This could be one of the longest documents I've written outside of a school paper. But I wanted to summarize my voyage to Bschool in the hopes that it will help ease some future applicants' minds during their application process.
Current Location: Chicago
GMAT: 690 (Q42 V42); Retake in April: 710 (Q44 V42)
Work Exp: 3.5 years at boutique new product development consulting firm. Promoted twice, have one direct report.
Undergrad: BBA from top 10 undergrad Bschool
Other activities: Marathon runner/running volunteer
I knew I wanted to go back to school in early 2008 after nearly two years at my current company. I earned a lot of responsibility and acquired an immense amount of marketing and strategy knowledge, but knew it wasn't built for a long-term career. I've always had an interest in running a business, and knew that a product management role would offer me a lot of the same opportunities without having to promise my first born child as collateral for a loan.
But what industry did I want to work in? Well I had spent my whole post-undergrad life working in CPG and knew I couldn't handle creating the next six iterations of mac and cheese for the next 10 years, so CPG was off the table. When I was 13 I built a computer in high school and had followed the evolution of high-tech consumer products ever since, so I decided to position my applications toward obtaining a high-tech product management role. It's an industry I'm very passionate about, and a position that would provide a big range of challenges.
Throughout the first 6ish months of 2009, I selected the schools I would apply to very carefully. I didn't want to apply to schools just because of reputation (I'm looking at you Harvard!). But I knew I needed to go to a top 25 school to make giving up my job and income worthwhile. On that note, I looked at schools based on a number of criteria:
Â· Geography: There were a couple factors here. 1. I wanted to be in areas with a variety of high-tech companies. 2. I wanted to live in a more urban area. 3. Nice weather was an added plus. 4. I was wary of the east coast. I just didn't think it provided a different enough experience for me.
Â· Academic specialties: Schools with high ratings on marketing and/or entrepreneurship, especially in the high-tech sector
Â· A good job environment: I knew my girlfriend would be moving with me, so I wanted to make sure she had an opportunity to find a job when we moved
Â· Teamwork-focused environment: Mandatory. I firmly believe the best ideas come from teams and wanted to make sure I was in an environment where people looked out for each other
Â· Mix of teaching styles: Having been through the Ross BBA program, I know I benefit hugely from a variety of teaching styles (case, lecture, etc.). I didn't want strictly one type.
So on that note, I hopped on the top 25 lists and started briefly researching schools. I knew I had time, so it was time to switch gears to...(drumroll please) the GMAT.
After a lot of studying without a set test date, I put a stake in the ground and scheduled my test for mid-July 2009. Let's just say...it sucked. I was really disappointed. I wrote a big debrief here: https://www.beatthegmat.com/i-bombed-the ... tml#172806
GMAT #1 sucked so I took a break from studying. Then work wrapped its fingers around my life until October when I realized I needed to really start putting my application thoughts on paper. For three months on international flights, on the bus to work, and on late nights, I mapped out my strategy for each school.
Oh yeah - what schools was I applying to? I thought you might ask. After a good amount of research, I settled on a short list of schools. In no particular order (ok I lied, they're in ranking order), they were:
Northwestern - Kellogg
Berkeley - Haas
UCLA - Anderson
Texas-Austin - McCombs
I thought about Stanford too, but based on GMAT #1, decided it wasn't worth the effort for a likely ding. Due to work and studying for GMAT #2, I couldn't apply to any schools in round 1, so I had to be selective about who I applied to in round 2.
But wait! Time to switch gears again. My 650 wasn't cutting it, and I knew I could do better based on my practice tests. GMAT, here I come! (again!)
GMAT #1 was surprising. My quant score was right where I wanted it to be, but my verbal score was one of the lowest of all my practice tests. I think I just lost my composure during the real thing, wanting it to be over with.
I changed up a few things prepping for GMAT #2. I placed as much of an effort analyzing my work as I did actually doing the problems. I made an error log - if I came across something I had no recollection of learning and/or found confusing, I wrote it (not typed, wrote) in a notebook. I also took fewer practice tests to prevent burning myself out.
I felt pretty good going into the second exam. I scored in the 700s in all my practice tests leading up to it and felt comfortable with quant and verbal. I thought "The one score I'll be sort of indifferent about is a 690. It's good, but I know I can get into the 700s."
Four hours later, I frantically kept clicking "next" after finishing the verbal section, just wanting to get to my score. Meanwhile I think my heart rate was up around 130. I finally got to the screen where I said I wanted to accept my score and the computer, as usual, seemed like it took forever to spit out a score. I put my head down, not wanting to look at the screen in anticipation. I peeked up to the screen to see:
I didn't know what to think. It's a good score but not up to my practice tests, and my quant dropped! But I knew I didn't have enough time to re-take it before apps were due. So I went with it. Here goes nothing.
Over the course of the fall and winter, I managed to put together what I thought were some high quality applications. On flights to Paris and London (my work does have its benefits), on the lovely CTA, waiting in O'Hare, during light days at the office, just about everywhere I was thinking about or writing application essays.
Berkeley's round 2 decision came around and, after dozens of essay drafts, clicked the submit button from my London hotel room. How fitting.
After Berkeley I had holiday time to finish the remaining apps that were all due in mid to late January. I wrapped up UCLA, Northwestern, and Texas all within about 10 days of each other. The chaos was finally over.
Or just beginning.
Interviews and school visits
The chaos just comes in waves and never really ends. Interviews started pretty much immediately after I submitted my final application.
Two days after I submitted my Northwestern app, I had my mandatory interview. As you probably know, Northwestern is one of the few schools that interviews everyone. So I geared up for my on campus interview as best I could. But I was so nervous. It was my first interview with my top choice and highest ranked school (at the time).
The interview lasted roughly 40 minutes, during which time I felt I gave about a B effort. I was rough around the edges, but thought I gave some good answers.
But there were parts of my experiences that made me question whether or not Kellogg was really the place for me. See my post here: https://www.beatthegmat.com/2010-where-a ... tml#238728
The next Saturday I checked my email coming back from the gym to find an email from McCombs. 6 AM on a Saturday? Why are they emailing me?
Turns out it was good news after all. Just 8 days after submitting my application I got an interview invite. I was pumped to redeem myself after my so-so performance in Evanston the week before. Plus I had heard nothing but good things about Austin, and really thought McCombs was a "diamond in the rough" (rankings-wise) program, especially for the high-tech industry.
Work kept me from visiting until a month after I got my invite, but I was determined to interview on campus to see what I might be getting into. Plus, hey, who doesn't want to go south from Chicago in February?
I loved the whole experience, which I chronicled here: https://www.beatthegmat.com/2010-where-a ... tml#232021
After my Texas interview, I knew I was on a short timeline with UCLA. I hadn't received any news from them, and it was approaching a little over a month until round 2 decisions were due. My coworker received an interview invite, but I hadn't heard anything yet. I was anxious. UCLA has pretty high academic standards, and maybe my GMAT wasn't good enough.
On the bus home I checked my email for the 500th time that day and saw an email from UCLA. My heart jumped. Woohoo! I got an interview!
Due to work and financial obligations, I couldn't afford to fly out to LA to interview. So I scheduled my interview with a Chicago-based alum and had a very pleasant experience. The whole debrief can be found here: https://www.beatthegmat.com/2010-where-a ... tml#233302
Ah, St. Patrick's Day. Nothing like wearing a 12" tall green leprechaun hat at work. Oh yeah, it was important for another reason too. Berkeley's decision was due that day.
Wait, I applied to a fourth school? Oh yeah, the one that didn't ask me to interview. Honestly I wrote them off. They are extremely selective and heavily focused on quantitative aptitude. I didn't think my 690 with Q42 was going to cut it. I couldn't really blame them.
So imagine my surprise when I opened up my email and found a note from Berkeley that I wasn't rejected! I somehow snuck past their admissions committee onto their waitlist. I had a second chance, including a chance to interview. I was going to do everything in my power to show them I wanted to be there and that I was qualified to be there.
Berkeley is a "show me you love me" school, so I had every opportunity imaginable to show them just how much I indeed loved them. Over the next 2 months, I:
-Visited campus and interviewed
-Submitted two additional recommendations to reinforce my quantitative proficiency that my GMAT didn't communicate
-Wrote an update letter
-Took the GMAT for a third time
Berkeley is a phenomenal school. Every single person I met with was welcoming and a pleasure to talk to. My interview went fairly well, but I knew my admissions chances were slim, even if I did well on the third GMAT. But the GMAT story will have to wait...
Two days after the Berkeley decision my heart skipped another beat (it got a workout during this process) when I got a call at work from a 512 area code. Where do I know that number from?
A few minutes later I was a business school admit! Texas-Austin McCombs welcomed me into the class of 2012. While I still had some questions for students there, I felt relieved to know I was in at a school and a city I felt pretty comfortable with.
Business travel snuck up on me again, and in the middle of a focus group in Denver, found out I was dinged by Northwestern. It was crushing. I liked the school, it was in my comfort zone in the Midwest, and I had some friends who I graduated college with already admitted. I spent a few days in a funk, but had family, friends, and co-workers that were very supportive.
A week later I got my second waitlist from UCLA. They were pretty different from Berkeley in that I could only submit a new GMAT or stats class grade.
I had to see this process through, so I revived my GMAT study materials for one last two week cram session for my third GMAT for Berkeley and UCLA.
During both weeks, I spent 2 weekdays studying quant and one studying verbal. Saturday mornings were my practice test days, and Sundays were my test review days.
My practice tests went well, and again I scored 700+ on both. I felt hardly any pressure because I was in at Texas and I knew I could hit 700+.
Four hours later, after once again frantically clicking "next" through all the additional information screens at the end of the test, I got my results.
I'll take it! I thought my quant could get to a 46 or 47 but I seem to suck at taking tests. Anyways, it was out of my hands, and I could officially bury my GMAT study materials.
The past few weeks have provided closure to this long, trying process. Berkeley dinged me, as I thought they would.
When I realized it was down to Texas and UCLA, I had to think long and hard about it. They're similarly ranked and provide similar quality programs, but Texas felt more comfortable. I made a tough decision and withdrew from the UCLA waitlist, confirming that I would attend Texas in the fall of 2010.
If you want additional reasoning, I explained more here: https://www.beatthegmat.com/the-official ... tml#253697
This application process takes you through just about every possible emotion you can express. Joy, anxiety, sadness, frustration, confusion, uncertainty, you name it. Looking back on it, here's what I learned:
Â· Know that the GMAT is not everything! Worse comes to worse, you take it again. I never imagined I would take it three times.
Â· Use practice tests the right way, and don't take too many just to boost your confidence. Practice tests should simulate the test experience, help you with pacing, and give you an idea of where you stand. If you're scoring well, don't take a bunch of tests just to boost your confidence. I did this for GMAT #1 and it killed me, possibly preventing me from submitting any round 1 applications
Â· Take no more than one practice test a week, and spend one day taking the test and the other day reviewing all problems (not just the wrong answers)
Â· Buy Manhattan practice tests! They are outstanding for their answer explanations. (And read the explanations!)
Â· Write out problems in error log, don't type them. It takes longer, but I think it helped me remember more because I wrote problems out.
Â· Try not to let ego get in the way. It's hard and I can't say I never let it, but I learned something interesting throughout this process. You'll likely select the schools you apply to based on rankings and numbers, but the least quantifiable factor - fit - will probably ultimately determine where you decide to go.
Â· Use technology to your advantage, and let school information come to you. Use digital media to your benefit. Sign up to follow schools' Twitter accounts, and use an RSS reader to keep track of school blogs. It's easier to get an understanding of what a school is about when you learn over time instead of cramming information all at once.
Â· Use information and insights from other schools' admissions team. I learned a lot by reading Businessweek Q&A transcripts with admissions staff of schools I wasn't even applying to. Schools like to think they're all unique, but you can learn a lot about admissions in general by reading about all schools' admissions teams. Sometimes they give you ideas on how to write essays.
Â· Don't stop, researching. Hold on to that feeeeeeeeeling! Wait, that's not how it went? Anyways, never stop researching schools until you get the acceptance offer. I continued to learn about my schools and it helped me immensely when I found out I was waitlisted without an interview at Berkeley. I didn't have to cram nearly as much as I would have had to if I hadn't kept up with them.
Â· Use web resources to your advantage, but remember to BE YOURSELF. Don't conform to the "over-anxious, over-achieving, high GMAT and good work experience but still needs reassurance" applicant that so many online forum members seem to be
Â· Take a big picture view of each application. I diagramed the topics of each essay to make sure the big picture made sense and everything reinforced everything else.
Â· Waive the right to view recommendations. Honestly I was dumb and I didn't do this. I doubt it matters, but there is zero benefit for you not to waive the right.
Â· I think it's more important to know all your experiences than know all the different questions they could ask. There are 10 page documents with possible questions and you obviously won't know them all. But know the big experiences you want to talk about and make sure you can adapt them to a few different kinds of questions.
Â· Schedule class visits before interviews. I used a lot of class visit experiences during interviews that I had the same day. It helps you show commitment to the school.
If you have any questions for me, feel free to ask in this thread or send me a PM. Good luck to all of you in the future, and if you want more information on UT-McCombs, you know who to ask!
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4 apps, 3 GMATs, 2 waitlists, 1 final decision (VERY LONG)
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