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.