Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Shortlisting Bizz Schools

Now that someone decides that an MBA would be the next step in his career and assuming he/she has gone through the self realization and introspection journey - the next big question is to decide where he/she will pursue the education over the next two years. As much as the importance to the answer for "Why MBA?", the answer to "Where?" is also very very important. Anyone who gets one of these wrong, the whole MBA plan goes wrong.

The first thing one has to understand here is that everyone cannot be comfortable in ANY school. Just like our clothes, we'd be comfortable only in a school where we FIT in. And this FIT is the collective result of the answer to the "Why MBA?" question. It is important for everyone to find the schools that fit their requirement and not fall to the name or fame of the different schools.

If an individual has to avoid making mistakes in school selection, the first and the biggest thing he has to do will be to appreciate the fact that each school is different in a particular way. In many factors, we cannot actually "rank" top schools. They will all score very highly in most of the key features on would want to see or have in a school. But they are different from one another in a few ways and as an applicant, we have to spot these differences. Instead of calling them differences, we should call them uniqueness - we really have to figure out what makes this particular school unique.

When i started looking schools, i categorized my expectations from a school into the following:

  • Inside the Classroom
  • Outside the Classroom
  • Immediately after Graduation
  • The long run...
Inside the Classroom

I am a career changer. So it was very important for me that i get solid education and experience in the theories and practices related to my target job function or the target industry at large. This might sound like a no-brainer, but it is important to know what kind of classes u wanna have at school. Just because i had a clear plan about my short and long term career, i knew i wanted this particular type of education. But this does not apply to everyone. There are lots of people who go to B school with an open mind - they want to explore. They will probably have a broader set of classroom expectation, but less specific. It is hence the responsibility of the applicant to realize what he/she expects from the education point of view.

Apart from the education alone, there might be special requirements. Do you want to take a particular paper? Do you want to specialise in a topic that is not available in all schools? Do have particular professors in mind? Does a particular (out of the ordinary) teaching method excite you? What kind of a study group do you want to be a member of? There could be many such factors. The key here is, when u read information about a school, think on the lines of "Can there be an alternative to this approach? If yes - will that suit me more that the one followed by this school? If yes, now which schools follow this diff approach?". List out all factors you feel are important and then do all that you can to obtain information about these aspect. Then compare. There will of course be no cookie cutter result - but you'll realize where you'll be more comfortable or at least you'll know the trade-offs you might have to do in picking school X over school Y.

Outside the Classroom

This is where, in my opinion, the fit comes in :)

Chicago GSB, in their admit letter, said "We take students based on a FIT". I am sure all schools do that. The AdComms, in my opinion, also factor in the "kind" or "type" of students they admit each year. In all probability, these are the flag bearers of the school and all that it stands for, for the entire life of the students. They'd definitely want to rope in those kind of students, who they think are in line with the values and beliefs of the school.

Similarly, it hence becomes the responsibility of the applicant to look for these criterion about a school. What are the school's values, what does the school propose, what kind of a student body they have, what kind of alum represent the school, what clubs are most active, what clubs have been recently started, what does the school's brochure say, what do the students feel about the school (they are the ones who experience what the school stands for. So their opinion, though influenced by their personal experiences, are very important), what kind of professors teach in the school - there are many ways to know the school. Visiting the school is another great way to feel the "vibe" of the school. If you happen to be an international applicant who cannot afford to visit a school, attend all possible events. If you happen to have issues traveling (like i did) make sure u speak to other applicants who attend these meetings (again, like i did). The more you know about the "personal" side of the school, the better for your decision making process - either while applying or while selecting an admit.

Immediately after graduation

Simply put - will i get that dream job if i study in this school???

All top schools have absolutely wonderful career services teams. Period. You cannot really differentiate school X from school Y based on the strength of the career services team - you'll end up seeing two really successful teams. If there is any way to differentiate between two schools in this particular aspect, it is the answer to "Will the school cater to my specific employment needs???".

You really don't get any time to rest once school starts. You register for CORE and then hit the ground running - to get that darned summer offer in you dream company. So you need to be sure of the statistics :)

All schools release placement statistics - for both summer offers and final placements. Check the % of students placed in ur target industry, target company & target job function. Check whether the school brings in particular companies to campus. Check if these companies have openings in ur target job functions (this might change y-o-y based on the needs of a company at that particular time). Speak to people (in school and in the industry) to check how the school is valued in the target industry (like Chicago GSB is considered a "core" school @ Wall Street). There are many ways to find this answer out - speaking to alums is another way.

There might be special cases where your target jobs profile or company will be a unique situation. So check out if the school has courses related to this. Check out how active the career services is in bringing new companies to schools (schools release this figure - but i think it will only be open to students. so ask them). Speak to students to see how receptive the career services guys are if you come out with a unique request. There will be these kind of students every year, check how hard career services work with them to help them find that job. You need a lot of inside info on this - so speaking to students, admissions team or even the career services team will be of immense help.

The long run...

This was very important for me. In all probability, this is the last time I'm going to school (even though the thought of returning as an academician lingers) In other words, this is the brand i will live with the rest of my life. Unless i go to school again, i will be the Chicago GSB grad. Of course, this will vanish the moment u hit some gold mine in ur job and then people call you the Million Dollar Baby or something like that. But even then, there will a line in ur profile that says "this MDB is a grad of ABC school" - making both you and the school proud :) And people very often check out the grad school one came from, to know what kind of education you've had. The point about "market reception" again surfaces and i definitely believe different schools make diff kind of impressions in diff markets :) So make sure if this is the brand u wanna get associated with.

I really should speak about the rankings here, because i wouldn't have known 90% of the schools i know today without the rankings. Even though there are pros and cons abt all the rankings that exist these days, rankings are an effective tool in a sense that they try to quantify the quality of the schools, withing a particular set of criterion, and help you compare between schools in these areas. But then, since rankings only involve a subset of the qualities a school might possess, applicants should be careful to analyse the ranking methodology before analysing the rank list. This way, you would get a clear picture of why school X ranks ahead of school Y or school Z. You should then go back to prev ranking lists to see whether the surprises and shocks u see are either momentary highs/lows or a result of continuous improvement or otherwise. A single rank list never gives the complete picture.

I used many rankings - and used them to gather a pool of schools i wud then go on to investigate. I remember selecting around 10 different schools, all of which i then investigated for a month or so. I checked websites, i wrote to people, i ordered brochures (free!!!), i read profiles in many websites - and i was eliminating schools from my list slowly till i ended up with the 5 i applied to in Round 1.

School selection is a LONG process. I think i started with the rankings in Feb 2006 and ended up with the final list in August 2006. It might be long, but not boring at all. If anyone selects target schools in a short time and tells u he did a good job of it - he's lying or I'm too slow :)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why does someone want to do an MBA???

This we all need to get absolutely right. I'd say that this is perhaps the most important part of the whole MBA admissions process. Is it because all schools ask you to explain this as a part of their essays and the essay we write in response to this question is a crucial part in our getting shortlisted for the interview? Perhaps - but that comes only later.

In my opinion, having a clear response to "Why MBA?" defines the whole MBA application process for everyone. It is like the steering wheel. It helps us find answers for all other questions that pops up during the admission process.

Off the top of my head, these are the questions one might have to answer in the MBA admission process:
  1. Why is this the correct time for you to do an MBA?
  2. Why is this the correct school for you to do an MBA?
  3. Why does this particular short term professional goal make sense to you?
  4. Why do you say this to be your long term goal, professional or otherwise?
  5. How do you see yourself surviving or succeeding in this particular school?
It is a huge circle, as one might have to loop forward and back to try answer the Why MBA question and each of these questions. But the important point to note here is that one need not have very clear or complete answers for some of these questions (like u need not even have precise answer for the short term goals question) but u need clear cut answers for the "Why MBA" question.

Now how does someone answer this question??? I met a current second year ChiGSB student @ the Coffee Chat held in Bangalore. One of the guys who attended the meet asked him a question on how to write better essays (yeah - there are people who ask these kind of questions in a student meet). He said "Divide a sheet of paper into three columns. Your present skill sets, from your education and career, go into the first column. Your target skill sets and career goals go into the third column. Now try to map between these two and you'll realize what you need to do at business school." I guess that works perfectly well.

This sentence might be cliche, but this is very true - Don't look at the MBA as the end of it all. It is anything but an end. It could be a new beginning for some, a part of a jigsaw puzzle for others, a stop in a continuous journey for others - each student will (and must) have and know his reasons for doing an MBA.

As i said above, the answer to this question also depends on how we answer all these other questions and the answer to this question defines the answers for these other. They're all so beautifully interlinked. So in a way one can get the "complete picture" by the time you figure out answers to all these questions.

Enough of ranting about how important this. I guess we all agree. Now let me try explain how one can figure this out.

I started with looking back at my life. What have i done all these days, what have i acquired during my formative years, what skills do i possess, what are my passions, what are my second loves - basically what is my profile! It is important not to fall into the typical definition of a profile here - Indian/IT/male/25yrs old-4yrs exp. This is just the numbers, doesn't make a profile. My belief if that everyone lives a unique life and hence can present a unique MBA application. The story i tell (which basically is my definition of a PROFILE) will be different from a majority, if not all, of the applicants. So I started with this.

Based on your understanding of you and your profile, you will be able to answer a lot of the questions that will come up during the MBA admissions process. Big city or Suburb? Large class (900) or small (150) or somewhere in between (500)? Competitive or Cooperative? Or any of these questions. You should be able to see where you will fit into! The top ranked schools are not necessarily the best for you. MBA is a personal choice :) And it is important to make the correct choice.

Once i had covered the past experiences, i looked into the future. What do i want to be after an MBA? This is the target we are trying to achieve over the next two years. This is the beginning that might define the remaining of your life. It is very important to take an informed and well researched decision here and not fall for the flair. I remember giving a series of articles titled "A day in the life of..." These were perhaps one of the first literature i read on this topic. Of course one has the able services of Google and Wiki, both of which will literally throw us into a wild maze of information. It would be a better option to try Wiki after you've zeroed in on a few roles. If u go there with an open list - you'd end up insane :) Also, once when you have zeroed in on a few (which is one or two) roles of you choice - go visit the websites of the companies which are major players in those roles. All the I-Banking companies had information of the various jobs they offer and i read most of them. This becomes especially important for a career switcher like me. I wanted to know if THIS was the exact thing i want to do.

Now that the past and the future has been explored, are we done? Nope. I then focused on the time I'd spend in school. Apart from the business education one would obtain during the two years at school, one also has to remember that he gets to spend two years with a group of amazing people and wonderful facilities. So it is also important to think of the life in b-school outside the classroom. What are your favorite pastimes/passions? Do you intend to continue them while at school? Do u intend to learn something new? What kind of options does the school provide u in these areas? Does the school organize events related to these stuff? Or is there something close by that will help u pursue your interests? Obviously - one can make compromises here based on what one thinks as compromisable entities :)

As you can see - i have not answered the question directly, because there was never a direct answer for this. The answer to Why MBA is the big picture - the whole purpose thing. So by the time you can say you clearly know why you need to do an MBA, you'll know a lot about yourself and your life - what it has been and what it will be. If someone cannot answer the individual questions but just feels or knows that he has to do an MBA - he is either lying or hasn't yet done the necessary research.

Once i knew the purpose, i next researched about the schools. This is very important because i wanted to know whether there are schools that helped me do ALL that i wanted to do in life. I was a bit apprehensive about that happening and wanted to know exactly what a school could offer. Once i started researching, i figured out that i can actually study about a particular thing i was planning to do outside work. Needless to say - i added this as my second long term aspiration. Such research will only help us add more weight to the application - not in terms of content but in terms of relevance.

My school research went on so well that i actually chose all 5 schools i eventually applied to even before i started preparing for the GMAT. Actually there was a list of around 10 schools i had shortlisted before i started preparing and the select 5 kept changing :)

So the next post is about School Selection and I'll write about more of that in detail :)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A series of tiresome milestones...

I was browsing the websites of MBA bloggers from previous years and landed up on a particular post by Marina. She calls it The Been There Done That Guide to MBA Admissions. She also features at number two in the Best of Blogging (2005 - 006) list released by ClearAdmit. Check out the blogs of these folks - extremely informational.

The particular post done by Marina inspires me to write down my own perspectives on the various milestones that make the MBA admissions journey. What i am gonna write will be a result of my experiences over the last one year and what worked for me need not work for everyone else. In fact I have instances when i had suggested what i did, only to hear an immediate "This wont work for me". Since the MBA admissions process is a jigsaw puzzle with numerous parts, it is as much important to know what wudnt work for an individual as to know what would work.

Peter Robinson says that the writing of Snapshots from Hell was "a simple act of decency, like going back to the last calm bend in the river and nailing up a sign that reads 'Waterfall Ahead!" Though not something as dramatic, i hope these posts will help a future applicant in some way.

I will try to document the different possible paths to each of these milestones, just to inform someone who is new to the whole journey about the different paths one can travel towards these milestones.

The topics i intend to cover are the following:

1. Why MBA and Where??? - the beginning of it all.
2. GMAT - the numbers game.
3. Testing Waters - investigation on the schools.
4. The Essay writing highway - those 3 months!
5. Handling the recommendations.
6. "Will I? Wont I?" - Post submission doubts/stress.
7. Interviews - preparation and performance.

I might possibly write about handling wait lists, but i need to gather information on the same as (by god's grace) i was never on a wait list myself.

Also, I can make posts on preparing for the MBA - in terms of post matriculation procedures (Scholarships/Visa/Loans), settling down and also about preparing for the academic courses. But i am afraid these would become specific to Chicago GSB and also my plans. I might still go ahead and do it :)

I have also set up a section on the left, where i will accumulate the posts I've promised here.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Idling around...


After the 8 or 9 months, which were full of excitement, anxiety, hard work and everything related to these word - i find the going very tough these days, with almost nothing to do outside work! Curse as you might, i am one of those human beings who wanna be immersed in a state of being BUSY :)

I have to sort out the following stuff before i land up at Chicago
  • Housing
  • Loan
  • Visa

I have almost sorted out the housing equation, or so i think. At least the work has been offloaded for the moment :) A fellow admit from Delhi is presently on a business trip to US and she will check out the housing options during here trip to Chicago for the Admit Weekend (oh how i miss not being there). So either she will come back with one clear choice, or a group of choices and then the work begins again :) Either way, we'll have a better understanding of the houses coz some one has seen it personally. I want to close this by end of March at least. Let's see how things shape up in the next few weeks.

Loan & Visa process begins only by late March or early April. This is one thing that bugs me. These are documents involved here, and if we (R1 admits) are asked to start working on them right away i believe we can use the available time to get things ready. Having time and not using it baffles me :) If the folks there want to do it together for both R1 and R2 admits together (which makes sense coz everyone over there must be deep into the R2 work load), they can still get us started on the paper work. I don't know what other parameters are involved. I surely am gonna ask these questions once i reach there :) As for now, I am waiting for information from GSB. Till that happens - I've got nothing to do.

In other related news, i applied for the only fellowship (out of the 15 or so GSB has) i was eligible to apply. I will know the result in a month's time and i hope i get some money. Actually, the scope of the application essays are pretty huge (talk about a nations economy!!!) and in a way indicated the level at which an MBA grad can intend to play or the level at which grads from top schools play. I had to investigate a lot to fill in the essays and what i saw during the investigation gave an altogether new meaning, in more ways than one, to my future plans.

Apart from that, there is nothing special going on with life. Work is a bit hectic, but manageable. I've began reading again, with a vengeance i might add, but had to take a break this week to work on the essays. I might be taking my recommenders and their families out for lunch next weekend - that's something I've been planning to do for quite some time. These guys have been a great help for all these years I've known them and more so during the application period.

That's it for now. I'll continue idling around...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Enrollment at Chicago GSB - Check

Exactly a week after i posted my enrollment package in Chennai, it reached the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, Chicago GSB on a (as usual) windy morning on the 31st of Jan 2007. Two days later, the status of my online app changes from "admit" to "accepted offer". Everything seems to have been okay and I am officially a member of the class of 2009 :) Of course, there is a verification process to follow.

Among awful work load, I've been frequenting the admitted students forum and the place is busy. I guess it'll be something more than busy after the R2 results are out. I am getting the feel of what Chicago GSB calls "the community" :) The first official gathering of admitted students, the Admit Weekend, is scheduled on the 23rd and 24th of Feb. I wont be able to travel, but i know i am missing a lot of fun and meeting up prospective classmates.

Now that i have done all that i can do, i am waiting for the other stuff to begin - Visa and Fin Aid being the ones i am eager to begin. Everything begins in late March or thereabouts. Having applied in R1 and been admitted in Dec, there is a 3 month duration when the admitted student has nothing to do. I believe this is an area to improve - i can at least start the applications now! I'll see if something can be done about this, once i get there :)