By February 1st, I had made it to the top of the BeatTheGMAT contest leaderboard with 258 posts. In 3rd place was someone by the username Osirus. We ended up sending each other private messages throughout the contest and then exchanged GCHAT usernames and would talk every single day. This user was in the same boat as me as an applicant and we simply bonded over the process. More to come about him though.
Even though I had been studying every single day working on the MGMAT content, I needed a night to go out with my friends. I still didn’t have a formal study plan, which is something that a lot of people talk about having. For me, I had never fully immersed myself in studying THIS MUCH so this was completely foreign to me. I just figured that I would study as much as I could any time I had free time. There were some days where I would study 6/7 hours a day. I started to tell myself that studying was fun so that I wouldn’t get too distracted.
In February is when I started to start thinking about going to visit schools while classes were in Spring session. Obviously, in the summer students are not on campus and I knew that in the Fall, when I would be applying, that I wouldn’t be able to take off too many days of work to leave to visit each school so I wanted to start THAT research process early. In order to do this, I had to make my short-list of schools.
In my 2nd MGMAT class we started off the class with a short partner quiz. It was basic stuff, or shall I say, I found it to be basic, because I had done the
assignments. Apparently, not everyone had done the assignments. This fact baffled me. I couldn’t understand how people could sign up to take a $1500 class from arguably the best GMAT prep class in the world, and not do the assignments. The key takeaway from that 2nd prep class was that I needed to re-evaluate my study habits and not
necessarily my study plan. I realized that there is a way to study effectively and ineffectively for the GMAT. I wasn’t really trying to understand WHY I was getting certain types of questions wrong. Instead, I would look at the explanations in the back of the book and tell myself, “Oh, I’ll remember that for the next time.” I wasn’t internalizing the corrections that I needed to make.
In addition to studying, during this time, February, I was also attending MBA information sessions. One that sticks out in my mind in February is one that was at the Kaplan center in Midtown Manhattan. The participating schools at this particular event were Insead, NYU Stern, Johnson at Cornell University, and Columbia. I was incredibly impressed with all of the comments made by the Insead representative panelist. I remember during the reception part before the panel session that I saw her and thought she was a prospective student. She started talking to me and asked me if I was applying to Insead. I said that I wasn’t because of the language barrier to entry required by the school. For those of you who don’t know, Insead requires that applicants apply to the school already being able to speak 2 languages and they require that students graduate knowing a 3rd language. I only know English and can understand Spanish if someone is speaking very slowly. I knew that Insead was not the school for me. Plus, it’s only a 1 year program and I knew that I wanted to go to a two-year program.
If you’ve never attended a session like this, here are some of the questions and answers that I wrote down from some of the schools. I would like to address the line of questioning because I remember hearing these things and some of them changed the way that I thought about the whole application process. It was very nice to hear things straight from the mouths of the admissions officers instead of only from other prospective applicants on BeatTheGMAT.com and GMATClub.com.
Moderator: Why get an MBA?
NYU Rep - people want to make a move in their career and need additional coursework. People want to expand their network.
Moderator: Because of the economic downturn? How do you evaluate your MBA candidates?
Columbia Rep - we look for students who are resilient. Many people come into MBA program thinking one thing, but the realization is that they have to be prepared to take another route if need be.
Then there was a random comment made stating that candidates should ask themselves, “What is the school looking for and how do I fit into their mission?” and “Applicants should ask themselves how do they compliment the school’s needs.” This was interesting for me to hear at that juncture and I’m glad that the comment was made because it forced me to think differently about the application process. I gleaned that when those seemingly perfect candidates are not admitted to schools it’s because they have lost sight of this.
Moderator: When is the right time to go to B-school?
Johnson at Cornell University - When you feel that you're not learning as much as you could be and/or you're not being challenged in your current line of work.
Johnson at Cornell University - When you are able to explain your achievements and accomplishments otherwise you are not ready for B-school.
When I heard this, I thought it was geared towards people who had little professional
experience. My sentiment was also echoed by the NYU rep who said that they don’t really care for people who have Part-Time work experience and are looking for those people who have Full-Time experience. My key takeawy from this line of questioning was that if you can’t think of any achievements or accomplishments that you’ve made in your professional career then it’s not time for you to apply to business school.
Moderator: On the GMAT
Insead Rep - The GMAT is essentially a critical reasoning exam similar to business school. You can have the quantitative skills but if you don't know how to apply it correctly, then the skills can't be helpful. In business you are given a limit amount of information and you have to make assumptions, inferences, and difficult decisions with the limited information. For this reason the exam is essentially Critical Reasoning in nature.
I had never heard the GMAT exam explained in that manner even though I was taking a GMAT prep course. It was just a different way of looking at things and I appreciated the new perspective.
Moderator: On Short & Long Term goals Essay:
NYU Rep- Make sure that you SHOW how you've come to the conclusion of what your short term goals are - by function and by industry. Even if you're not sure... come up with something! Then SHOW how a degree from _______ program is the best option for you.
Johnson at Cornell University Rep - Think about what drives you. For the first time in your adult life you're being asked "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
It was funny when the Johnson at Cornell University Rep made this comment because she made everyone laugh. She made us think about it and it’s totally true. After finishing college... how often have you heard this?
This was my favorite question the moderator asked of the panelists. These buzzwords are definitely words to think about if you're applying to any of these four schools. Communicate these adjectives by SHOWING not TELLING.
The question was - State three words to describe your program.
Columbia - Resilient, Passionate, Articulate Insead - Globally minded, Passionate, Engaging Cornell - Enthusiastic, Passion, Focus
NYU - Team Player, Communication, Analytical
The reason I loved this question so much is because A.) I had never heard it before and B.) Because if I did hear it before, I wasn't ready to receive it. If that makes sense. It just went in one ear and out the other because I didn't realize how powerful it was and how it can help me when it's time to write my essays. I thought about it and realized that a school basically just told me what they feel are the three top qualities they look for in a candidate. If I could take these three themes and weave them into my essays, I would have a much better chance for admission. Since I will be applying to at least 1 of these schools, I will take those qualities to heart. I decided then that when I visited other schools I would make sure to ask them the same exact question. Just by learning that I
feel that the 2 hours spent with free cheap wine and some cheese was definitely worth it!
Anyway, as I continued to study while taking the GMAT class I realized that I needed to buy some notebooks so that I could attempt to be organized. Well, let me say that this was a huge wake-up call. I went to the bookstore down the street from my apartment in NYC. I grabbed two 5-subject notebooks and 1 one subject notebook and the total came to $17.98! I was so dumbfounded at the price of notebooks these days. Usually, I would just grab a notebook from work if I needed one but of course we didn’t have 5 subject notebooks. I remember in Kindergarten wanting my mother to buy me a Trapper Keeper because they were all the rage and they were like $6 and much were much better for organizational purposes than 5 subject notebooks. I mean you could keep your scissors, pencils, crayons and notebook in a Trapper Keeper! So I paid the $18 and went on my merry little way.
Because I had spent so much time on the MBA message boards, I had been trying to figure out the best way for me to study. Initially, I wanted to save all of the problems in the Official Guide until after I finished the class because those problems are the closest to the GMAT exam. I was very apprehensive about doing the OG problems prescribed to us by our GMAT teacher but then I conceded because I realized that he had actually scored in the 99th percentile and I was “trying” to do just that.
Okay enough about the GMAT for now and let’s switch gears a bit. Remember that NYU Marketing event that I said that I went to in October of 2009? Well, there was a gentleman there who I kept in contact with and in February we decided to meet up for some drinks and to just talk about the admissions process. He was in the process of applying to schools. It took us so long to actually be able to meet up because he was in the middle of the GMAT and application process. Applicants don’t really have time to do anything else other than work on their candidacy so I left him alone.
It was interesting from my point of view because most of the people who I met at that event had already applied to school, so they were definitely in a different frame of mind from the one that I was in. That also meant that I couldn’t really understand what they were going through. I thought that I could, but now, having been through the process I realize that I definitely could not!
It was great to see him though because I got to pick his brain about the whole process. Remember, I didn’t have anyone to “look up too” in terms of the application process, so I jumped at every chance to meet up with people. He was applying Round 2 (R2) to Wharton, Harvard, Columbia, NYU, and UVA Darden. He and I also had very similar backgrounds as he too was in digital marketing for a national retailer. We talked about everything under the sun for about 3 hours. He had to leave because he had to prepare for his interview at Darden and Wharton, which were to be the following week.
It was interesting that I was starting to meet up with people who were going to business school, or at least those who planned too because then I saw an update from a friend that I went to high school with who had just applied to Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, MIT Sloan, and Dartmouth (Tuck). We started chatting on Facebook and I learned that he was rejected from Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton, but was accepted to Sloan and was waiting to hear back from Dartmouth (Tuck). When he told me that he was waiting to hear back from Tuck I was confident that he would get in simply because he’s a smart guy and because he went to Dartmouth for undergrad. I think it was the following week
that he told me that he was rejected from Dartmouth (Tuck) and that he was going to go to MIT Sloan.
Around this time in February, I had to think ahead to scheduling my school visits. The first one that I scheduled in February was Yale SOM. I knew that it would be quick and easy to get up to New Haven from NYC because it’s a short train ride. I wouldn’t have to get a hotel or anything but I wanted to make sure that I went up on a day that they had classes. I ended up going up on President’s Day because I had off from work but I had found out that the student’s still had classes. This was weird to me THEN. After having been through business school I now know that it’s not a rare occurrence for there to be a national holiday yet business school students still have classes. I knew that I would do a campus tour, sit in on 2 classes, and participate in an Admissions question and answer session. I wrote down in my notebook a reminder to myself to ask the 3 adjectives question that I initially heard at the Kaplan event.
I won’t go into how my visit went, but if you want to read the full de-brief, you can visit my blog and search for Yale SOM Visit. I don’t want to go into the visit in my book because it was MY experience of one school and I don’t want to sway any readers towards or away from any one school. That’s not my goal for this book. Everyone needs to come to conclusions about schools on their own aka, do your own due diligence. My hope is that you can use the strategies and tactics that I used to evaluate schools in your own manner.
What I can say about my visit to Yale SOM is that I learned a lot just from being on campus. When I would read information on a school’s website, I thought I knew exactly what they meant in terms of class structure or culture, but it wasn’t until I visited Yale SOM in person that I truly understood it. Sure, I had visited NYU Stern before but it wasn’t in an official campus tour/sit in on class setting.
Towards the end of February, I had accumulated 900 posts on BeatTheGMAT. I remember being very stressed out because of the time zone difference. What do I mean by that? Well, a huge population in Asia was competitive in the contest. I naturally stay up late and have done so for most of my life, but getting emails any time someone posted would prompt me to go online and make a helpful post in response to them. 900 posts over the course of a month – that’s about 30 posts/day. That’s a lot if you think about it. But at this point I was in 1st place on the leaderboard. I knew that if I kept up my usage then I would get a free Veritas Prep consultant! I thought about that every single waking moment. It was essentially a $3,000 prize simply for adding content to a website. Cut to - the end of the contest when I was in 1st place! I had a total of 971 posts. That was definitely tiring but I had completed my mission!
(Insert picture of the leaderboard at the end of the contest)
Towards the end of the contest I had been studying for the GMAT hard for about 5/6 weeks and my brain was fried. I was consistently putting in 3 hours a day and my brain was shutting down. It was as if it was saying, “Hey Richard, STOP! I can’t do this any longer!” When I started feeling like this I must say that I had to take some time off. There were days when I didn’t even open a GMAT book although I did go through my notecards when I would be on the subway or just sitting watching TV. I started putting some notecards aside because I had memorized the information like the back of my hand.
I eventually did get back into MUST STUDY mode and it was actually refreshing. What helped me get back into it was definitely the looming end of the GMAT class. I had paid a lot of money to take the class and wanted to make the most of it, so I forced myself back into study mode. What I learned from that is that it’s actually harder to get back into study mode than to just cut back a little bit from studying. That’s what everyone says though right? Well, it’s definitely true. That’s another time that I should have listened to what people, who came before me, were saying.
Ok so back to the GMAT. If you decided to take a GMAT course and depending on which GMAT class you take, you will get anywhere from 5-6 practice CAT exams for you to take throughout the course. At the end of some of these exams, after you’ve realized which score you’ve gotten, you can go through the questions that you got both correct and incorrect and the eam will tell you which level problems they are. So you can have problems that are 300-400, 500-600, 600-700 and 700-800 level. When I looked back on my first CAT test that I took prior to me starting the GMAT class, I got a lot of 300-400 level questions incorrect. This is why I scored so low because remember, each question type builds on itself. So if you are answering questions that are 500-600 level and you get prompted with a 300-400 level question that you ultimately get incorrect then the next question will not be a 600-700 level question.
I say this to say that I truly started to analyze the types of questions that I was getting wrong both from the exams and also from the book. Since I had been studying for about 2 months straight, I started to see trends in the types of questions that I was getting incorrect. This is very important. After having studied for that period of time, I went back to the CAT exam and timed myself redoing the easy level questions that I did incorrectly and I got them correct with no problem. This type of improvement was definitely the catalyst for me wanting to push forward through the “pain” of studying for the GMAT.