Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Congratulations to Chicago GSB R2 admits

Many congratulations to all those who were admitted into the Class of 2009 at the Chicago GSB in Round 2. I remember the days following the famous phone call and they were really exciting, to say the least :) I am sure you all must be partying big, wherever you are. Celebrate well and enjoy the well deserved success.

The last two days have been good, no GREAT!!!

True to tradition, Chicago GSB started calling the R2 admits from Monday morning (CDT) and the GSB forums and the "Class of 2009" mail thread have seen a fresh wave of activity ever since. New names, new people - good fun :)

At least three people who talked to me during their interviews got in. This is a personally satisfying result for me. Not that i am taking any credit for their success - but I am just happy to have helped them with whatever little i know, during their time of need. So a special congrats to those three people as well :)

Essay Writing

Some call it an art, many are scared at the very thought of doing it, a certain few are thrilled for this being a part of the application process and almost all of us agree this is indeed a great way to know the applicant. Love them, hate them or do whatever - the essays are an important part, if not the most important part, of your BSchool applications. The long and short of it is - Good essays can get you admits even if your numbers aren't truly breathtaking and Bad essays can get u DWIs, even if you have solid numbers. So the bottom line is that all applicants have to dedicate enough time and effort towards the essays required by the schools.

Before proceeding, i must admit that i am not an expert of essay writing, or writing generally. Accepted, i did get a 6.0 in AWA as well as 30/30 in the writing section of TOEFL, but that does not necessarily testify my writing skills. May be i am a decent writer but a good test taker :) Considering that background, what i am going to say here is a result of the hardship i went through in the months preceding the R1 deadlines. I wouldn't call it a struggle per se, but the months were hard for sure. I should also accept that i enjoyed the hardship :)

In many ways, the essay writing process begins with the introspection process and the school selection posts 1 & 2 i made earlier. While i was doing these steps, i made sure i did not throw away any information i gathered. I created folders in my PC for each school and saved all the pages which i thought were important, interesting or had any information that i cud use. Over time, this swelled into a huge pile of information which i used both for the essays and for the interviews. So that's one tip I'd give u people - all information is important :)

An essay is a culmination of your thought process, and hence as the thought process itself - it goes through many stages. In this "Evolution process", i believe the essays go through the following stages...

Data Dumps

This is where it begins - the stuff i explained above. After the data collection and introspection process, we'll have loads of data about the schools and also about our self. If we'd done any investigation about our future career options, we will also have data bout them. So in all, we will have pages and pages of information, which needs to be used to answer different parts of the essay questions.


With the data dumps in hand, one has to work with individual essays and answer each question to the best of their abilities. Consider all the essays of a school and chose incidents from your life that showcase various aspects of your profile and personality. Also, when you write about the incidents, make sure you don't waste a lot of words discussing the "what". The schools are more interested in the reasoning behind the incidents - the "why". If u made a job hop, explain why? If u were involved in community service - explain why. If there are interesting pastimes, explain why do u pursue them. The "why" part is where your personality comes out. Make sure u show enough of yourself to the AdComm.

Creative thinking does help, but those who cannot do that need not sweat. Plain, to the point writing will not affect your chances of getting an interview invite. While working with the loads of data one will have now, use your judgment to filter the important from the trivial, the interesting from the usual, the funny from the plain and make sure you maintain the school's flavor throughout the essays.

As we write the essays, there are many things we need to consider:

  1. Word limits - Some schools are lenient, others are strict - but no one will disqualify you if you really need to exceed the word limits. Don't write more for the heck of it - it is not an indication of your love towards the school. It might irritate the readers (who read many essays everyday) and lead to unexpected results. So do your best to stick to word limits and if you have enough reason to exceed the limits, go ahead and write as much as u want :)
  2. Formatting - Check this with individual schools. Some require essay questions to be in the header, some specify page numbers to be in footers, some specify fonts, some specify margins. So it changes from one school to another. This is usually in the fine print. So read the "Essay Questions" pages completely and check the page once again before u submit the essay - things cud have changed.
  3. Reviews - One cannot stress enough about the role reviews play in making the essays effective. But the review process will be successful only if the right kind of reviewers are used. It is important to have reviewers who know you life (to tell u what u have missed) and also reviewers who don't know your life (and to tell u what kind of an impression you make with your story). It is important to have reviewers who'd review your language and also who'd look beyond the language and review the content. It is important to have reviewers who know the Bschool admission process and also reviewers who don't stick to the definitions to the dot. It is important to have reviewers who have time (because they shouldn't do it as a "quickie") and also those who'd work whenever (you never know what crazy hrs you'd work) you send them your essays. It is important to have reviewers who wouldn't impose their writing style or personality into your essays and it is also important to have reviewers who'd improve your style as they review the essays. In short, see how much the essays improve after each review. You'll know what kind of reviewer u have. So as and when the process moves forward, you can add more reviewers or educate your present reviewers to review particular areas of the essays. It is important to make sure the reviews add value to the essays.
  4. Proof Reading - Even after the essays pass through multiple eyes - the writer, the reviewers - the essays surprisingly carry with them minor mistakes. They miss the eyes only because they are minor. So once all reviews are done it is necessary to sweep the essays to find out these hidden troubles and sort them out.
  5. Fresh eyes - It is also good if you can find a person, other than the reviewers, to read the finished essays and comment on them. It will be better if this person is a student or an alumni - of the target school (preferred) or of any school (take comments on school specific stuff with a pinch of salt) .
Final Drafts minus one

The final drafts will be ready after the essays go through these steps. Till this time, we'd have answered each essay within the scope of the essay - to try and answer the questions being asked in each essay. Now, consider the big picture effect and review the essays with the complete profile in mind. Also consider the data sheets of the application and see if anything is being said there, which need not go into the essays. These will not require any major changes, but a few minor adjustments between essays will improve the overall impact the essays make. Also if there are references to be made between essays, or to the application - add them to the essays. Overall, this is the time to make all minor adjustments. I am sure once we have the final drafts, we'll do it everyday we hit the submit button :)'

Final Drafts

Once the minor adjustments are all done, it is GAME, SET and MATCH. Now get someone (yeah - fall at his feet to read the essays for the nth time) to proof read it one last time to see if there is something u missed. Even if u have reviewed and modified the essays a 100 times, every time you read it again you will want to improve something. So you should know when to stop doing this. If you are me, you will reach a time when you say "enough is enough" and submit the application. Before that, read the essay instructions one last time to verify if you have not missed anything. Carefully upload the essays, view the previews carefully to check if nothing has been truncated, and then u view the entire application once. If every thing is alright, u are all set to submit the apps.

I'll write about the recommendations next :)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Which schools do i apply to???

Once an applicant has finished the GMAT, all that is left now is to fill the applications and knock at the door steps of your target business schools. Assuming the applicant has shortlisted the business schools of his liking, he/she will now have a smaller list of schools which he/she has to analyze in a more detailed and "closer" way. In my opinion, no one ends up applying to ALL schools shortlisted earlier. What happens is that we end up prioritizing the schools and apply to few schools in different rounds, based on how we feel about each school.

The whole process here can be defined as "reaching out". We can actually name the six months from July to December as the "Reaching Out Months", because that is exactly what both schools and applicants do in these months. Schools plan and organize information sessions, informal meets, participate in MBA fairs, send out brochures to interested students and probably do many other things to catch the attention of potential applicants. Applicants, apart from participating in these events, also tap information about the schools in all ways open to them.

These events are a great way to know about the schools and meet people. But always remember, these events do hide behind a bit of marketing fanfare. Everything you see here will be behind a layer of gloss, and there is nothing wrong in that because schools will try to present their best face here, just like we always send a glossy resume to potential employers (or BSchools). What i am saying is, don't fall for the gloss. Instead, try to obtain as much factual information as possible and leave the rest to ur judgement.

There are different ways to reach out and gather information about the BSchool of your liking. But none of them beats the school's website. Schools spend lot of time (and money) in preparing and organizing their websites, not without good reason. I can actually go on to say that it is possible to succeed in the application process with only the information from the schools' website. But don't try that :) When you visit the website, please do not ignore any corner of the website. I see people who visit the Full Time - MBA page and return. But in reality, the website has tonnes of information about everything that happens in a business school - from course contents to professors to club activities to Thursday Night Drinking Parties. I prepared a 3 page information sheet, for both my interviews, with only the information from the websites. If one spends enough time in all possible segments of a schools website, he/she will definitely get a good feel of the culture in the school. While it is definitely not like seeing things in person, it is a good start and perhaps the most important resource for international applicants who cannot travel to the school.

Once you have browsed the schools website and tapped as much information as you can, it is time to turn to the human side of the school - the people related to the school. Typically, after you have browsed the website, you will be full of questions - which i think can be (and must be) answered by the people related to the school. Now there are many kind of people in the school and it is probably good to think that everyone is accessible. In fact, in my experience, i have found that everyone will be glad to answer your questions provided we ask the right questions to them.

Talking to students is probably the most obvious thing an applicant can do. The students are accessible through different means and for different reasons. You will meet students in the school events and make sure you ask your questions to them. There will be occasions when they will not be able to answer your questions. In those situations, ask their email ids (the students generally give their ids to everyone) and follow up your questions with mails. If they are not the right people to answer your questions, the students will put you through to other students who are best suited to answer them. The student body is the most current reflection of the culture of the school and try to interact with as many as u can. One thing though, don't ask questions just for the heck of it. They are busy at school. Appreciate the fact that they are willing to take time out of their schedules, to help us applicants and respect the time they give us. Use it wisely :) A very important group of students will be "chairs" or "co-chairs" of the numerous clubs. They are the thought and action leaders in the school and might be able to give u information on club activities and the thought process that goes into these clubs or any other specific queries u might have about clubs.

Based on your industry experience, relevant exposure to target careers, educational background and probably something else - you will have specific queries about the course, the curriculum, individual papers, test procedures, work load, etc etc etc. The students will be able to give them a lot of their views about these topics, but individual professors might also be open for discussion. A good way to know about this would be to ask the students, instead of shooting a mail to the profs straight away. Only remember that when you speak with profs, the questions must be more to the point and reasonable.

Don't ever forget the other staff in the school - they are sources of information as well. From the people in the Admissions Committee, to the Career Services team, to the Housing Staff, to the Dean's Office - everyone is a source of information. If you have specific questions, always try to see if you can find some one who is willing speak to you. Chances are, someone will be. As they say, it is always better to hear it from the horses mouth. So talk to as many horses as possible :)

When you discuss with as many people, you will get a better hold of the school's culture, principles and values and more importantly - the kind of community the schools is made of. At some level, this community will be a deciding factor for you to apply to a school or, at a later point of time, accept of deny an offer. Also, once you know this human side of the school you will feel more comfortable in picking up qualities from your profile which you want to project in your application essays.

The last group of people who can offer you information about the school are the alumni. Getting in touch with them is kind of tricky, because the school will not come forward to give their email ids. There are alumni websites for schools, which will probably give you email ids. Else you start using your existing network and ask your friends, superiors etc about people they know who graduated from Bschools. The advantage of speaking to alums is that you will get to meet finished products, albeit a few yrs older. They will not ride on that "in school" emotion and will probably give you more subjective opinions (not to say all opinions of students are high on emotional quotient) about the school and life in the school/school's location. Also, you can get to know the market value of the school, how the school's students are looked at by the companies and stuff like that. These are the best people to ask about "long term returns" of your MBA from this particular school.

Finally, present applicants are another source of information. Applicant blogs aside, use your networking skills to reach out to fellow applicants and keep in touch with them. As such the application process is tiring and long. It will only help you to have some companions through the journey :) And believe me, it feels really good to know ur classmates even before u both get admits :)

Last but not the least, try your best to visit the schools. School visits are very good and perhaps the most straight forward (i call it "personal") way to find out information about the school. The best thing about a school visit is that you can interact with almost all the people i have mentioned above and set up contacts. It will be easy to go back to home and send individual mails to each of these people and clarify your doubts from these people. Also, you get the opportunity to sit in a class, which will also help you look at the academic side of the student community. It is like those "one day in the life of a consultant" posts. You get to see "one day in the life of a ABC School student" and being so is much much better than reading about or seeing what it is to be a student in ABC school. For me, a typical school visit will include meeting people from different departments of the school, apart from the many students one might want to meet, check out the school facilities, the school neighborhood, what's happening at school and what's not happening at school - many many things that wont be available in the brochure :) For me, at the end of a school visit if you feel like "I'd love to spend my next two years in this place", the school's succeeded in impressing you :)

Typically, after reaching out to schools and after participating in the reach out events organized by the schools, you will feel more strongly towards applying to certain schools and less certain about some other schools. You will see changes in the list you had made earlier. It is important to time this stage well, because the essay writing process will take quite some time and in my view you'll need at least two months to work on the essays. Of course, this will vary, based on the number of schools you decide to apply. After a month or so of doing this, you will have to sit down and decide on the timing of your applications - schools you want to apply in round 1 and those you want to apply in round 2.

Also, you will have enough information to start writing your essays and fill the applications - which is the topic of my next post :)

Friday, March 16, 2007

One admit and two wishes - 3 months apart :)

Yeah - the folks at ClearAdmit, for some reason, thought it was time to wish me again for the Chicago GSB admit i received in Dec 2006 :)

Check out their latest edition of Fridays from the frontline, their weekly blog space snapshot. The recent post says "There are many congratulations to go around this week: Chicago admitted Iday..."

My immediate reaction was that I thought they missed my name earlier. But when i searched in their archives, the Dec 22 edition of FFF, which says "It’s been an Illinois kind of week for Juggler, who proudly and excitedly shared some positive news from Kellogg and Chicago, and is joined in the latter by Iday, who welcomes the end of his essay-writing days..."

All i can say is "Thanks again" :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The 3G months!!!

3G? What 3G???
3G, for the purposes of this post, refers to the time one spends in preparing for and appearing for the GMAT - which is about 3 months. This post is about my opinions about everything surrounding this all important test, which is an important milestone in the MBA admission journey...

Before one starts preparing for the all important GMAT test, it is important that one has a lot of idea about the entire MBA stuff, his reasons for wanting one and all that jazz. From here on, I kept telling myself "Remember the bigger picture - go get that MBA, everything else is just a part of the puzzle". The GMAT, the applications and even the MBA itself - just steps in your journey to achieve the goals you've set yourself.

Myth: Preparing for the GMAT is probably one of the toughest experiences one can ever go through...
Truth: If you find it tough, you aren't doing it right. GMAT preparation is something to be enjoyed. In fact, take the fear quotient out and try enjoying the test and you will definitely do better.

I started my GMAT preparations in March. But i did not dive head first into all those prep books. Thanks to my genes (or my past experiences) i do not start doing something before i know it well. Once i knew the GMAT enough, i realized the importance of charting out a prep plan based on my strengths and weaknesses, a very personalized prep plan. Based on this plan, i went out and got the books i thought I'd need.

GMAT is one such thing for which there really is a thing called information overflow. The Internet if SO full of different opinions and experiences about the test and everything related to it. So instead of trying to compare stuff, I'd just try to explain what i did in my 3G months and why i chose to do it this way.

Getting Familiar

As i explained above, i rate this very important, if not the most important, part of my whole plan. And getting familiar with the test is not just reading the GMAT brochure available in the MBA.com website. It goes well beyond that, but yeah it starts with it and the website. I then proceeded to scout for all kind of information in the Internet. The biggest jackpot i hit in this process were the experiences posted by people who had done well in the GMAT. Especially there was one by TwinSplitter (790) and another by Ursula (45 yr old female who ended up with a 760!!!) - both of which gave me strategies and also their personal views on the test. I also hit on this document titled "GMAT 700 stories", a huge document (60+ pages) with personal experiences of many people who crossed the 700 mark. Reading these experiences slowly got me familiar with the test. By the end of it, i know the nuts and bolts of the test and the test taking experience.

The next step was to get familiar with the actual test itself. I had downloaded the GMATprep test and also had the PowerPrep tests, which were retired by the time i started preps. But i did not wanna waste one of them just to get familiar. So i scouted on the Internet again and hit on some website that gave me a 5 test pack for free. I downloaded this and used these tests to try stuff like my confidence level, competency level, timing etc. I must admit - I scored very very poorly (read - 25 in VA) in these tests :)

But by the end of it all - i knew where i stood and to an extent i knew what i had to do and what i did not have to do. It was time i started actual preparation.

Create "your" plan

I realized GMAT is to be played by everyone in their own way. No cookie cutters. This was an important result of reading all those experiences - i saw that the people tackled it the way they wanted to, the way they felt comfortable. The ones who failed, they said that they tried things differently and could not stick to it when the pressure mounted in the test hall. Of course, there were exceptions - but the biggest pattern to emerge was "Do it your way".

After all the reading and the sample tests, i knew what i had to do. I was exceptional in quant - I've been good with numbers all my life. But my verbal scores sucked. It is obvious what i should do. But i also decided i will do a LOT of practice. I wanted a long span, when i could test if my understanding of my strengths and weaknesses were correct. If i had enough practice material, i could allow myself the time to correct myself if i found something wrong mid way.

Also, i wanted a structured approach - basic preps, OG, additional practice, tougher than GMAT practice. I bought my books to help me in each of these stages. I'll explain them below.

So what was my plan???

I prepared for 3 months, I know people who prepared for 2 weeks and scored more than me. I know people who practiced more and scored less. It is perhaps correct to say "what works for me, wont work for u". At least look at it this way, take any advice with a pinch of salt, and carve out something specially for you - that works best for anyone.

I started with the basic prep books - call it "getting more familiar with the GMAT". The books i used in this phase were the following, with my reasons for each of them

Kaplan Premier program - lots of problems to try out the theories and the strategies. The only serious quant preps i ever did was to refresh my memory time and again with the list of formulas, given at the end of this book.
Princeton Review - fun book to read (which i dint know when i bought). Lots of question types, lots more than Kaplan.
Kaplan 800 - test how high you can go. The hit rate here WILL be low. But this will help to catch those stuff u assumed earlier - a nice way to proof read your preps before you go to the next step.

I would do one topic per week - let's say CR. I'll first read up about CR in Kaplan, and do the sample problems sprayed in between the theories. Then, I'd jump to Princeton and read up about CR here. After i am done with the theory part in both the books I'd do the 50 odd CR problems in Kaplan. All this will take me the good part of a week or so - i did not rush. Now i will do the CR part in Kaplan 800, only to find an alarmingly low hit rate :) Then i use the weekend to iron out the issues, fill the gaps and get CR out of the way. This way, in 5 weeks, i was done with all the sections of the GMAT, minus AWA.

The sixth week, i started doing problems in OG and the (quant and verbal) supplements. I got the supplements because i needed extra practice. Even here, I'd cover all questions in one topic on OG and the supplement and then move on to the next topic in OG. While i flew through the math questions, progress in the verbal section was considerably slow - because i was weaker here. But i stuck to it and finished it all in time.

A week before the test, i found myself with no prep material. I dint wanna spend money buying something else. So i re did Kaplan 800, the high altitude running again. This time, i was keen on both timings and hit rate - and i had improved considerably from the last time i used the book. If you think this was because i remembered the questions, no i did not remember a majority of the questions :) this also helped me be in touch with GMAT in the last day.

I prepared for AWA for all of 2 hrs, reading up material in Kaplan and Princeton. I realized that one has to structure the essays, write as much as possible and get it done. I just read a few sample essays and felt i could do this for sure.

Stick to the plan

Well - we all know how important this is :)

I had cruel work schedules during these day - a standard excuse for all software engineers. I worked crazy hours - 10 hrs per day or more. But even if i come to home at 12PM, I'd prepare till 3AM. Whatever little social life i had, it was put to rest as i spent all my weekends with the books. I knew i had to take minor detours here and there - so i saw some movies and wrote this blog :)

This is a very long process to conquer a 3 hr test. So it is difficult to keep ourselves motivated during the 3G months. But as i mentioned earlier, i kept telling myself that this is a part in a bigger journey and IT HAD TO BE DONE. Try telling yourself "If you want to realize your dreams, you must get that score in the test", rather than "If you want to beat the average at that school, you must get that score in the test. I am sure the former looks better and perhaps more motivational. Well - it did motivate me :)

I must admit here that though i was working crazy hours, my work wasn't really exciting me in the way i wanted it to be. There wasn't any spark in it. The GMAT preps excited me in a way a pack of chocolates excites a kid that hasn't seem them in ages. So i was actually looking forward to coming home every night and spending time with the books. If you are my type - you must be doing good :)

Sample tests

I used those 5 tests to get familiar. So i never bothered to look at the scores (not that they are worth mentioning anyways) :)

Then of course i used the GMATprep and PowerPrep tests - the full length ones and the short ones. I took one test each before i touched the OGs and one after the OGs - just to see how i have improved by using the OG. It really did make an improvement - i realized why the bible IS the bible :)

I wasn't impressed with the tests that came with the Kaplan and Princeton books. Kaplan questions are more difficult than the ones you'd see in the actual test and Princeton tests are a bit easier. Both of them got the scoring algorithm wrong - you get crazy scores. So just consider them practice, to check stuff like hit rate and timing. Don't bother worrying about the scores.


I already made a post abt my D-day experience. Read it to know what happened :)

The biggest advice i can offer to anyone is - enjoy the test. There is so much hype about this test that I've seen people get freaked out in the test hall. But i can safely say that anyone with basic knowledge in the topics and good test taking skills (which is where the poise, calmness et al come into play) MUST do well in GMAT. It is a test made for people to score better - something that becomes all the more possible with so much stuff available.

So yeah - these were the 3G months as i see it. It could be 2G for someone, or 0.5G - based on how prepared one feels and how much prep one needs and how much one believes in luck ;) But anyone who handles his preparations seriously and does a good job of it is bound to score well in the test.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Especially to the folks nearby...

A friend of mine put up this post in her blog about Tejas (meaning radiance) Vocational Center, a place in Chennai that helps drug addicts (and their family members) learn vocational skills to help support themselves once they are out of the addiction. Most of the people come from the drug rehabilitation center of the TTK hospitals, but the center is welcoming towards people from outside too.

The post particularly speaks of the Eco-Friendly Jute bags which are made by the rehabilitated folks, and also suggests that by buying these bags one can support these guys as well as help the center continue with the good work they are doing. Sounds like a good thing to do :) And bags are something we Indians do use in many places.

If anyone has any plans and needs any help in proceeding further, leave a comment and i shall try to help you guys out (either myself or i'll put u thru to this girl i know).