We’ve been sitting on this awesome contribution to the blahg from a former BSer for over six months now because we were trying to find the right time to serve it up to you current crop of BSers when it might offer the most value – and that time is now! This submission is long so we’ve chopped it in two. Today you get the first 5 steps of this former BSer’s journey to stupendous success.
I don’t like trying to give advice. Whenever the impulse strikes, I’m reminded of that old Ben Franklin line (“wise men don’t need it; fools won’t heed it”). I’m doubly skeptical of any advice that takes the form of personal anecdote. Just because something worked for one person (me) doesn’t mean it will work for someone else (you). Even the very best advice can’t escape the post hoc fallacy problem—a happy result doesn’t suggest an unimpeachable process. Did I get in because of the things I did…or in spite of them?
But here’s the rub: the Snark blahg was quite probably the most valuable source of MBA admissions knowledge/information/advice during my process, so it only seems fair that I tell the squirrels my story and give them permission to share it in this space. And since “my story” lacks drama, I’ll go ahead and dispense with the fiction that it’s anything other than a step-by-step list of the things I did en route to getting admitted.
With the caveats out of the way, I’ll go ahead and explain why, against my better judgment, I’m writing a de facto advice column: I was accepted at all four schools I applied to. A Top 5 school offered me a full-ride scholarship. Another, the one I’ll be attending this fall, is extremely competitive and has a notoriously low acceptance rate.
This was not the result I had expected when I began to consider applying to business school. I’m a non-traditional applicant well past the age of 30. My undergraduate GPA was kind of crummy. My expectations for the GMAT, informed by a vague recollection of SAT scores I’d received long ago, weren’t exactly sky high. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t thinking Top 5/Top 10 when I started looking into MBA programs.
So how did I get here?
- I made the GMAT priority #1. I realized early on that the GMAT would go a long way towards determining which schools I could reasonably expect to be accepted to, so I decided to put everything else (school/career research, resume polishing, alternative transcript building) on hold until I got through the test. I took a prep course. I completed one full practice test per week for 10 weeks. I took the test in mid-June 2014—a full 15 months before submitting my first application—and was thrilled/shocked when I landed a score in the 99th percentile on my first (and last!) official attempt. I have since become a GMAT instructor and would love to tell you, Brave Supplicant, the same thing I tell all of my students: anyone can do well on this test. All you need is time and a good test prep strategy. Of course, since this isn’t a GMAT blahg…
- I began my school research by thinking broadly about my priorities. Geography played a huge role for me (3 out of my four schools were in the same region), but I also knew I wanted to be in or near a big city, that I strongly preferred a large class to a small one, and that certain areas of emphasis (strategy, marketing, social impact) appealed to me more than others (tech, operations, finance).
- I got EssaySnark’s Comprehensive Profile Review. I can’t recommend this service highly enough. Who you are on paper matters a lot in this game, and so having an objective, experienced, and outside perspective evaluate your candidacy is really valuable. While I wasn’t shocked by anything that came up in the review, it kept me clear-eyed about my candidacy and gave me a huge boost of confidence at a time when I couldn’t stop thinking, “Am I crazy? Aren’t I too _____ to get into business school?”
- I took a road trip to visit the schools I was interested in (as well as some others that I was less interested in). Although I took this trip during the summer (which is obviously not ideal [because you can’t sit in on a class – but if you visit now, in October/November, you can! -ES]), I was amazed at how visceral my response was at each school. Each one evoked strong feelings—positive and negative—and I learned a lot just by walking through the campuses, facilities, residences, and surrounding neighborhoods at each one. A few that seemed like good fits on paper felt like bad fits in person, and one that I’d initially been skeptical of immediately felt like the place I wanted to be.
- I wrote out an essay for HBS’s 2014-15 prompt (“What else would you like us to know?”) even though I had no intention of applying until the 2015-16 cycle. I know, I know. EssaySnark has been advising BSers to hold off on writing essay responses to HBS’s open-ended questions for years. [Presumably they’re referencing our advice to not tackle the HBS essay first, and also not to waste time writing essays for the past season since many schools change their questions from year to year. -ES] But I couldn’t help myself. I learn a lot from the process of writing. It helps me clarify my thinking and sometimes even leads me to change my mind. For me, thinking about what I’d tell an admissions committee if I could tell them anything at all was too tantalizing to pass up. So I went through the exercise and I think it helped me lay some thematic groundwork for the essays I’d write the following year. I want to be clear about this: I didn’t reuse any of the actual writing. The words I’d written for that essay were never recycled into another one. But the themes and content (ie, my stories) did come back, and I firmly believe that the process turning my ideas into actual written words at a time when I was under no pressure to meet an application deadline helped give those ideas longer to marinate, and I think the essays I ultimately better because of it.
TO BE CONTINUED….
There’s so much awesome right there that we hope you appreciate! More to follow when we post Part 2 next week (UPDATE: POSTED HERE!). Thank you to this former BSer who sent this in!!