the decision

well, it’s been over a month since i last posted with all my business school admission results and i’ve finally decided where i’ll be matriculating this fall.  it’s been a tough decision, and even now, sometimes i question if i made the right choice.  i was fortunate to not only get some generous scholarships, but also to get into all the schools that i really liked.  it’s been a good problem to have, but still a problem nonetheless.  i’ve solicited advice from many people…even posting polls in the gmat club; the results were pretty consistent in what people were recommending.  and even to me, the choice should’ve been obvious…so why was it so hard for me?

i’d like to do marketing/brand management, or even strategic planning, at a luxury goods/retail company.  given this, stern is like a no brainer since i was given a full ride. but it’s not that easy because as i’ve been doing research into the industry, i’ve been getting a lot of comments about how hard it is: breaking in, having challenging mba-level work, and the pay.  unfortunately, i’m primarily interested in the “sexy” jobs (fashion, entertainment) that get a lot of interest so they don’t need to compensate that well.  in this industry, i’ll very likely be working in nyc which is ridiculously expensive to live in.  even though a full-ride would give me the freedom to pursue a job i really want, vs. something just to pay off the debt, i would like to be able to live somewhat comfortably in such an expensive city.  so i’ve been thinking it may be better to go the cpg or management consulting route first before switching over at a higher level later.  i know that’s likely what I’d have to do if I went to ross or booth…and while i think i could pursue those at stern, ross and booth are just so much stronger in those areas.  and i’m also afraid that i’ll regret stern if I change my mind to a different career path (like cpg, consulting) while in school.

i’m not sure how easy it is to switch over although i know it can be done…and i know cpg, but especially, consulting are the most competitive for mba’s.

stern: full ride, only program with a luxury marketing specialization so i’m excited about a lot of the classes, particularly doing business in italy, and it’s in nyc (so i can do internships during the year too, not just during the summer).

booth: my original dream bschool.  when I first started looking into the mba, this was the school i wanted to go to and i really enjoyed my visit there.  the building is beautiful, the people are nice, the administration is extremely well-run, and chicago is my favorite american city…have kind of always wanted to live there.  some might question the fit for me before because it’s such a quantitative program but i think that’ll be good for me since i want to be really well-rounded.

ross: was extremely impressed during super saturday.  the building is probably one of the newest and most beautiful, and the people are just fantastic–can’t be beat.  i initially wanted an urban campus because i wanted to be in a city, but after visitng, i can see how nice a college town can be.  the administration also seems really good…i liked how transparent the process was and how friendly the adcom was.  i think map is also amazing and wish it was part of every school’s curriculum.  ross went from being my “safety” school to quite possibly one of my favorites.  and i also have a significant scholarship.

ucla also ended up giving me some money after i completed my fafsa…but it’s such a tiny amount (compared to my other scholarships and the cost of an mba) that it didn’t make a difference and isn’t even worth updating the chart in my other post.

and this may sound silly but i’m really tempted by the pre-mba student-led trips at ross and booth (m-trek, random walks).  i’m really sad stern doesn’t have anything similar…i know i can just travel on my own, or organize a trip myself…but i don’t feel like it’s really the same.  feels like a really great way to bond with the 2nd years and your future classmates.

and i know a lot of people will be quick to say that prestige/ranking’s more important and that i can make up my loss at a higher ranked school since i should have a higher salary when i graduate.  but let me preface this by saying, if i do go into luxury goods/retail…it’s one of the lowest paid industries for mbas.  and i currently don’t make much money and have pretty much nothing saved for business school and am financing everything through loans after i sell off my car.

since stern and ross’ admit weekends were at the same time (i think a lot of the top schools have their admit weekends the same 2 weekends, which sucks), i chose to go to stern’s’…and i also decided to attend booth’s.  it was a really tiring 2 weeks as i flew across the country twice and they keep you really busy during the time you’re there.  even though i really like ross, i had pretty much decided it was between stern and booth.

admit weekends at both were really great…and i doubt anyone would have a bad experience at any that they go to because the school’s trying to impress you, unless maybe your future classmates are all douches.   generally speaking, booth’s was more informative…i thought the budgeting for your mba panel and housing tours were really helpful for the incoming class.  one of my biggest concerns was whether i’d be able to get the kind of nontraditional job i wanted at booth.  after talking to current students, alumni, and career services, i was finally convinced last weekend that i could.  i think booth’s career services center is among the best in the world.  and as much as i liked booth, i didn’t think i could give up another great opportunity at stern when such a large amount of money was being thrown my way…i definitely would take stern over no money at booth.  i decided that i wouldn’t go to booth for anything less than half tuition.

on the day of stern’s deposit deadline, i heard from booth…they were offering me money!  but it was less than half…so i was really conflicted; as if i wasn’t confused enough, right?  after almost missing my stern deposit deadline, i’ve finally decided where i’m going…

in this fall, this is very tough, in this fall i’m going to take my talents to new york city and join the STERN CLASS OF 2014!!!

the results are in

well, i’ve finally got all my decisions for all the programs i’ve applied to…just today, actually.  i was trying to save some space so the table would fit into my stupid blog template so i apologize for some of the confusion.  “%” indicates how selective the school is; the percentage of applicants the schools gives acceptances to out of its entire applicant pool.  the 5 most selective schools in order: stanford, hbs, mit, haas, stern, and cbs.  “int.” is whether i was invited to interview…this may not seem like much but most schools don’t interview everyone (see *** below); typically your chance of admission after receiving an invite is 40-60% so they probably invite about twice as many as they accept.  for example, stern accepts 13.2% of its applicant pool so they might interview about 26% of them. ok, enough explanation…here we go:

School Round Rank* % Int.? Result? Aid?
CBS ED** 5 15.3% Y N N/A
HBS 1 Top 11.2% N N N/A
Ross 1 10 / 15 25.4% Y Y $$
Stern 1 10 / 15 13.2% Y Y $$$$
Wharton 2 Top / 5 16.8% N N N/A
Booth 2 Top / 5 22.3% Y Y $
Kellogg 2 5 19.9% Y*** WL**** N/A
Anderson 2 15 29% Y Y

* – rank changes every year and with every publication (businessweek, us news, etc.) so i’m just going by the general consensus on its prestige.  people often say you need to go to an m7 (magnificent seven: harvard, stanford, chicago booth, mit sloan, northwestern kellogg, and columbia) or a8 (awesome eight: m7 + dartmouth tuck) school.  while those are the super-elite / elite schools…i think you’ll  do very well with the top tier (top 25?), and reasonably well from second tier.

** – most schools have application cycles in 3 rounds for each class year.  some even have 4 (berkeley haas), or some, like columbia, are either early decision or regular decision and on a rolling basis.

*** – kellogg is one of the few (only?) schools that doesn’t extend interview invites; they interview every single applicant so getting an invite bears no indication of how well you’re doing (unless you’re an international student whose interview was initially waived).

**** – wait list.  doesn’t hurt as much as a ding, but you’re still not in…you’re in limbo.  some people can get off the wait list; it can be really difficult if you’re at a school with a high yield (people who actually decide to matriculate).

and how does this compare to my undergraduate institution?  let’s see, my school was ranked #31 according to u.s. news at the time i started (#37 now, geez guess we slipped) and one of my majors (based on how my school did in the graduate school rankings since i couldn’t find an undergrad one) is top 7…not that i think anyone in the world would know that.  a very unique major that was impacted when i was still in school…it required an application and portfolio.  i was lucky enough to be accepted my first time.  anyways, back to my school…accepts 38.2% of its applicant pool.  not too dissimilar from my undergrad performance if you consider top tier for colleges is the top 100 whereas top tier for mba programs is anywhere from the top 15-25.

as i might’ve posted about previously…i originally only intended to apply to 4 schools in r1 but when i was rejected from hbs and cbs, i also applied to 4 more.  overall, i think i did pretty well.  i was rejected at 3 schools but i have 4 options to choose from with significant scholarships from 2.

some highlights and thoughts:

  • the entire admissions process is a crap shoot.  you can’t really tell how well you’ll do at each school precisely because the admissions process is so holistic (you’ll hear this often).  all components of your application are important (work experience, undergrad gpa, gmat, etc.) and considered differently at each school.  you might get rejected at a school that was lower ranked, or even less selective, than a school you were accepted at.  i didn’t get any scholarship money from ucla even though it’s less selective and not as prestigious as any of the other schools on my list.
  •  also, the adcoms at each school know their programs really well and there are more than enough qualified applicants to fill the class seat so a lot of times, it comes down to fit.  if you don’t get in, don’t feel too down…it isn’t necessarily something you did wrong, or that you aren’t good enough…you just might not have been a good fit at the program, even if you want it or think you would be.
  • it’s really easy to be swayed by the rankings/prestige.  for me, i was turned off by cbs in a lot of ways, but still held onto it because of the prestige.  in a way, i’m relieved that the decision was made for me.  and tying into my last bullet, it’s interesting to note that the schools i didn’t get into were the ones i felt the least connected to.  i didn’t like cbs, never visited hbs or really talked to any of the students, didn’t connect at wharton but was only there for like 30 min, and was a little disappointed with kellogg.  this goes back to the fit thing i guess (bullet 2).
  • the ding that stings: it’s never easy to be rejected by anything.  while i certainly didn’t enjoy being dinged by those schools, cbs’ ding stung by far the most.  it was my first ding, first decision, and one i really thought i would get into.  i mean, my chances of being accepted were higher (~50%) than even getting the invite (~30%).  kellogg was pretty brutal too since i was one of the last people to be notified over a 5-day period…maybe they were really on the fence about me or something?  but it’s not a ding, i already had other great schools, was my last decision, and was expecting it by that point.
  • the acceptance i was most happy about: ross.  maybe because it was my first acceptance + it came with a scholarship…or maybe it was because it might be my favorite program.  but i was happy enough to jump up and down after the call.  (stern doesn’t tell you about scholarships until you receive the mailed acceptance package, so you don’t know at the time you hear your decision.)
  • the next step: i have the very tough decision of figuring out where to matriculate.  i’ve already ruled out ucla but i have 3 other great programs to choose from.  i’ll post on that once it happens…because i haven’t decided yet.



i’m so happy and relieved.  it’s my first acceptance after 2 dings so it’s a huge relief and i’m so appreciative that i got the decision this morning instead of waiting until friday.

so, my friends, dance wiv me!!

my gmat journey from 600 to 730

i’ve taken the gmat twice now–the first time was november 2010 and then again recently.

gmat structure

if you’re unfamiliar with the format of the gmat, you start the exam writing 2 essays (awa = analytical writing assessment): analysis of an argument (30 min), immediately followed by analysis of an issue (30 min). this is the only section of the test you don’t receive a score for immediately and is probably the least important; so of course they put it first to tire you out for the more important components. then you answer 37 quantitative questions within 75 minutes and the verbal section’s composed of 41 questions also within 75 minutes. between each section (awa/quant/verbal) is an optional 8 minute break. so the test itself can take up to nearly 4 hours. and because gmac is changing the format of the exam next year, they’ve added 30 minutes of experimental testing to the end of the exam for research on the new format. this section doesn’t count toward your score, but you can’t see your score until you finish it.

there is no skipping or going back on any section or questions. and both the quant and verbal sections are filled with their own experimental questions that don’t count towards your score, but there’s no way of knowing whether a question is experimental or not.

you aren’t provided or allowed a calculator but you are given a small booklet of laminated pages with a grid as scratch paper and a dry erase pen. you can raise your hand to get another if you run out of space or need to use the restroom or something, but since you can’t pause, this time will be counted against you. similarly, if you take longer than 8 minutes on your break, the next section will start without you.

in terms of scoring, it’s not like most other tests where your score’s dependent on how many you answer correctly. while it is important to answer questions correctly, you’re scored in comparison to other test-takers. your score is given as a percentile, meaning that you performed better than x% of people.

the test is also computer adaptive, which means that it’s difficult for everyone. when you answer a question correctly, it gives you a harder level question. if you get it wrong, it gives you an easier one. it continues on until the end where it gives you a scored based on your level/”limit”. so even if you’re performing really well, you’re working on questions that are pushing you and much more difficult than someone who’s performing at say a 400-level.

first try

last year, i took a veritas prep class because i know i can’t self-study too well. i think the class finished in august and i had been scoring 640-660 on the practice tests. i took the exam at 8 am on a saturday and i remember it was raining that day. i arrived early, but there were many other early arrivals and we waited in the hall for the testing facility to open. i brought a rice krispy treat to snack on during the break and my own ear plugs. other than the ear plugs, i had to keep everything else in the locker. the security measures are pretty intense as each time you enter/leave the room, you have to be escorted, present your id, and do a vein scan.

i had never done the awa before and while i felt my arguments were weak, i knew the scorers care more about the structure than the content so i wasn’t too bothered. i went to the bathroom during my break and ate my treat and had a cup of water. i think i might have taken too long but i don’t really remember.

quant was a disaster–i didn’t know how to answer a lot of the questions and i could tell they weren’t that difficult but i just didn’t know what to do. and of course realizing this made me feel worse. i ran out of the time in the end and didn’t finish…i think i was 1 or 2 questions away. i think i realized i was super short on time about 8 questions away and didn’t even have time to really read anything, i just had to blindly guess and click, but even then, i still didn’t finish. sounds horrible right? i took another break and i don’t remember what i did but i’m sure i was trying to recover from feeling like crap with quant.

verbal was ok…but as the last section, you’re pretty tired and those boring, long scientific reading comprehension passages can make you read them several times before anything sinks in.

then it was straight into the experimental section for 30 minutes but at that point, i didn’t want to spend the time or energy trying to answer questions that don’t impact my score, so i just rushed through it to see my score.

when i saw 600, my heart dropped. that was worse than anything i’ve ever scored on any of my practice tests, even before i ever studied. i felt ashamed to have submitted my scores to these top 10 schools with such an embarrassing score. actually, 600 isn’t that terrible (even though i feel like it was) as it’s 64th percentile. so i did better than average, but if you’re aiming for a top-tier school (like i am), it’s understood that you should try to get about a 700 (90% ranking). i think i cried in my car afterwards and felt like shit for a while.

the aftermath

i’ve been too embarrassed to tell people my score so i’ve mostly told people that i did really badly and bombed it. since i wasn’t planning on applying to bschool for another year, i wasn’t in a rush to take it again and just wanted to relax. well, i ended up relaxing for like nearly a year. i didn’t touch any of my gmat books until this past may. one of the great things about veritas is that you’re allowed a free retake of the course, so i retook it in may and scheduled my gmat for mid-july.

i had previously been stressing about getting from a 660 to 700 because although it may not seem like it, 40 points can be difficult to come by and i’ve heard that clearing the 700 threshold is especially hard. a lot of people get stuck at 680-690. and now i needed to clear 100 points; it felt impossible.

during the class i was really frustrated at how stagnant my improvement was…i remained at about 660 (81%) for the entire class. as my test date drew closer, i knew that i wasn’t close to my goal of 700 and decided to postpone it by about 3 weeks. you can reschedule the exam for a fee of $50 if you do it before a week of the actual date. you can still reschedule after but you have to pay the full $250 if it’s within 7 days.

after i postponed it i started to study a lot more seriously but admittedly, i still could have done a lot better. and i was baffled by wildly varying practice cat scores–i was scoring anywhere from 620 to 750, no trend up or down. and i was frustrated that even though i had only been studying quant the entire time, my verbal improved greatly without as much noticeable improvement in my quant. although i didn’t do stellar on verbal, i did well enough and really wanted to get my quant score up since it was my weakness. and as this test date came up, i contemplated postponing it yet again. i really didn’t want to take it a 3rd time since i still have a lot of other parts of my application to work on.

in the end, i decided to go for it. i knew that if i had postponed it, i probably could do better since i hadn’t finished all my books. and even though my scores were driving me crazy, i had gotten 720 and 710 pretty recently on my cat’s.


this time, i scheduled my appointment for 12:15 pm since i am not a morning person at all. i got there a tad early but the testing facility was really busy and i had to wait for people to finish and leave before i could get a locker or go into the testing area. i made sure to use the restroom while i waited and brought sliced peaches as my snack this time–figured i wouldn’t get a sugar crash and the juice from the fruit would also make me less thirsty, so i wouldn’t need to spend time both eating and drinking.

the proctor eyed my ear plugs suspiciously and said that we’re only allowed to bring in our id and they had their own that we could use. i told her that i had brought them in last time and she poked at them to make sure they weren’t actually ear pieces with a speaker or something and said she didn’t think they seemed out of the norm but she would have to indicate i brought them in.

i brought them in with me and started on the awa. i think i did pretty well on the analysis of an argument but fumbled on the analysis of an issue. the awa is pretty much to make sure that there aren’t huge discrepancies between your score and the essays you submit to the schools (you’re not paying someone to write your essays for you). i had previously gotten a 5.5/6 (77%) so i wasn’t too worried and i didn’t want to spend too much mental energy on something that doesn’t really matter.

i went to the bathroom and ate 2 peach slices on my break and was surprised that i was only gone for 5-6 minutes. i asked the proctor if my ear plugs were ok and she said she didn’t think so. i didn’t want to risk forfeiting my entire score over something so stupid so i put mine away and used theirs.

quant started off well and about mid-way i noticed that i had fallen behind so i quickly went through several problems until i was caught up or ahead. but i could tell that i wasn’t doing exceptional since i wasn’t getting a lot of really difficult questions. i finished with about 6 minutes to spare.

i couldn’t really gauge how well i was doing with verbal. i guess i should’ve realized it was a high level since the questions felt difficult and i spent more time thinking of the answers than i normally do. but i finished with about 14 minutes to spare.

i tried to go through the experimental section. they said they’ll refund $20 or something like that if you try your best. i didn’t get money last time; i think it’s because i didn’t “try”. i think they can tell by how much time you spend on it, so i had just wanted to sit there and let the minutes pass but i was too impatient and ended up just clicking through to see my score.

when i saw 730, i loudly whispered “YES!!!” (sorry if i disturbed you, other test takers). i had gotten into the 96th percentile. this is above average for all business schools so i feel much better now. but i was worried because my quant and verbal score were unbalanced. i’ve heard that besides getting a good overall score, they look at the break-down and like to see 80%+ for each. i was under 80% for my quant but very close.

i think it’s probable i could do better on quant if i took it again, but there’s no telling if my overall score would be better and i definitely did better than i expected so i will not be retaking it again.

i don’t know my awa score yet as it’s still too soon, but as long as i got 4+, i don’t care.

more to come

i know this post is really long but i hope it’s helpful for anyone still struggling with the gmat. it wasn’t easy for me to disclose that 600 score, but it should be encouraging that if i could break 700, really, anyone can.

i’ll post some gmat study/test day tips later.

oh great. as if i wasn’t feeling enough pressure

a recent study by test prep firm knewton found that ten gmat points = $3,000 in mba pay.

i’m taking this with a grain of salt though, because it’s not based on an individual’s gmat score…it’s the median school gmat score and its relationship with rankings.  i think most employers don’t care too much about your gmat score, unless you’re going into consulting and possibly finance.

and although it will be difficult to get into a top-10 school with a lower gmat, it can be done and the school makes more of a pay difference than the actual gmat.

and c’mon, it’s a test prep firm…they want to scare you into paying for their services.

source: poets & quants

what can business students learn from playboy?

according to david bach, the dean of programs at ie business school in spain (ranked #3 internationally in business week), why playboy magazine’s entrance into indonesia is a good example of a good case study.

my blog’s becoming a lot more serious and business school/gmat-focused lately.  i apologize for the somewhat boring content.  you can see how my priorities are shifting as my gmat’s less than a month away and with round 1 applications looming ahead in the not-so-distant future.

new vs. old | the gre edition

the gre is an exam that most graduate programs require, like the sat’s for undergraduate college.  this is a general test (given away by its name), but some business schools already accept it as an alternative to the gmat.  the gre is changing the format of the test (so is the gmat, but that’s not for another year or so) and prep company magoosh came out with the great infographic and video below explaining the differences.

i really like how magoosh designed this…it’s pretty refreshing for something academic/educational.

i would still recommend taking the gmat over the gre for business school admissions even though the gre is supposed to be easier.

the gre’s currently offering a 50% discount for people who take it in august and september, but that’s because they’re changing the format in the middle of mba application season.  so you won’t know your results until november!  this can really mess up your application strategy.

the best of militarytobusiness blog’s admissions advice

i read this post last week on poets & quants.  it’s the “best of” admissions advice from the blog, militarytobusiness, which chronicles a us military officer’s journey to the business world as he attends harvard business school.

hbs is the second most selective (hardest) mba program to get into so i think i could learn a thing or two from this person.  especially since he/she started his/her own admissions consulting!

these tips are really valuable and a really different approach than what i had planned on doing for my applications this fall.

i won’t copy/paste the entire story…i’ll just include the main points and you can read the details and the reasoning behind them from the original post.

  1. begin your dream school application first, but turn it in last
  2. submit your applications in reverse order of priority
  3. apply to your safety school in round one; dream school in round two
  4. interview in reverse order of priority
  5. never apply to a school you are not willing to attend
  6. consider your business school interview the 30 most consequential minutes of your life
  7. mitigate perceived weaknesses by playing up presumed strengths
    • consultant: strength – organization and presentation; weakness – lack of leadership or vision
    • engineer: strength – technical and analytical; weakness – lack of people skills
    • military: strength – leadership and ethics; weakness – working in ambiguously defined environments, working without a clear chain of command
    • non-traditionalist (artist, social sector, etc.): strength – unique experiences and fresh perspectives; weakness – lack of business and math ability
    • investment banker: strength – business and computational skills; weakness – lack of leadership ability, lack of interest outside of work.
    • international: strength – strong global viewpoint, language skills; weakness – poor (english) presentation skills, challenges adapting to western business
    • younger applicant: strength – academic rigor, vitality; weakness – lack of experience, immature
    • older applicant: strength – experience, maturity; weakness – lack of career focus, reluctance to change or to adapt

a lot of the reasoning he/she provided made sense to me and i think i may incorporate it into my strategy.  submitting my applications in reverse order of priority is something i hadn’t considered and may be a little difficult if i decide to apply to columbia since they have rolling admissions (so it’s generally better to turn this one in asap).