The Winding Road: My Journey to B-School

by , Jun 5, 2010

winding-roadHi to all you Beat The GMAT-ers out there! Im a new resident expert from The Princeton Review, and I am happy to join the team to share my knowledge and experience with all of you. For my first two articles, I thought I would share the journey I have taken through the past two years on my way to business school. I know many of you are at the beginning of this long road, and it might be encouraging to hear some perspective from the other side. I hope that knowing a little about my story, where Im coming from and where Im going, will make my future GMAT and B-School tips even more meaningful to you.

Step One: Take the GMAT

A lot of people are surprised that this was the first step I took. The custom is often to start with steps two or three (see below), and leave the GMAT until admissions season, when you have a score in your head that you must attain to get into that dream school. However, I found that having the GMAT under my belt a full year before my applications would be due allowed me freedom in so many ways: freedom to study without pressure, freedom to select schools knowing my GMAT score already, and the freedom of knowing I could always take the test again. I chose a period of two months when I knew I would have the time to focus on studying at least ten hours per week. This meant a slower time of year at work, few obligations for friends and family, and no big life changes coming up. I think the most important thing I did was sign up for the seven week Princeton Review course, which gave me the tools, structure, and motivation I needed to make the most of my preparation. It paid offI improved my score by 140 points and only had to take the test once!

Since GMAT scores are good for five years, I would recommend that you take the GMAT as soon as you have an inkling that you might want to get an MBA. If you have that first thought as an undergrad, even better; studies have shown that undergraduates tend to perform better while in school than those who have been in the work force for two or more years.

Step Two: Why Do I Want This?

With the GMAT under my belt, I took some time to evaluate my career path and my goals. I have an undergraduate degree in the humanities, and my experience includes work in film, non-profits, and education. Though I was performing marketing functions across all of these industries, that doesnt amount to much pure business experience. In fact, when I moved to New York from a small town in California, I didnt even know what finance was!

What I realized upon self-reflection was that an MBA would be necessary to provide me with the breadth and depth of skills that I would need to become a leader in business. I wanted a career path with flexibility and variety, and that would require a general management program with electives that would allow me to focus on the favorite topics I discovered along the way. Knowing myself, and what I wanted, was the cornerstone I needed to be successful in my next steps to the MBA, and I recommend everyone take some time for self reflection early on in this process.

Step Three: Picking Schools

Researching b-schools is time consuming, exciting, and intimidating all at once. Location, reputation, selectivity, culture, cost, and specializations are all factors to consider. I suggest choosing your top two most important factors, and narrowing down your search based on those. There are so many great ways to learn about schools: websites with rankings and school profiles, informational events sponsored by specific schools, The MBA Tour in major cities, campus visits, alumni networks, etc. I think I tried all of these and more.

When I started, reputation and culture were my most important considerations (Berkeley and Yale topped my list), but then I hit a bump in the roadI got engaged. My future husband just started a business and cannot leave New York City, so my options were narrowed down significantly (NYU, Columbia, Fordham and Baruch were the front runners). Cost also became a larger factor. I started thinking about schools that werent part of my original plan, and I was surprised to find that I was really excited about what they offered. So my final piece of advice when choosing schools is to be flexible and open-minded, because some schools may surprise you by being the perfect fit.

These three steps built the foundation for me to conquer my final step into business school: The Application. In my next article on June 22nd, I will share what I learned from putting together my application and interviewing with business schools. I hope my experience can help some of you reach your b-school goals, because thats what I love to do. Feel free to share your experiences, thoughts, or questions in the comments.