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Monday, September 19, 2011

If at First You Don’t Succeed...Skydiving Is Probably Not for You…

Mood: Exasperated. More on this later.

Musing: This post is going to be relatively short.  I know now that I'm pretty terrible at writing short posts, but there is a list of things I need to do this afternoon, which most importantly include:

1. Pack -
I fly out to work in Pittsburgh at 5:30am tomorrow for work the rest of the week.  I have invested in this Sharper Image 21-inch upright convertible backpack: 
Cute, but not very functional.

                   Awesome and practical

Granted, I only paid $29.99 from Marshalls, but I love this thing.  Before, I had used a Diane Von Furstenburg suitcase set which was visually pretty and stood out from all the other drab business luggage, but after 2 years of constant use, the handle got stuck and I haven't bothered to fix it since.

2.  Plan - We're throwing a housewarming/bday party (yes housewarming, though I've lived here for 9+ months...) this Saturday and have some major cleaning and decorating to do.  We have a boa theme (feather boas) but my room mate and I are considering getting an actual boa,
à la Britney at the 2001 VMAs. Clever, right? :) 

I am relieved to say - I am finally moving on from the GMAT aka Give Money And Time to the GMAC

My GMAT retake was this morning and I resolved it would be my last.  My preparation up until this retake was a little lopsided - I put off studying entirely for the 2 weeks immediately after my first attempt, and studied pretty consistently the next 3 weeks.  I knew that timing was my big thing, so I tried to employ a variety of strategies including pacing myself and not running out of time at the end.

Like the first time, AWA went by quickly and though I had to think and plan longer on my topics this time, I still felt pretty good when finishing.  Moving on to Quant, I started with some fairly easy questions, then moved up to medium level, and for a few that I had no clue how to solve, I gave it my best guess and moved on.  What really scared me was a few easy questions in the middle - was this a sign that I had made simple mistakes earlier?  This caused me to panick and I resolved to keep truckin' along, doing well at the end and finishing with a minute to spare.  When Quant was over, I was slightly worried - I hadn't seen any rate or permutation questions, the ones that I felt solid on, but saw two functions questions, types of questions that I did not brush up on.  I knew something was amiss, but wanted to head strong into Verbal so I only took a few minutes for the break.

The entire time on Verbal I told myself to work at a steady pace, which was my problem the last time.  Halfway through Verbal, I noticed I was short on the time I had budgeted and guessed on two questions in a very long CR passage.  I finished just on time, but thought I had bombed Verbal.  Luckily, I did not have to go through the experimental section this time around and when my results screen finally came up, I put my hands over my eyes, much like you would do watching while The Ring: 

The result? 710 (92%) with 44Q (66%) and 44V (97%).  I had made my goal of hopping over the 700-barrier, but it was more of a stumble and dash at the end, rather then a true leap.

Go figure.  While I'm happy with my Verbal score, the Quant leaves much to be desired.   +20 points is not much, but it puts me closer to the average of the schools I hope to attend.  My only concern now is in the unbalance of the scores - would a school look unfavorably upon such a low quant score? 

Regardless, I really wanted to move on.  Realistically, the most my score could go up is maybe 30 pts, and the 3 practice tests I took over the past week I scored 710, 720, and 730, so I knew it was within my range.  At home, I googled a 44v 44q split and got some interesting feedback - most people said the 710 was a good score, but the split may be concerning to some as the 80/80 percentile is preferred. Gah!

I even wondered for a minute whether I should submit the 690 score because of the more even distribution, but realized how silly that was.  710 is a great score and I really did not want to keep taking this test again and keep forking over the $250.  I have no plans of doing anything finance related, though I'm fairly comfortable with numbers and data as I use them in my job with relation academic performance across schools.  After beating myself up for the split, I realized that I did okay considering I did not sign up for a class and used the Manhattan GMAT guides, OG books and a tiny bit of Kaplan and Princeton review here and there along with the Manhattan GMAT, GMAC and Knewton practice tests.  What did help the last couple of weeks was googling types of questions that I was still unclear on - there's a lot you can learn from random websites on basic math!

Set of GMAT guides, looking for a good home!

I am pretty much convinced that my GMAT tribulations are ending today.  I even re-read through this thread on whether or not to retake, and can't really point out a good reason other than increasing the Quant.  On the drive home, I reflected on the irony of the situation, which should be taken as a sign to move on.  I thought back to My Biking Incident of Last Summer - in an attempt to fit in better in my city (I was not about to get a tattoo and could only take PBR in small amounts), I bought a vintage Schwinn off Craigslist and convinced myself to bike to work. The bike was not really my thing, it was more of a practical move with a 15 minute commute downhill to work.  Riding home in a hurry one afternoon to get to kickball practice, I fell off and busted up my knee, landing in urgent care.  (I still have the scar to prove it, and now have to pose strategically in photographs - ha!)  A few weeks later, my bike got stolen as it was locked outside of my office; granted I had left it there for two weeks while I worked in Asia, but that's besides the point.  Maybe, somewhere the universe was saying that I need to stay off that bike, and maybe, this is an indication today that I need to focus on other parts of my app. This time around, I'm listening.  :)

Pretty much the mentality of my city - less cars on the road and less pollution, I'm all for it!

Hopefully if I can show the admissions committee my strengths in numbers and data in other ways, such as in my job and on my transcript (took a few quant courses, minored in econ), the 44Q will not keep me out of a school.   I also read that if a certain component of your application is low but the rest is stellar, the admissions committee may wave you in but recommend taking additional courses. 

What I am looking forward to now are the school visits!  I have decided not to let living out in the PNW and physically far away from these schools prevent me from visiting, as I know now the importance of the on-site visit. Due to some clever scheduling with working out east heavily in a few weeks and red-eye flights, I will be able to visit Kellogg when I'm working in Chi-Town and Columbia while helping my BFF settle into NYC.  I'm stoked that I'll be able to spend time with friends in both cities, but also thankful for the opportunity to get a better reading of how I will fit in at these schools.  I want to get the most out of my school visits, so that will mean reading up on the programs ahead of time (the two programs that I am least familiar with on my list of prospective schools), compiling a list of questions to ask, and researching which classes I want to sit in on.  

All that Jazz in Chicago?
Or concrete jungle where dreams are made of in NYC?

So what do you think - should I quit now while I'm *slightly* ahead, or take the GMAT once more to see if I can get that Q up?  At the risk of my verbal going down... I truly think my time could be spent in better ways. 

Time to make the most of my "vacation" day from work and to go scrounging for a birthday dress,


law and order marathons ----> actual half can be done!
Bucket list #27:  Run a half marathon, or at the very least, a 10k.   Ran a 5k this past summer dressed as Curious George (to my credit, I convinced my two friends to dress up as the [wo]man in the yellow hat and a banana) and I have been wanting to train for a longer run.   Now that the GMAT is over, this might be good balance with the app-writing process.  Bonus points if the half marathon offers pasta or beer afterwards, or is fairly flat.  :)

****addendum to my last posting: I realized last night that I may have miscalculated my chances of getting into a b-school in my last post, as I had multiplied the possibility of getting in instead of possibility of getting denied.  The actual percentage?  (1-.85*.8*.6*.5*.75*.6*.6*.5) or 97% chance .... I'll take THAT figure with a Morton's factory worth of salt :)

Friday, September 16, 2011

So you're telling me there's a chance... *YEAH!* :)

Mood:  Freezing. After having record highs (close to 100 degrees) in my PNW city this past weekend (passing up optimal outside bronzing time/floating down the river/Warrior Dash for GMAT studying), the weather has returned to normal and it is finally starting to feel like fall.   Unfortunately this means that our poorly-insulated old house in our trendy hipster enclave is going to transform from being an oven this summer into a refrigerator this fall aka, oh heating bill, it's you again.  

Musing:  I am less than 10 days away from turning the big 2-5, aka onset of the quarter life crisis (ha).  This is the final "hurrah" to cross...though not much will change (lower car insurance? yay?)  Part of me starts to panic - there are people who did amazing things by age 25.  Lady Gaga sold 13 million albums, Mark Zuckerberg created and launched Facebook, and I'm pretty sure Shakespeare wrote his first play before he turned 25. 

Then I watched this National Geographic video then this one about there being 7 billion people in the world and felt just a teensy bit insignificant.  

Who doesn't love National Geographic?
I'm definitely very appreciative of all my experiences up until now, but I also want to make sure that I'm taking advantage of all the opportunities that have been given to me and reflective of my choices.  I have always thought, why MBA and why now, but now more than ever, I realize how ready I am at this point in my life to go back to school. The video has been on my mind the last couple of days, and made me think about the inter-connectedness of the world and the potential for combining education + global impact. My international experiences in work and education have been some of the most memorable, and it would be amazing to have the opportunity to work and study abroad.

Moving forward with the application process, I'm now starting to narrow down my list of schools and realistically assess my chances.

First move was to submit my profile to Sandy aka the HBSGuru on Poets & Quants to get his opinion.  I figured if I needed someone to give it to me straight, it would be him.

Here's the profile I submitted, and Sandy's response, which I'm very grateful that he took the time to compile.

Key takeaways:
  • Hardest news to hear: "For the reasons you mention–low GPA and lowish GMAT, plus non-blue chip firm—you’re asking them to blink twice or maybe 1.5 times, and they will take someone similar to you with better stats and schooling" Ahh. And there it is - the truth. *gulp*
  • Most encouraging news to hear: "I like you, and my guess is, with real solid execution, which should be easy, given how smoothly your goals flow from your experience, you could be real strong candidate at Kellogg, Haas, Yale, and Duke."  *yay!* These are some schools that I am, also, very excited about.
  • Alignment with my future goals: "The rest of this is just so solid. A neighbor of mine started an educational consulting company right out of Harvard Ed School, doing what seems like what your company does, and he had an HBS grad working for him." That sounds amazing and right up my alley.
  • To end: "Explain the grades in some way and stress international do-gooder stories, and write back and tell me you made it to Harvard or Stanford." Check and check, and if I do, you can expect a manuscript :)
So basically what I got out of it was, your chances realistically at some schools are not very high, they care about numbers, but give it your best shot because you have some other things working for you.

What can I control? My GPA is history, and I don't have time to take additional classes now. I can focus on my recommendations, community service and essays, and getting that GMAT number up.

Immediately after I read his response, I felt like Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber shouting out, "So you're telling me there's a chance?!"

Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight!
So without further ado, here are my preliminary list of schools along with the percentage chance of acceptance that Sandy has "handicapped":
  • Stanford (joint degree in School of Education): 15% to 20%
  • Harvard Business School: 20% to 30%
  • Berkeley: 40+%
  • Yale: 50+%
  • Wharton: 25% to 40%
  • Northwestern: 40% to 60%
  • Columbia: 40% to 50%
  • Duke: 50% to 60%
Using what I learned about probability from my GMAT quantitative prep, the chances that I will get into ONE of the above schools is equal to 1 - the chances I get denied at ALL of the schools multiplied together (ha) or, 1-(.15*.20*.40*.25*.40*.40*.50) = .99976.  Now I will take this figure with a grain of salt...but statistically, I should get into at least one or two of the schools on the list.  I just need to put forth the strongest application I possibly can!
It's going to be helpful in breaking down my list of schools in each blog posting and digesting what I have to offer the schools and what they have to offer me in return.  Some might wonder, "Why aren't you applying to more safety/reach schools? The answer being, MBA admissions is not like college where you HAVE to go somewhere so you need "a safety school" in case all else fails.  I applied to maybe 11 different colleges, a mix of liberal arts schools and universities, public and private, in every corner of the US, and had originally planned on going to the school that offered me the best financial aid package.  Due to the generous policies of schools meeting all financial need, I was able to go to my dream school.  

I know business school is not like that, and financing my experience will be another posting in itself, but I definitely only will apply to schools that I feel I would genuinely be happy to attend.   If I don't get in, I'll want to know why and what I can do to improve my profile, whether it is work experience, a higher GMAT score, or better crafted essays and statements.  Not just because it is what a school asks for, but also because I want to be a well-rounded student when I enter. 

I was lucky enough to attend my "dream school" at my undergraduate institution, but am also realistic in having more than one "dream school" for B-School :)
Before I start, it might help to list out what I am looking for in an ideal school "fit" 
  • Brand Name & Reputation.  Is that superficial? Let me clarify then - I don't necessarily mean the exact rankings, but one that is well-regarded and a record of taking credit for creating leaders.  ;)  There's a reason why schools have strong reputations - a degree from that institution carries a high value, and the experience and connections are priceless.  On the other hand, I'm not going to apply/choose a school that is ranked #10 just because it is ranked higher than #11.
  • General Management Focus, not just finance-y or only known for being numbers heavy, but a school that aims to and has a history of producing real leaders.
  • Social entrepreneurship connections - ideally they would be high up on the Beyond Gray Pinstripes rankings for social, ethical and environmental stewardship.
  • Most Importantly, school culture and fit - students that are collaborative, positive and PASSIONATE, not just ambitious.  I don't want to be sitting next to students who only want to crunch numbers all day and earn the big bucks on Wall Street (though, I grudgingly admit we may need those people too), but also connected to those who are earnestly wanting to change the world (I mean GLOBAL impact) for the better.  I want to be around people who dream really, really big, and have the drive and talents to back it up.  On the other hand, I recognize that I would gain a great deal learning from those who have different skills than I do, and so what I'm really looking for is a BALANCED student body - one where I would naturally fit in. 
Icing on the cake:
  • West Coast Location - okay, that is a definite plus so that I can be close to family, but I will live anywhere. Heck, I'll even suck it up for cold weather. I was raised in Alaska, so I don't mind walking around in a snow suit if I have to.  In fact, that would be probably very fashionably ironic and retro in my current city!  I picked my undergrad school partly based on the sunshine, but this is serious grad school stuff we are talking about here ;)
  • Management Consultant Firms recruiting, or track record of sending a high number of students into consulting
  • International draw or opportunities for study abroad
  • Joint program with schools of Education
  • Emphasis on recruiting women or a female-friendly environment, student organizations for women in business, strong female alums
  • Fairly young student body - want to be going to school with students that are around my age, similar interests in starting up company and early in career.  Of course having older students to learn from different perspectives is always beneficial.
  • Connections to entrepreneurship in general; down the road, I'd love to start my own company/organization.
  • Balanced curriculum - I think I can gain the most from curriculum that is structured in that it has a solid foundation of the required basics, but also electives.  I have had a taste of the case study method and I do feel like it is very compatible with my style of learning.
  • Oh and a beautiful campus sure doesn't hurt!
There's probably more...but those are some of the most important factors as of now.

So here we go: first school to break down on the list is the first school I actually visited (was in Singapore for business this Spring and coincidentally, was able to attend a Friday evening informational session):
INSEAD aka Innovative, eNtrepreneurship, Sexy (and Socially Impactful), European, globAl, Diverse

  • Truly a global business school in terms of curriculum, diverse student body, companies that recruit,
  • Highly ranked and great reputation (outside of the US would be stronger than within the US)
  • Heavily recruited by management consulting, send many graduates into consulting, but also have strong entrepreneurial ties
  • Visited the campus and expressed interest, love that you can study on both the Singapore and Fontainbleu France campuses
  • Will only be forgoing one year of salary, though on the other hand, I'm not sure I can get all I want out of an MBA experience in just one year.
  • #28 on Beyond Grey Pinstripes for social impact
I love Singapore as a city and living in a french chateau for part of a year could be really freaking charming.  *Pardon my French, literally, because it is non-existent and I'm pretty sure any attempt will butcher the language and result in me inadvertently uttering an expletive.  Case in point: I love the word pamplemousse, and when I first learned the word in High School, I repeated it incessantly, just because I liked the sound.  Little did I know it is also a slang term/insult, and learned that the hard way when I told a native french co-worker of my favorite phrase...good thing they understood my intentions..!

great word. even better great fruit, second only to mangos :)
As much as Insead may fit my interests on paper, I'm not sure the "chemistry" is there.  I didn't quite feel the "click" I was looking for when I attended the presentation, albeit I didn't get a chance to look around the campus or speak individually with many students (talked with a few).  If I may make another one of my far-out stretchy analogies that I am prone to doing, Insead in many ways is like Viggo Mortensen, who embodies what many might consider a "perfect" renaissance man:

Why the sudden Viggo interest?  One reason: Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings orchestra is coming to my city....and the repressed LOTR fanatic in me is very tempted to get tickets and geek out
 You are probably wondering who Viggo is.  Recognize him now?
Oh yeahhh. The orcs have nothing on you :)
Much like Insead, he's got humor, charm, intelligence (he writes books! he paints! he photographs!), is socially conscious (started a publishing house for non-traditional authors), is bold (Aragon! Fight Scene in Eastern Promises!), plus is fluent in 5+ languages (you need to know how to speak 3 languages as a student at Insead), and is undeniably European too, Danish to be exact (cultural differences keeps things exciting!)

But chemistry-wise?  Yep, as dreamy as Aragon is, realistically Viggo is probably (and by probably, I mean definitely) not the guy for me.  There's also that whole age thing, aka he is twice my age (average age of Insead students entering in is 29, I'd matriculate at age 25) aaaand I'm pretty sure that he doesn't even know I exist :). Insead on the other hand - I hope they do - I made sure to RSVP and sign in!

From my visit and looking around at the prospective students around me, and the student panel in the front, my immediate feeling in the room was; I feel SUPER American and SO young - which might not necessarily be a bad thing. Is adjusting to living abroad going to be difficult at the same time as I'm learning 2 years worth of MBA curriculum in one jam-packed year?  Plus a European MBA may be very different than an American one in terms of the doors it opens and connections to students who will probably go on to work globally.  As much as I would love to be an expat for a short period of time, I don't think I would want to live internationally the rest of my life....

In other news, I am now aiming for Round 2.  When I initially started, I thought I would submit to schools for R1, but after spending so much time on the GMAT and traveling for work, things have gotten pushed back.   I don't think it will hurt my chances as much since I've read that many R1 applicants are typically the "traditional" candidates such as Management Consultants or I-Bankers who have others helping coach them through the process, they have everything in top-shape early on.  Hopefully my profile, despite being in "consulting" as the broader industry, would be considered more "nontraditional" or "atypical" and I can still get by with R2.  Plus that will give me enough time to build solid essays and enhance my work/community experiences. 

Okay. Time to snooze.  I can't believe my GMAT re-take is just a few days away...and this time, I really hope it will be my last!

Au Revoir, (one of the only other french phrases I know...)  Somehow I have a feeling I'll be dreaming of Joey learning French from Phoebe..


Bucket List Continued:

28. Work and/or study in a different country for at least a few months.  Soak up the language, culture and grub.  Challenge myself outside of my comfort zone so that I can be truly adaptable to all situations.  Come away with a better understanding of how I fit into the global fabric and how I can contribute.