the test while researching programs, drafting essays, and working 50 hours a week. There are just not enough hours in the day.
2. Got involved with things that interest me and stayed involved. This applies both professionally and personally. I sought out new and different projects at work, but I stuck with the same employer, one that’s know for a rigorous hiring process and good development programs. I stayed involved with my sorority, volunteering for leadership positions that would help fill in the management gap in my profile since I have no formal people management experience.
3. Supported my goals with a backbone. What I mean by that is I’m dreaming big, but I have realistic expectations for an MBA’s role in the process of getting there and I demonstrated a clear understanding of the challenges I’ll be facing. My big goal is broken into smaller goals, which are further broken down into specific activities and experiences I’ll need to get where I’m going, particularly those that can be obtained by completing an MBA program.
4. Visited the programs I was interested in, or at least attended every information session possible. When people said it was an important way to differentiate the programs, I didn’t realize how important until I was deciding between admission offers and could reflect back on my *personal* experiences, not just the experiences of others or the pretty brochures the programs sent me.
5. Didn’t allow too many cooks in the kitchen. Sure, I was seeking advice from anyone who had knowledge about MBA programs and I was addicted to reading the blogs and the MBA forums. I also got an application strategy consultation from Clear Admit fairly early in the process, which helped me to figure out what to focus on and how I should position myself. Filling out their questionnaire alone went a long way toward helping me get a coherent train of thought for my applications. But when it came time to actually write each application, it was pretty much me and only me. I sought my mom’s proofreading help, but specifically asked her to focus on just the spelling and grammar because I wanted my applications to be my voice, my story, without outside influence.
6. Didn’t over-prepare for interviews. I hate canned answers and I hate sounding like a robot. All I did for each interview was read over my resume and my application essays the night before and the day of my interview. That’s it. It kept me sounding natural and it also kept me from stressing out too much or over-analyzing.
What I could have done better:
1. Eliminated procrastination. I should have set a better application schedule from the get-go and stuck to it. I definitely rushed some elements. When I start up at the GSB in the fall, I need to get a handle on my predilection for frittering away time in the face of a big project.
2. Completed my back-up application first (McCombs), rather than one of my top choices (Kellogg). Reading back over my applications and remembering back on my interviews, which Kellogg was my first completed for both, my first ones were my weakest ones.
3. Sucked it up and completed 6 applications in the first round, instead of stubbornly holding onto the limit of 5 I placed on myself. I would have been better off if my Wharton app had been in with all my others, and it was my procrastination and laziness that got the better of me.
4. Not have gone into my Wharton visit & interview somewhat cocky and apathetic. It took place after my scholarship news from Chicago & UCLA Anderson, and I really liked both of those programs and felt pretty certain I would end up at one or the other no matter what happened with Wharton. Even so, I should have gone into my Wharton trip with a better attitude and a more open mind, instead of undermining my application the way I did. That was stupid.
5. Not let my shing in 2000 mess with my confidence and cause me to play it too safe. Looking back, I probably should have skipped the apps to McCombs & Haas and instead gambled on HBS and/or Stanford.
6. Saved more money over the past 5 years. Sure, I’ve been putting plenty away in my 401k, but this process requires cash money…a lot of it. My cash savings is pretty much spoken for at this point, between application fees, school visits, moving expenses, etc etc. There’s not much left over for fun things like pre-MBA travel. I feel a bit like I’m missing out and that sucks. At least I’ve been pretty good about paying off my debt and I’ll be headed to school with no car payment and a very low revolving credit card balance.
Anyway, that’s the good, the bad, and the ugly as far as I’m concerned. All-in-all, I think everything turned out A-O-K and I’m really looking forward to the next two years at Chicago GSB.