So I’ve logged quite a bit of face to face time with MBA ad/coms over the past few days. The first opportunity to that end was the Wharton Diversity Info Session held by two of its admissions officers at the Deloitte tower downtown last Thursday.
When I first realized that the event was being held at 6:30pm in downtown LA, I thought, “Are they crazy? Surely they most know how much difficulty people are going to have navigating around the city during rush hour–and into downtown, no less!”
MBA Applicante’ de la Ghetto
Personally, I left work about an hour early. As I anticipated, both the 105 east and 110 north freeways that I would need to get there from the airport area were jam-packed parking lots. So, I took a not-so-scenic detour through a good portion of the east side where I knew traffic would not be nearly as intense. Let’s just say that the traditional 9 to 5 population is…emm…smaller over there.
Approximately 40 minutes later, I was pulling into the parking structure. It was 6:15 and my Boyz N da Hood detour had been well worth the potholes and unscrupulous pedestrians that I had endured along the way.
Wharton Gets Down with CP Time
The parking garage that the directions advised us to use was several blocks away and DOWN a steep hill from the Deloitte tower. While on my way to the tower, I noticed two young, suited-and-booted consultant/banker types making what was clearly a wrong left turn on their (did I mention steep?) uphill trek (oh yeah, and during a heat wave to boot) to where we were going. I tried to flag them down, but they did not respond to my belts, bellows and big waving hands, so I let them continue their merry path, undisturbed.
By the time I had made the hike to the building, signed in, got a name tag, and zipped to the 18th floor it was almost exactly 6:30. When I arrived there were about 5 people there total. I quickly realized that two of the 5 were actually admissions staff. I +1′d this lovely duo when I realized that they had purposefully planned the first hour as an informal meet and greet to allow people a chance to get there.
I found this planning detail both kind and generous. If a 12 year resident that took every back road to get there on time still ended up arriving at the buzzer, I could only imagine what things must have been like for people driving from places like Orange County, the Valley and the Inland Empire–not to mention San Diego.
The Usual Suspects + The Angry Old Guy
Over the next hour, the room slowly began to fill up as prospective students from the LA and San Diego areas began to converge on the meeting room. About 20 minutes after my arrival, I noticed the two wayward youngins that I saw going the wrong way earlier enter as well. I was glad they had made it. And they seemed to have taken their 3 block detour in suits and 90 degree weather like great sports. “That’s the spirit”, I thought.
The usual suspects were in attendance: the bankers, the consultants, the entrepreneurs and entrepreneur wannabes, the non-profit folks, a few military guys and family business peeps, and several college seniors. I also met a guy who must have been all of 42-45 talking about how he was itching to get out of non-profit, couldn’t wait to get back into investment banking and was only applying to Ivies; he even turned his nose up at Stanford (wow, who does that?).
I said nothing, but I knew he was probably limiting his chances of going to business school if he continued to think like that. i-Banking is a goals no-no for “men of a certain age (including me)”. I don’t know this guy and I’m sure that he’s a smart and terrific person, but he came across like an angry, bitter old guy who’s career in non profit hadn’t gotten him where he wanted to go; and now he wanted to go for the big bucks by jumping into an all consuming profession perfectly suited for someone 15 or so years younger than he.
Further, the fact that he was being very snobbish (almost infantile, if you ask me) about it made it even worse. In spite of his hubris, I was overcome with compassion and empathy for him and his situation. You couldn’t pay me to have to sell THAT story to an ad com.
The actual event was well run, informative and to the point. Due to all of the self study, current student/alumni questioning and introspection that I’ve done at this point of the process, I did not really feel the need to try to dominate the room with a bunch of questions. I was mostly here for face time and to hopefully make a mental imprint on the minds of people who may end up reviewing or discussing my application two months from now.
I found the adcoms from Wharton to be very polished, kind and straightforward in the information they had to deliver. The event was definitely worth my evening to attend.
MORE Face-to-Face at the Riordan/DMAC Diversity Conference
So today (Saturday) I attended the all day DMAC/Riordan Diversity MBA Conference on the campus of UCLA. First, let me tell you that I HATE all day events. It’s on my infamous driving to Orange County list of things that I avoid at nearly all costs. I simply lack the attention span for them–especially if I have to wear a suit; however, being that I basically had the opportunity to come nose-to-nose with Top 10 MBA adcoms–those mythical beasts that b-school hopefuls from around the globe would give an eye to meet–I jumped at the chance to suit up and leave an entire day open on my schedule.’
When I arrived, I realized that I had forgotten to put on a tie. While I have a very nice collection of pretty sharp ties, I haven’t had to wear one in about 3 years. I wear jeans to work at my present job; and even before that my old sales department in big corporate had stopped forcing its account executives to wear ties about 2 years before that. Though the event materials clearly said “business formal”, I had simply forgotten as a matter of habit. Oh well. Luckily, I hang a suit nicely.
The Old Folks’ Section
On my way to the elevator, I noticed a man and woman walking together. They were obviously going to the same event. The woman had on a shorts suit–which was more than understandable given the heat wave that LA has been experiencing for about a week. I thought to myself, “If she’s getting in with those shorts, then my lack of tie should be fine.”
As I get on the elevator with these nice people, the guy casually asks “So which school are you with?”.
WOW. They had “aged me up” and thought I was an adcom. ”I’m a prospective student.” I replied. “So are we”, he said.
Then they burst out laughing. He was just making a joke to thin the air out a bit. As it turns out, my elevator compadres were Les Williams and Angela Gibbons-Williams, the representatives from Harvard Business School; talk about “face-to-face”. It doesn’t get any more “up close and personal” than cornered in an elevator. They were warm, talkative and very personable. As it turns out, the former graduated from HBS with a friend of mine from undergrad that I was in SGA with; small world.
Chopping it Up with Team MBAOver30
Overall, Riordan was a fantastic experience. I was actually planning to meet Angelina, one of my subscribers/over30′ers; however, we missed the opportunity to meet due to poor planning on both our parts. I sent her a very late and lame email to get her information the morning of. She, of course, received my message later that evening after the event was over. Next time, Ang!
On the flip side, I came across another reader, Asion. We actually met nearly a month ago at that fantastic Tuck Coffee Chat that I blogged about. He told me that he’d been reading my blog on Poets and Quants and had been racking his brain as to which person I was when he read my Tuck update after the fact.
He had put 2 and 2 together and realized who I was today. As I said before, I’m not hard to pick out in a crowd once you know a few basic things about my profile. Shout out to you, Asion!
If I haven’t told you yet, I tend to be a bit of a people watcher. Ok–a LOT of a people watcher. I love observing people’s behaviors, how they interact with others and trying to figure out their stories. Its good fun and a fantastic way to pass the time during a long event.
Often while people watching, I will compare the folks I observe or encounter to animals that they remind me of, like this one guy. At these MBA events, most people are being as gratuitously polite as possible so that they won’t get marked as a “bad person” by an ad com; whatever. Even though I know its 87% fake, the drama hater in me LOVES it when people are literally bending over backwards to be nice to one another, and deems any stimuli to this end as sufficient, gratuitous or not.
So back to this guy. The normal routine in MBA gratuitous nice-nice land is that when you see someone, you immediately speak, reach for the handshake while politely introducing yourself, and smile. Well, this dude missed that memo; or more likely, ate it. As I was about to introduce myself, he raised his eyebrows in the most dismissive manner and turned his head.
“Definitely a shark“, I said to myself, “and probably a banker” [no disrespect to bankers, I'm just saying]. When I was younger (pre-30), I would have been offended by his actions; at 35, however, I found myself amused. I know a snobby, potentially insecure competitor when I see one. “I think I’ll call you JAWS“, I thought to myself.
Then there was this young lady. She was extremely nice. She is also from [what is often referred to as] an over represented group (though I take issue with that term. I don’t believe in “over” representation, just “under” representation, if that makes sense, but I digress). She was a rabbit (an animal known for its overpopulation), similar to the very anxious indian IT guy who was in my group at the Tuck coffee chat (though she was not Indian). I empathize with how stressful being in a highly competitive applicant pool must be ON TOP OF the inherent stress of competing against ANYONE on this level.
Privilege, URMs and the Playing Field
The Riordan event allows you to pick 7 schools whose ad com rep you want face time with, and they match you with 4 to play musical admissions chairs with along with a group of about 8 other prospective students (I’ll give you a blow by blow on that in a moment). This young lady, having noticed the schools that I was sitting down with, blurted out (almost like she was thinking out loud) “You’re targeting all of the top schools, aren’t you”? When she said that, I noticed a bit of a frown on her kind, sweet face; though I know it was not intentional.
“Well”, I teed up, “I’m applying to the schools that are the best for what I want to do. And yes, many of them are considered to be the best schools.” ”You should do well,” she said quietly, as she walked away.
What she REALLY meant was “You’re an under represented minority; whether you get in or not the odds are better for you, so why not try for the best”.
Maybe; maybe not. I don’t see any top MBA program admitting someone who they don’t feel is a good fit, regardless of which applicant pool they come from.
And again, she is an extremely nice young lady and nothing she did or said was rude in the least; I was simply reading her thoughts, like Sookie from True Blood. And I wasn’t offended. I completely understood why someone would feel that way…especially in such an uber competitive process; however, its probably no different than how I used to feel whenever I listened to someone who had been practically ushered from Exeter to H/Y/P undergrad to Stanford or HBS with white glove limo service talk about all of the amazing standardize test scores/jobs/experiences they’d had before becoming the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg as if they had earned all of that on a level playing field.
I don’t feel that way anymore. My philosophy is this: life just isn’t fair. Accept the reality of those things that you don’t have going for you, capitalize on those you do to make up the difference and never apologize for your resultant accomplishments either way…and there will always be SOMEONE who wants you apologize no matter what your deal is–rich/beautiful/minority/scholarship/dad owns the company or what have you. Its not like you filled out an application to be any of the above; and if you did, smart move.
I actually hope I come across that same young lady next year. I hope we make the same class of the same top MBA program. That would be poetic. Plus, I can tell by my brief conversations with her (before her somber exit stage left) that she’d probably make a terrific classmate.
Making the Rounds: Stanford GSB
So back to the face-to-face time that this entire post is *supposedly* about (yeah, right). Of the 7 schools I chose, I got matched with 3 of them–Stanford, MIT Sloan and Wharton. I also got matched with UNC Keenan Flagler, but I assume that was to fill empty spaces as there were 4 other schools that I explicitly listed a preference for and UNC was not one of them. At any rate, I didn’t mind this because I understood that DMAC needed to make the day worthwhile for all of these adcoms who had so graciously traveled (mostly from across the country) to meet with us.
First up was Stanford, who was represented by their Assoc. Director of MBA Admissions Lizabeth Cutler. I remembered her from the Many Voices Diversity Event earlier this year. She mentioned that she recognized me as well but could not remember where from until the subject of Many Voices came up.
After going to an event like that, there just isn’t a whole lot more that you can learn about your fit with a school at a 20 minute group round table; however, I did have one or two more questions that got answered rather candidly.
Liz (can I call her that?) is very passionate about The GSB and upholding the quality of the environment there. It was actually her speech on why Stanford both has grade non disclosure and only gives need-based scholarships that made me broach the subject during the infamous Anderson visit that went somewhat south months ago.
While I have no strong opinions either way on either subject, her commentary last spring gave me a sense of just how thoughtful and intentional the staff there is about fostering and maintaining a very special kind of ecosystem there.
A Key Contact
I also got an unexpected gift at the Stanford round table discussion. During the round robin introductions, a young lady mentioned that she worked in mobile marketing. “Like InMobi”, I blurted out. “OMG”, she said, “I can’t believe you know that. typically no ones knows about my industry; but I don’t work for InMobi, that’s my competitor.”
“Oh”, I said, “so you work for Ad Mob?”
“Yes! How do you know about this stuff?”, she beamed.
Well, its kinda luck. The software brand that I manage builds mobile apps and I have actually been trying to get someone on the phone from Ad Mob for weeks to work out a strategic partnership to help promote our next release; thing is, since Ad Mob has been acquired by Google, their website is just one of those generic Google pages now and I haven’t been able to get anybody on the phone. Problem solved! I made sure to exchange business cards with her.
Making the Rounds: MIT Sloan
Next up for musical chairs was MIT Sloan. I was very excited to get up close and personal with some folks from the Sloan adcom because along with HBS they were one of my target east coast schools with which I had had no engagement up to this point.
Their representative was Barry Reckley, who has to be one of the most jovial people that I have met within academia. He was both blunt and funny; and those of us at his table appreciated it.
How I May Have Just Dodged a Bullet from Sloan
About a week or so ago I decided to completely re-write (as opposed to merely editing) my Sloan essays based on some advice that I had read about not stating your goals for your Sloan essays because they could care less.
In an earlier group session, Barry had repeated at least 10 times that we needed to make sure we answered the question during our essays. So now that he was literally 3 feet away from me, I had a question of my own.
“Earlier today, you talked a lot about answering the question”, I said. He gave one nod.
“Well, on your website, there is one question that you don’t ask. You don’t ask us to write about our goals. Does that mean that you don’t want to hear about them?”, I probed in an attempt to corroborate what I had read just days earlier.
“Well, I think you need to read it again, because its in there”, he said.
After he saw a bead of sweat or two appear on my forehead, he added “we don’t say it explicitly because that’s not our style; but that does not mean that you shouldn’t talk about your goals”.
“Ah, then you want them mentioned in the cover letter”, I said.
“Exactly”, he [basically] said.
WOW. And to think I was about to rewrite my essays and take out ALL mentions of my goals! That tip ALONE was worth my entire day + the $95 admission + the $8 for parking + the hunger pangs I was feeling by this point (my body is used to eating heartily every 3 hours).
Making the Rounds: Wharton
So my 4th and final stop during MBA musical chairs was the Wharton table, which was being [wo]manned by Tiffany Gooding, a sharp, impeccably dressed and bubbly adcom member who made up 1/2 of the friendly Penn duo from the info session that I had gone to just two evenings prior.
When I got to her table, I noticed that JAWS was there hogging up her time. No surprise. I really hate it when people do that and think its obnoxious. Of course, we’d all love to sequester the reps from each of our target schools, give them our life story and hope they love us so much that they give us a GROUPON for automatic admission into their next class; but that is not how it works–especially when you know other people are waiting for their turn to speak with the adcom.
JAWS was not alone this time. He was accompanied by another young guy who we’ll just call THE MOSQUITO, who was busy trying to suck Tiffany’s time dry.
“They must think she’s going to give them an admissions decision on the spot”, snarked a very annoyed young lady who stood behind me. She had been waiting for these two obnoxious people to get up so that she could sit down for quite some time. As I watched her roll her eyes while turning her head in disgust, I couldn’t help but chuckle. JAWS and THE MOSQUITO were unfazed, as they continued to feed.
FINALLY, JAWS and THE MOSQUITO got up from the table after what seemed like a lifetime, their greedy jowls dripping with fresh adcom blood. They both looked quite satisfied and well-fed.
I worried about Tiffany, who I was sure would be all but lying across the floor in need of a transfusion by now; but alas, I had underestimated her resistance to Wharton wannabe fangs. She remained poised, upbeat and ready to answer the questions from my group in great detail, just as she had been doing for hours. You can always tell when someone really loves their job, and she definitely fits into that category.
Since I haven’t actually visited Wharton yet, I did have a couple of very specific questions to ask, which I did. Of course, Tiffany answered each in great and explicit detail, which I appreciated.
Making the Rounds: HBS
Since I had not been matched with HBS (though I had chosen them), I made sure to make my way back around to their adcom reps. Les’ height made him the easiest to spot. I had already heard that his sessions were some of the best in the room as he was able to speak from the perspective of having been an HBS student.
By the time I got over to him, he was being sucked dry by a swarm of MOSQUITOS, each determined to hold him hostage until they felt better about their chances at his school.
I have a belief that when you try to interact with someone as a part of a huge swarm like that, they won’t remember you if they didn’t already have a knowing of who you are; thus, I tend not to bother.
I had already gotten some valuable 1 on 2 time with he and Angela in the elevator and walking to the event earlier that day. My goal at the time was just to get his business card, which I did.
Then I spotted Angie from HBS on the other side of the room with only 3 people waiting to talk to her, so I zipped on over. There was a pretty nice woman waiting in front of me; however, when it was her turn she immediately turned into a giant mosquito and sucked Angie’s time so dry that she had to cut her off. I don’t blame her actually; I’ve actually been a mosquito before myself, actually (but never a JAWS). This whole process is so incredibly stressful. Its an emotional roller coaster and a pressure cooker at the same time. I totally get it.
Making the Rounds: Berkeley
A few days before the event, Cindy Jennings from Berkeley Haas sent an email to all of the participants requesting that we come and meet her in person–except everyone felt like the email was a personal note just to them. BRILLIANT. As a result, Cindy’s wait line was longer than any of the others–as in 100% of them.
And since Berkeley was yet another school that I had chosen but had not gotten matched with, I definitely wanted to meet her. Though, I was both tired and starving by this point and did not have much to say; plus the guy in front of me asked the same question that I was going to ask so I had gotten what I had come for.
A Tuck Sighting; Booth a No-Show
Chicago Booth was the only one of my target schools that did not show; bummer, because I really wanted to touch base with their adcom reps before applying in October. Tuck was another school that I chose, but did not get matched with. I did, however, get to briefly speak with Justin, who ran the coffee chat that I attended in July.
I did make one trade off in attending the Riordan/DMAC event today: I had to miss out on a BBQ for the Tiger Woods Foundation where I do some mentoring work in one of their programs. The TWF is the only thing that I don’t mind driving to Orange County for because I’ve gotten so much out of my involvement with them.
Oh well, I”m sure there will be other barbecues…
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