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Post Thu Apr 28, 2011 10:52 pm
Hi there!

I'm Alex, and the founder of MBA Apply, an admissions consultancy that I founded back in 2004. While I'm new to this site, I've been a frequent poster on various forums (the other big ones - you know which ones!) and only recently discovered this site.

In a nutshell, I am a Canadian who grew up in Libya, Hong Kong, Singapore, and on both coasts of the United States and Canada. Prior to MBA Apply, I was the CFO of a venture-backed animation studio in San Francisco, helping them raise two rounds of VC funding over 4 years and helping to bring the company to profitability. Before getting my MBA at Wharton, I was an investment banker at CS First Boston (now known as Credit Suisse). I live in Los Angeles.

If you have any questions about the admissions process, post-MBA careers, what it was like at Wharton, your musings about the Lakers, etc. post away!

Thanks

Alex Chu
www.mbaapply.com
alex@mbaapply.com

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Post Thu Apr 28, 2011 10:54 pm
One of the things I've been getting feedback on over the last few years on my blogs and various discussion forums was the "car analogy" I wrote way back when simply as a diversion. I really didn't think much of it as I wrote it back then, so I've updated it since and have changed a few analogies here and there (while adding more schools/cars to the list, and some pics - car porn!).

Enjoy!

_______________________________________

HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL


HBS is like a British exotic car of varying quality - Rolls Royce, Bentley, and Aston Martin. They are Establishment, top hats and all. Like British exotics, HBS is really known for its heritage and prestige (with sport performance and classic styling to back it up). Some drivers are able to break the "unapproachable" mold and will take their cars for a bit of a joyride, but some are trapped in the pomp and circumstance of their cars. Only drawback is that they are incredibly high maintenance (more reliable than Italian exotics, but the repair costs are astronomically high) and insist on being noticed. And watching an HBS alum “fail” a la Jeffery Skilling is like seeing a Bentley stranded on the side of the road - everyone else can’t help but gloat.


STANFORD GSB


Stanford is like an Italian exotic - from iconic marques like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Alfa Romeo, to super exotics like the Pagani Zonda, as well as the “all style and no substance” that are the Maseratis. In terms of styling and performance, they are bold, distinctive, and anti-authoritarian much like Stanford - built as if to be a complete counterpoint to the British exotics. They aren't the most reliable cars, but they sure look good, and they are the ultimate joyride car, risks be damned (few cars can replicate the exhaust note of a Ferrari). If HBS is about prestige, Stanford is about rebellious sex appeal. Just like not every Stanford GSB alum is of the same caliber, knowledgeable “car guys” know that there’s a huge difference between Ferarri and Maserati - the former is a real sports car, while the latter is a piece of sh*t. But to the uninitiated, they draw attention in equal measure.


WHARTON (UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA)



Wharton is like a German exotic - Porsche, AMG, Maybach, Alpina, and Ruf, which represents a long history of performance that is analytical, clinical and precise, with styling that has always maintained a sporty middle ground, in between the conservative or even stodgy styling of the Brits and the more extreme elements of the Italians. They combine the quality/reliability of German engineering that the British and Italian sports cars don't have, with the cachet that rivals only the British and Italian luxury cars. The styling for the most part hides some of the best engineering under the hood, so the cars tend to draw less attention on the road. For example, most people may not even know the difference between an AMG or a regular Benz, much like most people may not have heard of Wharton, but when you say “Penn”, they respond, “oh, Penn State.” Moreover, they don't quite have the same cachet of the British and Italian luxury cars, even though many drivers would still kill to say “I drive a Porsche” even if it’s just a Cayenne (i.e. a Toyota SUV with a Porsche stamp).


BOOTH (UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO)



Booth is like Mercedes-Benz - one of the preeminent luxury car brands, but without as much of the sex appeal and prestige of an exotic car. Underneath the hood, the performance is as good and sometimes even better than its more “prestigious” counterparts in the UK, Italy, or its neighbor in Zuffenhausen. In fact, while a Ferrari, Aston Martin or Porsche owner will talk about the driving experience as “fun”, “raw” or “holy f*ck yeah!!!”, Benz owners will whip out spreadsheets of performance statistics to quantify how their cars are just as good as the others. Styling wise, it’s even more conservative than its German counterparts, perhaps a bit stodgy, boxy and awkward at times (and some models are just downright ugly). But hey, it's built like a tank - impenetrable to any kind of criticism.


KELLOGG (NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY)



Kellogg is like a Volkswagen - they aren't the most reliable cars, but they are sure fun cars to drive. They also have a very young, hip and aspirational image - but one that is within reach of many people. When you think of the Beetle, Golf GTI, Jetta, Cabrio, Rabbit, Vanagon/Westfalia (hippie van!!), Passat or Touraeg, you think of a hip young couple who shop at farmer’s markets on their way back from CB2 to pick up funky kitchenware to decorate their so-hip-it-hurts exposed brick loft space - in the suburbs. They are very good at promoting and managing its reputation as a “cool and hip” car to drive. Oh, and they are always smiling, showcasing their Crest Whitestrips ™ bleached teeth. But damn, they are a good looking bunch of people who manage to out party every other school and still look good doing it.


SLOAN (MIT)


Sloan is like an Audi - more people have them than you'd expect, and for a German car, they are a bit younger and hipper - and more accessible. They are mentioned alongside the other great auto manufacturers, but still fly under the radar in most discussions. They are reliable workhorses that hide its performance and luxury behind a very understated and unassuming exterior - much like Sloanies and their abilities. Even their sportier versions (S-series, R8) are understated compared to its direct competitors. If its peers are a combination of style and substance, they are almost focused entirely on substance, if at the expense of style (if you have ever been to the MIT campus, you’ll know what I’m talking about).


COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL


Columbia is like a BMW - an amazing machine that combines performance, quality and cachet, but it also attracts a disproportionate number of overly aggressive drivers who believe they own the road, and act accordingly (blasting horrendous techno music, cutting people off in traffic, honking their horns, etc.). Like the BMW, the “New York advantage” of Columbia has a Jersey Shore element to it. Cheesy club music, overpowering cologne, and drivers who love challenging every single luxury/sports car at a stop light. Or if you happen to drive a Honda (Stern), the BMW driver will rev up his engine and give that look of disdain. I’m sure there are some laid back and friendly BMW drivers, but they seem to be drowned out by the sheer number of a**holes - much like the loud minority at Columbia that give the school a bad name. But hey, across the board, they are still amazing machines and an astute person will know it’s not the car, but the driver behind the wheel. Just don’t get the X5, which is known to explode for absolutely no reason, much like a few loose cannon Columbia alums out there.


TUCK (DARTMOUTH COLLEGE)


Tuck is like a Swedish car, from the pedestrian (Saab and Volvo) to the exotic (Koenigsegg). It's quirky, relatively small in number, but has a fiercely loyal following of aficionados. Not many people know about these cars, but those that do rave about it. Some Tuckies, like the Koenigsegg, are truly exceptional and can stand toe to toe with any other exotic in terms of performance, styling and cachet. Beyond that, if there is any reputation it has, it’s the family-oriented cars for hippies. Volvos and Saabs like Tuck seem to scream “I am a liberal outdoorsy vegan who collects bumper sticker slogans!” Strap some skis and bikes on its luggage rack, and you’re off camping! Don’t forget to bring your weed and Phish paraphernalia.


LONDON BUSINESS SCHOOL


LBS is like Jaguar and Land Rover. A luxury British car that is high performance, but with some reliability issues that vary from one car to the next. Styling is decidedly refined and sophisticated, much like how LBS grads see themselves. They have that muscular feel of American cars with more European styling and refinement, much like how LBS has that American-style 2-year MBA structure but with a decidedly European student body. Also, when you think of Jaguar and Land Rover owners, you think of upper middle class blokes of all ages (including the geriatric) who love to drink, and drink lots of anything alcoholic - much like LBS which might as well own a chain of pubs for its students.


INSEAD


INSEAD is like Peugeot-Citroen. Not because they are both French, but because they are both very well known everywhere in the world but the US. Similar to how Peugeot-Citroen is one of the world’s largest car makers, INSEAD is one of the largest business schools - but if you lived in the US you’d never know it. While they have a reputation amongst the public as “the everyday car for Europeans,” to those in the know they have the reputation for building supercars that have dominated the Le Mans (which again means nothing to the NASCAR/Indy centric US). Similarly, INSEAD grads are found in all sectors of industry from middle management upwards, but that has a reputation as Europe’s preeminent business school, and one of the most respected names within those who know business schools.


ROSS (UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN)



Ross is like General Motors. A bit of everything for everyone, but not really anything in particular that makes them really stand out, other than the fact that it has the feel of a quintessential college town. When you think GM, you think America. When you think Michigan, you think Americana. And like GM cars, quality will vary, but for the most part the cars are down the middle when it comes to styling, performance, and reliability. It’s a solid, good choice for a buyer with a modest budget and who isn’t interested in flash or being super urban and hip - much like how Ross is a solid middle-of-the-road top school for those who want some of the prestige of the other top 8 schools, but who aren’t too fussy and caught up in keeping up with the Joneses. It’s a utilitarian choice that gets you from point A to point B - a degree that helps you get a decent job so you can enjoy your family life. And if you want a bit of flash, you get their Cadillac.


FUQUA (DUKE UNIVERSITY)


Fuqua is like Chrysler, because it’s hard to tell the difference between GM and Chrysler cars, just like it’s hard to separate out Ross and Fuqua, and they seem to be interchangeable amongst applicants anyhow. Sebring or a Buick? Which one is Chrysler and which one is GM? I thought the PT Cruiser was GM? I’m confused. Just like Ross, Fuqua is a solid middle-of-the-road choice when you see the MBA for what it is (get a better job) while you get on with your life. It’s for people who don’t have hang ups about what school they go to, but want a good school - and unlike NYU and Haas (see below), for people who want a more quintessential American college town experience. Basketball. Football. Cheerleaders. Suburban Americana.


DARDEN (UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA)


Darden is like Ford because it prides itself on being “built tough”. From the Mustang to the F-150 to the Crown Victorias, their bread and butter are cars that can withstand all kinds of grit, grime and abuse - much like how Darden students pride themselves on their ability to survive their infamous workload. Just like the Big-3 US automakers, applicants tend to apply to Michigan, Darden and Duke collectively because they are similar to one another. The difference is, Darden is the macho brother of the three. Not known for their refinement, but the cars most likely to withstand nuclear war. Don’t mess with Darden, because they will grind you up, spit you out, and crush you with their boots of steel. Boo-yah!


STERN (NYU)


Stern is like Honda - similar to Duke/Darden/Michigan, it’s a solid choice for people who want a good program that gets them from point A to point B in relative comfort, but whose style is a bit more fun and peppy than its Detroit counterparts. From the Civic to the Accord to the Pilot, it’s about practicality first and foremost. However, there are obnoxious owners of all marques, and Honda is no different - there is the minority of folks who constantly proclaim in that smug way that they could’ve gotten a BMW or Benz, but chose a Honda because of blah blah blah, just like a few Sternies here and there will claim they could’ve gotten into Columbia or Booth, but chose Stern instead. I don’t doubt that it’s true, but methinks the lady doth protest too much. Going to Stern is just like buying a Honda - no one is ever going to fault you for it, and for many who go there, they are happy with it being an enjoyable means to an end.


HAAS (UC - BERKELEY)


Haas is like Toyota, much like Stern is like Honda. It’s for the practical minded who simply want to get a good degree so they can get a better job. Nothing more or less than that. And Haas fits that bill, much like a Corolla, Prius or a Tacoma. While some may be curious about why you would buy an American car, no one will question why you bought a Japanese car - just like many internationals may have more explaining to do when it comes to “why did you go to Ross/Fuqua/Darden?” but fewer if any outside the US will question why you chose Haas. Or Stern. In other words, Haas and Stern are like Toyota and Honda because they are all very well known worldwide, whereas American cars have more limited traction, especially outside of North America.

And don’t even start on the supposed luxury brands such as Lexus or Acura - as good as they may be, they’re just “nicer Toyotas” and “nicer Hondas” - and there’s nothing wrong with that.


JOHNSON (CORNELL UNIVERSITY)


Johnson is like Subaru - a high quality and practical car, for those who know about it. The marque is typically not on the top of people’s minds at first, although if you were to ask them to track how many Subarus they see in a day, chances are there are more out there than they ever realized. You see, Subarus don’t like to draw attention to themselves, they simply get on with their business, and they attract buyers who want a reliable import/Japanese car, but want something different for the sake of being different (and something a bit more rugged). In a way, they are quirkier than the other Japanese marques, using boxer engines instead of an inline or V. Similarly, Johnson is sort of out there in rugged upstate New York - there’s more of them working amongst you, but you wouldn’t realize it unless you actually asked people where they went to school.


YALE SOM


Yale is the Mazda of business schools. What causes a person to go to Yale over NYU? It’s a toss up, really just like a Honda versus Mazda. Oftentimes, it comes down to who gives you the better deal and better financing. Similar to Honda, Mazdas are known for being fun and sporty economy cars that don’t take themselves too seriously. For example, who chooses Miatas? While I’m sure some could afford the more expensive European cars, most want a comparable quality experience that is within their reach. Again, if given the choice with no constraints, I’m sure most Miata owners would rather drive a German or Italian sports car, but few if any are complaining about driving that zippy little Miata around town. Similarly, while few would choose Yale over other top 8 schools, it’s a place where people seem pretty happy about being there - they could certainly do a lot worse.


ANDERSON (UCLA)


Anderson is the Nissan of business schools. Like Nissan would be compared to other Japanese marques, Anderson tends to fall under the radar, even though it’s known worldwide and they’re everywhere. Similar to Toyota and Honda, for the most part they are solid cars that appeal to the practical minded buyer who just wants to “get on with it.” Likewise, Anderson attracts students who simply see the MBA as a means to an end, and want a high quality school that will help them get a good job - it’s the practical choice for many who want or need to stay in California for their careers. While it doesn’t get the same level of exposure as Toyota or Honda, no one is going to fault you for ever getting a Nissan. At worst, it elicits no opinion, and at best, a positive one.

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Post Thu Apr 28, 2011 11:18 pm
[double post]

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Post Mon May 16, 2011 1:58 pm
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO PUT TOGETHER B-SCHOOL APPLICATIONS?

One of the most common questions I get right around this time as the new applications for the upcoming year get released is this: how long does it take to put in one's "best effort?"

The short answer is: 6-10 weeks for a 4-6 schools total, not including GMAT prep.

Some folks will believe that they need a head start.

There is a law of diminishing returns. Having worked with many, many applicants over the past 8 years or so, I've seen that most applicants hit that ceiling around the 8th week or so, 10th week tops.

It gets to a point where the essays and the application itself are as strong as the applicant can make it, but rather than "let it be" the applicant then does silly things like spent time swapping prepositions, rewriting sentences for the h*ll of it, or rewriting entire essays from scratch in a state of panic. Your applications will reach a point where they are the best you can do, and any changes you make beyond that won't make them *better* -- just *different*. In a way, it can be counterproductive beyond the 10th week if by then you have a complete draft of all your applications because you start to over polish and over write everything to the point where a lot of the personality gets taken out in favor of your self-conscious drive to "be impressive". What I find with folks once they get to this point is that they tend to favor writing that is presentational (and fake, insincere, "corporate") over what is authentic.

Moreover, the majority of the time (about 80-90%) will be spent on your first 3 schools. Once you get to the 4th school and beyond, it takes literally a matter of days at most for each application (if that) since you'll have enough essay material from the previous 3 schools to adapt from.

My point is, if you're thinking about the applications right now (May) for the R1 early October deadlines, YOU HAVE PLENTY OF TIME.

Anyone who tries to push you to start now has an incentive to do so. The reality is, assuming you've already done the GMAT and given the 6-10 week window -- so long as you start the applications/essays by July (basically after the July 4th long weekend), you should have plenty of time.

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Post Thu May 19, 2011 6:31 pm
WHICH ROUND?

One of the most common questions I get is which round to submit. A lot of rumors out there that Round 1 is better than Round 2 (more likely to choose someone from an overrepresented category when there's less people to compare to unlike Round 2 where they already have a lot to benchmark), whereas others will say Round 2 is better than Round 1 (because Round 1 attracts the strongest caliber applicants, and therefore it's easier to stand out in Round 2).

In short, IT DOES NOT MATTER. Since the beginning of time (even when I was applying way back in 1998), there is no difference between Rounds 1 and 2. Your chances are the same. In terms of overall caliber of my clients and people emailing me over the years, I haven't seen any difference, and the results don't seem to differ from one round to the next.

So long as you're not applying Round 3, you'll be fine. If you can't make the October deadlines for some reason or another (i.e. you need more time to retake the GMAT, you want the chance to really visit the schools while class is in session, etc.) then it's probably better to apply in Round 2.

The only exceptions are CBS and Sloan -- both of which only have two rounds, so their 2nd round is like everyone else's 3rd round (or last round) -- they admit most of their class in their first round, so if you want to go to these schools, you should try and get in your applications by their 1st round deadline.

But again, beyond these two schools, it won't matter.

Now, where the differences in rounds can matter is how it affects your work schedule and effort. Through the years, I have found that those going for Round 1 deadlines tend to have a smoother time with the workload - partly because there's no real major disruptions for most people from the summer through to October (you basically have Memorial Day and Labor Day). And when you are busy at work, in a way it can really help with your applications because you have zero chance or time to procrastinate. You just have to do it. The flipside of that is sometimes it can be a bit too busy for some people, and therefore it would make more sense to shoot for the Round 2 deadlines.

With Round 2, the process can be a bit more disruptive and stressful, simply because a lot of your efforts will be spent during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season through to New Years. For many industries, things start to wind down in the office, people are away (it's harder to get a hold of recommenders and it can be nerve wracking and stressful at times having to nag recommenders during the holidays to get those stupid letters submitted!), and generally speaking it's harder to stay productive overall. As such, it can be more difficult for some folks who have to submit for Round 2.

But these are just generalizations. Overall, from an adcom's standpoint, whether you apply Round 1 or Round 2 won't make a difference in your chances (except for Sloan and Columbia). Choose the round which best suits your schedule and work habits.

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Post Wed Jun 01, 2011 10:25 am
WHAT ROLE DOES THE GMAT PLAY IN ADMISSIONS?

One of the more common questions I get is how their GMAT score factors into admissions, so here goes.

(1) For US top 16 schools (and INSEAD/LBS), a high GMAT score won't help you, but a low GMAT can keep you out.


In essence, there's a threshold you need to hit. For the top schools, you basically need a 700 or greater (no matter what your profile or background is), or else your GMAT will be an issue. However, adcom at these schools won't really favor someone with a 760 over a 720. It's about having a "good enough" score, and that essentially is a 700 or greater. Once you've hit that threshold, it comes down to everything else.

If your score is in the high 600s, it won't be an automatic ding, but you'll be a stretch for any of the top schools (you'll need a bit of luck on your side). If your score is in the mid-600s or lower, the chances are slim at any top school (yes there's exceptions, but we're talking literally 1-3 people in a class of a few hundred people).

Exception:
if did your undergrad in the US and your GPA sucked (i.e. below 3.2), then you will be held to a higher standard on the GMAT. In this case, shoot for a 720 or greater (and this is in addition to taking 1-2 extension courses in something math/quant oriented like calculus, stats, algebra, etc.).

(2) For those who went to non-US undergrads, your GMAT is paramount.


Those (US or international) who did their undergrads in US colleges have a GPA system that adcoms are very familiar with. For those who did their undergrads outside the US, adcoms aren't really going to look too closely (if at all) at your undergrad grades, unless it was obvious they sucked (you failed out of classes). For 99% of those who did their undergrads outside the US, they will basically be looking at your GMAT score no matter how good/bad your undergrad performance was.

(3) Unlike the top schools, a high GMAT can be an asset for schools outside the top 16, and especially outside the top 30.

Unlike the top schools, if you're looking at schools beyond the top 30 (i.e. regional or local schools), having a higher than average GMAT can really boost your chances. In other words, schools outside the top 30 don't really evaluate you as closely on the subjective stuff (essays, rec letters, interviews) if your GMAT is stronger than their incoming averages.

In short, so long as your GMAT is above their averages and you have a few years work experience, you should have a decent shot of getting into schools outside the top 30.

These schools care more about high GMATs because their rankings are more sensitive to changes in average GMATs than the top 30. The lower ranked the school, the more they will care about a high GMAT.

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Post Sun Jun 12, 2011 4:56 pm
DOES NATIONALITY MATTER IN ADMISSIONS?

Too many applicants I find are preoccupied with their nationality -- whether being Indian will automatically be a disadvantage, or whether being from Madagascar will be a huge trump card. Or dual citizens trying to play the game of "well I'm a dual American and Sri Lankan citizen, so I think by claiming I'm Sri Lankan will give me an advantage even if I grew up in New York."

The thing is, your nationality isn’t really as big a deal as your job function. It’s really about your professional profile more than anything else. If you worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs or you were a consultant at McKinsey, Bain, or BCG, those facts alone matter way more than your passport. Similarly, if you were in IT or engineering - it matters far less whether you’re Indian or not - what matters is that there’s tons of engineers applying, and the “diversity” that adcoms are really looking for are more about pre-MBA profession than nationality - otherwise you’d find way more Nigerians and Peruvians in the class - and Indians wouldn’t be as large a contingent in b-school - even though tons of Indians apply and tons get rejected; there’s still enough that get in that they still make up a big contingent of any incoming MBA class.

Your competitiveness is really determined by the overall caliber of your resume (professional profile). Not your passport. Of course, the quality of your profile alone won't get you in (you still need to put together a compelling written application and interview), but it tells you whether you're even in the running or not.

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Post Mon Jun 20, 2011 7:49 am
THERE IS A FORREST GUMP IN ALL OF US

One of the most common questions I loathe to give advice about is how to build a profile that will improve one’s chances for getting into a top b-school.

The reason why is this. Getting advice on what you should do with your career and life choices is limiting yourself to the advice being given. It has a tendency to limit your imagination for what is truly possible for you. Especially when getting advice from a complete stranger like me, no matter how much of a novel you want to write to me about your entire life story.

Simply put, no one knows you as well as YOU.

I hate life coaching, because I really don’t think I’m better or wiser than anyone else. I have my hands full with in my own life, let alone trying to give a paint-by-numbers recipe to others for what they should do.

So this is the only “life coaching” thing I will say based on my own limited experience and what I believe. I guess it could be considered some broad advice that is meaningless on its own, but hopefully meaningful if you are able to find a way to incorporate it into your own specific circumstances.

The reason why I hate giving “what can I do to improve my profile” advice is because some of the most accomplished and amazing applicants I’ve ever worked with were people whose history and career choices I could not have ever imagined or envisioned in the order or manner in which it had evolved. And I can safely so for many if not all of them, I doubt they could have envisioned it turning out the way it did.

Facing the unexpected and surprises is where life and careers are made. It’s when you’re faced with situations where the script you had written becomes irrelevant, and you have to react in the heat of the moment. That’s where a lot of the most interesting career progressions and lives are built.

In short, for some (or even many?) of you MBA types or those who are attracted to do an MBA - you tend to over think and over plan. You don’t take enough risks because you psych yourself out by over thinking it. You don’t trust or you’re unwilling to trust your own instincts, so you want to follow other people or “templates”. Basically, you’re almost too willing to follow some cookie cutter recipe you think exists as long as it gets you the result you want - because you (falsely) believe that when it comes to building a career and a life, the results are all that matters (and where hopefully you’ll learn over time that while results aren’t irrelevant, the journey or the process is just as important if not more important, depending on who you talk to - because the only true result for all of us is death; everything else is a journey or process and the struggle to understand it).

Focus on working your ass off on whatever you feel is most meaningful to you at this time, *assuming* you're not going to b-school at all. It's about being your most overachieving self - adcoms really don’t care what it is. They really don't. What they care about is whether you are a dynamic and compelling individual who is accomplished in his/her chosen profession. It’s not about being perfect, but about being intriguing. And there are endless permutations on what that can be and what that means. Make life/career choices that you want to do, regardless of what others think. And of course that is “riskier” if you aren’t sure what you want, and there are plenty of “template lives” out there for you to follow. But the journey itself in taking that leap of faith is worth it for the self-knowledge you’ll gain, and if opens up even more doors than had you taken the “template”, that’s a bonus.

Don't just start volunteering at the local charity for the sake of resume building or make job/career choices for the sake of resume building, because you're not fooling anyone. Do it because you f*cking believe in it. Otherwise the only person you’re trying to fool is yourself into believing that “if I do X, Y and Z, then I will get A, B and C and everything will work out.” Even if you don’t believe in the “follow your dreams” mantra, there’s still a huge difference between “I chose this career path because it’s a realistic compromise” and “I chose this career path because others are doing it, or I am afraid of being different, or my parents forced me to.” The former is based on a negotiation you have with the world around you, whereas the latter is simply giving up the right to your own life. Now, that may sting some of you whose parental pressures are oppressive, but that only makes the struggle to overcome and defy them that much more meaningful - because it will teach you more about who you are than anything else (because no matter how much you love your parents, you are still your own person if you give yourself that right).

Nothing ever really works out - not just in your personal life, but also in your professional career (or careers). Welcome to reality. And it’s how you cope and react to the unexpected (setbacks or triumphs) that help define who you are, and give you a much more profound understanding of what you’re made of. Whether you succeed in overcoming setbacks is not as important as your willingness to take on those obstacles in the first place. Because that willingness is what success is ultimately built on even if it doesn’t happen right away or how you had envisioned it.

There are those whose goal is to minimize the unexpected. And there are those who live. Who you are is not defined by fantasies of who you hope to be, but by how you cope with the realities of today.

More applicants screw up their b-school applications because of their attitude more than their actual profile. Adcoms smell the "please like me, I did this all for you" faster than you can even build it. It’s a profile based on premeditation, and not one built on living. Desperation and an eager to please attitude may be endearing in children, but is a death knell for adults. That’s the real struggle more than anything else for those of you early in your careers.

So do what makes you feel confident, not what you think pleases others. There are folks who get in with no extracurricular achievements to speak of and nothing special other than a solid work resume. And there are others with a crapload of everything and don't get in anywhere. More often than not, what separates those who tend to succeed and those who don't (whether in admissions or anything else) are those who don't need the permission to succeed - those who say "f*ck it, this is who I am, take me or leave me.” They may lose some of the time and maybe even a lot of the time, but they will win more than those whose attitude and vibe comes across as trying a bit too hard to please others.

Some of you have gotten it ingrained in you that getting into b-school is important enough for you to have big life/career decisions dictated by gaining admission. The deeper problem however is believing that you need some external permission to succeed - that without getting X, Y or Z, you’re not going to get what you want. It’s this lack of self-belief that is the problem. As some of you may have heard me say this before - a lot of the folks who are at these top b-schools really don’t need the “credential” or “brand” of the b-school to succeed. In the end, they would’ve gotten to a similar place or level without the degree. The only difference is that they had a good time in those 2 years, and they may have had an easier time moving up the ranks, but the difference isn’t night and day to the point where it’s worth ignoring your instincts and values for it.

And while it's harder to live by that principle of “trust your own instincts” when you're younger and being pulled in a gazillion directions by your peers, your family, your colleagues, and yes even those “b-school adcoms” that you have put on a pedestal -- sometimes it's just a matter of faking that confidence and self-belief even when you don't have it.

Ignorance can be bliss. There’s a Forrest Gump in all of us. Sometimes what you don't know can give you the dumb guts to accomplish bigger things than you would have at an older age where you realized how f*cking lucky you were to have achieved it in the first place. That delusional self-belief, that foolishness, is harder and harder to hold onto as one gets older, so don’t be so willing to throw it away so soon. It may be the greatest asset you have right now.

In short, rather than asking others what you should be doing, let ignorance be your fuel and ask YOURSELF what you feel you should be doing... you may surprise yourself when you're older that you managed to pull it off.

Now, I’m not saying any of this is easy to live by, but it’s worth it to at least try.

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Post Tue Jul 19, 2011 7:38 am
WHAT IS GOOD WRITING?

I've reposted this from my blog, but I think it would be helpful for some of the readers here -- a set of principles that not only apply to b-school essays, but to any form of writing you'll do in your professional career.

*******************************

Good writing first and foremost is not about style or polish. I think that's the biggest disconnect for many people whose office environments are overwhelmingly focused on polish and style that it messes with their notion of what is deemed "good writing." When asked to write outside a corporate context, it can be completely disorienting -- right becomes left, up becomes down.

What makes good writing?

The most important quality is CLARITY. Unless you're writing a diary for your eyes only, you write to be understood. Your main thesis, opinion, and intentions have to be absolutely crystal clear to a reader. Oftentimes, it's scraping away all the double-speak, buzzwords and cliche phrases learned over the years in an office. When in doubt, use the simpler word because it's likely closer to the heart (which is what an essay with a subjective voice is all about - you are writing in the first person after all).

Another important quality is SPECIFICITY. Without being specific about what you're talking about, you can't be precise in your insight. And if you're not precise, what you say has no substance, leaving no impact on a reader. Oftentimes, stripping all the sh*t away from one's writing into plain English can really reveal what you *really* know because you can't hide behind language.

ECONOMY is also paramount. Even award winning novelists (or their editors at least) strive for this. You cut out as much fat as possible - both the words and the content. The more succinct, the greater the impact.

And the last one for writing from a subjective viewpoint (first person narrative) is SINCERITY. Tonally, it's got to sound like a real person, not a robotic PR release. Aim for a lack of formality without being casual.

Your essays may not sound like the stylized writing you are used to at work, but believe me it will be miles better than the overwhelming majority of sh*t you'll see in powerpoint presentations, website copy and business correspondence. Corporate speak makes it harder to separate the clueless, incompetent, and spineless from the knowledgeable, talented and ethical - that's why it can be an invaluable "cover your ass" dialect in a bureaucracy.

One last thing. All of this doesn't mean that style is irrelevant. Highly stylized writing can certainly be fun to read especially in the hands of a talented writer with keen insight, but only if such writing is clear, specific, concise and sincere. In the context of b-school essays however, it's unnecessary and distracting. That's the underlying problem with language used in many office environments - it's a highly stylized form without the clarity, specificity, economy or sincerity one will see in truly good writing.

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Post Wed Aug 03, 2011 11:54 am
Hi Alex,

I had a few questions and was wondering where to ask these.Then I came across your articles.First I read your article on 'WHAT ROLE DOES THE GMAT PLAY IN ADMISSIONS?' and found it interesting ."THERE IS A FORREST GUMP IN ALL OF US" was simply awesome.I liked the part -"Don't just start volunteering at the local charity for the sake of resume building or make job/career choices for the sake of resume building".This was what i told myself 2 years back.

I gave my gmat 2 years back and finished with a score of 710(Q51,V35).I did my B.Tech in Industrial Engineering with 69%.After that I started working as a software engineer in the mobile and embedded systems domain which i am interestd in.I started working on interesting and challenging applications and thought of dropping the idea of MBA.Recently i came across the M.S. in MIS course which has technical content and a bit of management to it.The course looks promising and interesting.I currently have 2 years of work experience and am planning to work for some more time and go when i really know what i want.Here are my questions.

(1)Can you list some good universities that i might have a chance at with my score so that i can really have look at their Curriculum and learn more what they are offering in the course.

(2)For how long will my gmat score be accepted by these universities(I gave my gmat in 2009)

(3)Are there any universities accepting GMAT scores instead of GRE for M.S. in CS?

Once again Thanks for your article on "THERE IS A FORREST GUMP IN ALL OF US"

Thanks,

Lares

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Post Wed Aug 10, 2011 1:56 pm
Lares,

With school selection, best thing to do if you're completely at a loss is to look at the rankings publications (US News, Businessweek, FT, Economist, Forbes, etc.) and get a feel for what the top schools are. The ranking methodologies vary, but you should start to see that schools tend to cluster in similar ranges. From there, it's a matter of going through the various schools' websites, and just spending your time reading and researching. As for your GMAT, it's good for 5 years from the test date, and more and more schools are accepting the GRE. If you're years away, I wouldn't worry about all that stuff for now.

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Post Sun Dec 04, 2011 11:06 am
The Elephant in the Room: Race and Prestige

Consider this:

You walk into a college classroom where most of the faces are Indian and Chinese (or “South Asian” and “East Asian” for the more broad term - and in this context, it’s not really a question of citizenship i.e. Indian-American vs Indian but of race).


If you were a recruiter for Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, Apple or any global company, would you perceive this school to be MORE or LESS prestigious? If you were a recruiter where post-MBA jobs are managerial and become more relationship-based (not analytical/technical), and where the key contacts your company corresponds with (investors, Board members, clients, customers, government officials) are mostly white (American or European), or at least a sprinkling of various nationalities and cultures (but still mostly white), would you be more willing to hire students from this classroom, or would you be more inclined to recruit from a similar caliber of school where there were more white faces in the class?


Now, if you were an applicant and walked into this very same classroom, would you perceive this school to be more prestigious or have an “exclusive” brand compared to a class that is more diverse (or where at least half were white)? As an applicant, would your opinions be different depending on your own race or nationality (which gets into the ugly truth that even in non-white countries, the perception of prestige and exclusivity is still defined by whether white people will buy it). And if b-school classrooms looked more like MS-Engineering programs (where the overwhelming majority are Indian/Chinese), would that increase or decrease the likelihood of you applying to a highly selective business school? (Note that “highly selective” and “prestigious” can be related but are not synonymous.)


And herein lies the ugly truth of race, prestige and admissions.


For business schools, and especially those in the very top tier like Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and so forth - a big part of ensuring that their MBA programs stay relevant is to maintain their perceived prestige (exclusivity), because as we all know - while having an MBA can be of value, it’s not necessary for success in business, as amply shown by countless examples of incredibly successful entrepreneurs and executives out there without any formal business education. The perception of exclusivity for b-schools is rooted in the assumption that blue chip white males/females are the people others (regardless of background) want to be associated with. And that feeds on itself - the more of these people who apply, the more it will attract others to apply (including Asians), which creates a “network” which b-schools will then trumpet as something invaluable to its students (who are then networking with each other).


That’s why b-school admissions is more like the selection process for a private club: a country club, the freemasons, a hot nightclub (bring in all the hot girls, groups of guys are left standing in line), motorcycle club, or any sort of private organization. They can admit and reject whomever they want, and constantly change the parameters for admission to suit their needs (which isn't to graduate the "best and brightest" but to maintain that perception of prestige). Business school admissions is NOT a meritocracy, and it never really was, since the admissions process by nature is subjective and a "black box" if there ever was one.


When it comes to race and admissions, it’s not about trying to marginalize white or Asian applicants in the name of diversity - that seems to be a common refrain from many detractors who feel that adcoms are on some socialist, pinko, leftist agenda to admit as many “blacks, Hispanics and lesbian paraplegics” (of course, all mentioned in a derogatory tone by these very detractors) into b-school over more qualified white and Asian candidates -which is simply not the case because that is not what recruiters want, and it’s not what will ensure that applicants see these b-schools as “prestigious” (which will ensure that these schools continue to receive a crapload of applications each year).


In short, top MBA programs want their schools to be *diverse* (read: mostly or at least half white) rather than *ethnic* (read: mostly non-white) - that helps to ensure perceived prestige and exclusivity in our current culture of how we view the relationship between race and status symbols, which then helps to attract the maximum number of applicants as well as the most “exclusive” (read: highest paying) corporate recruiters. That is partly why they also are looking at younger candidates: it’s a way of reaching into the blue chip American pool (white kids with Ivy/equivalent backgrounds) to ensure that their numbers don't drop off to the point where b-school has to start looking like an MS-Engineering program - the less white people in the applicant pool, the more “ethnic” they have to go. This is ugly to say, but it's what is bubbling underneath all of this.


The one big silver lining to all this is that how we perceive race changes over time - it’s not static, but fluid. Even now, for many b-schools, the incoming classes are no longer overwhelmingly white, but again, the schools are “diverse” and not “ethnic”.


One example of how perceptions changed is that of the Jewish community - from “ethnic” to “mainstream.” Ivy League schools in the post-WWII era had a reputation for an unspoken two tiered admissions standard as a way to stem the influx of Jewish students for the very same reason: the perception of prestige. Many of these Jewish kids had as strong if not stronger credentials than their white counterparts to the Ivy League’s law and medical schools (b-schools back then were a bit of a backwater), but would still be underrepresented in these classrooms relative to the applicant pool. And yet, within a generation, that bias (at least when it comes to university admissions) has all but disappeared by the early 1980s.


With race and prestige today, I am confident it will change as the economic and cultural input of non-Western communities is considered mainstream, but this is where we’re at right now. So who knows, maybe in 10-15 years time, these biases may disappear altogether at least in this context of university admissions.

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Post Tue Apr 24, 2012 7:01 am
Hello Mr Chu
My name is Shubham and i am from New Delhi, India.
I have been thinking to join Wharton and Kellogg since i was 15 when i first decided that what interested me the most was marketing and branding and these are the two colleges I have really focussed since then.
My goals and aims are pretty clear, don't know how eminent they are but they are mine.
After MBA join several FMCG companies as a marketing head understand consumer behavior and finally after 4-5 years of experience have my own marketing company may be better than Ogilvy.

Just a candid feedback from you after reading a gist of my profile which is as under:
Cleared my senior high school @ 17 and scored 92%.
Was the captain of my table tennis team and won gold medal at zonal championship in the year 2005-2006.
Also i was in the student council of my school responsible for discipline in school. 
Straight after my high school i got recruited at Price Waterhouse  as a professional assistant and there along with my job I finished my graduation and also my chartered accountancy course
I always wanted to see things happen practically and wanted to go to Big-4. simple logics that i followed was 
Read-Apply-learn..coz once you apply it you will never forget it..
Wasting 3 years of my life at a regular college was no value addition to me and  therefore i joined Price Waterhouse and did my studies simultaneously.
At an age of 22 I am both a Graduate and a Chartered accountant.
Have a 3+1 years of full time work experience.
Also I am a founder of an NGO spreading education amongst orphan kids those who don't have resources to fund their education but are willing to study.
My weekends are reserved for these activities.

Few shortcomings in my profile:

I really got low grades in my first two years of graduation because of late working hours at my office and a really disappointing score in stats and maths.
Third year, because of my hard work in first two years at office, i was  given time to study and scored 90% in two main subjects of marketing which i chose in my curriculum.

Secondly, I never went to a regular college, reason as explained earlier. But is this reason justified in the eyes of Adcom..?

Thirdly, I left PWC when I became a C.A. And joined a local small firm for 1 year even though i had an offer from Mckinsey and company.
Reason being there would have been no value addition in my knowledge and experience if i stayed @PWC. I wanted to see the ground realities of our taxation system in India and it was only possible if I chose a local firm.

Before entering the marketing field i wanted to make my base strong with numbers, costing techniques, laws, combining which i can offer good strategies ahead.


I have really seen huntsman hall every day in my dreams for 6 years now and i really wanna go and learn what i have always loved, and how i have always wanted to learn things.
Also i will give my GMAT in December and assure you i can get 720+.

Thanking you in anticipation

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Post Wed Apr 25, 2012 8:19 am
Shubhjpwc wrote:
Hello Mr Chu
My name is Shubham and i am from New Delhi, India.
I have been thinking to join Wharton and Kellogg since i was 15 when i first decided that what interested me the most was marketing and branding and these are the two colleges I have really focussed since then.
My goals and aims are pretty clear, don't know how eminent they are but they are mine.
After MBA join several FMCG companies as a marketing head understand consumer behavior and finally after 4-5 years of experience have my own marketing company may be better than Ogilvy.

Just a candid feedback from you after reading a gist of my profile which is as under:
Cleared my senior high school @ 17 and scored 92%.
Was the captain of my table tennis team and won gold medal at zonal championship in the year 2005-2006.
Also i was in the student council of my school responsible for discipline in school. 
Straight after my high school i got recruited at Price Waterhouse  as a professional assistant and there along with my job I finished my graduation and also my chartered accountancy course
I always wanted to see things happen practically and wanted to go to Big-4. simple logics that i followed was 
Read-Apply-learn..coz once you apply it you will never forget it..
Wasting 3 years of my life at a regular college was no value addition to me and  therefore i joined Price Waterhouse and did my studies simultaneously.
At an age of 22 I am both a Graduate and a Chartered accountant.
Have a 3+1 years of full time work experience.
Also I am a founder of an NGO spreading education amongst orphan kids those who don't have resources to fund their education but are willing to study.
My weekends are reserved for these activities.

Few shortcomings in my profile:

I really got low grades in my first two years of graduation because of late working hours at my office and a really disappointing score in stats and maths.
Third year, because of my hard work in first two years at office, i was  given time to study and scored 90% in two main subjects of marketing which i chose in my curriculum.

Secondly, I never went to a regular college, reason as explained earlier. But is this reason justified in the eyes of Adcom..?

Thirdly, I left PWC when I became a C.A. And joined a local small firm for 1 year even though i had an offer from Mckinsey and company.
Reason being there would have been no value addition in my knowledge and experience if i stayed @PWC. I wanted to see the ground realities of our taxation system in India and it was only possible if I chose a local firm.

Before entering the marketing field i wanted to make my base strong with numbers, costing techniques, laws, combining which i can offer good strategies ahead.


I have really seen huntsman hall every day in my dreams for 6 years now and i really wanna go and learn what i have always loved, and how i have always wanted to learn things.
Also i will give my GMAT in December and assure you i can get 720+.

Thanking you in anticipation
To be honest, a lot of this is moot without your GMAT. You owe it to yourself to focus 100% on the GMAT before anything else. You can say all you want that you will get a 720+, but it's all talk right now until you actually take the exam.

Having said that, I think you need to readjust your expectations. If you're going to apply to Wharton or Kellogg, know that they are going to be long shots for you. You're up against more than enough applicants who simply have stronger profiles than you, or whom the adcom will much prefer. It's akin to dating: if you meet this Muslim woman who is really only interested in dating Muslim men, you will have a very hard time trying to convince her to go out with you if you're a non-Muslim, even if you feel you're this amazing dude. So with these schools, just treat them as lottery tickets.

Schools where you are likely to be more competitive are locally (ISB) or some of the other Asian schools like NUS in Singapore. In the UK, maybe Oxford, Cambridge or Cranfield. In the US, schools in the top 30 like USC, UNC, Texas, Tepper, Purdue, Indiana, Georgetown, Emory, and so forth.

There are plenty of fish in the sea, and many paths to reaching your career goals - and as such there's no need to fixate on schools that may be out of reach.

_________________
Alex Chu
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www.mbaapply.com

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Post Wed Apr 25, 2012 3:47 pm
I always knew wharton was way out of my league and many of my decisions have went wrong in scrambling my profile, but i never knew kellogg was also a difficult to enter college even if tried hard at my GMAT...?
If yes, I haven't found a college which can offer a great marketing career to me regardless of their ranking.
Please if you could suggest me any college which can offer me a competitive career opportunity in marketing industry comparable to kellogg..!!
Also i couldn't find your address, if you could please give me the same..
Thanks a ton..

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