An ocean of work

laelene Posted in mba,Tags: , , , ,
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Yikes! I’m getting worse at staying on top of things here. With two full weeks of class behind me, I’m in the thick of things and just trying to stay afloat. It truly feels like a tsunami is behind me and I’m trying to swim to stay ahead of it. Every time I get past a wave, it’s a relief but then I look back only to find the massive waves have not receded.

Just about every single day, we either have a quiz or some sort of homework or project due. Next Friday we’ll already be done with two classes. How crazy is that?! Three intense weeks of class and they’re over. I’m still not sure how I feel about that at this point. On the one hand, we are basically going through recruiting boot camp so we are prepared as polished professionals as soon as we begin looking for internships.

(In case you’re not familiar with MBA life, you basically starting the recruiting process in the fall, where recruiters from various companies come on campus to seek interns for the summer. These internships are done in the summer between 1st and 2nd year and often can lead to full-time job offers to start after graduation. Much of the focus is on what internship experience you can get, since the whole idea of business school is to prepare us to be leaders in corporations.)

This week was pretty brutal, with long days dragging into long nights. It culminated in an all-nighter Thursday that lasted until nearly 5 am on Friday. I ended up sleeping for an hour and a half. Surprisingly, I was pretty functional for the day and didn’t even sleep early last night. This morning it was tough getting up though, so thank goodness it’s the weekend and we have a little bit of breathing room. I still feel pretty stressed since there’s a lot to do – research for two projects, studying for a quiz on Monday, reviewing for a quiz on Tuesday, conducting an informational interview and doing a write-up on it, plus a bunch of readings.

There are some boxes I really want to review but I just don’t have the bandwidth yet! Hang tight and I’ll hopefully get around to them later this month and into next.

MBA time

laelene Posted in mba,Tags: , , ,
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Orientation is in full gear and we are buuuusy! (In fact so busy that I started drafting this days ago and never finished posting it… til now!!)

They’ve kept us busy, with days starting either at 8 or 7:20 and “ending” around 6. Afterwards, we’d have group meetings and homework to complete before the next day of jam packed activity.

usc marshall mba orientation bbq

Sunday was our first time ever as a full class of 228. We had a BBQ to kick things off and meet each other and our SOs/kids.

balloon animal usc trojan horse

The kids and staff got to request balloon creations! Someone had this awesome horse.

brand new lecture room in fertitta hall at usc marshall

We took the opportunity to visit the new building, which is meant to house much of the undergrads at Marshall. This is one of their big lecture rooms.

usc marshall mba welcome sign with balloons

Monday morning, we got in before 8 to start our lives as MBAs.

usc marshall mba orientation folder with name tags, schedules, and other documents

My orientation binder contained tons of material and name tags. The big laminated one is for class, the small one was for getting to know each other this week, and the gold one is for networking and professional events.

usc marshall mba binder

I sat at a gold table, which foretold the core I was split into (we are divided into 3 for classes). Core A is gold!

usc marshall mba orientation welcome

We were greeted by many, including Assistant Dean Bouffides seen here in Town & Gown.

uscard table at usc marshall mba orientation

During lunch, we had a chance to pick up student IDs/parking permits, ask about the fitness center/health insurance/financial aid, etc.

usc marshall mba box lunches provided by usc hospitality

The lunch boxes were quite good! I devoured just about everything. I love the Marshall mints. #branded

Starting Tuesday, we were split into our cores. There are three with 76 students each – Core A, B, and C. I’m in Core A! (Best one, of course.) I like to call myself an alpha female. Each core is then split into 13 groups (11 with six people and 2 with five people). My group is A6 and we have one other female, who is international. Of the 4 men, one is international and the other 3 domestic. These folks are going to be like family in the coming months, as we will have TONS of class work, teamwork, and other interactions.

usc marshall mba students walking to classroom

The next morning, there was coffee with the deans, bright and early at 7:20. We then walked back to Popovich Hall for class and more orientation.

The next couple of days was a blur of class, assignments, reading, group stuff, and more orientation sessions. We were trained on everything from teamwork to career management to elevator pitches.

usc marshall mba core a in class

Yesterday, it was TAM day in the afternoon (Teamwork at Marshall) so we got to dress down.

In our strategy class shown here, we set the tone by whooping the other two cores in the cola taste test challenge! Our team got 6 out of 9 correct whereas the others… got 1 each. Core A has stellar taste buds!

usc marshall mba tam day

We got out on the field and competed in a variety of challenges. Here is Core B in their grey shirts, waiting for Core C to show up.

usc marshall mba tam day activity

Activities included this one where we had to get people to “islands” without touching the ground.

We started off with a hula hoop challenge (sending two down the line without letting go of each others’ hands), then did an egg drop before splitting into smaller groups. Each core was split into 4 and we rotated through challenges. Our team did the marble challenge, getting 4 in the bucket (2nd place). The first rotation took us to the water challenge, transporting as much as possible (we won). Then it was a word game and the one shown above, both of which we lost. Luckily it’s based on overall performance across all teams!

usc marshall mba tam day core a pride

To wrap up, we had the water balloon toss. We did quite well but my partner and I got eliminated about halfway through. This is my attempt at an “A” symbol.

usc marshall mba core a

Our team did really well and had the last team standing!

usc marshall mba tam day group photo

The professional photographer took a big class photo for us.

usc marshall mba coffee with deans morning breakfast

Finally, today we had another coffee with the deans to kick off the day.

usc marshall mba networking event desserts

To wrap up the week, we did a mock networking event complete with hot food, fruit, cheese & crackers, and of course, dessert.

It’s a relief to be at the end of the week, but there’s so much to do. Tomorrow I have a social event where I’ll get to meet some 2nd years and I need to prepare work for Sunday, when my group is meeting. We’ll work on group stuff, discuss some things, and go hiking together! I also need to fit in filming a box opening for Yuzen.

It still feels surreal that I’m (shh) technically a Trojan now… I think at best I can be a Brujan. I feel a connection with Marshall and “the network” and the people, but somehow not the generic Trojan image. Once a Bruin, always a Bruin I guess. Have you felt a stronger affiliation to your undergrad institution, if you continued your education too (and went somewhere else)?

Easing into student life

laelene Posted in mba,Tags: ,
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It’s the first official day of taking a course at my MBA program and I’m glad that I signed up to take the JumpStart for Accounting. It’s not as fast-paced as I was afraid it might be, so it makes me feel like I can handle the material, even though there’s already stuff that confuses me. This is a quick refresher course that is just 2 hours a day for 3 days. Official classes start next week for us, before any other students are even back on campus.

With just one class right now, I already find it hard to get the work done, but part of that is probably getting used to studying and learning so much again. Plus, I’m still doing a lot to get settled in to the apartment and I’m only about a third unpacked at this point while still trying to figure out the food situation (should I eat out and have leftovers or cook in bulk?). There’s also so much socializing to be done…

Oh, and there was a fire alarm today that was quite distracting. I wasn’t sure where to go and by the time I got downstairs, I saw people milling about but then the alarm ended as they tried to figure out who pulled the alarm. I had my “essentials” with me – purse with electronics, keys, phone, and skateboard. With the coast clear, we stood in line to get back up the elevators and I noted a ton of tiny dogs (and one cat).

The day was off to a rocky start after that and the glass thermos that I broke. I hope my dad can help me buy another one of the thermoses. Then to top it off, just as I was about to shower before heading in to class, I dropped my ring down the bathroom sink. I was able to turn off the water but didn’t have the tools to unscrew the pipe. I had to go off to class without it, which felt weird.

At school, I picked up my parking permit and went to park in the lot I’ll be using this year only to find you need your student ID to get in. So I had to go to a different structure that is also open to the public. I was going to get my ID after that, but I wanted to make sure I was early for class so I just went in.

My life feels a little off-kilter these days, with so many things going slightly wrong. I damaged the moving truck I used to bring my furniture. I couldn’t find my precious rock salt lamp that was a gift from Calavera (it took me 3 hours of searching, but I did find it). The car key batteries died so I had to use the key manually while trying to find the right size battery. I couldn’t find my extra car key, which my roommate will need sometimes since we are tandem parking. I then received the batteries today and managed to jab myself while trying to unscrew the tiny screws. One promptly fell into the fuzzy carpet and I had to run a magnet all over the floor to find it again. Plus, everything that happened today!

But you know what? None of these are life-threatening or anything that will impact my life in a major way. I’m trying to keep my head up, my hands steady, and focus on the business of being a student again. It’s not an easy transition and having to think so hard at night when I just want to veg will be a challenge, but plenty of others have been through the same. I have two awesome roommates splitting a great apartment with me and there are dozens of fantastic classmates ready to make this year incredible. I’m looking forward to our first social event as a class this Sunday!

USC Marshall MBA Admit Weekend

laelene Posted in mba,Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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Holy cow, what a whirlwind weekend! It feels like I’ve been immersed for a week when really it was within 34 hours. Amazing what you can pack into a day when you need to.

view of usc campus from 7th floor of parking garage

My very first glimpse of the campus, as I was in the parking structure.

Thursday I left work at 3 to make my flight to LA. My mom picked me up, we had dinner, and then I prepped everything for the next day and went to bed. I got up at 9 on Friday, got ready, and headed out to campus. They put me up at the Radisson right across the street from the business school, so I parked there and walked over. It was a lot closer than the lot on campus that others were coming from, and thank goodness since I was running late.

GWiB (Graduate Women in Business) had put together a lunch for the women admits, so we got a chance to bond before the official event started. We met and got on a bus that took us over to the JW Marriott by LA Live, where we had a lovely ladies’ lunch. I got a chance to speak to a variety of MBA Ambassadors, admitted students, staff, and faculty. Check out some of the food they fed us as we got to know each other and hear more about their Marshall experiences.

Afterwards, we chatted as we waited for the bus to get around some protests (about Trump, I think?) that were blocking some roads. I had completely forgotten about the guys, so when we got back we suddenly infused them with a different dynamic and then we were off and running, melding into a class.

usc marshall admit weekend welcome signBack at Popovich, we checked in, got our name badges and gift baggies, and headed upstairs to listen to deans and professors and staff and students share a breadth of knowledge. What struck me the most as I sat there listening was the energy, personality and presence that each speaker had. I loved the vibe from them all and really enjoyed hearing from each of them. I liked them all!

At that point we were so engrossed in it all that we hadn’t even checked out what was in our gift bags! We had pulled out the schedules they had prepared for us, but the rest remained a mystery (for me at least) until I got to the club fair. Turns out we had padfolios with the Marshall brand on them, a pen for notes, sunglasses, all the info we needed for the weekend, and – my fav – a Tile! I shouldn’t have been surprised that they branded it USC Marshall on one side.

usc marshall admit weekend introduction

walking over to usc marshall admit weekend club fair

Walking over to the club fair.

After many hours of talks, we headed out on the lawn to the Club Fair where I got a chance to catch up with three current students I knew from completely different parts of my life. I learned about some groups I might want to be a part of and met some truly awesome and helpful people. From there, we were ushered over to the University Club for dinner. I got roped into sitting at a consulting table by two ambassadors. I probably would have gone to the high tech table otherwise, but I wanted to keep an open mind to consulting. During dinner, members of the marching band came in to play tons of songs.

exterior of usc university club at king stoops hall

Our lovely dinner venue!

night view of usc campus from radisson hotel midtown

My night view of campus.

To wrap up the night, we went over to the campus pub/bar to socialize and I met some more great people there. Most folks seemed to have decided on attending Marshall already, but a few were still considering other options. I found we kept asking each other, “Are you committed?” As for me, yes, I am. I was committed in my mind, but had not yet submitted the deposit (which I just did now that I’m home). I’m glad I already knew, so there was no pressure to choose and I could dive right in to the culture and student body that I was encountering. Upon getting kicked out at closing, we wandered our ways back to our hotels/homes and settled in for the night.

usc trojan stuff at radisson midtown hotel

The whole place was very school spirited!

Lest you think that was it, it was only the start of homework time! We had been given a case study to read and prep for. On Saturday, we’d go over it and discuss with a professor just like in a class, so we had to be prepared. I sat in bed reading it until I fell asleep and went a little cross-eyed. I believe I woke up about 20-30 minutes later so I could finish my reading and get to bed. By then it was sometime after 1:30. For no apparent reason, I woke up at 4 (perhaps I was on east coast time). Then at 5, a bird outside my window was going crazy warbling for half an hour before finally flying off. I woke up a few more times before it was time to get up at 7.

sc themed elevator buttons at radisson midtown hotel

Even the elevator buttons were themed!

panoramic view of usc campus from radisson hotel midtown

Check out the awesome view I got of campus from my room!

cops on figueroa watching closed road for march of dimes

All’s quiet before March of Dimes.

I got ready for the day and met up with everyone else over at Popovich for breakfast and socializing. The March of Dimes was happening on Figueroa, so the road was closed (but thankfully not to pedestrians). A ton of cop cars were milling around waiting for the event to start. Meanwhile, we finished breakfast and split up into two groups, Gold and Cardinal, to hear alternately from alumni and recruiter panels (everybody they brought in were Marshall alum, a testament to the strength of the network). After that, we found our assigned small groups of about 4-5 to discuss the case study before meeting with all the Gold folks and being led through the case by a professor.

in-n-out food truck parked at usc campus for lunch

In-N-Out came to us for lunch.

Lunch was an In-N-Out truck where I was probably the only person to get a grilled cheese sandwich. We ate and met more people, then went back in to start a team challenge with our small groups. One of ours went MIA, but we pushed on. There were two consulting/strategy questions, two marketing questions, and two finance questions. I was very little help with finance, sort of knew about consulting, and contributed decently to marketing. Our teams had be assembled with a variety of backgrounds to help us tackle the different challenges. Thankfully, our finance guy who went missing made his way back to us before the competition was over.

Once our answers were submitted, we went on a campus tour and answered quiz questions on an app. Most of them consisted of choosing which company had the largest market cap. For example, between Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and CVS. Or between Alibaba, Amazon, eBay, and something else. Then there were questions identifying world and business leaders like Angela Merkel, Tim Cook, and the like. And your typical quiz questions about terminology. With 92 questions, we were pretty focused on getting through the quiz and didn’t see too much of the campus. We did manage to check out Heritage Hall (sports hall of fame for Trojans) and the athletic area, as well as the film school.

The final thing before wrap-up were sessions on topics related to our desired industry of work, living in Los Angeles, the first year experience, financial aid, classes, case competitions, etc. We could rotate a total of 6 times, choosing the topics that most interested us. I ended up spending an hour at the HR/Human Capital Consulting one! I was super interested in learning more and each of the ambassadors there had great stuff to share with me, so I got totally engrossed. Then it was the home stretch, with a summary, announcement of the team challenge winners (and notable mentions), and a final look at what Marshall has to offer.

mrs. fish in downtown los angeles

Entering Mrs. Fish, where the tanks hover over you.

Buuuut that wasn’t the end of it! There was dinner afterwards, at Mrs. Fish in DTLA. We had the place booked from 6-9 and had food laid out as well as plenty of drinks for everyone. I was very surprised when I ran into the fourth person I know in the class of 2017! That rounded out my time there, meeting everyone I knew AND making a ton of new connections. I got a chance to meet yet another new set of people there that night. It’s amazing how many people I met and remember, yet how many I have still yet to speak to. I’m excited to see everyone again at orientation and really get to know each of them.

This entire time I really felt in my element. Ever the business-minded folk, we were all chatting non-stop. These people take networking seriously! That energy lasted the entire time, with clusters of people chatting whenever we had a break. I tried to meet as many people as possible yet still remember who I was interacting with. It’s crazy that I already feel close to some of them and totally see us hanging out in the fall! I was so busy the whole time that I didn’t checked the time or my phone for hours. I hardly even paused to take photos, which is why I have so few (compared to what I’d normally have). I loved that we could strike up a conversation with literally anybody and count on each other to do the same. After all, we’re here to build lifelong friendships and cultivate strong relationships professionally too. I’m finally surrounded by people who speak my language and can geek out with me on business trends like nobody else in my life would. 🙂

MBA admission experience 

laelene Posted in mba,Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
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The two months between applying for grad school and hearing decisions have been quite a lot of trying to stay calm while every now and then getting super stressed about whether I’d get admitted anywhere. After submitting my applications, I waited to hear about interviews. By the end of February, the ones I hadn’t interviewed for basically seemed out of reach and now I know how it all panned out. So here’s a look at what things have been like since applying through admittance/denial notifications.

January 4th: Submitted UCLA Anderson application and paid $200 fee (deadline on 5th). Ordered GMAT scores sent to 4 schools for $112. When you take the GMAT, order scores sent to as many schools as possible. I believe it’s 5 for free, so might as well get the scores out to them. I had done so for 2 of the schools, but now needed to pay for the rest.

January 5th: Submitted Northwestern Kellogg application and paid $250 fee (deadline on 6th). Also submitted Harvard Business School application and paid $250 fee (deadline on 6th).

January 6th: Submitted Berkeley Haas application and paid $200 fee (deadline on 7th).

January 7th: Submitted USC Marshall application and paid $150 fee (deadline on 8th).

January 11th: Submitted Stanford GSB application and paid $275 fee (deadline on 12th). Kellogg received GMAT score report.

January 12th: Completed video interview for Kellogg, after many practice rounds.

January 15th: Anderson received GMAT score report.

January 29th: Kellogg off-campus interview information received (they try to interview everyone); I reached out to set up a time with my interviewer, an alumnus.

February 3rd: HBS decision posted as denial without interview. If I had gotten an interview, I would have been notified and then I would have had to plan a visit to the school to do it.

February 5th: Kellogg interview with the alumnus, who has been doing interviews for something like 12 years! Great conversation that lasted for 2 hours and made me feel like I did well.

February 10th: Invitation to interview by Marshall; I scheduled a Skype interview since I could not fly out in person.

February 25th: My mom suggested a call with my dad to learn from his business experience, so I called him up on Skype and listened to him for about 90 minutes. He had a lot to say and I learned quite a bit about his life and our family that I didn’t know before.

February 27th: Skype interview with Marshall MBA Ambassador, which went well.

March 5th: Call from Dean of Admissions at Marshall. I was eating dinner and didn’t recognize the number, so I didn’t pick up. I then forgot about the voicemail until the next day, when I listened to it and was THRILLED!! That was one less month of wringing my hands hoping for good news. 🙂

March 8th: Stanford GSB decision posted as denial. As with HBS, had I been selected for an interview, I would have been notified by then and scheduled something.

As the days ticked by in March, I pretty much knew that Haas and Anderson would be nos since I did not hear about an interview from either.

March 23rd: Northwestern Kellogg decision posted as denial.

March 24th: Berkeley Haas decision posted as denial.

March 29th: UCLA Anderson decision posted as denial, but with invitation to apply for FEMBA.

And there you have it! My experience throughout the period from application submissions to final decision notifications. Luckily, I knew I had a program to go to nearly a month earlier than I had anticipated, which was just fabulous. I didn’t get into any of the others unfortunately, but hey, that just means I’ve been able to focus on going to Marshall rather than being confused about which program to pick.

I’ve told my manager about my plans and finalized a last day at work: June 17th. He also announced my pending departure to the company since we are looking for someone to fill my role. With just two months to go, there’s a lot to try to accomplish but of course it’s hard not to want to look towards the future and focus on that. Later I’ll write up the whole experience with USC Marshall from now until I start in the fall!

 

Research your dreams

laelene Posted in mba,Tags: , , , , ,
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Do you have a BHAG for your life? Do you know what it will take to get there?

When I was in middle school, around 8th grade, I developed my own BHAG. I can’t remember how it came about, but somehow I recall playing full-contact basketball during lunch break, thinking about my future. I don’t know why I make the association thinking back, but that gym is the first place I can remember deciding that I wanted to get an MBA. I guess it was because I felt that I had three good options for a career: doctor, engineer, or businesswoman. I may have imagined it, but I’m pretty sure my dad told me that at some point.

Whatever the case, I became convinced that business was the way for me. And that led me to this idea of an MBA. As a 13-year-old, that does seem like a BHAG. Ultimately, it has taken me 17 years to realize that dream (and it’ll be 19 before the diploma is in hand). I’ve wanted an MBA for more than half my life now and that goal has sort of defined how I thought of myself. Back then, I hadn’t yet considered what I needed to do to reach my goal.

I started with first things first – in high school, I began to consider what majors I might be interested in. When I was accepted to UCLA, I learned that they had no business undergraduate major, so I had to get creative. I ended up choosing Psych & Econ to get two very different sides to what would be useful business skills. While I am proud of the double major I earned, I wish I had started to understand what it takes to get into b-school at that point. Had I known about the intense competition, I probably would have chosen majors I was most interested in – Gender Studies or Environmental Science, perhaps. Granted, the Environmental Science major was introduced too far into my college career to make a pivot without derailing my graduation timing completely.

What I wish I knew was that getting at least a 3.5 GPA would be extremely helpful towards my b-school applications down the line. Instead, I continued down the path I’d chosen from the get-go and my grades slipped as the work got more challenging, yet often was not as interesting to me. While I am interested in these topics, I do not have a great passion for them the way I do others. Had I researched what top MBA programs are looking for, I would have known to focus more on a major that I could get a high GPA in, one that I had a deep drive to learn and excel in. It’s not that I didn’t know grades would be important, but I figured a 3.0+ would suffice.

I consider my next misstep the choice to work for small companies. While I have enjoyed the experiences, I didn’t feel well-positioned as an applicant because the work I did was on a smaller scale. It’s hard to be responsible for impactful programs if the company is too small to have many of those opportunities. While I certainly took on quite a bit of work and led projects wherever I could, they didn’t sound nearly as impressive. With what I know now, I would have gone for larger organizations with bigger challenges.

But then again, maybe I’m just making excuses for why I didn’t make it into Stanford. Perhaps a higher GPA and different work experience wouldn’t have helped. I do feel proud of what I’ve done and the essays I wrote to convey that, but for all I know, those were not as strong as I feel they were. Ultimately, I would have done things a bit differently if I had looked into the details of what goes into applying for and getting into a program like Stanford GSB’s.

So if you have a BHAG, I encourage you to heavily research it. Learn from others and it will help you better position yourself for achieving that dream. I was fortunate that I was able to realize my dream and I’m thrilled to be attending USC Marshall in the fall. It was difficult though, because I had weaknesses in my application I needed to try to compensate for. I couldn’t go in the past to change what had happened, so I had to find ways to strengthen my application in other areas. I very well might not have been accepted at all. And this is a lesson I’m learning – that a dream worth pursuing is worth the time and effort to prepare for. As soon as you have that goal in mind, start learning everything you can to help you get there!

My next goal is to lead an organization’s Empowerment team (which is an amalgamation of People Operations, Culture, and Internal Operations). HR is a concept that has evolved to take on a negative meaning that people don’t really connect with, so I consider what I do to be the latest evolution of that functional role. I can’t wait to learn from others doing this work and take some classes on these ideas. I’ve been preparing for this for a long time. 🙂

The day (I knew) my life changed

laelene Posted in mba,Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
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I got a call yesterday during dinner, which I forgot about upon getting home. It wasn’t until this morning when I saw the voicemail and decided to listen to it. Imagine my complete surprise when it was Dean of Admissions at Marshall, Evan Bouffides! Can you guess what he said?

I’ve been offered admission!!!

I did not expect a decision until nearly a month from now, so it was really amazing to have a call much earlier than expected. I’ve been going between confident that I must get in because this is my dream and if I feel the win I’ll get it (yeah, not exactly logical) and insecure that I wouldn’t get in because I didn’t apply to enough schools that were within reach and aimed too high. I spent time questioning my choices, wondering how I had presented myself and if it was strong enough. I’d worry about my GPA not being high enough, my story not being strong enough, my future plans and vision not being grand enough, or even my age being a bit too high. You really just don’t know with these things and waiting is the worst part.

Thankfully, just a week after my interview with them, I’ve gotten the fantastic news and now I can breathe a little easier knowing I definitely have a program to join in the fall. I can’t wait to go visit the school during admit weekend! Now I’ll just have to see if any other school offers me admission and see where that leads me. 🙂

Yippee!!!! I’m going to get an MBA!!!

My MBA application experience 

laelene Posted in mba,Tags: , , , , ,
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A little over two months ago, I finally decided to buckle down and apply for grad school. Deadlines for Round 2 applications were the first and second week of January. I wasn’t sure if the time I’d allotted myself was going to be tight, but it was time to take this next step. Here’s how it’s gone for me… (want to skip right to my tips at the end?)

Choosing the schools

I knew that I wanted to apply to 5-6 programs, so I began looking at the top 25 ranked in the US. I considered applying to international programs as well, but ultimately decided not to because I intend to work for businesses in the states. While I would love international opportunities, my home base will always come back to the US, so going to a school domestically made more sense.

From the initial list, I came out with the programs I was most interested in: #1 Stanford GSB, #2 Harvard Business School, #3 UPenn Wharton, #4 Chicago Booth, #6 Northwestern Kellogg, #7 Berkeley Haas, #10 UVA Darden, #15 UCLA Anderson, #24 Georgetown McDonough, and #25 USC Marshall. Whew, that’s a lot! So I started narrowing down based on program structure, competitiveness, and personal appeal. That still left 8 options. I managed to eliminate Wharton and Booth because they felt more technical/finance-focused. To me, Wharton, Booth, and Kellogg were at very similar levels, so I decided to choose one of the three.

It was really hard for me to bring it down to the 6 max that I wanted to adhere to, so I kept going back and forth for awhile until I realized that I was really including Darden and McDonough for their proximity to Panda. But if you think about it, MBAs are so time-consuming that being nearby might not mean I have much time to see him anyway. So off they went and there was my final list: Stanford, Harvard, Kellogg, Haas, Anderson, and Marshall. I wanted to maintain a good spread across the rankings to give myself a very good chance of making it into at least one of the programs. #fingerscrossed

Preparing to apply

I’m fortunate enough to know some current and former MBA students at programs that I was planning on applying to. I reached out to many of them and got a chance to connect with three. After spending some time chatting with each of them, I got an understanding that I should really share my personal story. They also recommended reaching out to students or alumni of the other programs and try to do campus visits if possible.

I did manage to do some student meetups and a campus tour, but for the most part, I scoured their websites for details. Based on the courses they offer, the extracurriculars, and how they message their ideas, it gave me a sense of each of their brands. There are parts of each that I really appreciate and would love to be a part of. I definitely think it’s important to find programs that I’ll enjoy and will attract people I can connect with and learn from. Each has their own prestige, so that’s helpful too.

Thinking about essays

The very first thing I did application-wise was compile all of the essay questions and think about them all day long. Whenever an idea struck me, I wrote it down and I kept expanding my notes as I drafted and edited my essays. These were the most labor-intensive, with a lot of reflection and self-analysis. It took me awhile to finally find what I felt was a cohesive story that explained my motivations for where I’m going and how where I’ve been influenced that path.

On the surface, my jobs have been somewhat progressive, but not along a clear career path. However, digging deeper, I noticed that so many of the projects I took on stemmed from the same source. It turns out that the common thread between my roles was always the idea of empowering through resources. I really enjoy helping people and being resourceful, so I consolidated resources and built databases and processes because I believe that giving people the right tools, skills and knowledge empowers them to strive for more. No matter what, that has always driven me in my work.

As part of my research for applications, I dove into a variety of business books, online articles, and even TV shows. Each tied back to my thoughts on my essays. When I watched The Voice, I thought about expressing my true self and being genuine. When I read Uncontainable, I noted my own values and the key ways I intend to change the corporate landscape. Everything tied back to my philosophies on life and how that applied to my approach to business.

Choosing recommenders

I had always had one person in mind as a recommender, because he had worked with me pretty much since I started at my current company. He had a good sense of the many projects that I’ve done and we collaborated on quite a few. What I waffled on at first was whether to ask my direct supervisor or someone else. What if knowing that I was slowly on my way out affected the opportunities I received at work? What if that changed their perception of me? I thought about choosing someone else, but then I decided that I’d rather my manager know now instead of having to explain to him months down the line what I’d been up to. Plus, my office is a supportive environment where reaching for a goal like this is applauded.

I asked both gentlemen as soon as I made up my mind on them and my schools. Both happily agreed, and I put together a document of bullet points to share with them. I split my notes into two categories: Leadership & Initiative and Teamwork. I felt these were the key components of my experience and encapsulated many things I had done. One of my MBA friends had shared a “recommender tips” document that he had used, which I repurposed and shared with my recommenders. It basically summarized to this: the most effective recommendations are ones with concrete examples that paint a picture so vivid that the reader can feel me jumping out of the page.

I registered for all the applications and set up my recommenders to give them ample time to fill them out. One thing I learned from this is to make it crystal clear that some schools have a very specific format and set of questions they want answered. A general letter will not do. The recommenders should be prepared for the amount of effort this will take on their part. In addition to the essays, there are evaluation grids to fill out. It’s no simple task and you shouldn’t be shy about following up. Stay on top of those recommenders!

Filling out the applications

I probably should have done a dry run through all the applications early on so I would know what to prepare. For Haas, they require copies of official transcripts, which I did not have on hand. When I tried to order them from my school, they were on winter break and would only return two days before the application deadline! So I had to rush the order and ask my mom to go get them from the school. At another point, I wasn’t sure if my Kellogg application would be accepted because my GMAT scores had not been sent to the school and they needed them by the deadline! Yikes! But it turns out that they are actually ok with the scores being available later as long as they can view them when they get to my application.

To avoid any last-minute efforts, definitely go through the applications to see what fields they have and what required documentation there is. I was so caught up in essays that I figured filling out the forms would be easy, but they actually took quite a long time. You have to manually type in your previous job and extracurricular experience, which can add up quickly when you’ve had a few. Plus, there are certain documents that you may not have prepared that you should be aware of.

There were parts that I didn’t really think would come up, like my parents’ education, my international experience, and even my hobbies. I expected things like work experience, awards and honors, as well as extracurricular activities. The rest was pretty random additional information that varied by school. Stanford even asked for your favorite word!

Check, check, check!

So once you’ve got all these pieces together, make sure you have at least one other person take a look at your applications. I had my trusty husband go through and point out weak areas for me. He also kept an eye out for minor errors/typos after I’d been staring at everything for too long. Give yourself enough time to input all the data and proofread at least two or three times. You want to be as professional as possible and any grammatical error or typo can work against you.

When you’re ready to submit (at least hours, if not a day or more before the deadline), make sure you get confirmation emails that your application was received and so was your payment. You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity because of a glitch or because you forgot to pay the fee. Oh yeah, you’ll want to be ready to pay about $150-275 per application. That adds up fast!

For Kellogg, they had one more step after the application was submitted: the video essays. So if your program has something like that, make sure you spend time rehearsing. The program they use allows you to practice with the software until you’re comfortable, so I must have done it 20 times until my eye contact was steady and my answers could fit into the allotted 60 seconds. It’s amazing how shifty you can seem on your first try, so neeever jump right into it.

Once you’re all done, each application usually allows you to download a proof as a PDF, which I definitely recommend you do. Keep that for your records, so you can use it if there are any discrepancies. Plus, it helps you remember what you sent them!

 

So, these are the tips I have for the process up until those applications are submitted:

-When choosing which programs to apply to, go through each school’s websites to learn as much as you can. Try to keep your choices to 6 or you might be stretched too thin (and your recommenders won’t give up on filling out so many!).

-Sign up for their mailing lists ASAP so you know if there are local students you can meet or if/when an admission officer will be in your area. This is a great way to evaluate schools and learn things that can help with how you focus your application. Each program values different things and each school has a different culture.

-Take the GMAT/GRE before all the application madness if possible, so it’s one less thing to worry about.

-Read carefully through requirements. Do they need a GMAT score or do they accept GRE as well? Do they require scores to be sent or can you self-report for now? Do they need official transcripts sent or are unofficial transcripts acceptable initially? Prep these early as needed.

-Think about the narrative you’re going to tell. It’s hard to distill everything you’ve done and who you are into a neat package, but choose that one trait that best sums it up. Look at the work you’ve done, the activities you’ve been involved in, and even your personal background to connect the dots. A cohesive story makes the picture clearer and easier to digest.

-Based on your narrative, choose recommenders who can speak to the work you’ve done around what you’re focusing on. Put together some examples that the recommenders can choose to write about, which may differ greatly depending on your interactions with them. The more they can personalize it and relate it back to your theme (as well as tie it in to what matters to the school), the more impactful they will be.

-Follow up with your recommenders to make sure things are on track! If one of them needs to change, you want ample time to swap them out.

-Go through all the fields that each application requires. This will give you a sense of extra materials you’ll need to pull together, like your parents’ educational histories, your extracurriculars, any awards or recognition, or even international experience. The UCLA Anderson app had a paragraph to summarize hobbies and the Kellogg app asked for international experience as well as video essays. Know about these ahead of time so you’re prepared! Even the way they ask you to fill out work info varies greatly, so take a peek at how that’s structured.

-Start setting aside the amount of money you’ll need for the fees if you don’t have that readily available. Most seem to be $150-275. There are some cases where you can get the fee waived, so if you’re really strapped for cash, see if you qualify for any.

-I would allocate at least 10 days per app at the least, giving yourself time to have a breather when things were intense and you needed some time away from staring at these applications.

-Proofread your application a few times and have at least one other person go through the final version if you can.

-Submit your application well ahead of the deadline! I did them all the day before, so if anything went awry, I’d have the following day to figure it out.

-Be sure to get confirmation emails that your application was submitted AND payment was received. Otherwise you might not make it into the round you want!

 

Any other tips you’d share? Let me know! Now I’m just waiting to hear back on interviews…

Finding myself

laelene Posted in mba,Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
0

As I apply to MBA programs, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching. All this introspection makes me take time to really consider what it is that matters to me and what sort of person I want to become. It’s a great exercise that I feel like we should all do more often.

So as Stanford GSB asks, what matters to me and why? So many things come to mind: empowerment, collaboration, change, balance, diversity/uniqueness, fulfillment, compassion. Each of these because of how they enable us to improve our lives, to be better versions of ourselves. Ultimately, I think it boils down to empowerment. When people are empowered through education or resources or connections, they can take themselves to a better place bit by bit. And aren’t we all pursuing incremental improvements that will culminate into a life that we can look back on and be pleased with?

For years, I’ve yearned to find my calling. I’d watch shows, read articles, and hear interviews of successful people following their passion as if answering a calling. Many of them spoke about how they’ve always felt the deep desire to (fill in the blank). Meanwhile, I searched and searched for my calling. Was it animals? Nature? Photography? Travel? Blogging? Entrepreneurism? So many options seemed compelling, but no single one stood out to me above the others. I was trying so hard to get a little bit of everything I wanted.

Recently, in writing my essays for my MBA applications, I’ve finally figured it out. What is it that I can spend hours reading about, thinking about, talking about? Sure I love animals and I volunteer with insects, I take photos all the time and love getting that amazing shot, and I have been blogging for years… but I don’t engross myself in science articles or photo editing or blogging tips the way I do business articles and interviews.

When it comes to business – in particular, management principles, hiring practices, and above all – culture, I am obsessed. For me, culture drives everything. Culture determines the type of people you attract, the way they behave (and therefore the output they’ll create), the effectiveness of your brand, etc. etc. etc. I literally devour everything I find mentioning anything related to company culture, hiring, and training. I could sit (or stand, or walk) and talk about ideas around these concepts for days. I constantly have new thoughts that I add to my every-growing ideas document.

While I often get distracted by the many other things I am passionate for, I don’t spend nearly as much time and energy on any of those topics. This is how I know that the thing I would get up in the morning for above all else is the opportunity to cultivate an amazing and likely unconventional culture. To do that, I want my vehicle of change to be empowerment. By creating mechanisms through which people are empowered with the knowledge or resources or contacts they need, I can help them become better people. Better people thrive and feed into a culture that is supportive, collaborative, and empowering. And thus the cycle goes, building upon itself and sustaining itself even as it grows.

I’m still finding myself, but this time spent being self-reflective has given me a lot of insight into who I am and who I aspire to be. I’m starting to notice the patterns in my life that draw from an underlying current that I hadn’t observed before. All these seemingly disparate choices have come together to paint a clearer picture of what motivates me. I have gained confidence in what I should do with my life because I can now see the forces that have been there all along, creating the themes that define me. Now I just hope I can clearly articulate to the admissions committee!

Another step towards an MBA

laelene Posted in mba,Tags: , ,
2

I finally got my GMAT over with!  That’s the first big hurdle in the process and I did alright with a 710.  It’s not as good as I had hoped I could do, but right on par with how I had been performing on practice tests.  It’s also a good enough score that it won’t hurt me in my application, though I was shocked to find I only scored in the 76th percentile on the quantitative section, even with a scaled score of 47 (which I thought was decently high).  In the verbal section I got a scaled score of 41 and that put me in the 92nd percentile, which was also the overall percentile I ended up in with my 710.  Curious – do many people do that well in math but poorly in English?  Am I competing against a lot of foreign test-takers or something?

With that off my back, tomorrow I’m heading off on a site visit to check out both Berkeley and Stanford’s MBA programs.  I’m hoping to make some friends with my fellow travelers, all of whom either took a class with my GMAT teacher or know someone who did.  Hopefully we’ll all end up at our dream schools!  I’m looking forward to seeing the Stanford campus again and maybe even learning something I didn’t know that will help me with my application.  Once I get back from that, it’ll be time to buckle down with my application essays!  At least I’ve gotten the recommendations underway, with all of my recommenders aware of the questions and deadlines.

I have just over a month to complete my applications and I’m really hoping I can put together a strong profile that will get me in.  I don’t have as much work experience as most of the other applicants, but my experience has been a super-condensed rollercoaster ride that has taught me a lot.  That should make up for a lack of years worked.  That’s the great thing for working for a small company!  You end up learning and growing so much more than you might have at a large corporation, espeically with all the hats you have to wear.  I’ve even been adopted into the engineering team more recently, since I’ve been working with our CTO on some things that he used to take care of.

It feels good to have time to dedicate to my applications now, but those essays are daunting.  I really want to present myself in such a way that they can’t help but take me.  That will be the hard part!

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