Author: MBA or Bust!

Aspiring MBA applicant writing about my journey from GMAT registration to the school of my dreams.

GMAT Success

I took the GMAT for the 4th and final time last Tuesday. I was traveling for work so it was a lot of hotels and meals out. I don’t recommend doing this before the exam. All the literature I have read says to get plenty of sleep the week before the exam and don’t study the day before. I threw all that out the window and expected to get a poor grade.

I showed up with a positive attitude. I would focus on timing and switching my mind set during breaks. The essay went OK, the integrated reasoning was tough but ended up with a 5, same as last two times. I took too long of a break and lost 1:49 on the quant section. After this I freaked out a little but recovered. I zoomed through the questions and I was able to answer quite a few. The ones I couldn’t get I made educated guesses and ruled out the obvious wrong answers. I finished quant with a minute remaining.

The verbal section had a few challenging prompts. I spent very little time studying verbal so I answered the best I could. I prepared myself for a score in the 600s and another attempt in December. Then the score popped up:

Quantitative: 47

Verbal: 44

Overall: 740

I don’t know how this was possible because I felt I did so poorly solving problems. My focus was on the overall test. The strategy and patterns is what I seemed to focus on instead of answering each question.  Jon Taves at EF Essays states it best: The goal in quant should be to win the war, not thirty-seven individual battles. Apparently something I did worked.

I was lucky. However, I had spent a lot of time preparing and working on the basics. Do not follow my example the week leading up to the test. Definitely start studying well ahead of time. Focus on individual areas such as algebra, geometry, powers and roots, and number properties. These are the core and the base of the other questions. Once you feel comfortable there go ahead and do some mixed question sets. The Magoosh website has some amazing training videos and questions for a low price. It was $99 for 1  of access.

Now it’s on to the applications. I can apply with confidence that my GMAT score will be a positive factor, instead of a risk.

How NOT to take the GMAT

I attempted the GMAT for the third time today. I was hoping this would be my final attempt and I would be able to hit round 1 with a solid score in the 700s. I learned a few important lessons today.

  • Do NOT run out of time on your essay. Even if there are small errors you notice with 10 seconds left on the timer. A score of 0 is far worse than a score of 4.
  • Bring cough drops
  • Practice pacing your answers, especially in quant. I finished with 37 seconds left and didn’t feel rushed at all. Practice really paid off.
  • Do NOT sit next to someone taking an ISS (?) test or any test that requires a massive amount of books. Listening to someone shuffle through pages, slide their chair between two desks, and shuffle through more pages is distracting. OK, it’s VERY distracting.
  • Be prepared for anything, just like in real life.

End result: 660. Quant: 46 Verbal: 35

Score cancelled.

The good news is that the quant has improved. I’ll take the credit for tanking the verbal section even though I spent half of the time taking my neighbor’s test with him. This goes to show that, like in the business world, things do not always go as planned.

It looks like all my round 1 applications are being pushed to round 2. I am not sure if I should risk round 1 with a 690 or take a chance on a smaller pool of open spots with a higher GMAT.

The Consortium Event in SF

MBA Diversity Hosted by Google

I went to my first MBA event last night. This one was hosted by the Consortium and it was held at the Google offices in San Francisco. The offices were beautiful and there are nice views outside of the Bay Bridge and SF Bay. Google does what it does best and had tons of free food. It was nice to see some Googlers still working deep into the night. This is one of the reasons I love Silicon Valley. The spirit to love your job and work beyond the normal 9 to 5 is encouraged and rewarded. The east coast still doesn’t get it.

The event was great. Several schools had a panel for a Q&A session. The event was a diversity event but the questions asked were the types of questions asked on any website and/or webinar. I was a little skeptical that I would fit in at a “diversity” event since I am not a minority or a woman. I suppose this is a stereotype that I have been guilty of. I even dropped my reservation to a Diversity Weekend at Berkeley Haas because I wasn’t sure I would fit in. However, to me diversity is about inclusion. It’s about enabling the business school dream for groups who are not the typical MBA type. Former military and first-generation college graduates seem like a under-represented group to me. But, I was still worried I would stick out like a sore thumb. I am glad my concerns were unwarranted. The event was truly about inclusion and making opportunities available to all sorts of different groups. Props to The Consortium and the great attendees!

Schools in Attendance (that I can remember)

  • Dartmouth (Tuck)
  • Virginia (Darden)
  • Texas (McCombs)
  • UC-Berkeley (Haas)
  • Indiana (Kelly)
  • UNC (Keenan-Flagler)
  • Wisconsin Business School
  • Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)
  • NYU (Stern)

The panel was great and then the MBA Fair portion opened up. It was great to meet with actual ambassadors from some of the schools. The team at Indiana University was by far the most outgoing. I hadn’t really considered the school before but they get points for sales. I also spoke with a couple Haas students and really enjoyed their stories and input. One was a Navy lawyer and had awesome advice for my application. Military experience is huge at some of these schools so I really have to sell it. I have spent so much of my life trying to NOT identify with my military experience so this is a relief. He also highlighted the fact that rank is not a deal breaker. They don’t look at officers only. If you have strong experience and leadership stories then you are good to go.

I spoke with the Tuck representative and her advice was to definitely visit the campus if possible. I had worked with a few Tuck alum in the past and they had great things to say. The campus is remote but it’s a truly old-school college feel. If I do a campus tour I will be sure to add Tuck as a destination.

One table that didn’t get as many visits was the Texas representative. This was surprising as Austin is a very entrepreneurial city and the Texas computer science program is very highly ranked. Texas, at least that region, is awesome. I took the time to introduce myself and really gather his thoughts on the process. I mentioned that I have several close friends that went to A&M and they might disown me if I go to UT-Austin. I am hoping when it comes to application time I will be remembered positively.

I didn’t get to interact with the team from Tepper. They were pretty busy. I have a couple events coming up and I really want to hear more about their program. Tepper is in my top 5 and I am behind in communicating with the school. They’ll be on the campus tour list.

Lessons Learned 

1) More Confidence – Way too often I used the phrase “It’s definitely a challenge” or “It will be a challenge”. I’m applying at top 25 MBA programs as a 34-year old veteran from a tech background. Challenging is an understatement. It should also be assumed as the rejection rate at these programs is so high. Also, as an older learner who is going to switch careers and probably face a 50% pay cut, I should expect challenge. The admissions committees and representatives don’t want to hear that it’s hard for me. They need to hear how I took reins and owned it.

2) Smile – Body language and non-verbal communication is huge. I typically work with techies or by myself so there’s not a lot of personality. I noticed my posture gives in and I have a default scowl on my face. It’s not that I am not interested in what people are saying, it’s just what has formed over the years. I will be more inviting, open, and warmer at the next event. This is a critical communication skill and one of my goals for the MBA program. Can’t hurt to start early.

3) Suit Up! – I went out in the morning and bought some new threads. I am sure glad I did. I am not a black-tie kind of guy so it’s been a while since I wore one with a jacket. I felt very confident in my suit and tie. All the exercise lately is really paying off. While these events may be more informal I feel more is expected of me. It’s easy to loosen a tie or put it in a pocket. It’s embarrassing to be under-dressed. Especially if you are trying to make a lasting impression on school representatives.

4) Follow Up – Send out emails thanking the representatives for their time. It’s all about lasting impressions.

I strongly encourage anyone looking at an MBA to go to as many programs like this as they can. It’s not a bunch of drones in suits trying to get consulting jobs. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s people who really want you to come to their school. Take the opportunity to practice social skills and learn more about the great programs. More information about The Consortium can be found here:

http://www.cgsm.org/

GMAT Accommodations – Not Very Accommodating

This is one of those “I wish I knew this earlier” moments. I read on mbaapplicant.com that GMAC and Pearson are able to offer accommodations such as extra time, longer breaks, etc. I had already registered for the test so figured I would look into this later. After registering for my second attempt I reached out to the accommodations department to see if I could get extra time or extra breaks on the exam. I don’t disclose it often but I am a veteran diagnosed with PTSD and a few other physical disabilities. While I don’t let it define me, I know it’s there and something I live with. Taking a test in an enclosed room with no way out and uncomfortable chairs hunched over a computer screen definitely reminds me it’s there . So, after hearing about the accommodations I figured it was worth a shot.

I sent a request a couple weeks before my second attempt. I was hoping there was a way to get it done quickly because I didn’t know about it earlier. The accommodations department emailed me back stating that it usually takes 3-4 weeks and there is no expedited services available. I am on a time crunch so that news was unfortunate. My third attempt is on September 28 so I won’t be able to get accommodations for that either. The challenging part is that you have to submit the request, submit all documentation (they are very thorough), and submit payment information. They then schedule the test for you.

As I look back it might have been useful to request accommodations earlier. However, I can go into my MBA applications knowing that I earned whatever my score through hard work, not special treatment. There are people with serious disabilities who don’t know about the accommodations. Giving these people the chance to overcome their disabilities and not be defined by them seems to make sense. I will post some links below for the prosperity of future generations.

Official mba.com accommodations page – This page has the documentation guidelines and application.

Manhattan Prep accommodations discussion – Stacey Koprince’s post based on conversations with two official GMAT Accommodations officials and Tova Elberg, a clinical psychologist. Very useful.

Veritas Prep accommodation summary – Good overview and sage advice: Don’t wait until the last minute to apply for accommodations.

Official PDF guide and application for accommodations – Definitely get this after reading the mba.com link above.

 

 

 

 

 

HBS Accept – Great Resume Tips

  1. One Page!  You can maximize space by reducing your contact information, which will already be included in the application forms.
  2. Make a new resume for the MBA application. Your application resume should be easily understandable for someone outside your function and your industry.  This will take more work than you might think.  Ask someone outside your function and industry to review your resume to eliminate jargon, acronyms, etc.
  3. Create a resume with 2-3 sections.  If you have enough work experience include college internships in your education section.  I was told to include education first (not sure how important that is, but I took the advice).
  4. Always be thinking what makes you special. Were you given international assignments? Did you prepare deliverables for executives or board members? What have you accomplished that someone else in your role would not have? Action verbs are your friends. Your resume should not read as a job description for your replacement.

 

Source: My Top 4 Tips and Tricks for a MBA Resume

GMAT Retake

GMAT Round 2

Yesterday was the big day. I practiced for 4-6 hours a day over the last month. I was sure I was going to improve my 610 from round 1. Data Sufficiency was still a struggle but I knew the basics and had  solid practice tests. I had geometry, probability, stats, coordinate geometry, and counting down. Then the exam happened.

Time management is still a problem. I got caught up on two problems that put me two minutes behind. I was able to make up some time on a question I had little idea how to answer. I finished within time even though I was rushed on a couple questions towards the end. Data Sufficiency was a pain but I went into the questions with a good mindset. It seems the GMAT is really good at honing in on where your weak points are and exploiting them. I didn’t have a single probability question and maybe 1 or 2 geometry questions. All in all I thought the effort was solid. Not 49 solid but at least 44 solid. As usual, verbal was easier for me. I did get caught dozing off on a couple reading comprehension questions. More coffee or granola bars next time!!

Final Results:

Overall: 690 (86th percentile, up from 63rd)

Quantitative: 41 (48th percentile, up from 29th)

Verbal: 42 (96th percentile, up from 91st)

Yes, it’s an improvement but I am not happy with the quant results. Damn those engineers and quant whizzes who skew the results 🙂

I am registering for one more shot before submitting my applications. My reach school, Columbia, is due October 7th for Early Decision. Most of the others are due by the end of September. My goal is to hit a 48 in quant and 45 in verbal. I have read that perfecting the GMAT is frowned upon but I have lots of room for improvement. If I can push into the low to mid-700s I will be happy. I always told myself I could do anything as long as I dedicate time to it and don’t give up. This is just another personal challenge.

Stock Market Meltdown

I was watching the stock market implode yesterday morning and one thought crossed my mind: How will this benefit my business school applications? If the market and economy really slows down will less people apply for school? Is everyone already set on their path, making it irrelevant?

Some of the books I have read note that during the financial crisis fewer people entered MBA programs due to a fear of not finding a job in the uncertain economy. I work in the tech sector and my MBA focus is going to be Entrepreneurship. I don’t have ambitions of working as a consultant or in investment banking when I finish school. If a slowdown in the economy means less people apply to school then I welcome it. However, I would also have to worry that as VC reserves dry up and firms take less risk, I might have to look elsewhere for funding if needed. These are interesting times and the challenges are plenty. Back to GMAT prep… 🙂

Organization

I am attacking this on several fronts. Most of the blogs I have read have a ramp of about 4 months before application time. I have just about 2 months so the only way to succeed is have an organized and detailed approach. I am coming at this fresh so these are the main areas I need to focus:

I will set up a separate page for each and maybe drop posts as I work through the challenges.

Starting Late: GMAT

From what I have read the GMAT is the single most important piece in the application process.

Since I am starting late I will recap where I am so far. I took the GMAT a couple of weeks ago. Prior the the GMAT I had an intense 2 week study session where I thought I had a solid understanding of the requirements. I have always been decent at standardized tests so with a little review I figured I could do decent and gauge where I needed improvement.. First, I ran out of time on the math section. I have less than 5 minutes left with 6 questions to go. I read somewhere that it’s better to answer questions than to leave blanks. I guess on a couple and chose the best looking answer on the others. The results were an eye-opener. Verbal: 91st percentile, Math: 29th percentile. Overall score a sad 610. Not elite MBA results.

I am registered for August 28th and have time to study between now and then (small benefit of being between jobs). That gives me a month to get my quantitative in order and pick up a few points on the verbal. Most of the math covered makes sense to me so it’s just practicing and working on mastering data sufficiency. I have a realistic goal of 740. At least it’s realistic in my mind 🙂

Materials I will be using for GMAT study:

Manhattan Prep Quantitative Book Series (6 online practice tests)

Magoosh Online GMAT Prep (customized practice tests – at least 2)

Official GMAT Guide 2015 (of course) (2 practice tests with additional question banks available)

 

If I have time I will review each product. So far the Magoosh product has been the most useful.