Why I want to go to Graduate School

I started this blog originally to document my Business School Journey because I believed an MBA was the right path to achieving my dream – Product Management at a Technology Company.

I came across several specialized master’s programs which could also help me accomplish my goals, and as a result I applied to a mix of MBA and specialized masters programs and some of the choices I made were unconventional.

I think the most important thing before heading to graduate school is that you should know exactly what your goals are, what the program can do for you to help you accomplish those goals, and have a realistic view about the limitations of the program as well.

Graduate school is a huge investment in terms of money and time, but more importantly it is a life-changing decision that will determine the course of the next 30+ years of your career.

If you are in the process of making this decision of attending graduate school, there really is no right or wrong answer about which program you should attend or where you should apply. There are no right or wrong reasons, all that matters is what your personal goals are. Some of those reasons could be to get a prestigious big-name university on your resume, learn some specialized skills, work with a specific professor you admire, do research in a niche area, get graduate education to get work permit more easily in a foreign country, learning something you always wanted to learn even if the field is not something that makes you easily employable or even just a lifestyle decision to be closer to a loved one or move to a specific part of the country or world.

Regardless of what your reason is, NO PERSON can make that decision for you – It should be entirely your own. Because no one else will be able to think from your perspective of what matters most to you.

There is always going to be some one out there who will criticize your decision or tell you you should have done something differently. Or maybe you will manage to please/impress everyone around you with some impressive accomplishment. Either way, it really does not matter. Because YOU are going to be the one who has to wake up each morning and live with the consequences of your decision. YOU will be the person following that career path and you cannot blame anyone else if it does not turn out the way you wanted.

The only person you should be impressing is yourself. – This is the single most important thing I have learnt when it comes to the decision to attend graduate school.

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2 interviews later

It’s near the end of R1 admissions.. Most final decisions will be out next week.

Gotta stay positive and hope for the best!

My 2nd admissions interview was pretty good! The adcom member was traveling for information sessions to India, so I had an in-person interview. That was so much better than Skype, because I felt like I could connect better with my interviewer. She was really friendly and the interview was more like a conversation. I felt comfortable and confident. I also felt like I really got the chance to talk about everything I wanted the admissions committee to know about, so I’m praying it works out. 🙂

I didn’t hear back from 3 schools yet, but at this point an interview seems unlikely with just about 10 days to go! I am expecting to be either wait listed or rejected there.

The flip side is that the interview that went really well is the one school I really want to go to, so if it works out, I’m definitely going for it! 😀

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!)

 

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 spoke to me 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! 😀

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 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 🙂

Summing up the US MBA admissions process

Okay, so there is a lot of work that needs to be done. And this is just the application process, I wonder what it will be like once the course actually starts and all that coursework piles up! All in all, I think I’ve done my research well and here’s what I think needs to be covered:

  • The GMAT / GRE :
    • It’s just a part of the application process. Note to international students: US universities don’t follow a cutoff process, they just publish the mean test score. You could be excused for a low test score, but it’s best to be above the school average if you don’t have something extraordinary in your profile.
    • my takeaway : Schools rankings depend on test scores, so if all else is equal, a candidate with a higher test score is viewed more favorably. Of course, usually all else is not equal, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s always better to have a good GMAT score. Also scholarships and financial aid usually depends on the GMAT score.
  • Recommendation letters:
    • Usually need 2 letters, one from a current supervisor preferably. Academic letters don’t seem to help much unless you’re an early career candidate
  • Transcripts
  • Essays:
    • This is the trickiest part of your application, and where you will spend the most amount of time. Every school has different essays, and there are usually so many questions.
    • Use the optional essay to explain anything in your application, from bad grades to circumstances you believe the admissions committee should be aware of.
  • If all is well the interview. Some schools ask you to submit additional essays along with the interview.

Contemplating.. The Decision to get an MBA

I graduated from college one year ago. I’m a computer engineer, and I work at one of the World’s most famous tech giants in product development. I’ve always been one of those people who is over ambitious, and is constantly in search of more to life. I’m not unsatisfied with my life, but I’m constantly planning my next step to success, learning every step of the way..

I love my job, I love my career, I had a fantastic college life, Why the need for more?, you may ask. That’s just how I am. Over competitive and over ambitious. I’m only one year out of college, and I can’t bring myself to stop thinking about my future career prospects. Maybe I’m happy now, but would I be if my growth stopped here, and my job stagnated? All of this made me think a lot about what I want in life. The past one year I have introspected, considered my options and come to only one solid conclusion: I want to go to B-school and get an MBA.

I thought about all my other options, and for me this just seemed to make more sense. Maybe it would differ for someone else, maybe some one else may have a different opinion. Some may argue about the need for an MBA. The downside to my decision? Only 1 year of work experience, a hefty price tag which I cannot afford (Not to mention the exorbitant application fees), the possibility of being in debt, and I don’t  know if I even have a chance at getting into one of my dream schools!