Wednesday, November 11, 2009

post-midterms

Mid-terms were predictable and manageable. The GSB doesn't hold classes for an entire week for all first-year students. We had one test each day on Monday (Finance), Tuesday (Organizational Behavior) and Wednesday (Global), which is actually really manageable in comparison to my undergraduate university when classes, papers, and life are not put on hold for mid-terms.

I spent the better part of Sunday and Monday morning studying for Finance and then switched gears after the Finance test to OB and Global, with the help of an impromptu study group. The Finance exam was long, but not particularly hard. OB and Global were also fairly predictable and fair.

So that's that.

After mid-terms, we had two days of career center stuff, including panels and a speech/workshop by Keith Ferrazzi. Wednesday, Thursday and the weekend after mid-terms were relaxed, fun, and served as a reminder for why I came to business school (meet good people, have good career opps)

Since mid-terms, I've been trying to go out more, to sleep more, and to do less work. We have a couple group papers, but otherwise, nothing too stressful for a while.

Only one more full week of classes and then it's Thanksgiving. Today is "Diversity Day," whatever that means, so I'll have to report back soon.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Workload

Stanford MBA1s have three 1,000-word papers plus comprehensive feedback on 7 classmates due in the next 8 days.

And then we have mid-terms the following week.

Applicants: please do not believe that business school is not a ton of hard work. Even if you're just aiming to graduate, the workload is overwhelming.

Fellow MBA students and business school graduates: please stop perpetuating the silly idea that business school is a joke.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Condoleeza Rice & Trips

1. Condi Rice is teaching two of my classes this week. I think she just published a bunch of new business school cases and is coming to the GSB to teach them to us in our "Global Context of Management" class. That is pretty cool in my book. I definitely read those cases a bit more closely than I usually do. Don't want to be cold-called out by Condi!

2. Trips were assigned. We had to fill out a ranking and then some algorithm sorted through them to place people. I got a trip in my first choice bucket and am really excited. But troublingly, about 10% of my class was not placed on any trip. There just aren't enough spots and so some people got left out of the mix.

This is unacceptable for several reasons:
a) The GSB promotes these trips aggressively during admit weekend without mentioning that 10% of the class doesn't get one.
b) A "global experience" is required to graduate and while there are other ways to fulfill that requirement, the trips are by far the least time-consuming and the most popular.
c) There is no good reason for there to not be enough trips. Stanford claims that these trips are subsidized and that budget cuts have forced them to reduce the number of trips, but most trips cost $3-6K. How subsidized can they be?!
d) A small number of both second-years and significant others are allowed on the trip. It is non-sensical for tuition-paying MBA1s to be excluded in favor of MBA2s who have already fulfilled their global requirement and significant others of MBA1s.

As one of my classmates said, no algorithm, no matter how "fair", can fix the lack of trip spots!

Monday, October 5, 2009

I miss blogging

I have many posts clogged in my brain, but little time to coax them out of there. Strapped for time, and yearning for more sleep, I must neglect my blog for another few days in favor of homework.

However, given that the round 1 deadline for the GSB is rapidly approaching--this Thursday I think--I want to wish all applicants the very best of luck. Take a deep breath in through your nose, click submit, and exhale a long "ahhhhhhhh" out of your mouth. You've done what you can do. Let it go for a while. Resist the urge to reread your essays and instead, rekindle your neglected relationships and rejoin your forgotten hobbies. Read a book. (I wish I could read something other than cases.)

Also, here is a preview of topics I'd like to touch on in the coming months:
1. Stanford GSB classroom norms
2. The social life
3. Trips and other cool opportunities
4. Leadership Labs & CAT (the two most interesting classes of the quarter in my opinion)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Crazy little thing called FOAM

F.O.A.M. = Friends of Arjay Miller.

F.O.A.M. = Stanford GSB Tuesday night drinking club (with occasional dance-off).

F.O.A.M. = annual 12-hour trip to Vegas in 1970's garb.

F.O.A.M. = one of the quickest ways I know to spend $190 (cost of annual membership).

F.O.A.M. = the reason I am exhausted and hungover in my Wednesday morning Leadership Lab session (to be discussed in a later post).

...and on that note, to bed I go.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Campus is Crowded: "Week 1"

Today was the official first day of classes for the entire MBA program, so our once cozy community of first-year MBAs has now been invaded by our second-year counterparts. All of a sudden, it's not quite as easy to wander up to a group of students and start chatting with them because they might be--gasp--second years.

As I previously mention, last week ("Week 0") was entirely filled with an organization behavior module and an accounting module, plus a half a dozen info sessions/meetings. Now, we are getting down to business with the classes of the quarter:

Managerial Finance
Strategic Leadership and Leadership Labs
Organizational Behavior
Global Context of Management
Critical Analytical Thinking ("CAT")

All of our classes, except finance, are taken with the same section or sub-group from the section. Stanford divides finance into three levels--base, accelerated, and advanced--based on some kind of algorithm.

I don't know much about any of the classes, except CAT. CAT is a written and oral communication class that spans seven weeks of the quarter. Each week, we have to write a paper (different topics, different structures, different modes of argument) and then defend it in class. Paper is due Wednesday; discussion is Friday. That is what I will be working on for the next two days. See you on the flip side.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Sting

During week 0 (last week), we had an organizational behavior module on working in groups and teams. The syllabus clearly indicated that 90% of our grade would be based on class participation (about half of which would be determined by our peers), so naturally, many hands were raised during the duration of the class discussions. My hand was often one of those.

However, after a couple classes and a discussion of what constitutes a valuable comment/question, I began to curtail my participation. I tried to "move the conversation forward" with any comments I did offer. I offered no more than 1-2 comments/questions per class from Wednesday onward. However, in the back of my mind, I worried that my first two days of eager hand-raising had already been indelibly marked on my classmates' brains.

Now, we are being asked to rate each of 10 randomly-assigned classmates from 1 to 10 and if we desire, to provide a comment. I was clicking around in the website and discovered that you can view any feedback about you that has been submitted already; so far, I have received a 5 and a 2 and one of the raters offered his/her opinion that I was participating only because of the required participation component. Ouch.

I cannot tell you how deflated I feel right now. I know that need to develop a thicker skin if I'm going to get through this program (let alone progress in my career), but I am a person who cares deeply about what other people think of me and just those two numbers and that brief comment jotted down have been enough to pull me down today. I am enervated. How is it possible that I have been in classes for only one week?

Monday, September 14, 2009

GSB Class of 2011 Facts & FIgures

Straight from the mouth of Derrick Bolton during today's MBA program welcome session:

Class of 2011 class profile/admissions information--
Admit rate = 6.7% (lowest ever if memory serves)
Class size = 384 (biggest ever I think)
Average GPA = 3.68
Average GMAT = 727

That's all I could store in my capacity-constrained memory.

Otherwise, first day went smoothly--met some people in my section, took an interesting organizational behavior class and a boring accounting class. Now I've got to sign off to do some reading.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Week minus-1

Stanford calls the first week for MBA1s "week zero," so I have deemed the week before that week, "week minus-one." Week minus-one consists of moving to Palo Alto (check), settling in at your new dwelling (check minus), running all kinds of Stanford errands--e.g., getting an ID, buying textbooks, setting up your computer, picking up schedule and course readers, and getting a parking pass (check minus). Week minus-one also means socializing... at least I think it does.

There are many events that are organized by 2nd years and based on what I've been hearing in passing, there are many impromptu outings, lunches, dinners, and cocktail hours. I opted out of the organized events because this week has been hectic enough and I figured that the Stanford socializing would begin in earnest once school starts on Monday. But I wasn't expecting to be so left out of the more casual events. I blame my cluelessness on the fact that I do not live among other business school students; I live off campus.

Maybe now is a good time to explain the housing options for MBA1s at Stanford. Most everyone, it seems, live on campus. First choice across the board is Schwab, the first-year MBA dorm. If you're not among the 200 or so MBA1s to land a spot there (remember our total class is only ~360), you will likely live in Munger, the brand new grad student dorms that house students from all the Stanford graduate programs. I'm not really sure who, besides myself and any married students, lives off campus. I do not regret my decision to live off campus for numerous reasons (space, privacy, ability to live with my non-Stanford significant other, easy access to non-university resources like grocery stores, etc), but I don't think I realized how much additional effort I would need to make to connect with my class. Anyway, with classes starting tomorrow, I'm sure I won't feel quite so isolated.

Doing my finance homework now. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Short post

California drivers suck.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Apple/Snow Leopard

I took the plunge and purchased a new Mac last week, complete with a free iPod Touch for my significant other. Then Apple released the new operating system, "Snow Leopard," which apparently is a great improvement over the current operating system. So I paid $10 for them to send me the software update, which is on its way to my new Palo Alto address as I write. And then today I got an email from Stanford telling me that there are tech problems with Snow Leopard interfacing with Stanford programs: "We caution against upgrading to Snow Leopard or buying a computer with this operating system until further testing and work to resolve any incompatibilities has been done."

So for those Stanford Class of 2011ers out there who have not yet taken the plunge, this may tip the scales away from a Mac. Just an unpleasant FYI for you this Monday.

PS - Classes start two weeks from today!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bschool Technology

At the Apple store right now debating my business school laptop purchase. I'm considering both the new Mac Book Pro and the Mac Book Air, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the Air will just barely meet the minimum computing requirements for business school. Thoughts? Should I be considering a PC and if so, which one?

In the same vein, does anyone have a strong opinion on cell phone service and the never ending iPhone v Blackberry debate. I don't have any outstanding commitment to a cell phone carrier and have had positive experiences with both devices.

Wired magazine readers and other technology-inclined business school students: please point me towards useful articles or just tell me what to do. Thanks.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Back.

I'm not sure how much I'll be blogging until school starts in mid-September, but I am back in the same country as my laptop, so that's a start. I published all of the comments that were left over the past couple months and will start to respond to emails in the next week or so.

Highlights of my trip include meeting about half a dozen Stanford classmates along the way, eating amazing food everywhere, becoming comfortable living out of a suitcase for almost three months, and of course, coming home.

While I was gone, I was surprised by how little I thought about Stanford and moving to Palo Alto. I was truly unplugged. I barely went on facebook or email except to coordinate with travel partners, which turned out to be a problem because there are a lot of pre-matriculation deadlines for pictures, surveys, dataforms, and the like, and those Stanford administrators really do take the deadlines seriously. Consider yourself warned.

In truth, I am feeling a little bit lukewarm about blogging at this point. I still feel overexposed and I think the current dearth of information that I'm willing to share here has led to my lack of enthusiasm. I am hopeful that come September, with all of the Stanford action that it promises, my energy to blog will be renewed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Traveling

I am going to be on partial hiatus as a blogger for the next couple months. Very sorry if I don't publish your comments or respond to your emails for a while, but please have wonderful summers. To others in the class of 2011, see you in September!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

5 Tips for the Dreaded Stanford Essay A

Because Stanford Admissions will likely release the class of 2012 essays in the coming weeks, I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss Stanford GSB Essay A, which is often cited as the most difficult of all business school application essays. In fact, I know of at least one potential applicant who stopped considering Stanford after learning that GSB Admissions Director Derrick Bolton and his staff want to know, "What matters most to you and why?"

When I first learned about that essay the summer before I applied, I knew that I wanted to write about relationships. I didn't know what any of the supporting ideas were going to be and I didn't have a clue how I was going to structure the essay, but I knew intrinsically that what matters most to me is building new and developing existing relationships.

After settling on this topic, I avoided sitting down and writing this essay for as long as I could. I had one "burst of genius" when I was lying awake in bed one night in early September. I took out my laptop and wrote one paragraph in my pajamas. That paragraph remained the opener to my essay, virtually unchanged through more than ten iterations.

For another month, I favored writing business school essays on the much easier subjects of leadership, career goals, and learning from a mistake. I finally picked up essay A again about three weeks before it was due. I spent a full Saturday sulking in my living room as I struggled to introduce ideas that I thought were relevant and to answer the second part of the question, Why. I continued to flounder up until the deadline. I even changed my essay just four days before it was due to a letter format, and then changed it back to the original. (I still prefer the letter format but was told by several people that it didn't work as well.)

Unfortunately, dear applicant who may be reading this, I have no silver bullet. There was no "Aha!" moment in my writing process. The ideas just trickled out slowly and very painfully.

I have created a short list of tips that I hope will help you in your endeavors. And readers who have also been through this process, please add your thoughts in a comment below.

Essay A suggestions:

1. Start early. Yes, I do encourage you to write your essays in a strategic way--many people suggest writing HBS essays first (if you are applying) because they are short and force you to reflect on a wide variety of experiences; others say to write the essays for your last choice school first progressing to your top choice last. Both of these are reasonable strategies. Whatever you do, please give this particular essay some serious thought early in the application process.

2. Trust your instincts on the subject matter. I have heard of people writing their essay A on wide variety of subjects, including community service, teaching, learning, achieving life-work balance, supporting family, perpetual self-improvement, and giving back to the impoverished community from which the author came. Lots of subjects work; family is a popular one. Don't worry about being unoriginal. And don't worry about your subject being too "out-there" or too broad (many people told me my subject was too general). Just don't try to emulate other people's essays and do go with your gut, even if you initially struggle to articulate your thoughts.

3. If you don't have an idea, start reflecting... NOW. A friend of mine successfully wrote this essay by sitting down and mapping out his entire life trajectory and then looking for a pattern in his educational, career, and extracurricular choices. This strategy takes considerable time and self-examination so don't put it off.

4. Answer the entire question. Make sure to answer the why portion of the question; that is really the meat. As I wrote earlier, most subjects can work. But they can't work if you don't explain what your subject personally means to you, how it has shaped your decisions, how it influences your values, and what it means for your future.

5. Get help. I have heard a couple times that Derrick or someone on the GSB adcom once said that if you are willing to show your essay to more than three people, you haven't dug deeply enough. I have no idea if anyone really said that, but I believe that sentiment is "hippopotamus shit" to quote one of my favorite movies (80's trivia bonus points if you know what flick I'm referencing). I hated sharing my essays initially, even the dry career goals essay. But by the time I got to my Stanford essays, which I wrote last, I had gotten over my propensity for essay privacy. I implore you to do the same. Other people's input is invaluable. And to be clear, I am not suggesting that you have editors rewrite your essays, just that you "open the kimono" and get input from friends, family, and colleagues who know you well. (I had two colleagues, my significant other, one parent, and two friends read my essay A.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Newsflash: VCs Ignore Business Plans

According to this recent article in the New York Times, venture capitalists care not for business plans, but rather are looking “for 'market validation,' hard evidence that the entrepreneur has actually sold his product or at least lined up enthusiastic potential customers.” And they don't want a 50-page presentation; they want a couple powerpoint slides or a short conversation.

So does this mean MBA students all over the world can ignore business plan competitions, stop wasting time on business plan class assignments, and refocus their energies on developing and implementing go-to-market strategies for new businesses? (I hope so.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Derrick Bolton Interview

There is a new Derrick Bolton (Stanford GSB Admissions Director) interview published in Business Week this month. Interesting new info (for me):

1. Applications being way up is a myth.
2. 21% of the class of '08 accepted a job abroad up from 14% of the class of 07. (Let's see if this emerging trend continues in '09)
3. The new curriculum has twice as many international course offerings.
4. The new Phil Knight campus WILL open during the 2010-11 school year! (Recently, it looked like the opening date might be pushed back to fall 2011)
5. Internship search for class of 2010 has been similar to that of prior classes. (No hard numbers offered)
6. Stanford GSB accepts the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT. (Actually I knew that, but I thought it was worth mentioning)

Mildly outlandish statement: "[The Stanford GSB curriculum overhaul has] been among the most exciting developments in management education in probably the last 20 or 30 years." Way to set expectations high, DB! (PS - is "mildly outlandish" an oxymoron?)

Annoying attempt to pull in younger applicants: "As a school, we see a lot of people waiting because they think business schools want them to wait. [They] think they won't be competitive until they have four or five years of work experience. And that's not true."

I am one of those stubborn people who thinks that experienced classmates are a huge asset in business school. One of the things I liked about Wharton is the higher average age and work experience of its matriculating students. The average number of years of work experience at Wharton is six, with just 2% of students having 0-2 years of work experience and 40% having 7+ years of work experience. By contrast, Stanford's median work experience is 4 years; HBS's average is 4 years. (More detailed HBS age distribution info here. Scroll down to the Oct 1, 2008 entry)

Great answer in response to the question, "As Stanford moves ahead, what is the biggest challenge it faces?":
...If you look at students who are applying to medical school or law school, they're applying for the education. There's certainly a credential element there, but when you talk to those students and look at the publications from those schools, they're about the education. Business schools have in the last couple of decades gone astray and really put too much emphasis on the post-school benefits and not enough on what transpires while you're there. I think our industry overall has made a really big mistake of overemphasizing those ancillary benefits. Applicants have interpreted that as being the reason you go to school. That's probably the thing I worry about the most at Stanford. How do I make sure that we're picking people who and want to take this [education] and make themselves better people, managers, and leaders, in support of our society?...

Monday, May 11, 2009

The REAL Admissions Essays

In celebration of my last full workweek in 2009, I want to share the list of real business school admissions essays. I pulled this off of the Business Week forum earlier in the 2008-09 admissions season. Credit goes to BW poster sandiego with a little help from replying posters.

Very funny:

Harvard: Of which Fortune 1000 company are you going to become the CEO and why would you pick that company?

Wharton: Of which Fortune 1000 company are you going to become the CFO and why would you pick that company?

MIT: Draw an ASCII picture of your favorite Lord of the Rings character and describe three lessons that today's business leaders can learn from Lord Of The Rings.

Stanford: Why? (100,000 words recommended)

Chicago Booth: Provide a detailed statistical analysis of why Chicago-Booth is #1 in BWeek and never higher than #3 in USNews. Do the math in your head.

NYU: How badly do you need a vacation from your ibanking job, and what makes you think you will be able to get back into ibanking upon graduation?

Yale SOM: Which nonprofit organization do you plan to run, and what about running a nonprofit makes you feel important?

Columbia: In your opinion, what is the best way to sabotage the Whartonian CFO of your company and become CFO?

UC Berkeley Haas: What makes a hippie like you think you can succeed in business? Use the words 'sustainable' and 'green' at least twice in your response.

Cornell Johnson: Describe how awesome being an Ivy Leaguer would make you feel.

UVA Darden: How badly do you want your ass to be kicked by our professors on a scale of 9 to 10?

Notre Dame: Describe how awesome Irish Football is, and list ten ways we can make our MBA program as well-known as our NFL training program.

London Business School: Answer NYU's essay and use the find/replace function to replace all 'NYU' with 'LBS', 'New York' with 'London' and 'program' with 'programme'.

Wash U Olin: How early are you willing to wake up to serve coffee to our medical students?

UNC Kenan-Flagler: See Notre Dame but replace Irish Football with Tar Heel basketball, and NFL with NBA.

U of Phx (pick 2 of 4): When your boss finds out you have enrolled here, how loudly will he/she laugh? Have you ever wasted a lot of money on something useless before? Would you be willing to appear on a billboard or would you rather keep your enrollment a secret? What is 5+8?

Tuck: Do you remember summer camp? How amazing was that!?!? Don't you wish you could go to camp for 21 months? Attach a letter you wrote to your parents in fifth grade summer camp explaining how awesome it was.

UMich Ross: What was the craziest thing you did while tailgating during undergrad, and are you prepared to tailgate like a pro again? In your essay, try to include the words moonshine, goat, and anus.

Kellogg: Explain why you think good quantitative skills are not required in business and discuss the importance of teamwork in situations in which no one is skilled enough to do the job by himself.

UCLA Anderson: Have you seen that show "The Hills?" Isn't it amazing? Discuss your strategies for getting into clubs to party with the cast of "The Hills" so you can feel important.

Duke Fuqua: What are your short-term and long-term career goals? Begin your essay with the sentence, "My career goal is to provide investment and business advice to the much more successful graduates of the Duke Law and Medical Schools."

Carnegie Mellon Tepper: Draw an ASCII picture of your favorite MIT student and list three things that business leaders can learn from MIT.

INSEAD: List the number of languages in which you are fluent, and explain how knowing a bunch of languages and studying in one of the world's slowest economies for ten months will make you an effective business leader.

CEIBS: Would you rather be upper middle class in the US, or rich in China? Pleeeeeeeease say rich in China!

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Facebook & Prematriculation

There is a wave of Facebook-friending going around the Stanford GSB Class of 2011 circuit right now. I have accumulated about a dozen "friends" from my class, most of whom I talked to for <10 minutes at admit weekend, some of whom I have never met in person. I mean, it's nice to connect with people and stay in touch, but it's a little weird to me. I think I'm going to hold off friending anyone until I get to school and figure out who I'm actually going to be friends with.

Also, I just pruned about 50 friends from my account and am not eager to see the number of relative unknowns jump up again. Dear reader, don't assume that those I defriended were frenemies; in truth, I don't have the balls to ex-communicate those I truly dislike. Rather, the people I cut were mostly folks with whom I went to college and of whom I have zero recollection. When I accepted their offers of friendship, I assumed a dozen photo albums and a list of favorite flicks might jog my memory... nope. CUT. Also, I made the rounds of removing friends of friends with whom I partied once... four years ago.

Advice to other prematriculants: always accept your new classmates' friend invitations, but refrain from extending many yourself until you have figured who you're actually going to be friends with... unless you are one of those super people who just loves to keep up with their 2,038 close friends.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

GMAT Tutoring

Shout-out:
Patrick Curtis, a first-year student at Wharton and founder/CEO of WallStreetOasis.com emailed to inform me of a new GMAT tutoring service that WallStreetOasis has just launched. Details of the service can be found here. At first glance, it looks good to me*, at least price-wise and concept-wise.

My GMAT tutoring experience:
I personally used Veritas tutoring and was only marginally satisfied. I paid $2,800 for 14 hours of private tutoring, which was their least expensive in-person tutoring package. (Insert cartoon character with eyes popping out here.) It took over three weeks to get matched with a tutor, which was unacceptable because I had initially planned to take the test within four weeks of signing up, which the company rep told me was a reasonable expectation. Veritas did pay the fee required to change my test date, but the lack of follow-up and unresponsiveness left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Once I had a tutor, I liked her a lot. She did what the WallStreetOasis program promises to do -- focus quickly on trouble areas (e.g., data sufficiency, sentence corrections) to maximize score increase. I took the test late last summer after using just eleven hours of tutoring over the course of three weeks (effectively wasting $600). I broke the 700 threshold and scored 6.0 on the writing portion. My quant score hovered around the 80th percentile, which I was not happy about, but in the interest of sanity, summer vacation, and essay-writing, I decided not to retake it.

Generally, my tutor's value-added service was focusing my energy on my personal trouble areas of the GMAT in a very short period of time. I got a reasonable score the first time I took it, so I can't complain too much, and I should also mention that the reason I signed up for Veritas is because a friend (now at Darden) got an 800 after using their private tutoring service. Wow.

In a nutshell, I think tutors are a good idea for the time-strapped applicant who has some extra cash. I like the WallStreetOasis service because its minimum package is 5 hours for $875. Had it existed when I was studying for the GMAT and had I had one or two recommendations from satisfied customers, I likely would have signed up for this intro package and added hours if necessary.

Quick request:
Good luck, and please let me know if you have any experience with a GMAT tutoring service you would like to share. Also, has anyone seen a good post on admissions consultants? I didn't use one to prepare my applications, but would like to link to a post that discusses them in my sidebar. Thanks.

Disclaimer:
*I have no personal experience with this particular service. Buyer beware.

Monday, May 4, 2009

How to Attain the Best Recommendation Possible

I am still working on my project to compile advisory posts from a wide range of bloggers (see work-in-progress in sidebar), but I haven't yet found one that I like on getting good recommendations, so I'm going to give it a shot.

The recommendation potion of the business school application can be daunting because you have to ask colleagues to take time out of their days to write positive things about you, and then you have to trust them to write positive things about you. The asking part shouldn't be difficult, as long as you give each recommender plenty of time. The trusting part is extremely challenging... unless you give them very clear guidance. So the majority of this post will discuss how to guide your recommenders to write exactly what you want them to write, without writing it for them. (Some schools explicitly instruct you not to do that; others don't, but generally it is a no-no).

Three easy steps (well, the third step is actually pretty involved):

1. Select recommenders (a) who are clear thinkers (i.e., articulate both in speaking and writing), (b) who know you well, and (c) who you trust to meet the deadline.

2. Ask them at least 2-3 months before they are due. If you can, ask in person. Ask those you cannot meet in person by setting up a short phone conversation to ask.

3. HELP THEM by providing a short, tailored profile. The profile should be written in the third-person voice and should include:
a) who you are (1-2 paragraph autobiography)
b) why you want an MBA (several bullets)
c) what your short and long-term goals are (several bullets)
d) themed examples of your work with each recommender, which he can use to illustrate your "story" in his recommendation (see below)
e) an updated résumé (one-page)

The profile gives each recommender broad context of YOU--who you are, what you've done, what you want to do, and why you want an MBA--so that he can write a convincing recommendation. Parts a, b, c, and e can be recycled across all recommenders, but part d must be tailored for each recommender. In total, your profile should be 3-4 pages long, including your résumé. Developing your profile will take time, energy and forethought, but it is potentially the most critical step for getting the best reco possible and gives you a head start for the rest of your application. Start early and get the profile into your recommenders' hands ASAP.

Part d (examples of specific work with your recommender) serves to remind your recommender how great you are and of all the amazing things you did for him. More importantly, this section of your profile ensures that YOU remain in control of your application story and that the application you write is consistent throughout. (A key piece of advice I got from a Stanford GSB alumnus at an info session last fall was to make sure that your story "fits" together logically). To provide the best fodder for your recommender:

1. Brainstorm a long list of positive examples of your work with each recommender. Eliminate any recommenders for whom you cannot develop a compelling list.

2. Develop and write a takeaway for each example. E.g., at one point with one of my recommenders I was switched from project to project several times and still managed to do an okay job; the takeaway I wrote was, "PAFAW is adaptable and flexible under quickly changing circumstances."

2. Group the examples/takeaways logically and develop categories that encompass them (e.g, problem solving & analysis, communication, presentation, team-building). You can develop different categories for each recommender. Think carefully about what themes matter to you in your overall story. For example, I wrote my Stanford Essay A ("What matters most to you and why?") about relationships; to get my recommenders to reinforce this theme, I included numerous examples of my relationship-building and team-building experience to help them understand and articulate this important pattern.

3. Write a sentence or two that describes each category. E.g., under my "Interpersonal" category heading, I wrote, "PAFAW surfaces conflict, acts on feedback and brings camaraderie to his/her teams."

4. Then list the takeaways/examples accordingly (hint: they should support the category statement).

I won't pretend to know how much recommendations matter at each school, but I think it is safe to assume that they are a critical component, or the schools wouldn't ask for 2-3 each. I know you are busy with all of your applications and are not eager to take on more work, but from my experience, developing a comprehensive and customized profile for each recommender will dramatically increase the chance that your recommendations reflect your best self and that they reinforce your story. Suck it up.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"We're all friends at business school."

Remember how I was going to meet up with my frenemy, AF about her business school applications?

Well I finally did meet her for coffee. I gave her some advice on ways to reposition her story and suggested things that she could do at work to strengthen her application for next year. I chose not to suggest that she was targeting the wrong schools, but instead told her that she might want to talk with an admissions consultant about her school list. Thanks to those readers who offered their suggestions on how to handle the meeting. The experience was not as painful as I was expecting and she took my advice graciously. Perhaps she has been humbled by the process.

Anyway, talking with her made me think more about social pressures--especially in business--to maintain positive relationships with pretty much everyone: old friends, classmates, colleagues. Whatever you do, "Don't burn bridges," the old mantra goes. The social networking phenomenon only serves to intensify this pressure to connect, connect, connect. Time to link in. Accumulate hundreds of "friends" who are loose acquaintances as best. Start following people.

Regarding bschool next year, I am worried that the pressure to be friends with everyone in my class will lead me to develop a greater number of frenemies, people I don't care for but with whom I have to maintain good relations. I remember visiting Stanford last year and talking to a colleague who I thought was friends with someone else I knew. When I asked what the mutual "friend" was doing for his summer internship, the colleague told me he didn't have a clue. "I thought you were friends," I asked.

His dry reply: "We're all friends at business school."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Don't they know who I'm going to be?

No money for me. I was summarily rejected from that scholarship for which I interviewed a few weeks ago. As I mentioned earlier, I didn't feel great about the interview, but I'm a little annoyed not to get any feedback. Rejection stings.

When I informed my boss a couple days ago, he told me a funny little story: when he and his partner were raising money for their first independent endeavor and were rejected by an investor, they would console themselves and say, "Don't they know who we're going to be?!"

Love it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Calling All MBA Bloggers!

I just added a gadget to my sidebar that will ultimately include a step-by-step process for applying to business school, as outlined by the MBA blogging community. I have just a couple posts up so far and need help filling out the rest: school selection, visiting schools, admissions consultants (or not), essay writing, getting good recos, overall timing strategy, interviewing, WAITING, navigating scholarships/loans, prematriculation, ultimate school decision-making, etc.

Please leave a comment or send me an email with the link(s) of good posts on these topics from the MBA blogging community. Self-nomination is highly encouraged! You can see that the "Deciding to Apply" entry on the current list is my own... shameless, I know.

Thanks to MissionMBA for inspiring me with his great post on profile-building, now included on the list. And thanks to ClearAdmit for inspiring me with the Best of Blogging award sub-categories. I guess I'm a bit of a copy-cat.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rising Student Debt

Yikes! The average debt of American college seniors is closing in on $25K. A recent NY Times article focuses on undergraduate debt as a burden on freshly graduated job seekers, but I imagine an identical article could be written about recent business school grads. The double-edged sword, of course, is the rising cost of education (e.g., GSB total budget is up ~5% from last year) coupled with a dearth of lucrative jobs, especially in the financial sector.

I should probably consider removing my DEBT/saving cash "in and out" entry on the left...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blogosphere Gender Identity

It is amusing to me that admissions consulting blogs such as ClearAdmit and Stacy Blackman always refer to me as "she" when they use gender-specific pronouns and that readers typically address me as "dude" or "man" in emails and comments. I have deliberately remained gender-neutral on this blog and will continue to do so to preserve anonymity, so keep on guessing!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Frenemy Advice

"Frenemy" (sometimes spelled "frienemy") - Noun - a portmanteau of "friend" and "enemy" which can refer to either an enemy disguised as a friend or to a partner who is simultaneously a competitor

While my definition isn't exactly the same as Wikipedia's above, I do appreciate the term. It is a fitting description of someone in my life who I will refer to here as AF. I met AF through a mutual friend a few years ago. I have always found AF to be arrogant, aggressive, and completely lacking self-awareness. When I ran into AF at a Stanford GSB info session last fall, I was immediately accosted - "Are you applying R1?" "Where else are you applying?" "It's gonna be tough this year, you know..."

I have managed to avoid AF until recently when we ran into each other walking around town. We exchanged quick pleasantries and I learned from AF that she did not get into any schools. Later that day AF send me an email asking if I could offer feedback on her applications. I agreed and read through all of AF's materials.

Now I have to meet her to deliver my verdict, er, I mean opinion. AF's apps are fine, nothing stellar, but nothing terrible either. To use a phrase from GSB Admissions Director of Outreach Eric Abrams, her apps were not among the few "Oh, Honey..." applications Stanford gets every year, which are presumably tossed into the round file. How do I tell AF that I just don't think she will ever get into his target schools? And is it my place to tell her? Having gone through the process exactly once, I am no expert. I do have a general feel for how things shake out in the application process after lurking on various forums and blogs and watching friends and colleagues go through the process; based on that feeling, I don't think AF is going to make it. Do I tell her to target other schools or just suggest ways she could improve her current profile?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New [Superlative] Mentor!

During my Stanford interview, my alumni interviewer, a young private equity VP, explained his challenges moving to the geography in which we both currently live, a "tier-2" city with a very small business community. Given my desire to move back to this area in the long term, he recommended networking as much as possible in my desired post-MBA field before leaving for business school because so much business here is conducted in person.

To that end, I have reached out to a few leaders in the local venture community over the past couple months. And this morning, I felt like I hit the jackpot: I met a young, bright, HBS-educated VC. Yes, I'm sure there are many of those floating around, but I connected with this person and have a feeling (hope) that we will stay in close touch. She is smart, "balanced," friendly, doesn't have a tech background (like me), and has lots of ideas on who I should talk to in the area and possible ways for me to get into the local start-up/venture capital community. She has already offered to make two great introductions.

Plus--and this is huge--her firm hires MBA interns! Obviously, she didn't offer me a job, but I imagine I will at least be able to interview with her group in the fall. She didn't have a lot of great ideas for how to combat my tech/engineering deficiency, and acknowledged that that has also been a major challenge for her. However, she make me feel like it will be an additional challenge, NOT an insurmountable obstacle. Readers: any thoughts on how to tackle this deficiency?

Goodbye "Maybe MBA"

An excellent MBA blogger from Booth says goodbye. From her post and the comments that follow, it sounds like she may have been chased offline by the administration and/or fellow students, which is really too bad. Freshness and honesty are trademarks of great blogs, such as hers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Global Study/Service Learning Trips for 2009-10

Stanford sends weekly Monday emails to the class of 2011 and in the email I received yesterday, they included the list of locations for Global Study Trips and Service Learning Trips for next year. These trips are ways to fulfill the global experience graduation requirement.

2009-10 Global Study Trip locations
Argentina and Chile
*Beirut and Paris*
Ghana and Senegal
*India*
Indonesia and Singapore
Mexico
Peru
Saudi Arabia and U.A.E.
Scandinavia
Turkey


2009-10 Service Learning Trip locations
California and Nevada – Water, the Lifeblood of the American West: Mountain Snows to Faucet Flows
*China – Energy and the Environment*
India – Health Service Provision at the Base of the Pyramid
*South Africa – Education and Leadership Development*
Thailand and Cambodia – Innovations in Human and Economic Development


I asterisked the ones that appeal to me at first glance: the China service learning trip, the Paris/Beirut global study trip, the India global study trip, and the South Africa service learning trip.

Strangely absent from the trip offerings are any service learning opportunities in South America. Also, I wonder why there are fewer than half the number of options for the global study trip than there were in 2008-09. Is this another sign of Stanford GSB financial troubles?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Speaking of Scholarships, Here's One for You

I got an email last weekend from Eric Bahn, the founder of Beat The GMAT (who is a class of '04 Stanford undergrad alumnus living in Palo Alto), asking me to inform hopeful class of 2012 readers about the organization's annual scholarship:

"The 2009 Beat The GMAT Scholarship competition--co-sponsored by Manhattan GMAT and Stacy Blackman Consulting--features 5 prizes worth $14K. This is the fourth year we're hosting this competition, which has become the largest GMAT scholarship program on the Internet. The deadline to apply is May 8, and more info can be found here: http://www.beatthegmat.com/scholarship.html"

Scholarship Interview

I recently had a phone interview for the scholarship I applied for. It is not a ton of cash in the grand scheme of things (~5% of my total 2-year package) but every little bit helps, right?

Anyway, my interview made me realize how tired I still am of the entire application process. My voice was a little shaky at the beginning. I talked too fast. I struggled not to ramble. Even though the questions were pretty standard--walk me through your resume, what are your goals, tell me about your volunteer experience--I didn't feel great about it.

If they like me enough, I will have to go to their headquarters for an in-person final interview. My worry is that I will be invited on a final round interview and then not get the scholarship. So I will have wasted my time and money (they make the applicant pay for all travel expenses). Plus, I don't have that many weekends left at home before I start my summer travels.

Of course, I will be thrilled if I actually get the scholarship, but I have a premonition that I won't. I will keep you posted.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Stanford GSB Personal Statement

I am continuing to work through Stanford's required pre-matriculation work. Earlier this week, I finished the math and Excel assessors. And on a plane a couple days ago, I tackled my first-year personal statement, which is a "memo addressed to [my] advisor/Critical Analytical Thinking seminar instructor [which] include[s] whatever [I] think will be helpful to [my] advisor for making important decisions about [my] academic program."

Below are the academic goals I included in my memo:

1) business plan development skills
2) advanced finance skills and improved macroeconomic understanding
3) skills for developing and utilizing frameworks to understand and solve problems
4) communication, relationship-building, negotiation, and management skills

PS - My plane was for a trip to San Francisco. I had to take a non-Stanford related trip and it was wonderful. I was able to walk around and get a better feel for the city. I know I won't be living there but it's nice to start to get comfortable with my near surroundings. Plus, the weather was phenomenal.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Compelling Article: "Why I Blog"

I am working my way through a pile of magazines that has accumulated unread over the past couple months and I picked up an old issue of Atlantic Monthly. Well I guess it's just called The Atlantic now, but I prefer its former title. In its November 2008 issue, Andrew Sullivan, among the first recognized journalists to embrace blogging, discusses the medium in his aptly titled article, Why I Blog.

My favorite parts of the article are when he discusses the immediacy of blogging--the urgency with which bloggers blog--and the reader-writer intimacy that results:

"Even the most careful and self-aware blogger will reveal more about himself than he wants to in a few unguarded sentences and publish them before he has the sense to hit Delete. The wise panic that can paralyze a writer—the fear that he will be exposed, undone, humiliated—is not available to a blogger. You can’t have blogger’s block. You have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts. You can try to hide yourself from real scrutiny, and the exposure it demands, but it’s hard. And that’s what makes blogging as a form stand out: it is rich in personality."

Since starting this blog in February, I have often felt the overwhelming need to post after reading something interesting about the MBA world or hearing something I thought readers might care about. I have also had the desire to share more of myself than I thought was permissible in an anonymous blog. And I do feel strangely connected to you, dear reader, even though we will likely never meet.

Monday, April 6, 2009

5 Tips for Skill Assessors

For those of you who are not attending the GSB next year, you can skip this post.

For those of you who are, read on if you would like my suggestions for tackling Stanford's required pre-matriculation skill assessors, especially the tortuous Excel assessor:

1. The Excel assessor uses the latest version (the one with file names .xlsx) so if you are on a Mac or an older version of Excel, you will likely struggle. Be ready to be frustrated and read on.

2. Go through it VERY QUICKLY once. Do not waste time trying to figure out answers that you do not immediately get (unless you are totally unfamiliar with Excel, in which case this post may not be for you either and you should probably read through one of the books recommended on the pre-matriculation website). I wasted so much time trying to figure out the idiosyncrasies of each formatting, printing, and saving function when in reality, I can figure this stuff out in <1 minute just by fooling around or by getting it wrong once and finding out the answer.

3. Review the questions you got wrong.

4. Immediately do another assessor. It will be much shorter because the computer will take out all subjects on which you did well. For example, if you got about 50% correct, expect the next assessor you take to be about 40% shorter. At least that is how I think it works from taking it three times in a row.

5. Repeat until you have reached the minimum acceptable cutoff.

Don't try to do both the Excel and quantitative assessors in one go unless you are happy to sit at your desk for a minimum of three hours. Last thing: the quantitative/math assessor has much less calculus than I was expecting. Aside from a few questions, your GMAT prep should suffice.

Sorry this post is so dry, specific, and generally boring. Let's get this crap out of the way so we can travel!

4/7 UPDATE: I lied about the lack of non-GMAT content, namely calculus and trig. I just completed the quant assessor and there is a fair amount of calc, in particular. However, it is pretty basic and if you have studied it in the past, it should look familiar. As I said, just go through the test quickly and either guess or answer "I don't know" for the questions you don't immediately understand and then go through the program's online content/tutorials to reteach yourself the stuff you missed.

Apples to WTF? Continued

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will remember that I interview for my undergraduate alma mater and have been frustrated by the lack of correlation between my interview evaluation and the admissions decision.

I am pleased to report that this year my university seems to have taken my opinion as a volunteer interviewer into account: the two applicants to whom I gave the highest ratings were waitlisted and the other five applicants were rejected. Small sample size I know, but it seems like a decent correlation in comparison to prior years. I am a little disappointed that neither of the outstanding applicants was accepted, but I will hope that one or both with make it off the waitlist and join the class of 2013.

Though I still have reservations, I will likely continue to interview next year from Palo Alto.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

lastname_firstname@gsb.stanford.edu

It is starting to feel more official. On Tuesday I received access to my Stanford GSB email account. Now I have to try to figure out how to get it to work with my mobile device.

One cool thing about the mail program is that I can look up all admitted applicants who have submitted their deposits as well as current students. I wish Stanford had a more comprehensive search program like HBS's "classcard" database, which allows you to search admitted students by undergrad institution, location, company, etc. I'm sure that I will have access to a complete directory as a student, but it would be nice to start figuring out who is going to be in my class.

And congratulations to all round 2 admits! Hope to see you in Palo Alto.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Yale's Endowment & Its Famed Manager

In its April issue, Condé Naste Portfolio published a fascinating article about Yale's long-time endowment manager, David Swensen and his propagation of university endowments' move toward alternative investments, including private equity, venture capital, real estate, and commodities, among others. It is staggering that some of Yale's peer institutions shifted as much as 80% of their assets into alternatives.

As we have heard for many months and as this article reiterates, endowments at virtually all institutions, including Yale and those that followed its model, are suffering right now. Total assets are down by 25-30% or more. However, it is important to remember that alternatives as an asset class are not down as much as U.S. equities. So while alternative investments limit an endowment's liquidity, which can be a critical problem for a university, it is not clear that institutions that stayed away from alternatives entirely would have fared better on a returns basis.

"There was truly no place to hide," explains Sandra Ell, Caltech's chief investment officer.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

R2 Waiting Game Continued: Stanford GSB & HBS

Not like I need to tell anyone reading this, but Stanford GSB and HBS Class of 2011 round 2 admissions decisions will be released by April 2. Interesting that both schools chose the same date. For round 1, they were one day apart.

HBS sends an email indicating that your status has been updated. You have to log into the ApplyYourself website and access the decision through a link that will show up on the first page. Have a high-speed internet connection and your pins and passwords handy.

Stanford applicants should be waiting by their work phones beginning the afternoon of April 1 because Derrick Bolton, director of Stanford GSB Admissions, historically has called all admitted applicants before releasing the decision online. Recently, he has been calling work numbers after hours, regardless of what your preferred contact phone number is. If he is really trying to make a personal effort, why call me at work at 10PM my time when I'm not there? Why not just call my cell? Probably because he wants to get through all of the calls efficiently and that task is easier if he is leaving a 60-second voicemail rather than speaking directly to each person. My suggestion is to skip the calls, Derrick. It doesn't really add anything to get a voicemail rather than an email and it does contribute to applicants' stress levels as the calls begin to roll out.

* Just an FYI to those waiting miserably: based on the BW forums, during round 1 it seemed like calls began overseas in Asia at around 2PM PST and extended westward through the afternoon and evening of the day before the official decision notification date. Calls hit the US east coast at around 6PM PST. And to mix things up, there was plenty of geographic variation from the aforementioned around-the-globe pattern. GOOD LUCK.

4/10 UPDATE: Based on the R2 activity on the Business Week forum, it seems like Derrick called most people on their preferred numbers (including mobile numbers) and reached many accepted applicants live.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Another Friend's Advice

I went skiing with friends a couple weekends ago and one of my host's other guests was a Stanford GSB grad from the class of 2005.

During long rickety chairlifts up the mountain, GSB '05 told me about his various living arrangements--in Schwab his first year (which I can't do because my significant other will be with me), at a Lake Tahoe ski house with 24 of his nearest and dearest, and in a sweeping mansion with 7 or 8 other guys, which is passed down from class to class at the GSB.

We also talked about specific activities he enjoyed during his two years, including the Wine Circle, a global study trip to China that he organized, and the Board Fellows program, which matches students with local non-profit boards.

GSB '05 told me about his and his classmates' experiences serving on boards ranging from huge international organizations like American Red Cross to local charter schools. I had read a lot about the Board Fellows program during the application process because of my pre-MBA interest in service. I spent two years as a board and finance committee member for a homeless shelter and while I loved the organization (I started as a volunteer) and thought highly of my fellow board members, I never felt like I was able to contribute significantly. I gave money and involved other friends in the organization, but it's hard to rock the boat as the youngest member of a 20-person board (and hard to know if and how you want to rock to boat). Given that experience and the wealth of other activities at the GSB, I did not mention Board Fellows in "Essay B" (career aspirations, why Stanford) and am hesitant to sign up next year. Also, when I asked my new friend about hands-on community service opportunities (e.g., tutoring at-risk children, cleaning up a park), he said that he didn't know of any Stanford GSB student clubs that are focused on volunteering. Maybe I will try to fix that...

His best piece of advice was to figure out early what things are important to me--such as meeting everyone in my class, networking within the international community, playing golf, traveling extensively, whatever--and make sure that those personal priorities don't fall by the wayside because of more formal commitments, classwork and FOMO. He assured me that I would have an incredible experience either way, but that my time would lack richness that it would otherwise have from staying true to my personal goals.

Now I just have to figure out what my non-schoolwork/job priorities are. Current short list includes traveling, continuing to develop my relationship with my significant other, making new friends, and improving my listening skills.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

R2 Waiting Game: Wharton Decision

I'll admit it. I have been watching the Business Week forums over the last week or two, which is the home stretch for many round 2 MBA admissions decisions. I'm not proud.

It sounds like the Wharton round 2 decision could be coming out any moment. During round 1 this year, the official decision date was the fourth Monday in December, but the admissions committee called admitted applicants the prior Thursday morning (from a 215 area code number in case you're wondering) and then released all decisions via email/ApplyYourself website later that day. Given that Wharton's official decision date for R2 is this Thursday, many folks are expecting the verdict to be released today. To them I say, hang in there. Unfortunately, I have no ideas for how to distract yourself in an effective way.

At this point in R1, I had just had my HBS interview, still had not gotten a Stanford GSB interview, and had visions of being waitlisted at all three schools. I probably spent 25% of my waking hours online on some sort of business school forum, blog, or website. I was having very strange business school-related dreams. My anxiety was palpable. In hindsight, I wish that I was already blogging so that I would now have a record of my feelings, which were that much more intense because of a recent death in my family.

So I guess I do have one suggestion for those still waiting on a decision: write something. Your writing skills are likely improved or at least fresh from all of the application essay writing you have recently done. Type up a long email to friends or family. Open a fresh word document and capture your thoughts. Write a letter to yourself. Try to find a release for all of your anxiety rather than let it fester. The byproduct will be a record of these feelings for you to review the next time you face a serious challenge or difficult wait.

Good luck to all!

Monday, March 23, 2009

March Madness

Okay, so this post is not really about business school, but it does have to do with American universities so maybe you'll cut me some slack. It is officially spring in the U.S. with the beginning of the NCAA college basketball tournament last Thursday. My office does an annual pool, which I happen to have won last year. This year I'm in the lead, but one of my colleagues informed me this morning after serious statistical analysis that it remains anyone's game, given the heavy weighting of later matches.

Unfortunately absent from this year's tournament is Stanford. They failed to win even half of their conference games during the 08/09 season. For a team that has played in the tournament 13 out of 14 seasons from 1994 to 2008 and made it to the Sweet 16 as recently as last year, that is a pathetic record. I don't know much about their conference (Pac 10) or their current roster. I do know that former Duke player and assistant coach Johnny Dawkins joined Stanford's basketball team as their head coach this season, so I'm willing to cut the team some slack and give them one season to adjust to new leadership. But I hope they pull it together next year and are a good team to root for!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Deciding to Apply to Business School

One reader asked if I could explore in a bit more depth how I arrived at the decision to apply to business school and how I determined when the right time for me to apply was. That is a loaded question, but I will give it a go.

Why grad school at all?
Today if you are a relatively risk-averse and intellectually curious person, I think a graduate degree is a natural step. Grad school offers:
1. learning/skills
2. another network
3. resume/credibility booster
4. the ability to enter into MBA/professional degree-required jobs
Numbers three and four are interrelated but I believe that they should be separate because #3 means that you are more seasoned and that you "have an MBA or whatever degree to fall back on" while #4 means that you can be a lawyer if you get a law degree and that you can apply to "MBA required" jobs once you get an MBA. After talking to headhunters this year, I learned that there are many great jobs that require an MBA.

The three major professional schools are law, medical, and business. Then you've got PhD programs and masters programs.

I think that any of the three professional degrees, a PhD in a relevant subject (e.g., economics, engineering), or a master's in policy/international affairs from a top program can open doors into many different business fields (e.g., consulting, banking, management). I think other masters degrees don't offer credibility-building or door-opening in the business world that you don't already get from a strong undergraduate experience. These are anecdotal thoughts; I am sure there are many exceptions.

Why business school?
1. Time commitment: 2 years for business school versus 3 for law, 4 for med, 5+ for a PhD.

2. Relevance: I want spend my career managing some sort of an enterprise. Thus, business school is the natural winner both in terms of content and like-minded classmates. Content: the curriculum and extracurricular activities are tailored to someone who wants to be in management and include offerings to dive deeply in many specific management areas (e.g., marketing, non-profit management). Classmates: business school students have a wide variety of experiences across different organizational functions. Their diverse experiences are helpful for understanding new problems and offer exposure into other business fields. Plus the majority of MBA students want to return to the business sector and will be important contacts in the future.

3. Recognizable: Hiring managers around the world know what an MBA is and know what the top schools are. They may not always know that such-and-such school has an amazing graduate economics department and they may not believe that an attorney would make a great real estate investor, but they understand the value of an MBA.

4. The "f-word," FIT: I don't want to do research (PhD) and I don't want to join a program in which a significant portion of the class just graduated from college (law). I want to be surrounded by classmates who have had experiences operating in a wide variety of functions across different industries. I want to learn from businessmen and women turned professors. I want to study past cases and develop business solutions to meet future problems. Also, I want to be in a grade-free environment in which I can choose how and where I invest my time.

For me, business school is the clear winner among graduate schools.

Why now?
The following rules of thumb have come from my own experiences. I didn't know them straight out of college, but rather developed them during my working years and recent business school application process -- i.e., I made up the rules as I went along.

1. Work for at least two different organizations. You will be exposed to a variety of business cultures, industries, functions, or some combination of the three. That is a good thing when it comes to figuring out what you really want to do and what kind of an organization you want to join (or start) in the future.

2. Accomplish tangible things at each of your jobs. Don't leave an investment banking job for business school until you have closed a few deals. Don't leave a consulting firm until you have been able to lead a segment of a project. Don't abandon your marketing position until you have been able to grow share or increase brand awareness in some quantifiable way. Accomplishing something, anything, is important not only for business school application essays, but also for your own awareness of what kinds of activities excite you, what achievements you are proud of, what you want to accomplish in the future.

3. Manage something. Since most of us are pretty young and may not have the opportunity to manage much at work, I suggest getting involved in your community. Start a new organization, join a board, lead a fundraising effort, revamp a program. Take charge and learn how difficult it is to manage. Feel the exhilaration of changing an organization (hopefully for the better). It will make your essays stronger and I believe it will make your business school experience richer.

4. Don't get too old. I know all of the business schools say that you should apply when it is the right time for you. That is true, but I implore you not to wait too long. HBS's 2-Plus-2 program and Stanford GSB's average incoming age of 26 (implied by an average of four years of work experience in their most recent class) clearly indicate that business schools are going younger. This trend may change in the future, but a simple word search for "age" at the Business Week forums will reveal the current challenges of admission to a top school much above the 24 to 27-year-old range. Also, think about how much easier it is to be impressive at age 25 versus age 30 when you have had almost a decade in the workforce; I believe expectations increase exponentially beyond age 27/28.

5. Do what you want. Take everything I have just written with a grain of salt and a dose of skepticism. This post is merely how I arrived at the conclusion to go to business school and when I think the right time to apply is. I suspect (hope) that the majority of my classmates will not fit neatly into these criteria and that their reasons for going to business school will be very different than my own.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Broughton Bashes Bschool (What Else Is New?)

Wow, check this one out. This scathing piece is by Philip Delves Broughton, the same fellow who wrote Ahead of the Curve, which I reviewed last month. The article is an unmerciful indictment of "The Masters of Business Administration, that swollen class of jargon-spewing, value-destroying financiers and consultants [who] have done more than any other group of people to create the economic misery we find ourselves in."

The article is harsh, sensationalist, and one-sided. It is essentially a list of disgraced HBS alumni (e.g., Skilling, O'Neal) with very little substantive discussion and zero mention of anything positive to come out of business schools. He never touches on the criminally-negligent regulatory environment that allowed such rampant behavior to persist, except to say that it was propagated by HBS grads Cox, Paulson, and George W. Bush. Nor does he discuss the issue of causation vs. correlation when finger-pointing at the MBA degree and the HBS institution rather than at the individual.

I don't think that American business education is blameless, but I do think Broughton could have done better in his "analysis." The article is a sharp departure from the nuanced view he presented in his book and is a puff piece at best. To his credit, Broughton did provide a humorous bunch of alternative meanings for MBA (Master of Business Administration):
- Mediocre But Arrogant
- Mighty Big Attitude
- Me Before Anyone
- Management By Accident
- Masters of the Business Apocalypse, his article's namesake

Sunday New York Times Reading

Two good articles from the Sunday New York Times this week. Take a look:

1. Is It Time to Retrain Business Schools? discusses shortcomings of the current American business school education, namely that it lacks emphasis on risk management and on relevance to today's world.

2. The Secrets of Talent Scouts discusses the parallels across VC, headhunting, and the music industry as "scouts" search for winners in unusual places. Key takeaway: "take chances on passionate people early in their work lives, focus on what can go right, offer rewards no one else can match and harness the lessons of your own career."

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pulled the Trigger

Yesterday was the HBS deposit deadline so I declined, and submitted my Stanford GSB deposit, which isn't due until next week. Also, just before I submitted my Stanford deposit, I got a personal email from Dean Bob Joss encouraging me to email or call if I had any outstanding questions during my "difficult decision." He included both his home and cell phone numbers in the email. I felt special. For about 30 seconds.

I assured him that I was planning to attend Stanford and asked him about the quality of teaching at each school and the argument that HBS is superior because of its case method. He responded that he was glad I had chosen Stanford and that a variety of teaching techniques can lend itself to an even stronger classroom experience. I would have liked more of a discussion about the Stanford classroom experience, but I guess I should have asked my question more clearly.

It feels strange to officially have made my decision, even though I already knew what it was a while ago. I am never comfortable closing doors, whether they are doors to new relationships or career paths. I think I have to get over that aspect of my personality, because my hunch is that, while many doors will open over the next couple years, the choices I make will close a greater number of other options.

Okay... I'm finished waxing philosophical. Time for the weekend!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Financial aid...

...sucks. The process, I mean. Not the actual aid that business schools offer many students.

My 2008 taxes are nowhere near complete and some of the aid application questions are definitely open to interpretation, which makes me uncomfortable in the world of numbers and electronic signatures.

Also, I can't seem to find any good external scholarships. One of my friends found an amazing full ride with very few strings attached a few years ago, but I am having no such luck. I found one that is worth <10% of the total price tag, so I will apply. A few thousand dollars is still worth something, even if it is a drop in the bucket. I'm pulling together essays and recommendations and will hope for an interview. Wow, this process seems eerily familiar.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Friend's Advice

A good friend was visiting me this weekend. He is in his fourth year of a six-year graduate program. When we started talking about my upcoming transition to business school, he urged me not to get too wrapped up in the grad school social scene and to make sure I have a life outside of school.

He lives in a fairly large city and prior to our conversation, it hadn't struck me as strange that he never mentioned any good friends who are in his program. All of the people with whom he socializes are non grad school friends and I learned from his advice that this is a consequence of a very deliberate choice. His stance is that, save for a couple individuals you really connect with, you should treat your graduate school classmates like business colleagues rather than like new frat brothers.

I think he makes a fair point, though I'm not sure I completely agree with it in the business school setting. My friend has definitely chosen one end of the spectrum, which, for me, would be limiting and counter to my personality. I plan to make a sincere effort to develop new professional and personal relationships with my classmates. However, I will heed his advice to some degree because I know it was prompted by his understanding of my tendency to veer sharply to the overly social and overstimulated end of the spectrum. Also, I am wary of neglecting my academic interests and my relationship with my significant other. Hopefully I can have a balanced experience somewhere between the two poles.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Fun Times at HBS ASW


I'm exhausted. The HBS admit welcome event was a great experience and I would encourage all applicants to go to the admit weekends for the schools to which they have been accepted, even if they are not planning to go there. You will have great points to compare and contrast across the schools and your decision will be better informed. For example, after attending a case-based HBS class, I am now much more sensitive to the use of the case format and want to understand more about Stanford's pedagogy. To be very honest, I hadn't given it much thought before.

Quick recap:

Thursday PM - arrived in Cambridge, met up with my friend who I stayed with, went to campus to pick up my schedule (and free class of 2011 t-shirt and bag), was pleasantly surprised by the number of people I know who I ran into (both current students and admitted applicants), back to Cambridge for dinner, out to a bar where loads of HBS students were hanging out, home at around 2.

Friday AM - brutal 6:45 wake-up call, walked to campus and grabbed coffee/bagel before hearing welcome speeches from current students, a dean of something, and the Director of Admissions (Dee gave some sage advice: forget our résumés and go a little deeper in our interactions during the event), listened in on a class and learned from the student I sat next to that HBS will not hang either the Taiwanese or the Tibetan official flags in the classrooms because they are trying to build their exec education in China, went to the faculty panel and heard how great the case method is and not to over commit myself.

Friday PM - long lunch, career services run-down of the stats (no new information about the class of 2009 since my earlier post), housing tour, financial aid discussion, cocktail hour where I met some cool second-years, dinner (see dessert pic above of HBS seal embossed white chocolate) where I met some cool first-years and heard Professor Frances Frei tell a room full of applicants not to come to HBS if it wasn't for them (wise words), then out again with friends, home to my host's house for a late-night dance party and pizza.

Saturday - home.

I left with greater fondness for HBS, especially for its case method, emphasis on high quality of teaching, and its students. However, I have come to the conclusion that I would be going to HBS over Stanford primarily because it is Harvard Business School. The Harvard name carries a lot of weight, maybe more than I realized. But it's not enough for me to pick it over Stanford.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Heading to HBS Tomorrow

I will be at HBS tomorrow and Friday for the Admitted Students Welcome (ASW) weekend. I have never visited the business school and am very excited to hear the HBS pitch, to meet other admitted applicants, and to catch up with a few Boston and Cambridge-based friends.

I have been amazed by how surprised friends, family, and colleagues are to learn my intention to turn down HBS for Stanford. Both are amazing schools and I guess the Harvard name still rules supreme. However, Stanford's smaller size, its geographic isolation from other top business schools in sunny VC-centric Palo Alto, and its lower acceptance rate created a mystique in my mind that HBS never could top. I love Stanford for so many other reasons (e.g., culture, curriculum, entrepreneurship/VC expertise, emphasis on EQ, etc) but I will admit that this aura of exclusivity and differentness adds to my Stanford love.

Anyway, back to HBS because that is what this post was supposed to be about. I learned earlier this week that HBS is planning to "increase the size of the MBA program slightly this fall" from an average of around 905 the past four years to...TBD I guess. This plan was mentioned in a letter from Dean Jay Light to HBS alumni as a way to increase the school's revenue. I wonder if this move is also a reaction to what I assume are record applications. To me, it seems bizarre that the largest business school (both by enrollment and endowment value) in the world is growing its class size to increase immediate revenue by an absolute maximum of $2.3 million per year (assuming the class size is increased by 50 people and that none of the students have any financial aid).

Yes, annual alumni giving might increase in the future with the larger class size. And the touted far-reaching HBS alumni network would be that much bigger. However, I imagine that this move could make HBS alumni feel less connected to the institution and therefore, less likely to donate and less likely to help student and young alumni in their networking efforts.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

First Bschool Homework!

HBS sent me a case study they want me to read for my Strategy class on campus this Friday. The gall, the nerve -- homework before I'm even enrolled! The email did stress that I would not be required to participate in discussion, but rather that the reading would enhance my classroom experience. So I will be reading Bitter Competition: The Holland Sweetener Company versus NutraSweet in the next couple days.

This case's title seemed familiar and I realized that this is the case discussed in HBS's online video, Inside the Case Method. I watched this short video when I was prepping for my HBS admissions interview and it's actually informative and interesting.

Monday, February 23, 2009

IN: Cover Notes; OUT: Cover Letters

As a fairly recent college graduate with an "informal mind-set," I feel the need to break it to the New York Times' Career Couch -- cover letters are indeed on their way out of the door, at least in the traditional sense. (Random aside, wouldn't "career coach" be a better title for the regular column?)

The recent article makes several good points, namely that it is still important for a job applicant to introduce himself with some non-résumé text, that it is vital to keep the language concise, and that following up with a hard copy may yield more interviews. (I find the last point a little hard to believe given how dismissive my peers, older colleagues and I are of paper mail, but I will give it a try when the time comes.)

However, I have to take issue with the necessity of formal cover letters, especially in this challenging job landscape. Let's say you get the 200 résumés for a job opening that this article references. How in the world are you going to sift through all that drivel (e.g., "my skills are well-suited to blah blah blah," "I will apply my enthusiasm for yada yada")? Short answer: you won't.

Wouldn't one or two paragraphs in the body of the email be enough of an introduction? I think so. And let's not dismiss the fact that we laid-back Echo Boomers are not merely the lowest on the totem pole of job applicants; we are the upcoming generation of recruiters. Most of the head hunters I have met are under 35-years-old.

So here are PAFAW's rules for writing a cover note -- not letter -- note:

1. Keep it short: 2-3 paragraphs max. (two is the sweet spot)

2. Answer three questions:
- who are you?
- why are you interested in the job?
- what skills/qualifications do you have that will help the organization reach its goals? (okay, so I kind of stole the last one from the article)

3. Do NOT rewrite parts of your résumé in paragraph form.

4. Do NOT be repetitive. If you have already said it somewhere else in the note, move on.

5. Get a second and maybe a third pair of eyes on the document before hitting the send button.

PS: if you look to the left, you will find a new sidebar with PAFAW's running list of "ins" and "outs" as they relate to my posts. Enjoy!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Unexplained Anxiety

On Wednesday night I was walking to dinner with a couple of friends and I had this inexplicable uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have been a ball of anxiety for the last six months -- from cramming GMAT studying into three short weeks in July to procrastinating during August and finally getting my act together in September and October to polish off my round 1 applications only to settle into the 3-month waiting game that can best be described as a complete mindf*ck -- so this feeling was not new to me.

Everyone said that once I got into one school, I would feel so much better. Well, I did feel a little better back in December when I got my first acceptance. But that contentment quickly faded away and was replaced by overwhelming nervousness about HBS and Stanford. A month later, I got into HBS and was feeling good. I went out to celebrate and got the call from Stanford while I was partying with friends. Honestly, what could be better?

For the past month, I've been perusing the admit websites, filling out financial aid forms, and planning the next six months of my life. I told my employer that I'm out in May. School doesn't start until September. I should be sitting pretty.

So why is my mind still not at ease? Is it that I am so used to the feeling that there is always something next that I can never relish in my current situation and my past achievement? In college, I worried about grades. By sophomore year, I was nervous about my lack of internship experience. Senior year, I didn't just want a job; I wanted the right job. During my first two years working, I was constantly concerned that I had said or done something stupid and that my colleagues thought I was an imbecile. I was nervous that I didn't know what I wanted to do next and that I wasn't ready to go straight to business school. And for the last year, I've been worried about getting into school.

Now that I'm into Stanford, am I allowed to release the worry and enjoy my life?

(At least until the summer internship search begins next winter)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

MBA Job Market

An employment report of Stanford's class of 2008 showed up on the GSB admissions blog last week. I hope that my two years at the GSB will help me figure out how to get a $200K signing bonus (the upper end of the signing bonus range). Kidding. Well, sort of. But seriously Stanford, give us some real news -- what is going on with the class of 2009? What about the class of 2010 summer internship search?

Just two days later, the HBS Director of Admissions blogged that 77% of those seeking employment in the Class of 2009 have received offers. That number sounds high at first glance but let's note a couple things. The first is that we have nothing against which to compare this percentage. What was the figure in February 2008? Feb 2007? The Feb 2006 number had to be amazing given how frothy the market was back then. The second thing to note is that she clearly says they have received offers, not that these students have accepted offers. There is a big difference between getting a couple offers that you are loathe to take and having a job offer that you are thrilled to accept.

Meanwhile, the MIT Sloan career development office told Business Week in its grimly titled February 2 article MBA Job Outlook Dims that about 50% of the class of 2009 have job offers, flat from last year. Over at UCLA Anderson, about 33% of the class of 2009 have a job lined up, "down significantly from January 2008." UVA Darden students are in better shape, 67% of whom have job offers -- still down from 81% this time last year.

Business schools admissions officers are clearly trying to reassure applicants that there will be internships and jobs for them in the future and that leaving their current jobs is not foolish. I personally don't have the option to stick around with my current employer, so they need not try to convince me. I'm convinced!

PS: If you're interested in Stanford employment reports going back to 2003, click here. I'm too lazy to dig through those but let me know if you learn anything interesting.