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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tis the Season...and a month away from Round 2 Deadlines!

Mood:  Re-Energized.  I've been slacking on the application process again, and with a little more than a month away from the due dates, I'm ready to ramp things up full speed!

Musing:  Kind of bittersweet that the Occupy movement is no longer, though in my dear PNW city, the movement was starting to drive me nuts.   Our office was just 2 blocks away from where the protesters had set up a tent city, and I was able to observe it each day from the comfort and security of my office window.

I used to walk by the Occupy tent city on the way to the gym, (made sure to change out of my suit and into gym clothes as even suits in my PNW city are a rarity unless you are going to court) and was intrigued by the messages on the signs.  Having participated in a number of protests and demonstrations back in the day (mostly relating to budget cuts, school funding, and the War on Iraq) I was slightly sympathetic to the protesters but in retrospect, wondered if they might have taken a cue from the organizations they were protesting: having a solid identity, message and brand really could have helped their cause.  

It was hard to understand what their desired results were, what they wanted to accomplish because of their varied statements: "Free Tibet!" to "Shut down Guantanamo Bay!" to "Stop your Spending!" (um, you're saying that to the girl who is carrying 4 shopping bags and has already tried to hide her credit cards?) and perhaps if they had a united message and with the proper spin and "marketing", they could have gotten more people to identify with their cause.  Of course, using iPhones and smart phones to share their message, bundling up in cozy Patagonia jackets and using the Starbucks and Mcdonalds restrooms might have also worked again their credibility...

Ugh. Probably the most pretentious Ad Campaign ever, courtesy of Patagonia on Black Friday
As I am working towards Round 2 Application Deadlines....I realize I really do have my work cut out for me!

A lot has happened in my life since I scratched out my last posting including:
  • A spectacular trip to Singapore & Indonesia for work and a magical weekend in Bali spent biking through rice paddies, riding (and falling off of) motorbikes, snorkeling, spas and delicious food and chasing sunsets.
  • Initiated, planned and hosted a fairly successful Happy Hour for the Educational Foundation I am a part of through my company...hardest part was that I was in Asia for the weeks leading up to the event, but luckily I had some amazing team mates that helped get everything in order.
  • Room mate announcing that she is moving to South Lake Tahoe to unofficially become a snowboarding bum, which will result in me moving back home by the end of month... I'll be too caught up with apps to figure out where else to live, so I'll be at home for the time being.
  • My personal life had gotten kind of um, complicated, which in retrospect detracted from my original plans of focusing on the B-School applications during the home stretch.  Well, no longer, and I'm feeling pretty good about moving forward!
Leading up to this major deadline, I found myself sneaking peeks at my friends Facebook photo albums of their first years at B-School.  I know that I’m probably over-glamorizing the whole experience in my mind and that what the photos and status updates depict might not actually be what happens in reality *cough* Kardashian Wedding* cough* but at the same time, it seems like they are having an incredible time even through Finals Week.

I might say a little about my school visits to Columbia and Kellogg as they really helped me solidify my decision.  What I realized is that, to be blunt, screw applying to schools just for the sake of applying!  I had to get serious about the next big commitment of my life, which leads me to my next analogy: school visits are a lot like online dating -  you may have built up in your mind this amazing idea of what a school is like, but you can’t really make a decision of whether it is right for you until you go and visit and have that interaction.

Kellogg: The cute Midwestern guy
None was more true than when I visited Kellogg and Columbia in the middle of October (wow. a month and a half ago?!)   In my mind, I had been “researching” and “learning about” the two schools, even to go as far as communicating with the schools virtually, emailing them questions and letting them know I’d be visiting campus.

On paper, they were both, um, very handsome specimens :)  Kellogg I considered to be friendly, social, and down to earth, but also cold (literally – right outside of Chicago the Windy City) and err… large? (student body was pretty big  - how would I fit in?) and perhaps not the best looking (had heard from a Northwestern friend that the campus was um, homely).  Regardless, it exuded that Midwestern, down-to-earth charm where you’d feel very comfortable being yourself. 




Columbia: The Sexy NYC stud
Columbia on the other hand was as different of a profile as one could imagine- urban, sophisticated, very New York, finance-y, the dapper gentleman who would dazzle you and sweep you off your feet, but you weren’t sure if they’d call the next day (I had doubts about the community feel and closeness of student body after hearing that students lived spread out in New York City). 

The thing about online dating is that you don’t know until the first date whether you're still going to be interested, and the same could be said about the school visit. Sometimes it takes more than one meeting to know how strong the chemistry is, but that first date is very telling, especially if both parties are putting their best feet forward and going in with good intentions.  I figure if I’m going to make the effort to come all the way out to meet them, the very least they could do is reciprocate with an enthusiasm to meet me ;) This was true at Kellogg, but not so evident at Columbia. 

Let me explain:
When I visited Columbia in October, I had plans to attend the informational session and a few class visits, perhaps chat with students and walk around.  My first impression stepping foot on campus was wow – the architecture was beautiful.  Immediately, I was attracted to the school at the visual level, because the aesthetics reminded me of my previous longest-lasting relationship - my undergrad Alma Mater, in all its Gothic beauty – you can say I have a type when it comes to campuses :)

Wanting to keep an open mind, I first decided to attend the info session.  On the way there, I ran into a friend from undergrad and we were both very surprised to see each other.  After catching up briefly before the session, he offered to answer any question I had.  This was a good sign – mutual friends!   During the session though, I was continually waiting for all my reservations I had about the school to be assuaged (living in an expensive city, finding housing, a close-knit community of students, strengths in areas outside of finance) and the answers did little to convince me in the other direction.  It’s like when you ask your date if he still smokes (after marking “Trying to Quit” on their profile) and he mentions he wouldn’t in front of you.  Yes, you find some comfort in that answer, but the bottom line is, no matter how they word it, the fact still remains.

At times, I also question the intention that many of these schools have for seeking so many applicants - that's $250 per person they rope into applying!  Are they giving you false hope, and just want you to apply so that the application rates will rise and they will look more selective by comparison?  Are they sugarcoating their answers on the tough questions, and will they think of you differently for even asking?
While the whole presentation centered on how amazing NYC is, the wonderful resources Columbia had to offer and the connections with Wall Street, I didn’t feel myself fitting in with the most desirable characteristics of the school.  Even the class visits were above my head, as they had only offered second year courses.  The professors for those classes, according to the students I spoke with, left much to be desired.  At the end of the day, while eating sushi in Morningside Heights with a friend that attends Columbia Law School, I realized that, at the most basic level, CBS was wonderful, but just not for me.  One might even say, "You're Just not that into It" ;)  Is it then time to relegate them to the “friend zone?” (aka don’t apply this round, but keep on your radar?)

After a semi-disappointing visit to Columbia, I entered my Kellogg visit the following day with a bit of a sense of trepidation.  I wondered in my mind whether I had built up this ideal, perfection in a school that was unattainable, and decided I needed to decide what my non-negotiables were (campus aesthetics – meh, fit with interest and future plans – crucial) as well as to, please excuse the cliché, Just Go With It (terrible movie, by the way!) 

Driving up to the campus, I started to feel butterflies building in my stomach.  It was the complete opposite of Columbia in that the buildings were modern, not as beautiful, but the sun was shining, the leaves were turning and students were walking and chatting.  The day-long date just kept getting better, and I could tell the school had put out its best foot for prospective students.  The class visit that I sat in on was phenomenal and blew my mind.  The teacher had won numerous awards and was funny, knowledgeable, engaging and quirky: everything I desired in a professor, and especially in a first year class.

They had assigned student ambassadors to show us around, so I really appreciated the personal gesture, but the highlight of the visit culminated in individual time with the admissions director.  Instead of doing a formal presentation, she gathered myself and 3 other prospective students in her office and just opened us up to ask questions to have a heart-to-heart dialogue.  It was without pretense, she spoke genuinely and honestly, and the entire experience put me at ease – everything that you’d want in a school visit AND a first date :)

When I left Kellogg, I could feel my heart beating rapidly.  This school was so right for me – down to the close interaction between the students, classroom dynamics, strengths, and that indescribable feeling that I could really see myself there for two years.  I knew that I was going to apply and felt very strongly about the school – the only question was, would they feel the same way about me? 

So this brings me to my list of four schools, in no particular order:
  • Harvard Business School ~ January 10th
  • Stanford GSB (joint program with MBA & Masters of Education) ~ January 11th
  • Kellogg School of Management ~ January 11th 
  • Haas School of Business ~ January 18th
It was a long, arduous choosing process, with lots of fretting, soul searching and going back and fourth, but I’ve visited all four schools, connected with current and former students of the schools, and feel that for similar and different reasons, they are great matches for me.  I will continue my “wooing” of these schools, submit the best applications I can muster up, and keep expressing my interest.   I’ll have to prepare myself for the possibility of rejection and knowing that the feelings are not reciprocated, but I want to know that I did everything that I could to show my interest and the best I have to offer.

A few months ago, I asked a co-worker to write my peer LOR, and yesterday, after dragging my feet for what seemed like eternity, I finally gathered up the courage to ask my direct boss for the dreaded Letter of Recommendation.  It was difficult first because he works on the East Coast and secondly, because I have a hard time with the ask, but I knew that it would be best to get the letter from him as he knew me best and I had worked directly under him for the last 2+ years.

I had initially spoken with another partner in the firm who was fully supportive and agreed enthusiastically to write one of the letters but also gave me some foreshadowing about the more tepid response from my direct boss and the company president.  There were all these times earlier I had planned on asking my boss when he was in the office a month ago (the same time we were doing some "company reorganization") or right before Thanksgiving Break (his birthday and he broke his leg) but they all just happened to be horrible timing so I felt it best to wait.

Come Monday morning, he's in our office for our Firm-Wide Team Meetings this week and he asks to meet with me.  Turns out, the partner had given him a head's up over the weekend.   In our conversation, he expressed his surprise of my decision and as expected, tried to talk me into staying by offering additional opportunities and growth.

As he spoke of his own graduate school experience, how he wished he would have waited, the burdensome student loans, I could feel doubts creep in.  But reality snapped in as I realized, that after a year of indecision, slogging through the GMAT, visiting and falling in love with different schools, and starting the application journey, I was not about to give in.   "I appreciate everything that this company has offered...but I'm still very determined to go to business school and put forth the strongest application possible."  (Or something along those lines)  While I think he certainly understands where I'm coming from, it will be hard to transition my portfolio as a small company...and I'm starting to dread the conversation with the president, who I will also be meeting with.  Especially considering our huge office holiday bash will be this Friday *GULP*

I fully plan on working full steam ahead the next few weeks until January 10th, when the first application is due.  Up until then, you can expect to hear from me fairly regularly throughout my brain-freezes and writers blocks as I polish up these essays :)

Thank you for your patience in reading through what may be my longest posting yet - Just making up for lost time here :)

Keep on Rockin' (around the Christmas tree)
Mango

PS - Check out my interview with Accepted.com!! 

Bali Sunset @ Nusa Lembogan Island, Jungut Batu Beach *SIGH*
 

5 comments:

  1. I loved this post! Good luck on your applications!

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  2. So excited for you! Good luck with your applications. We have some school overlap and I really hope we get to run into each other at somebody's admitted students weekend.

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  3. Mango! Good luck! I know how you feel, and I am super relieved I just finished my application process this week. Shoot me a note if you have any questions!

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  4. Just noticed that you have Kellogg's R2 deadline listed as 1/11 and wanted to make sure you know it's 1/10. I wouldn't want a silly oversight to cause a missed deadline. Sending you positive essay writing/application preparation vibes as you near the finish line for this phase.

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  5. Ooops - my bad with the typo, thanks for the heads up, Cheetarah1980! I'm diligently working on my HBS/Kellogg essays this weekend and fully intend on getting them in before the Jan 10th deadlines! Thanks too for the positive vibes...I know they'll come in handy when I'm burning the midnight oil through the home stretch!!

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