in the beginning of August I got a message from my friend who I thought would get into all of the business schools that he had applied too. Remember the story about the 680s and whether or not I thought that a 680 automatically meant that one would be rejected from a school? Well, one of my friends who had a 680 and who applied to a bunch of schools and was rejected from all of them WAS in deed waitlisted at Duke Fuqua. I didn't know he was waitlisted, or I forgot, but nevertheless, he sent me a text in the beginning of August saying that he got into Duke!
Initially, when I saw the text message I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s kind of late in the application season!” I was BAFFLED, but what transpired next and I saved the conversation that he and I had!
I would have at least thought that schools would give a little bit more notice than A DAY! But I guessed that they had numbers that they needed to hit for the class. Since
that friend had gotten into Duke and my other friend with the 680 had gotten into Darden, I knew that there was hope for me.
I still wasn’t working too much on my essays because I knew that they wouldn’t mean anything if I couldn’t do well on the GMAT. I started working with the GMAT tutor to fill in the holes that I had. I was only planning to take the GMAT one more time so I wanted to make sure that I knocked the ball out of the park.
In addition to studying, I was getting pretty excited for the Kaplan: Destination Business School event that was looming. I had finally received the itinerary for the event and was blown back by all of the jam-packed things that they had for us to do. We even had “homework” that we had to do. Here is a rundown of the schedule:
Saturday August 7th
10:00 - 10:30 = Kick-Off
10:30 - 12:00 = Your B-School Blueprint - A complete overview of the admissions process
12:00 - 1:00 = Working Lunch
1:00 - 4:30 = MBA Fair
Evening - = Happy Hour
Sunday August 8th
9:00 - 10:00 = Elevator Pitch Breakfast - Practice your pitch for your interviews, essays, and networking
10:30 - 12:00 = Mastering the GMAT: Scoring 700+
12:30 - 1:30 = Lunch and Mock Business School Class
1:30 - 2:30 = Career Round Robin - Speak with MBA's in Consulting, Banking, Government, etc.
2:30 - 3:30 = Application Essay Clinic featuring mBaMission.
3:30 - 4:00 = Closing
I was definitely getting excited for each one of those sessions in addition to the MBA fair. In hindsight, this was a pivotal even for me. Out of all of the schools that would be there, I was interested in speaking to the representatives from Cornell, Tuck, Michigan, UCLA Anderson, Michigan Ross, Darden, and Yale. I had never spoken to anyone from Darden before so I knew that this would be a great opportunity for me to learn more. Seeing as though the event was to be very hectic, the homework that we had to do was intensive but was definitely a great exercise for me. Although some of the things that we had to do were exercises that I had done before, I knew that it would be great to get feedback.
Here is the homework that we had to do:
1.) We have to update our resumes and bring 10 copies.
2.) Practice our pitches:
Practice explaining in a minute or less, where you'd like to be in your career in five years and how you will get there.
Practice our pitch on 8-10 friends and note their reactions and questions
3.) Make a list of target schools:
List 5-15 target b-schools
Identify your top 4 factors that you value in a school
4.) Pack your business cards - 50 should be more than enough
There were also 2 optional assignments that had to deal with essays, but I opted not to do those because I wasn’t going to really start writing my essays until AFTER the event.
I then shifted my focus to another guest blog post by one of my previous guest bloggers. I was really trying to help him promote his admissions consulting business because that’s what I like to do. I like to help people! So in this blog post I sent him questions related to addressing weaknesses in one’s application. I did this because I knew that it was a topic that didn’t really have much written about it and because I also wanted to know seeing as though I knew that I would have to address a weakness. Here are his responses to my questions:
1.) Don’t Include the Weakness
An often-overlooked option for weaknesses is to not include them at all. This is highly recommended if the weakness was not addressed with positive actions.
For example, one of my clients had a lackluster academic performance throughout college. Although this was a weakness, she had taken little steps to improve her GPA. She had, however, excellent examples of leadership at work. Instead of explaining her poor GPA, we wrote the optional essay about additional leadership examples at work. By focusing on her strengths, she got accepted into her top choice.
2.) State the Weakness and Bridge to Strengths
If you overcame a weakness, fixed a wrong, or proved that it won’t happen again, weaknesses can actually becomes strengths. To do this effectively, you must make the reader focus on the positives. Stating the weakness as an unapologetic fact then moving on to the positives does this.
For example, one of my clients had plagiarized a paragraph in his last college paper. He had, however, admitted to his error and learned from his mistake. Instead of writing the essay about why he plagiarized, we addressed the issue in a way that stressed his strengths. Here is an example of what he wrote:
“In the last semester of college, I plagiarized a paragraph in a paper that resulted in a one semester off punish before graduating [unapologetic statement of the weakness]. The school’s response was forgiving because I admitted to the mistake and had such a strong academic record to this point [bridged to positive]. From this experience, I have learned that the best way to overcome a problem is to be honest and forthright [transition to positives]”. (The rest of the essay included the stories of how he addressed the issue properly.)
With this bridging technique, the essay, which was supposed to be about plagiarizing, was filled with stories of honesty, integrity and growth.
His last words were: Remember that the application process is about selling and marketing. It is not a confession, diary, or journal. Weaknesses should be address with the end goal in mind: to win the application game.
After hearing his comments I started to wonder more and more about this “holistic” approach to an application that all applicants always hear about. I started thinking about this because of the guest blog post but also because I was still struggling with the Quant section of the GMAT. I thought to myself, “If I don’t do well on the Quant section then there’s really nothing more I could do in terms of the application and trying to optimize the "holistic" approach. I thought I understood what business schools meant when they mentioned the holistic approach but at that juncture I only believed it to an extent. As I thought more about it, I began to do some calculations.
Just take a look at the average GMAT scores amongst the top business schools. All of the mean GMAT scores are above 700, so yes... Holistic approach - sure I'll give you that...BUT let's look at the numbers shall we?
Let's say there are 5 students in a matriculating class and the mean GMAT score is a 710 and the school admits a 650 GMAT score. Well what do the other 4 scores need to be in order to have a school mean of 710? So we have:
(A+B+C+D+650)/5 = 710 A+B+C+D+650 = 3550 A+B+C+D=2900
2900/4 = 725
So in order to admit that 650 student and maintain a mean GMAT of 710 the admissions committee needs to admit FOUR 730 GMAT scores, since we would need to round up in order to reach that 710 minimum. I say this all to say that yes while schools take on a holistic approach when reviewing applications, I personally need to keep in mind that it may be a reach for them to admit a lower stratosphere score even if my application is superb! I took this as a challenge!
While debating this, I was asked how I was managing the time between my applications and my GMAT prep. Instead of writing essays and/or studying for the GMAT, I decided to give back to my blog readers and make a post about how I was dealing with the multi- tasking nature of the application process. By that time I had seen all of the essay topics that I would have to write for the application season. I will say that every time I opened up one of the Word Documents of my essays, I would hear a voice in my head say, “You should be studying.” I eventually came to terms with the voice in my head. That voice and I didn’t always get along and I wanted to tell it to “Shut Up” sometimes, but I knew that the voice was only looking out for me. We developed a mutual understanding though!
My best ideas do not come to me when I’m sitting in front of my computer just typing away. Sitting down to actually, WRITE was the easy part for me but coming up with the proper anecdotes and ideas were a bit tougher. I usually kept a notepad with me in my bag wherever I went. Believe it or not some of my best ideas came to mind while at work or in the shower. In that case I simply email the idea to my personal email account. Then when I get home I add it to the rest of my thoughts.
The way I saw it was that there were 24 hours in a day. I sleep about 5
hours/day. Don't ask, I've been sleeping that little since high school. I function just fine. So 24-5=19 hours. I'm at work 9 hours a day. Let's say 1 hour a day for commuting to and from work, including showering and walking 3 avenues. So what's
that 9 hours left to account for? That makes sense because I get home at 6:30pm and go to sleep around 2:30/3. So even if I had 7 hours/day to myself, I dedicate about 2/3 hours to studying. Some time to myself and some time gathering my thoughts on my essays.
My tutor was slightly worried about my decision to write my essays, study for the GMAT and my Fall schedule because it would be so hectic. He reminded me that it's great to visit schools and write essays but to just make sure that I make time to study. So that’s when I decided to go “off the grid” It wasn’t necessarily a cognizant decision as my cell phone fell out of my pocket in a cab. I thought about buying a new phone but I did the cost/benefit analysis of buying a new phone vs. not, and decided against it. I figured that it would be better for me to use that money for my tutor so that I could get into business school! Yes, for me, it came down to that level of frugality. There was an upside however to what I dubbed, “Going off the grid” and that was that my friends could not contact me or distract me with nonsense to go out and party. I figured that if I got into business school there would be many more parties in my future and that I could sacrifice 2 weeks of my life to the cause.
When I went off the grid I received an email from John Byrne, who was once editor-in- chief of Businessweek.com, executive editor of BusinessWeek and Editor-in-chief of Fast Company. He started a website called Poets & Quants that was geared towards business school applicants. He definitely had the pedigree to weigh in on this topic, as I believe he is that one who started the Business Week rankings during his tenure. He reached out to me to ask if he could feature my blog post about Hiring a B-School consultant. I definitely wouldn’t turn down potential blog traffic because I knew that my words/story would help others out there who were in similar positions to my own.
Towards the end of August, I started to make plans for my hectic September. I started to make plans to head up to Hanover to visit Tuck, Ann Arbor to visit Michigan, Los Angeles to attend ROMBA (Reaching Out MBA conference for LGBT students – but prospective applicants could attend). Here is a blurb from the ROMBA website that gives a little bit more clarity to the mission of the conference.
"...mission is to promote the networking, visibility, and education capabilities of LGBT business leaders around the globe. This annual event draws over 1,000 of the brightest current and future LGBT students and executives from the world's leading business schools and companies."
I was excited to attend but didn’t know what I should expect as I had never heard of such a conference before. I did know that there would be an MBA fair. I figured that in addition to meeting an amazing group of people (I don’t mind going to conferences by myself) I knew that I would get to meet admissions reps in a more intimate environment. I would also be able to work on my story because I would be in an environment where the barriers to conversation are very low and people would be asking me what my post- business school plans were. Again, I never shied away from putting myself in an environment to work on my story/pitch.
The following week, I made plans to meet up with friend Spencer who was going to head off to Ann Arbor to attend Michigan. He wasn’t the one who wrote the guest blog post before, but like that person I did meet him at the Yale SOM event. We kept in touch and agreed to meet for dinner right before he headed off to A2 (that’s what they call Ann
Arbor). It was funny because I got to the restaurant a little earlier than he did and I was studying for the GMAT. Then he came in laughed at me because he remembered being in the same situation the previous year. I’m so glad that we met because I could sense his excitement about heading off to business school. How students feel about their school can be very contagious.
I think that it just says a lot about a program when someone who hasn't even started classes yet, is beaming with love for the program already. He was happy to hear that Ross was on my list of schools to be considered. By this time, at my job, I had colleagues who had MBAs. Even though when I started we didn’t have any, we now had an MBA from Kellogg, McCombs, and Ross. I made it a point to speak to my colleague who graduated from Ross the next day to see what she had to say about her experience.
The next day, I did ask said coworker about her experience and she said that she didn’t like it. She said that she was just going through the motions and wanted to be done with the experience sooner than later. I couldn’t quite understand why this was her feeling but the more I got to know her the more I realized that she’s just a Debbie Downer. She only attended Ross because she got a full-ride. I asked her if she had many friends from school and she said that she didn’t and she flew back to NYC, where she was from, routinely. I knew right then that I did not want to have an experience similar to hers. To me it seemed like a waste to spend all of that time and money for an experience that should be the best time of your life.
My conversations with her fueled my desire to only choose to apply to schools that I would love to attend. Even though that thought was in my head, the GMAT was still rearing its ugly head into my brain. I still did not have a cell phone and was doing pretty well with studying. My hit rate for all topics began to improve. I figured that at this point it was just a matter of consistency with my studying and I was determined to do just that. Again, my tutor was NOT cheap and it only made sense for me to do all of the work that he prescribed to me. Leading up to one weekend, I told myself that if I got better than 20 our of 25 correct on a Critical Reasoning problem set that I would allow myself to go out.
I did go out that following weekend because I accomplished my goal of getting at least 20 out of 25 correct on Critical Reasoning. Just because I rewarded myself with a night out with my friends, doesn’t mean that I was totally neglecting my applications. I was now in the midst of writing essays. I did not realize how huge the level of introspection needed to write essays would be. I had sent off my first round of essays to my Veritas Prep admissions consultant. I received feedback on my first round of essays and basically need to re-write them from the jump. I was feeling defeated and began wondering if I was cut out for this. The balancing act between essays and GMAT was becoming unsettling.
There was one day in August when I received about 8 different emails from different schools. I’m not sure if they all colluded and said, this is the day that we’re going to start pushing out marketing material. I took this to be the sign that the 2010-2012 application season had started! I had even received another email from my consultant with some feedback that completely turned around my perspective on how I should go about writing essays. There was one comment in particular that made me think deeply but I knew that I had to take that comment and apply it to all of my essays.
In the midst of that, I was very proud of myself for having studied 13 out of the last 14 days. I was beginning to go back through the guides that I used during my 2 GMAT classes. Because I felt that I had exhausted all of the material, and I was in a different headspace than before, I was beginning to see that the Official Guide did not provide enough problems for those wishing to score 700+. It was all about repetition for me and being able to see trends and I had already been through the Official Guide. Thankfully, I had 25 other GMAT books that I could use, but I knew/thought that the Official Guide was still the closest to the actually GMAT in terms of wording and terminology. Yes, I had 25 OTHER GMAT books.
Sure, even after having studied for 8 months, I was feeling more confident. Sure, I was getting questions wrong but I was more confident with what I did know. I was beginning to execute questions more quickly and without second-guessing myself. I realized that with the GMAT you could get an answer correct, not know it’s correct, and then waste time second-guessing yourself. I was feeling good because I was minimizing the amount that I was second guessing myself. My GMAT tutor told me that with Verbal, I had to do some problems either everyday or ever other day because it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Even though I didn’t want to schedule my exam until I had scored in the 700 range on at least 2 practice exams, I knew that it was getting down to the wire. I did have a GMAT date in mind, but the 2nd time around I told myself that I wouldn’t post the date on my blog or tell anyone other than my tutor. The last time I had too many congratulations coming at me that it was distracting and I got caught up in everything.
I came to the realization that I would have to push back my applications and wouldn’t be able to submit for Round 1. An important part of applying is knowing your weakness and doing the very best you can to mitigate it. For me scoring well on the GMAT was imperative. Absolutely imperative, so the question then became, why did I surrounded myself in a bubble thinking that I could deal with the added pressure of attending events, writing essays, getting letters of recommendations, all the while studying for the exam that could make or break me in the decision process anyway?
None of my non-applicant friends could understand what I was going through. There was no way that they could know the pressure that I put on myself. They all said to hold off on essays and just focus on the GMAT. I did agree with them to an extent.
I say to an extent, because once I got into applications - at least for me – I was constantly thinking about essays no matter where I was. The formality of writing the essay is the easy part. Nevertheless, I decided that I would tone down the essay writing, When I made the decision to do this, I thought back to when I thought I could do it all. I was at peace with my decision because I realized that yes, this is what some applicants go through. Sometimes you have to pivot!
As I continued to struggle with the GMAT, I started to doubt whether I actually belonged in business school. I had been studying for the test for almost a year. I wondered if I could “cut-it” at a top business school if I couldn’t conquer the GMAT. I definitely could feel for my fellow GMAT strugglers out there. For me, with the GMAT, there came a time when I thought to myself, “Ok, I’ve been studying for X months for this test and have not reached my goal, while other people study for 2/3 months and get over a 700! What makes me think that I belong in a class with them?”
I knew that the correlation wasn’t necessarily accurate but I definitely let that thought
creep in to my brain. I knew that I sometimes got into a slump like this and had negative thoughts and I usually let myself experience this so that when I come out of it, I’m rejuvenated. Then I remembered that I was in this for the long-run. I realized that the next 6 months, would impact the rest of my life. If I could continue to sacrifice and see this process through to fruition then THAT’S the reason why I DID belong in business school.
Then came another set back the next time I went to see my tutor. The first thing we did was to go over my CR mistakes. The interesting thing here is that the last batch of CR questions I did ended with 14/26 incorrect. This was a huge blow to my ego so I was anxious to see what he had to say about my performance. More times than not I could narrow down the answers to two choices, with one being the correct one. It got so bad that I remember saying to myself as I was mulling over two choices
"Ok... I want to choose this one, but because of my track record, I should probably choose the other one even though I don't know why it would be right."
Yeah! I know right.. it got to THAT point. But I would inevitably choose the incorrect answer thinking that "well maybe...just maybe I am correct." Nope... EENNNT
WRONG! So my tutor couldn't find a pattern in the types of questions I was getting wrong. I was literally all over the damn place! Then he said that he thought my problem was that I wasn't being LITERAL. Hhmm I thought. I think it got to a point for me where I was thinking the answer choices were trying to trick me. While they can be confusing, if you take it literally there really isn't a gray area.
When I did the next batch of RC passages, I wrote "Be Literal" and "Modifiers" to remind myself to well... Be Literal... and watch out for Modifiers. The modifiers thing got to me a couple times because I didn't like answer choices because of the "at least some" or "a little." Needless to say, taking that advice to heart I only got 7/27 incorrect which was my best RC hit rate to date.