Choosing between MBA and Other Specialized Management Programs

I received most of my admission decisions and I could not be happier with the choices I have at this point.

I have to make a choice between attending a Top-20 Full-Time MBA Program, a Management Program for Engineers at one of the M7 Business Schools and a Masters program based in the Silicon Valley that focuses on Product Management in a School that is widely regarded as the best in the world for Computer Science.

I never thought I would be in this dilemma and it is wonderful to have such incredible options. All of these institutions are world-renowned, have a great overall ranking and reputation and are leaders in each of these fields.

At this moment I will most likely be attending the Program most relevant to Product Management in the Silicon Valley. This puts me on a very specific career route, something that I must consider because of my age and work experience being on the lower side than most B-School candidates. In the short term, I will gain more from this program and the reputation in Tech is unparalleled. The location is excellent too, making it a choice I just cannot resist. The MBA program will be more valuable in the long run, but there also is the risk that I do not get the career boost I hope for immediately since I am younger and maybe the ROI will not be as good as this other program. The Engineering Management Program carries the prestige of the M7 Schools, has a fantastic network but lacks the location and focus on Tech.

I guess I cannot go wrong with either choice, and I am excited that I will be attending a fantastic school! It has been a long wait but it has been worth it.

Product Management – The Ultimate Goal and How I intend to get there

Working at a Tech Giant on Enterprise Cloud Products has been better than I could have imagined. I absolutely love the whole process of building successful products. It is extremely fulfilling to know that the work you put in impacts not only your organization but also thousands of individuals and enterprises across the world.

Over the past two years, I worked on nearly every aspect of product development and the opportunities I received have been fantastic. I got to work on cutting edge technology, innovate and work alongside talented people who have inspired me to work harder.

Prior to working in this role, I had interned in various positions working in Graphic design to marketing and sales in Technology product companies. I love these roles too and I realized that I would love to take on more responsibility to build successful software products – Something at the intersection of Technology, Business and Design. I am passionate about building innovative products and that has brought me to this goal – The Goal of Becoming a Product Manager at a Technology company where I can lead innovation.

As a techie, I think my mind is trained to seeing any problem as binary – there either is a solution or there’s not. Business, on the other hand, is trickier than that. There are too many grey areas, it’s not black and white. Making data-driven decisions under uncertainty and taking calculated risks is something I must master in order to succeed as a product manager. I lack the business knowledge I must possess if I want to take on responsibility for the whole software product. A good product manager does not just take credit for the success of the product, he/she also takes responsibility for the failure of it. It’s not only about knowing the technicalities but also about managing teams, driving innovation and being a leader within your organization.

With this in mind, I decided it would be best to augment my technical background with a formal management education. Of course, This does not guarantee the job I hope to land, but I think bridging my gaps will bring me closer to my goals. There are definitely several routes to achieving the same goal. I understand my own strengths and weaknesses by now, and I believe this is the best path for me.

It is easy to get lost with the herd mentality at B-School so I think it is crucial to know EXACTLY what you want before you enter any graduate program. The key is FOCUS. I am determined to achieve this goal, and any professional decision I take will be keeping in mind this goal, until I accomplish it.

First Top-20 B-School Admit!

I made it!! After being wait-listed after interviewing in Round 1, This has been a really long wait. I am so happy! 😀 🙂

As an early career candidate, I was only 22 when I applied! Considering that the average admitted applicant at this school is 28 with 5 years of work experience on average, I knew it was a long shot. So when the admissions director called me, I was on top of the world! 🙂

Really excited, and I still have to hear back from the other school I have been wait-listed at. Waiting for my official admissions packet, fingers crossed for some form of financial aid.

Wait-listed

In December, I got wait-listed by both schools I interviewed with. I am expecting to hear back from both in the next 2 weeks.

When I started this process, I was hoping to hear back from B-schools with an admit by December or be rejected and then just move on with other plans.

Now I am in a limbo, because I’m not admitted anywhere yet and I have no clue whether I will be in B-School next year, and I also have not been rejected.

Meanwhile, I have started working on alternatives. Waiting is difficult, but I believe in Murphy’s law so I am working on a back-up plan (or several :P). I want a big career move this year, I want to progress.

Just the process of applying to B-School is something everyone should go through once in their life. It has made me patient. It has made me more self-aware. I have become more risk-taking when it comes to career choices and I have also begun to dream big. I know about more possibilities that exist beyond the traditional career path of an engineer. I know more about applicants from different careers. Also, once you take the decision to invest 150k in your future with no guarantee whatsoever, every other risk pales in comparison. No wonder B-School people seem so much fun and keep doing insane things. They’ve risked it all.

Chasing the MBA Dream as a young applicant

I am a young applicant trying to figure out my way in this complex MBA journey.

I am learning so much in this process and I thought of blogging about it. I hope this blog will help others on their journey.

Contemplating.. The Decision to get an MBA

Summing up the US MBA admissions process

Do I really want an MBA?

MBA Rankings and ‘Fit’

How many Business Schools do I apply to?

DIY : Figuring out which B-Schools to apply to

MBA School Choices!

MBA and Masters Program Choices!

So After a lot of random ramblings, I have decided to apply to several programs, a mix of MBA programs and specialized masters programs that can help me achieve my goals. I have decided to be super ambitious and go ahead and apply to HBS, other M7 programs, specialized masters programs including those at Stanford, Columbia and Carnegie Mellon. I have a couple safety schools too, but I do not want to attend any school out of the top 25. The ROI doesn’t make sense and it won’t open the opportunities I am looking for.

 

It is a crazy number of schools. Also I plan on applying to ALL these schools in Round 1. Wish me luck! 😛

I have been introspecting and researching this whole process for one year. I think I will be able to put together a good application for all these schools. Additionally, I am drawn to each of these schools for various reasons – For some, its about the cost of attendance, for others its about the west coast presence in Tech. Some are dream schools, some have a strong focus on innovation, some have a great alumni network I would love to be part of, some are perfect for the kind of job roles I want to land post-MBA. There are just too many factors in this decision and I will have a clearer picture on where I can attend only once I get admission decisions and if any admits, the financial aid.

If this backfires and I don’t make it, I’ll still view it as a positive experience. At least I tried my best to chase my MBA dream. I’ll never regret not applying or keep thinking ‘What if..’ 10 years later 😀

DIY : Figuring out which B-Schools to apply to

After a lot of contemplation, I decided to not use any MBA consultant services. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure they have helped thousands of candidates in the past, but I had some strong reasons.

  1. It was too expensive and a financial burden for me with my current income in Indian rupees. The most well-known consultants have exorbitant fees. I have very little savings already and can barely purchase a plane ticket to America! 😛
  2. I decided I wanted to apply to several schools to increase my odds of success. Application costs are very high, I would rather use the money I save in consultant services on a few extra applications! (Especially since my recommenders seem very enthusiastic for me and don’t seem going through the recommendation process multiple times – I double checked with them to make sure they were okay with recommending me to several schools – All good! )
  3. I’m more of a DIY person. I decided to take the pains of going through tons of information myself. Since I’m investing so much time and money anyway in the MBA, setting aside time for researching programs should be something I am willing to do. There is TONS of information out there, including:
    • Poets’ and Quants Website
    • GMAT Club
    • MBA Crystal Ball
    • MBA Blogs of other candidates
    • Linkedin! – Yes, I have been searching profiles to figure out the kind of jobs people get in my target industry at my target schools! Also, to get a sense of how competitive my profile is compared to admitted students from similar backgrounds (Asian-American, Indian undergrad schools, Early career candidates or Tech backgrounds!)
    • Books – As I mentioned before, I read ‘Beyond the MBA Hype: A guide to understanding and Surviving B-Schools’ by Sameer Kamat. You can check that out here.

 

Also, 2 awesome things happened!! I posted my profile for a free evaluation on both MBA Crystal Ball and Poets and Quants : Handicapping your elite MBA odds.

P&Q featured my profile and Sandy Kreisberg predicted my odds. Also, Sameer Kamat, founder of MBA Crystal Ball, got in touch with me personally, and spoke to me for about an hour answering all my doubts! It was extremely helpful since they gave me an honest assessment based on their experience and I got a more realistic picture of how adcoms might view me.

Additionally, Since out of tons of requests, my profile was noticed by them, It gave me some much-needed confidence. If I can stand out from others with similar backgrounds (Indian origin IT engineers – the most overrepresented cohort), then maybe I will be able to stand out at the time of admissions too! Fingers crossed! 😀 A special thank you to Poets and Quants John Byrne and Sandy Kreisberg as well as Sameer Kamat for your feedback 🙂

How many Business Schools do I apply to?

Every time I come across a profile of some one who has applied only to one or two schools, I feel a sense of panic within me. How on earth do I narrow down my school selection to one, two or at the most five schools?!

Like sure, maybe there are only a few schools that are my absolute dream schools, but what happens If I get accepted nowhere. :O I have seen way too many blogs of re-applicants who didn’t make it the first time. I do not think I have it in me to go through another year of this stressful application process.

So I sat down and did a LOT of introspection. I thought about every possible scenario and came up with a plan. But first let me talk about how I arrived at my conclusion.

Some things about me and how they factor into my decision:

  • I currently work in India, but My family will be in LA next year, so I probably will want to make a move to the US anyway. It looks unlikely that I will move there through my company, so I need to consider alternatives, if I don’t get into an MBA program of my choice.
  • I am from the Tech industry and I am looking to stay in Tech post-MBA. I want to be in either LA or the Bay Area ultimately, so schools with a strong West-coast presence make more sense.
  • My family will be in LA. I want to be able to visit them at least every couple months if not more frequently. I also might need to keep traveling to the Bay area while hunting for jobs and internships since that’s my target destination. Connectivity is a major factor. I will be looking at schools that have an airport nearby with easy connectivity to LA and the Bay area.
  • In the event I do not get an MBA, I might stay in the technical area of product development instead of moving to the management track. If that happens, I would need to look for opportunities to improve my technical expertise and grow, either on the job or through courses online or maybe even a master’s in a particular domain. However, this is the worst-case scenario when I cannot get an MBA and cannot go down the management track. So that’s my backup plan 😀 For now, MBA all the way!
  • Financial aid – I earn very less when my income is converted into dollars. Now, by purchasing power parity I am quite happy with my income here in India, but since I will be paying tuition and fees in dollars I definitely need some good financial package if I want to attend. I can take on loans, but again since I have almost no savings, it makes me very uncomfortable to have debt upwards of 150k at this age. I’m only 22 and I don’t want to be tied down with such a huge financial burden at an age I want to live my life and have fun 😀
  • Returning to India – I do not know how long I want to live in the US. Yes, I know that’s unusual, but I am actually open to returning here or elsewhere in the long term. If I don’t live in the US, it will be even tougher to pay back the loans, so I need minimal debt. That way I have the mobility to move anywhere I want, at any time. I don’t want to be tied down due to financial burden.
  • I personally have several reasons to believe that this is the perfect time for me to head to B-school. I know I might have higher odds with more work experience, but right now I am absolutely positive I want to start my MBA program in Fall 2017.  If I’m unhappy with the admission results, I will accept the outcome, and move on to other things in life 🙂 But while I am trying, I will give it my best! 🙂 So, It’s now or never!!

So I have decided to apply to some of my dream schools which are ambitious and the world’s most prestigious, schools I absolutely love and also have a moderate chance of getting accepted to based on stats and schools where I might be above the average stats, but I think I really will love being a part of the school culture, and also have chances for getting a scholarship!

Either way, If I get accepted to any of these, I will be very happy to attend, and I can’t go wrong with my decision 🙂

If I do not get accepted, I will look for jobs in Tech in the US next year!

MBA Rankings and ‘Fit’

If there is anything I have learnt over the past few months it’s this : There are several awesome schools but what matters most is going to the B-school that’s right for you!

That being said, another equally important piece of advice : Go to the best school you can get into!

Ultimately, from the second you step into B-school all you will care about is landing that post-MBA job. Which means you have to think from a recruiter’s perspective. Sure, rankings do not matter between schools in the same range and it’s like splitting hairs deciding if Booth is better or Wharton. That’s when ‘fit’ with the school matters. But it also is true that an MBA from Harvard will ALWAYS be perceived to be more prestigious than a school in the range 10-15.

Let’s stop pretending we’re all going to B-school only for that life-changing experience. Yes, B-school will be life-changing and a lot of wonderful stuff, but that’s NOT the ONLY reason we want to get there. Prestige is equally important. Prestige from the recruiters’ perspective. If you only want a life-changing experience, try backpacking in Europe to gain perspective instead of throwing away 200K + the opportunity cost. 😛

Now that does not mean that you just apply to the first ten schools you find in the US News Rankings. Remember What I said about the cons of B-school. If your school isn’t right for you, the picture won’t be so pretty. It’s going to be a stressful few years (the application process, the 2 years of rigorous coursework and paying off the debt post graduation ), so you better really really like where you’re going.

Do I really want an MBA?

It’s been a while since I wrote. All I have been doing the past couple months is research MBA programs, try to figure out where I actually want to apply, where I have a reasonable chance at getting accepted, What parts of my profile need to be highlighted in my applications and what I want from the MBA program.

I have read hundreds of blog posts, newspaper articles, talked to several people just to know what to expect! Something I think that is very important is understanding not only the pros but also the cons of the decision to get an MBA!

All the websites out there seem to just talk about how an MBA is the road to success, a 120k+ paycheck and the access to a highly valuable network. But What about the cons? What happens if you drown in 200k of student debt and you don’t have a job!? Or what if the next recession hits and MBAs are unemployed like the last financial crisis! or what happens if you leave your comfortable job, start the program and do not get where you want after all those sacrifices?

I wanted to be realistic about my expectations and not get carried away by all the fluff B-schools keep advertising to lure potential MBA candidates. After all, they’re businesses too, I can’t get carried away by their awesome marketing strategy for their programs. There HAD to be a downside, and I wanted to hear about it. I figured that if after being aware of the cons if I was still willing to take the risks, the huge student debt and still wanted to go for it, It was really the right step in my career! 😀

I read an awesome book called ‘Beyond the MBA Hype: A guide to understanding and Surviving B-Schools’ by Sameer Kamat. You can check that out here.

I finally decided I do want an MBA but I now have more clarity on what I want out of it. I am willing to take on student debt for some schools, but for others, I will attend only if I get some amount of financial aid!

I’ll discuss in detail how I decided which programs to apply to.. Stay tuned for the next post 🙂