Accepted.Com Interview

Recently, I was interviewed by Accepted.Com as a part of their MBA Admissions Interviews series. After receiving the interview request I poked around the site a little bit, and they have some great resources available to not only just MBA applicants, but to anyone who is going to be dealing with admissions. They’ve been a great resource for me, and have proven to be a valuable resource for MBA applicants everywhere. Check out their website!

That’s all from me for now. I hope to post more frequently in the coming weeks as my target schools are beginning to publish their essays for my recruiting cycle.

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She Said Yes!

No, I don’t mean marriage. Earlier this week I secured my last recommendation writer, and it comes from someone who I highly respect within my organization.

I already have a commitment from my supervisor from a while back, and have been dragging my feet in asking for another recommendation from someone within my organization. The supervisor is a no-brainer for most MBA applicants, as they’re the person that tends to know the most about your work efforts and what you’ve been able to accomplish for the organization. I wanted my second reccommendation to come from someone who can speak to how my work has impacted decision making way up the food chain.

This is not to say that I am pandering for reccomender that wields a big title. I have friends who have gone that route and came back with dull, uninspiring letters that didn’t really speak past generalities and dramatic overtures of how great they are. So it’s a delicate game: looking for someone high enough that they can demonstrate how your work has an impact, but also someone that you deal with enough to where they can speak about you in detail.

In my particular situation, I changed many job functions recently with a sizeable promotion which landed me in a different office (with a different organizational structure above me). Knowing that this MBA application trek was fast upcoming, I began networking like crazy trying to get to know people. For those of you that don’t know, this can be an AGONIZING process in the engineering world.

Luckily enough for me, my work did the work for me. After driving alot of our Big Data initiatives here, I’ve gotten alot of face time with executive leadership. Side note, Big Data is the current buzzword on the lips of management across the country. My new division head is a regular at these meetings, and we got to know each other pretty well from a working perspective.

So I settled on asking my division head, who leads my division statewide and sometimes operates as the third in command of the entire organization. We share many things in common, and through some casual conversations I found out that she was an MBA herself, and is very big into the “spread your wings” methodology of career-making. It was perfect.

She’s very enthusiastic about my MBA process, and has already offered me some incredible advice having gone through it herself. It feels good to have a great recommender on my side, as well as someone who is rooting for my success in general. I’m now crafting a very thorough document for my recommenders on what each school is looking for and how they can help me the most, as well as all the information that they will need on me. I also am looking to have more casual sit downs with them so that they can get to know me even better, which hopefully will reflect in the essays.

Kellogg Visit

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Geographically, Kellogg is one of the closest MBA programs on my target list. Apart from that I wanted to visit Kellogg first because I have more connections there than any other school. I’m happy to say that I left with even more. The student population at Kellogg makes a concerted effort to introduce themselves to those lost looking folks roaming the halls wearing purple “visitor” tags. Most of the great connections I made during my visit day came from chatting with students in between their classes and at the weekly “TG” meetup (more on that later).

Backing things up a bit though, Evanston is a picturesque college town that happens to be situated 20 minutes from one of the country’s major cities. That push/pull setup with Chicago works perfectly for an MBA program. The students can insulate themselves within the bubble of Evanston and also are a single “L” train away from the nation’s third largest city. Oh and Evanston also has a Pret A Manger downtown, which, hell yes.

The Kellogg School of Management traditional 2Y (two year) program is located within the Donald P. Jacobs building. Admittedly, this isn’t the most gorgeous building to look at either on the outside or the inside. That wasn’t a big issue to me; my engineering buildings in undergrad all shared the same “old school Midwestern college building” vibe. That is to say that they’re ugly, but functional. Kellogg is however designing a new building that is due to start construction this summer but wouldn’t be completed until after I plan to have my MBA in hand. Facility looks mean less than nothing to me. After spending an entire day in the Jacobs building I’d be more than happy to call that home for two years. Moving on.

When you first set foot into the building you get the sense that the students run everything at Kellogg, and that was reiterated by every student I spoke to. From the conferences, to the visit days, to the student organizations and everything in between Kellogg is truly its students’ school. This means that to get the most out of the “Kellogg Experience” you have to be ready to flex your soft skills. There is no formal structure to getting involved, and with as large of a class size as they bring in it is very easy to fade into the background without any of your other students catching on. I’m a people person (my fellow engineers chafe at this every opportunity they get) so I don’t anticipate any problems in this aspect.

My day started with an informal building tour given by a current first year student. There were no admissions personnel on hand during the tour, which let the prospective students get acclimated to their new surroundings without feeling we had to be on our toes in front of adcoms. The building tour pretty much evolved into a walking Q&A session with the student, which was great. I mean, once you’ve seen one class/study room, you’ve seen them all.

After the building tour was a lunch with several current students, including a second year who was able to answer more questions on what career recruitment was like at Kellogg and how he got his gig at a Top 3 Consulting firm starting in the summer. He also happened to be the president of a few clubs and an all-around social butterfly, so once people started floating some “extracurricular life” questions we got insight into just how much fun Kellogg kids have with their limited downtime. This is also where I heard about the “TG”…

After the lunch there was a gap built into the agenda allowing us to roam the halls. I used this time to meet up with a few of my friends who currently attend Kellogg and catch up with them. They in turn introduced me to more great people (noticing a trend here?) all of which offered themselves to help me through my application process. The Kellogg focus on admitting good people was evident throughout the visit. Granted I was only there a day but I didn’t come across any of your typical “alpha males” (or females for that matter), and almost to a person I was greeted with a smile and a “good luck with applications!”

Following this break in the agenda there was a formal information session with an adcom. I noticed that a bunch more prospective students showed up starting here. Makes sense, most people want to get in touch with the admissions folks. It was your standard info session followed by Q&A. The adcom did a great job touching on stuff that you in particular might be interested in from the school. For me she really did a job on pushing the JD/MBA program to me with my government background, and I’m going to have to look into it. I’ve always seen a law degree as something I’d get later on in my career…but why not now? Food for thought.

The undoubted star of the show was the class visit. I had heard tall tales of this amazing professor at Kellogg that goes by the name of Professor Gad Allon. Luckily enough, one of his classes (Operations Strategy) was open to visit that day and I made sure to register myself for it nice and early. Don’t know how else to put it but Professor Allon is a superstar professor. He was recently named to the Top 40 Professors under 40 Years Old by Poets & Quants, and I can see why. He was incredibly engaging with his students without it becoming a distraction to the flow of the class, and his practical real-world examples served to root the sometimes pie-in-the-sky concepts in Decision Sciences. I’ve heard people say that these career professors can’t get into the meat of things because they’ve never been in the field…but with Professor Allon he always tied big points into his advisory experience with various companies. It was really fascinating stuff and I’ll be sure to look up his work for some further research.

I’ve been teasing Kellogg’s weekly “TG” meetup throughout the post. TG is short for TGIF, which is short for Thank Goodness It’s Friday. Every Friday at 5:00 PM (after the last class of the day lets out) the school puts on a social in the atrium complete with beer, finger food, and usually a visiting company to talk to. There were a few hundred students there scattered around the atrium and the surrounding hallways. All of the prospective students had at least one or two current students chatting them up, it was very easy to meet people and exchange contact information. For the current students, think of it as a Friday unwind time, and the jumping off point for the, erhm, Kellogg Weekend. The TG typically leads nicely into Friday night fun in Evanston/Chicago, which I definitely partook in :D.

All in all it was a brilliant visit. I continually tried to remind myself that I haven’t been to any other schools yet on an official visit and so I have nothing to compare it to, but I couldn’t help but get excited at the thought of potentially becoming a Kellogg student. I can truly picture myself there, it meets all the criteria I outlined in what I want out of a school and it’s vibe and curriculum matches my interests. But let’s keep in mind that I still have to manage to get in!

Hope you guys enjoyed my visit breakdown. I’m hoping to get some more visits into my target schools over the summer months and at the beginning of the school year. For now it’s off to the tailor, it’s wedding season! And no, it’s not my own 😀

Summer Courses and Other Tomfoolery

Ah, it feels good to be back among the living, if only for a bit. I’ve been going at the GMAT study pretty hard, but today I’ll pick my head up above water for a to pass on some news: I’ve registered for summer courses.

I’ve alluded before to the fact that I wasn’t the most prodigious student in undergrad, for many different reasons. While I’ll be sure to mention the relevant reasons in that infamous “optional” (ie. you better write it if you want the option of attending business school) essay in each of my applications, none of these reasons are big enough to explain away why I’m on the lower end of the GPA scale for some of my target schools.

So rather than try to explain them away, I’ve decided to go out and show what I’m really capable of. I’ve enrolled in a Corporate Finance course as well as a Business Statistics course at my local university for the Summer Term. This is going to serve a two-fold purpose for me. One, I’ll be bringing home 2 A’s in some pretty quant heavy courses that together with a strong GMAT score, a civil engineering degree, and 4 years work experience in a quantitative environment, will hopefully remove any lingering shadows of doubt that an adcom may have on my intellectual chops.

The second thing that taking these courses does for me is adding some structured learning to a field that (to this point) I’ve been hungrily learning about through reading the Financial Times, WSJ, multiple books, and plenty of papers and blogs. Sometimes I find myself unfamiliar with a financial term that a writer uses, or struggling to wrap my brain around a trade concept. Adding some structured learning opportunities will only enhance my understanding of these topics, which in turn helps me refine what I’m truly interested in.

Courses start in two weeks. Only thing I’m anxious about is that there is going to be an overlap between GMAT study, examinations, restudy (maybe), and coursework, all the while continuing my growing duties at work. I look forward to the challenge and the progress there is to make.

Other Tomfoolery

The other day I found myself doing some further research on my target schools by catching up on their respective YouTube activity. That’s when I came across this video from the Kellogg School of Business from their recent “Kellog-Aspen Conference on Rethinking ‘Shareholder Value’ and the Purpose of the Corporation.” The video was taken during a session called “Corporate Speech: The Role of Corporations in Influencing Policy.” Here’s the video. Fair warning it’s about 1.5 hours long.

Breif synopsis: A panel of insanely qualified individuals discuss the justification (or lack there of) behind and the ramifications of Citizens United. If you don’t know, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a constitutional law case in which the Supreme Court upheld the 1st Amendment rights of corporations, associations, and labor unions. This meant that these entities are allowed to have independent political expenditures. If it’s still not ringing a bell, you’ll probably remember the infamous question that was being posed a while back: “Are Corporations People?”

I found this video endlessly interesting, as with most constitutional law interpretations. It has it all; founding father’s intent, debate on whether corporations are private entities or government sanctioned organizations, and juicy allegories. The general consensus, which I happen to agree with, was that at minimum politicians should be more transparent on where their campaign funding comes from, and corporations need to be more transparent on how much capital goes towards political contributions. With that information in hand, let the voting public and the shareholders decide the future of political contributions. A floundering company’s shareholders will be unhappy if millions are going to the campaigns of politicians, and the voting public will be unhappy if (SHOCK) their elected officials do more for their campaign contributors than they do for the people they represent.

So if you find yourself with an hour and a half to blow, and want to stimulate your mind give that video a watch and thank me later.

GMAT Practice Exam #1

*I want to take a moment to say that my heart is heavy with sadness for the victims of the senseless violence that took place in Boston Monday. I pray for the families and friends of the victims and for the city of Boston that they may find some sort of peace in this most difficult time.*

A short post this time around just to recap my first GMAT Practice Exam.

MBA.com, the folks who administer the GMAT itself, recently offered up a free GMATPrep Software Package that comes with 90 questions as well as 2 full length practice exams. It’s as close as you will get to a “test-day” replica. If you’re studying like i am, you should go and download this now.

I’m still early on in the GMAT prep process. I took a diagnostic about 2 months ago that told me about what I expected: that I’m strong in verbal and a little shaky in the quantitative section. I was studying pretty leisurely when the above-mentioned software came out. It couldn’t have come any sooner as it gave me something other to look at than the GMAT prep books I’ve been lugging around.

I found some time to sit and take a full practice and came out with a 640. While it’s not my goal (700 club minimum, 730 target, 750 reach), I could just feel during the practice the questions that I knew I would cream with a month’s dedicated practice. Sure enough after a week of targeting those pesky Data Sufficiency questions, I’m hitting them at about a 90% clip. They are almost (gasp) fun for me now. I find myself chuckling maniacally when the solution finally smacks me in the face and talking crap to the text book for trying to sneak one by me…

Erhm. Anyways. I’ve found that I’m a practice person when it comes to the quantitative section, and a theory person with the verbal section. I need to hammer out a repeatable approach to quant problems. In the verbal section, I’m much more fluent. I have a flow that results in some pretty elite score ranges so I don’t want to mess up whatever mojo it is that I have going there.

I certainly won’t be resting on my laurels. I know how important the GMAT will be for my application. I don’t boast the greatest undergraduate resume, so the GMAT is going to be a very important piece in proving to the adcoms that I have the mental chops for B-school.

My plan is to target my biggest return on investment spots over the next two weeks and then take another practice exam. From there, hopefully, I’ll be ready to dot some i’s, cross some t’s, and take the real thing.

The Schools

My apologies for the absence. I’ve had my head buried in GMAT study and school research for the past few weeks trying to ensure that at least one of the following schools will decide against the infamous “ding.”

Last year I was seriously considering applying to business schools for admittance into the class of 2014, before determining that it would be best for me to gain another year’s experience in the workplace and to take some extra time to really plan out my career. I had some new opportunities at work via my second promotion in as many years, and still felt cloudy about what exactly I wanted from an MBA.

That additional patience has paid off in so many ways. Taking weeks, months even to just let the idea of a graduate degree stew in my mind has given me more depth on what I want from school, from my career, and at an even higher level in life. The dreams that I’d find myself scribbling on various Post-It notes developed into ideas and goals that were hashed out over a warm keyboard and numerous empty bottles of wine until they evolved into a one page “Personal Mission Statement.” I still refer to that page if those clouds try to settle back into my mind. You can’t fulfill your dreams until you have conceptual clarity over them.

In essence, I’ve found that what I need from a Business School is:

  • A team-based approach to learning with plenty of case study opportunities
  • A strong global outlook paired with a robust study abroad program
  • An excellent track record of placing graduates into strategy consulting careers
  • Research opportunities that may grow into further partnerships with the school
  • Successful student organizations, particularly an African Business Group

Most of all, I needed a school that was going to be a partner in this life journey, not just a stop along the way.

As you can tell, I don’t ask for much.

I believe in a team-based approach to learning because interpersonal skills can be developed using that method, and are necessary in today’s (and more importantly tomorrow’s) business climate. I need plenty of case study opportunities because I don’t come from the business world and diving into real life scenarios will get me acclimated much quicker.

I want my school to share my global outlook. I was raised in the states (God Bless the USA) but wasn’t born here, and as such I have always been the guy much more interested in the “World” section of the WSJ than any other. I could spend hours regaling you on my views of global economical trends and how the world will soon be less western-centric than at any other time since WWI, but luckily for my readers you can find most of my views neatly packaged in Fareed Zakaria‘s “The Post-American World: The Rise of the Rest.” It’s a fantastic read, trust me. But I digress. We are all global citizens, and I want my school to actively enable its students to be just that.

My school must have a strong record in placing graduates into consulting careers. Pretty simple. It’s how I want to start my post-MBA career, so the schools I apply to are going to be good at getting me there.

Research opportunities. This is something I added to my list after reading up on some of the schools. I was very impressed and surprised with research opportunities available to MBA students at two schools in particular. Researching organizational behavior, for example, its very interesting to me. I’ve gone on to order some books from professors at these schools to do some further exploration. This is where the school’s media campaigns really shine. You can get a clue into what the professors are up to when a school’s social media accounts, YouTube, Facebook, and email newsletters are well done.

Successful student organizations are a must because it is, in my opinion, the best way to network with your fellow classmates. Whether it’s a Consulting Club or Christian Fellowship Club or a Soccer Club, those connections that you make will hopefully last you a lifetime. And who knows, one of those people may end up hiring you, or vice-versa. My particular interest/lovechild/passion is in either joining or starting up an African Business Club. I’m African myself and I strongly feel that the continent has incredible growth potential. I want to get in on the ground floor of this both in terms of investment and also with some social enterprise involvement. I want to give back to Mother Africa, and I can’t think of a better way than by tapping into some of the future leaders of America and getting them involved. While they’re still relatively young and impressionable.

While researching the schools and programs (or programmes ;)) I continued referring back to this list of basic needs. In my case, once I had those needs described and understood the schools almost revealed themselves to me.

So without any further adieu, here is my (preliminary) school list in alphabetical order:

  • Fisher College of Business (Ohio State)
  • Fuqua School of Business (Duke)
  • Harvard Business School
  • Keenan-Flagler School of Business (North Carolina)
  • Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern)
  • London Business School
  • S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management (Cornell)

So we have two Midwestern schools, two mid-Atlantic schools, two Northeastern schools and one all the way in London-town. It may seem like a mixed bag on it’s face, but once you dig into those schools they match very closely with the needs that I detailed above.

Let me head something off now. Ohio State is by NO MEANS a “safety school.” I don’t believe in that concept. Fisher is an up and coming program which will become one of the more sought after MBA programs as its reputation continues to increase. It also ticks off all of my listed needs (and then some in the case of consulting careers and research opportunities). In general, if you take the time to look beyond the Top-10 rankings sheet, you’ll find alot of schools with alot to like.

So, that’s my list. If you’ve made it this far into the post I commend you. I promise to keep things tighter next time.

Until then.

Qualified?

“People who reach the top of the tree are only those who haven’t got the qualifications to detain them at the bottom.”

~ Peter Ustinov

I just got off of the phone with a current Kellogg student not too long ago. Talking to a current student was one of the best decisions that I have made with regards to my application thus far. Here’s why:

Everyone who has the goal of attaining an MBA inevitably compares themselves to their “competitors”, or others who will be applying for their school(s) of choice. It is so easy for us  to look at the long list of achievements that some of these people have made and immediately try to compare their profile with our own. Person “X” has more work experience and is from a highly known company, I have no chance. Person “Y” is involved in 1,000,000 extracurricular activities and still found time for a 3.98 GPA, I’m done for. Person “Z” cured cancer in one hand while solving a Millennium Prize Problem in the other, I may as well not even apply.

I’m one of those people who naturally compares myself to others. Hell I spend all day establishing and implementing performance metrics for a living, it’s just in my nature at this point. After all, if things go according to plan, these people will be my eventual peers/business partners/friends/combatants. And yes, I would feel tinges of doubt every time I read the profile of the proverbial “Clear Admit” prospect (pun intended).

Today’s chat with a very friendly, and VERY appreciated, Kellogg 2011 admit and soon to be alum put a voice and a personality to all those daunting stats. It was a breeze of a conversation, hopping around from which schools I’m applying to versus which he applied to, what sort of role he’s accepted for post-grad…even into how our brackets are doing in this years NCAA tournament. Terribly, by the way. In case you were wondering. I will definitely be following up with my new friend when I go on my Kellogg visit in April.

So, if you are like me and find yourself LinkedIn-stalking to see where you stand (no? just me?) then I wholly recommend getting a hold of a current student at each of your target schools. It’s amazing how your perspective changes when you add other humans into the discussion.

Where I am:

For the past month I’ve been researching my schools vigorously and paring them down to the ones that align with what I want out of an MBA. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how great of a resource the Clear Admit School Guides have been for me. Having everything you need on that school in one concise PDF is incredibly useful, especially when you open two and once and directly compare one school to another. They are a bit pricey at $25 a pop, but you can also grab their School Snapshots for free to get a feel on what to expect.

As briefly mentioned above I am beginning to set up my visits. I’ll be posting a rundown of my schools and visit time frames soon.

Until then.