June 2010

In the beginning of June I found it incredibly hard to start studying hardcore again, even though around this time, schools were beginning to release the essay questions for the upcoming year. The year prior, this didn’t really mean anything to me because I wasn’t applying that time, but this time around it was for me. What it was, was that the SUMMER was beginning to get in the way. I’m sure others have experienced the same thing. I should have never stopped studying right after I took the GMAT and I was beginning to feel very guilty about it. I had many resources given to me and was beginning to feel like I was taking them for granted.

It was just incredibly draining to: think about the GMAT, blog about the GMAT, talk about the GMAT, worry about the GMAT, pay for the GMAT, look at GMAT books, have people ask me about the GMAT, hearing of friend’s taking the GMAT, practice for the GMAT etc etc...

While I was in this slump I wasn’t totally blocking everything out of my head. Because I was immersing myself in the application process – and my friends knew it – I would always have conversations with people about the GMAT. I was still having conversations with my friends about the process. I was talking with a coworker whose brother had just graduated from Law School but he couldn’t find a job. When we were in the elevator going back up to the office, somehow the topic of debt that people accrue from business school came up. Then she said something that stuck with me.

She said - "yeah when you go to Law school.. you're on your way to become a Lawyer.... when you go to Medical school you're on your way to becoming a Doctor... what do become when you graduate from business school?" I joked by saying, “...you become broke from the $150,000 in debt that you’ve just accrued.” While, on one hand I was joking, on the other I wasn’t and it got me thinking. For those of us who are on the road to business school we of course need to know WHY we want to get an MBA but had we really thought about what life would be like after business school in depth? I hadn’t really thought about it because I didn’t have anyone to look up to who had been.

I then simplified it even further for her. I said "We are essentially paying $100k+ to add three letters to our resume!" After business school we aren’t necessarily CALLED anything differently. We can’t add MBA to our business cards, although I have seen it before and I laugh at people who do that. Pretentious much? All we could do is put our recent Alma Mater on a piece of paper (at the bottom no less), with a date and MBA, or Masters in Business Administration, for those of you who like to write things out.

So that was a great eye-opening conversation that I had with my coworker. I definitely haven’t forgotten about that. That being said, I knew that I had to keep pushing on towards my goal. I had reached out to so many people up until this point that I had to stay focused. I had a lot of people rooting for me and I didn’t want to let them or myself down. Let’s go back to the LGBT open house at HBS where I met a current 2nd year who was also in retail prior to business school. He was on the buying/merchandise side whereas I was on the marketing team for Bloomingdales.com. After the HBS event, we became connected on LinkedIn.

Shortly after the conversation that I had with my coworker, a woman left my job and went to a competitor to be e-commerce manager. She updated her LinkedIn profile with her company, and I guess this HBS student saw it in his feed. He emailed me and told me that he was now in NYC and was looking to make a contact at that company. I was glad to make an introduction to her for him. So I wrote the introductory email... sent it over to her and cc'ed him on it.

Then we made plans to meet for coffee since he was located in Union Square, in Manhattan. After work one day we met at Starbucks and he gave me some incredible advice on how to navigate the admissions process. He was telling me how the HBS degree opens pretty much any door that you want it to but once you're in you have to be able to back it up and that it was true for an MBA degree from a top school as well.

We also talked about the schools that I want to apply too. He said he got into HBS, Wharton and Columbia. The main thing that he said to me that resonated was that I should not underestimate the LGBT community at each school. I guess I was minimizing this in my head, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he had a point. I mean why shouldn't he? He just went through the whole process!

A couple days after I met with the HBS graduate, my blog received its 5000th visitor. To me this was a big deal (not now because I get a ton of traffic now). Since, I was tired of writing for myself, I asked a student at one of the school’s that I was applying too if he wouldn’t mind answering a couple of questions for me. He was in school and also had an MBA admission consulting company so I figured he would have a unique take on things. Here are some of his answers:

Me: It seems as though there a lot of people who know they will be applying this upcoming season. Even though applications have not come out yet, is there anything that one can do to prepare for application season?

HIM: First, get the GMAT over and done with now. Take it twice and get a great score so that you don’t have to worry about it while you’re writing the essays and application.

Second, start to network the crap out of each school. The more people you know at or graduated from your target school the more likely you’ll get accepted. These contacts can give you valuable information on how to apply and sometimes even write in on your behalf. Reach out to them now so that you’ve built a relationship with them early.

Me: Let's say I'm an international applicant and did not get the best score on the Verbal portion of the GMAT nor did I score in the 50th percentile on the AWA section. What, if anything, can I do to show competency in the English language?

HIM: Write great essays and really practice for the interview. Take language classes or practice regularly to prepare for the interview because if you can’t communicate well in the interview, you’ll have a hard time getting accepted. Plus, this class will be a nice extracurricular activity on the application.

Then let your recommenders compensate for your poor Verbal score. Suggest to them to possibly mention things about your ability to communicate. And finally, include classes on your resume or extracurricular activities that demonstrate where you demonstrated English skills.

Me: Piggybacking off of question 5 - Can you explain what a "Hollistic approach" is and how important is one's story in the application process?

HIM: A better way to think about the “Holistic approach” is that the application process is a zero-sum competition, which means that you must beat other applicants for a set number of spots. For example, if you get a 720 on the GMAT and 500 other applicants get a 720, you are now tied with 500 other applicants for a class of 200. Therefore, to get accepted into a top school you must find areas – the holistic parts - of the application to BEAT THE COMPETITION. These are the areas that get you accepted into top business schools.

After I posted this interview on my blog I had to congratulate my friend OSIRUS (yes, the one from BeatTheGMAT) on his climb from a 680 GMAT score to a 730 GMAT score. At this point in time, I could definitely refer to him as a friend because we talked either online, on the phone or via text every single day. While on one hand I was incredibly happy for him, on the other hand I was even more disheartened because this was yet another friend who had conquered the GMAT exam, while I was over here struggling. I did tell him however that he was an inspiration! In hindsight, however we were in two totally different headpsaces. As I said previously, to go from a 600 to 700 is much different from going from a 700 to something higher.

So with the fire lit under my butt, I continued to push through studying the Veritas Prep books. They were taking me longer than I originally expected because I was now doing exactly what I thought I should be doing, not only studying the wrong answers but also why the right answers were in fact correct. I started to see trends in the material that I was studying. There were certain topics that I could do 100% of the time in less than 1 minute without fail. On the other hand there were some things that I think I should know that I just give up on and flip to the end of the book to see the explanations. After spending X amount of minutes on a question there wasn’t any hope that I would be able to answer it so I needed to see how it was done so that going forward I would know. Again, this goes back to how I learn the best.

When I started to study again, I actually found it to be very therapeutic. I knew that was a good sign because it would keep me focused. I needed to forget what I was like to have a social life. I needed to forget so that I could go back into “hibernation” and recalibrate my brain.