For starters, August is when the vast majority of people seem to be joining the app race. That is also the month during which every application that has not already been opened, becomes open.
Actual MBA students start going to (or back to) school in August, giving applicants an opportunity to observe the culture and buzz of a school as it will be if and when we attend. In my opinion, the month of August is really the *official* kick off to the ~9 month MBA application season.
Here are a few bullet points on where I am in my personal race against the clock since I jumped out of the blocks back in March:
School Engagements and/or Visits
I didn’t do too well in this department last spring. After missing out on opportunities to get face time with Berkeley and Wharton (supply and demand issues) and going on 3 schools visits where 2 of them caused me to nearly lose my lunch, I ended up 1 for 5 with The Stanford GSB being the only program that I both engaged AND really liked.
So far this fall, I’ve successfully signed up for face-to-face engagements with Berkeley and Stanford in Los Angeles. I’ve also registered for the Riordian MBA event that will be held here. All of my target schools were present at last year’s event and it would be lovely of them to all decide to make a repeat appearance. The only downside is that I’ll have to miss the annual barbecue for the program that I”m a mentor for; bummer.
Then, of course there was that fantastic Tuck coffee chat that I got to experience about two weeks ago. I’ve yet to get the opportunity to attend local events for Wharton, MIT or Yale but will jump at those chances when they come. And though their app deadlines are a full 5 1/2 months away, I’d jump at the chance to engage Kellogg and Booth as well.
Due to budget constraints, I’ll be doing little to no school visits pre-interview time; however, my goal is to have visited the majority of the schools before adcoms begin making final decisions. The purpose of an app is to land you an interview–to have the adcom decide they’d like to meet you to see if you check out as well in person as you do on paper. If my app doesn’t achieve that for a given school, then they probably didn’t see me as a great fit anyway–or at least not as great of a fit as the applicants who got offered interviews.
I made my second GMAT attempt almost exactly a month ago and emerged with a 700 (Q47, V40, AWA6.0) that I was proud of, but knew was not my best. So, like many borderline 700 clubbers before me (690-710 GMAT scorers), I wrestle back and forth with whether I should take it again and under what circumstances).
When I turned 35 two weeks ago, I talked about gearing back up for more GMAT study. Well, that never happened. As Kofi KanKam, Linda Abraham and Cheeterah1980 have all warned me in the past, MBA apps/essays (which I will get to in a moment) are all-consuming. My heart goes out to those poor procrastinators who will attempt to ride both of these bulls at once (apps + GMAT) at any point during this process. It must be unspeakable hell.
So don’t ask me if or when I’ll be retaking the GMAT, because I honestly have no clue at this point. While I’d like to make an effort to be at or above the median for all of my target schools (which would take a 30-point increase to get me to a 730), I am already in the 80% range for all of them.
Due to this fact, good MBA applicant strategy logic dictates that the GMAT’s priority be demoted down a few notches (from #1 to about #3/#4) given that every school that I am applying to has anywhere from 50 to several hundred students who this very moment have been accepted AND matriculated (do not miss that the latter is a lower number than those who were accepted!) with sub-700 GMAT scores. Obviously, there are other data points and intangibles that factor equally (or more heavily) into one’s chances of admission, which leads me to…
Applications and Essays
The actual apps and essays are making me quite the zombie after work these days; though neither comes close to the suffering I endured while studying for the GMAT. Now I actually go to the gym, bathe and even wear clean clothes to work every day—MAJOR improvement!
Here’s a quick recap of how my app deadlines and school clusters line up:
Round 1 – non-consortium: MIT, Wharton, Stanford, HBS (Sept 24 – Oct 24)
Round 1 – consortium: Yale, Tuck, Berkeley (Nov 15)
Round 2 – Chicago schools: Booth, Kellogg (Jan)
Right now, my focus is on my R1 non-consortium schools. I also consider this “the hump” given that all consortium schools are on one app (with only Tuck and Berkeley requiring additional essays this year).
A Detailed App/Essay Breakdown
Wharton Essay Status: - 3/3
On my birthday, I announced that my Wharton working drafts were done. I started with Wharton’s set because they were the most straightforward. Now they are in the process of being reviewed weekly for hairline edits and tweaks, like slow-cooked meat being turned over low heat on a grill.
Now I see the wisdom in completing one set of essays before you move on to other schools. Not only are my Wharton essays leaps and bounds better than the crap that I started off with, but my other essays are getting to that point in less and less revisions. Let’s hope they do the trick.
MIT Essay Status: - 2/3
I also complained about MIT‘s essays being a bit more convoluted than I expected. In all actuality, I quite enjoyed writing my MIT essays and found more than enough room to express what I needed to.
Stanford Essay Status: - 2/3
What I like about Stanford‘s essay set is that you really get a sense that they want to KNOW you. What a great feeling against the backdrop of such a cold, lonely and stressful process.
Though I had originally planned at least my Stanford “What Matters Most” essay for last (after I crashed and burned miserably on my first attempt), a new idea for it ended up hitting me like a bullet in the head during a conversation that I had with a family member last weekend.
Ultimately, it came together faster and with better clarity and fewer revisions than all of my other essays to date–largely due to the aggressive revision feedback that I got from my friends L.A. (Booth ’14 Student), A.P. (Kellogg ’13 Student) and S.B. (’07 Stanford GSB grad) plus the pain and suffering I went through to get my Wharton essays on the right track. It also made me feel good when S.B., a friend from my undergrad who graduated from Stanford absolutely loved it and offered no critiques (and she ALWAYS offers critiques).
Harvard Essay Status: - 0/2
When it comes to Harvard, I haven’t even touched those yet–mostly because they are 100% unique unto themselves and will take a new brain storm whereas I was able to use previous brain storms for many of my other essays. There are only so many ways you can talk about your goals unless you have multiple personality syndrome.
I will shift much of my energy to HBS over the next 2 weeks because they have the closest deadline and, therefore, the least amount of time for me to iterate and get them right. And with that nasty 800 (TOTAL!) word limit, I already know I’ll need more revisions than normal to get those tight and right.
I’ve completed about 90-95% of both the Stanford and HBS apps. They took about a day each (to do right). I’ll complete my Consortium, MIT and Wharton apps during August when they open up. I polished my MBA resume and ordered my unofficial transcript months ago; so I’ll be able to upload both to each application as soon as they open.
End of Month Goal – 75% effective projected
Earlier, I stated that my goal was to have working drafts for all 4 of these schools by August. I think i’ll be 75% there, as there are 4 days left and the remaining essay for both MIT and Stanford are essentially the same. Though I will be writing original essays for each, the basic elements will be the same; thus, my time frames will be compressed.
Letters of Recommendation
Most of my schools only require two rec’s. I plan for all those to come from A) my boss and B) a coworker who has volunteered some pretty high praise of the impact I’ve made on my department. Only HBS and Stanford require 3, and I plan to use a different person for each of those, and only that one.
I went after the coworker first. He was glad to oblige and will be starting with Stanford and HBS (the only open apps at this point). Next week, I plan to have THE conversation with my boss. I don’t have any concrete reason to be worried, however, it’s never easy to have an “exit” conversation with your boss, even if said exit is a year away.
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