Submitting the first application

Whew!

I submitted my first ever business school application a few minutes ago. It had been a stressful situation over the past two weeks as I had to almost move the world to get my transcript from my undergraduate program. Oh well, that will form the basis of my next post.

The Round 2 application deadline for INSEAD is November 27, 2013. As at yesterday evening I was an emotional mess as I wondered how my recommenders would get their letters in before the deadline. It was early this morning as I went through the application form that i saw that the letters of recommendation can come in seven days after the deadline. That reduced the stress levels tremendously.

The first time I tried to submit the application, my debit card was declined. I sent an email to the technical team of INSEAD immediately but I did not get any response. It was when I tried again this evening that the application was finally accepted. But what really ticked me off was that when I tried to open the application again this evening, all the updates that I spent over five hours to do over the past two days were all gone. All the essays and transcripts that I uploaded were nowhere to be found. Well, I had to pull myself together and update the whole stuff all over again. It was after I submitted that I saw a tiny little mistake. I used a different town for the location of one of my part time job. Well, I believe that should not be a deal breaker. And well, I hope nobody would notice, except an admission officer reads my blog. And I bet they won’t even notice the mistake. Haha!

Well, first application to INSEAD done.

Time to move on to the next school. The dream school. Harvard.

Taking the GMAT

I wrote a very long piece on my struggle with the GMAT. I posted the piece on GMAT Club and on Beat The GMAT. However, I believe that it is my intellectual property and I have the right to post it on my blog after giving myself the go ahead. This is probably going to be my longest blog post, ever. So here goes:

After three shots at the GMAT, all taken between June and September, I finally hit the 710 mark. It looked like all the odds were stacked against me and the fates were not just on my side for some reason. Whatever it is, I believe that I have used up all the bad luck on the GMAT on my journey to getting the MBA. I will not go into too much details, so I will just highlight the major milestones on my journey to getting the 710. 

I have an average intelligence and practically struggled through medical school to get a degree. Who knows maybe I have even inflated my level of intelligence as I may have a little below average intelligence; you will understand better when you read what happened to me in the second try. Immediately after medical school, I switched careers to finance and I currently work as an investment strategist in a pension fund. Yes, I know it is strange to switch from medicine to finance but a lot of strange things happen in developing countries like mine. The switch was part of a great design, a story I intend to sell on my way to business school and a story I have about 95% chances of actually achieving. 

Now to the GMAT. On my first try, I used Manhattan GMAT Guides (including the mocks), OG13 and GMAT Prep. My scores on the mocks improved gradually from a low of 570 on the first Manhattan Mock to 710 on GMAT Prep Mock 1 to 690 on GMAT Prep Mock 2. I was pretty much stressed out right before the exam because I did not sleep well on the night before as I fretted over pretty much everything that I thought I did not know. The exam was scheduled for June 27, 2013 at 1pm in my hometown, so I did not have to travel far. I did not like the 1pm timing because my nerves were shot throughout the day and I had a bad tension headache but that was the only slot that was available in that venue. I chose not to use any analgesic since I knew the headache was tension induced and it had no organic underlying cause. On the way to the test center, I started experiencing some kind of flashes of bright light anytime I glanced at the rear-view mirror; that was when I knew I was going to underperform in the test. I was way too stressed. Well, I went through the motions of writing the test and at the end I got a 670 (Q47 V35). I scored a 5 in AWA and a 7 in IR. I was very disappointed with the verbal score because I was able to notch between V38 – V41 in my last four mock tests before the GMAT and I did not understand why I should score that low on the D-day. When I got home that night, I ordered for the Manhattan Advanced Math and the E-GMAT Verbal Live Prep course. I also bought the GMAT Prep Test Pack 1 and the Paper Test series. I knew instinctively that my weakness was probably in the SC and CR section. My RC had always been on the strong side because of my medical background; you know, medical students and doctors are used to reading dense materials over long periods of time so the RC was generally a piece of cake for me. 
I spent about ten days going through the E-GMAT SC course and it opened my eyes to a lot of things in the world of GMAT sentence correction. I had seen a lot of positive reviews for the Manhattan SC guide before purchasing all the guides but it was not that helpful to me; the E-GMAT course actually helped me to increase my SC accuracy tremendously. The RC course was useless for me since I was already pretty strong in that area. I tried the CR course but it was full of too much terminologies and my second shot at the GMAT was just a few weeks away; I felt it was going to be too much hassle to change my CR strategy in just a few days leading to the exam. Anytime I went through an E-GMAT CR class and tried to apply the strategies to the questions at the end of the session, I ended up failing the test but when I fell back to the strategies I learned from the Manhattan CR Guide, I performed very well; that pretty much clinched it for me. I had to fall back to the Manhattan CR guide, which was more straightforward for me. I have been surprised to see a lot of poor review for the Manhattan CR guide. 

On the run up to my second shot at the GMAT, I practically made up my mind not to do any kind of unofficial questions. I did the GMAT Prep mocks again and focused on the GMAT Test pack. My confidence had improved along with my high accuracy on SC. I slept better on the night before test and I was much more confident. I had no idea that the fates had other plans for me. Oh well, I wrote the test at around the same time as the previous one at 1pm and guess what, I was shocked to see a 640 (Q42 V34) on the screen. I mean, I had scored less than Q46 only about two times during my first preparation and scored less than V35 the same number of times. This was what happened. I paced myself well all through the test and right through the verbal section. I still do not understand why in the world I thought I was on the last question in the Verbal section when I was on question 40. I just let the clock run down and then clicked OK. Right there and then another question popped up and before I could react, the timer shut me out. Oh boy! I felt like crying. And when my scores came up, I saw a 640. I scored a 4 in IR and a 5 in AWA. I was quite surprised at the Quant Score and at the IR score. How could my score drop from 7 to 4 and Q47 to Q42 at a time when I was better prepared? Here is the lesson I learned and if this is the only thing you are able to glean from my post, I will be more than happy. I am going to write it in bold. 

If you miss one question on the GMAT, it will affect the scoring algorithm so badly that it will filter down through the other sections apart from AWA. If you run out of time and end up not doing one question in the Quant section, count yourself lucky, stand up, tell the proctor you are done and go and register for the next test. Trust me, you will not like the score you will see if you think you can beat it by doing well in Verbal. And if you made the mistake in Verbal, cancel your scores and give GMAC another $250. Whatever you score after you miss a question, you can be sure that you could have gotten at least anything between 50 – 80 extra if you had the chance to just guess any answer. 

On the run up to my last try, all sort of things happened. Almost everything went wrong by another twist of fate. Here is the story. Three weeks before the test, I got an official car from my company and a few days after that I had an accident with it. It took me a few days to recover from it and get back on track for GMAT studies. The following week, two weeks before the exam, some armed robbers stormed the apartment complex where I stay, they robbed some families but thankfully my family was spared. This is one of the things we face in the developing world coupled with recurrent blackouts. It took my wife a few nights to recover from that incidence and for me to dust off myself and continue with GMAT studies again. This time around I did not buy new materials. I simply scoured for my weak areas and plugged the holes. I also discovered the Economist GMAT and I used the 7 free days to try to learn some new concepts. In addition to the the E-GMAT three step process, the stylistic perspective to addressing SC questions was came quite handy; I essentially had he best of both worlds for SC. I scored a 710 on the Economist GMAT mock, which accurately predicted my performance but the breakdown was actually miles apart. This time around I scheduled the test for another town, Lagos, which was about an hour flight from where I stay in Abuja. I also rescheduled the time for 10am because I wanted everything to be different this time around. A few days before the test, my daughter developed a flu and I caught it from her. I had to fly out to Lagos the day before the test and it was a horrible experience with the banging headache and fever. I couldn’t sleep well on the night before the test. Well, I had to drag myself to the test center with a stuffed nose and a bad headache. When I was about to start, I made a vow that I don’t give a damn about this test anymore and regardless of the score, I am going to start my applications with what I have. My 670 score with both sections above the 70th percentile should do and I will have to look for a way to make my profile as interesting as possible. The fact that I have the CFA charter should at least let the adcoms know that I have the brainpower to handle the first year courses of business school since that is what the GMAT tests after all. It was with that mindset that I started the test regardless of the headache, the stuffed nose and the fever. I also remembered the pledge I took on GMAT Club to be in the 700+ club along with BB and all the hard work I put into it. I essentially tried to psyche myself up and keep my stress levels low. When the scores came out and I saw a 710 (Q45 V42), I had a mixture of relief and disappointment. Relief because at least I was able to garner a respectable 710, even though it is not a rock star score; disappointment because I knew my abilities were far above a Q45. I scored Q50 in my last two mock tests and V46 and V47 in the verbal sections. 

That is my debrief. It was a long and tortuous journey but I am done with the GMAT for good. I think I have finished my run of bad luck with the GMAT and I hope the rest of my applications for Round 2 will be smooth sailing. I will be glad to take any question.

Hiring a Consultant

To hire a consultant or not?

I was stumped with hiring a consultant initially. After taking a stroll around the web, looking up the costs of hiring a consultant and all, I was scared by the total costs of getting one. I mean this thing runs into thousands of dollars. The thought of shelling out one month salary per school just to hire someone to brush up your essays was daunting. My excel spreadsheet told me that I would have to sacrifice four months salaries on consultants to help me apply to my four selected schools. Then how would I live? It looked like my personal government would have to shut down for four months, but the problem is that I can only attend one school, not four.

I happen to be a member of the most popular forums for MBA candidates, GmatClub.Com and BeatTheGMAT.Com. There is so many information on those websites that one can actually get confused about the whole application process. The loads of information is so much that several contradictions about a simple issue abound. Some of the admission consultants on the forums makes it look like you need not apply to some of these business schools if you don’t score a 780 on the GMAT or get a GPA of 3.99. They also sometimes make you feel like you have no chance if you don’t discover a cure for cancer or win an Olympic medal. Then occasionally, an average guy will pop out of nowhere and post on how he was able to get into Harvard with a 690 GMAT score or into Wharton with a GMAT of 660. That pretty much clinched it for me that I might need to hire a consultant so that I don’t end up getting confused in the process. This also became much more important because there is nobody around me who is applying to a business school anyway.

After discussing my concerns with my boss, who by the way has agreed to act as a recommender for all four schools and any other one I might be interested in, told me about a Nigerian consultant, who had once been a member of the admissions committee in Harvard Business School. He had not met her before but he told me about her company, Expartus, and her book, The Best Business Schools Admissions’ Secrets. He believed that she would be a very good resource in helping me bridge the cultural gap between me and the schools I am interested in.

Now to get in touch. I was still brooding on how to best get across to her when some guys from a private equity firm who wanted us to invest in their upcoming fund walked into my office on one fine sunny day. One of them happened to be an HBS graduate and his surname looked really familiar. I gave him a call a week after they visited my office and surprise surprise, he was related to the CEO of Expartus! That was when I knew the stars were lining up for me.

And that was how I hired a consultant. Oh well, it is still expensive though but at least my government will not have to shutdown because I can actually spread out my payment and I will have to sacrifice only two months salary. After working with her for a few weeks, I feel that it was worth it after all.

Selecting the Schools

After making up your mind to go for an MBA program, the next task is school selection. A lot of introspection goes into selecting the program that will make a best fit for you. You also need to consider if you will fit nicely into the school. It probably took me almost one year to make up my mind. I had to do a lot of research into the different schools that popped up on my radar before making up my mind. It sounds like a lot of hard work, but it was really quite enjoyable; that would probably the only enjoyable part of applying to a business school.

I mentioned in my earlier post that Harvard Business School and INSEAD were a slam dunk for me. Well, I mean it was easy to make up my mind to apply to both of them for several reasons. INSEAD’s main campus in France and I want to steep myself in the French culture. Anyone who speaks English and French can do business in at least 90% of African countries, which is my destination after business school. The fact that INSEAD has a reputation for breeding entrepreneurs, especially through their flexible curriculum, also appealed to me. The school also hammers a lot on international motivation; I might have stayed 99% of my life in my country but boy! am I internationally motivated. Why is my cable TV perpetually tuned to Bloomberg TV and CNBC Africa? I need not say more.

Harvard Business School (HBS) was also quite easy to lock down as a target school. In my country, HBS is highly regarded and it opens tightly locked doors easily. To put it more succinctly, the HBS tag breaks down doors. If I am to fulfill my dreams, I need to be able to take doors off their hinges. That is definitely not the pitch I intend to throw at the Adcoms, but that is the real motivation. With my CFA Charter, a school that is not well known may just end up giving me a marginal edge from where I am, and it might just be best to continue on this trajectory without hitting on a business school. Did I just say that? Oh well, approaching business school applications is like approaching the woman of your dreams. There are different stages of hurdles to cross. In Africa, you not only woo the woman, you also woo the parents.

HBS and INSEAD. Tick. But then I need more schools to apply to. At least, I need to cast my net wide enough.

Stanford was on and off my list over the research period. At a time it was my top school, and at another time, I dropped it off my list. After going through their website, some MBA oriented blogs and forums, I made up my mind to add it to my very short list of prospective programs. The fact that the school is located in the Silicon Valley, right in the midst of entrepreneurs pretty much clinched it for me. I also like the flexible curriculum that the school offers.

The last school that got into my list was Chicago Booth. I was fortunate to meet with some of the Admission guys in Singapore when I went for the CFA annual conference earlier this year. I was able to have a feel of what the school was all about. Although the school is known for its strength in finance, which I must confess is not really my forte, I just felt good about the school. A little stroll up and down the schools website and also helped me make up my mind. I also like the fact that they are trying to carve a niche for themselves in the social enterprise space, which is my final destination.

Other schools I considered were Wharton and Columbia. I had to yank them off my list for two big reasons. They seem to be quite big in finance and all my research shows that they tend to prefer candidates with high scores in GMAT quant. While I was able to score 49 – 50 in my practice tests, I just couldn’t go beyond the 47 mark in the real test. I like quantitative stuff but I just need to convert it into something a little bit more logical to retain all those hard formula. I wonder how I passed the CFA exams, which are quantitative intense. Well, those are just excuses. I actually like those schools. Warren Buffet, one of my mentors, even graduated from Columbia. I just felt something off about them. I have not been able to put my finger it, though.

Anyway, here was the acid test. I asked myself if I would gladly go to any school if I get dinged in all the others. My answer was Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes for HBS, INSEAD, Stanford and Booth, but the was answer was No! and No! for Wharton and Columbia. Sorry, we are not just compatible.

Deep sigh.

And I hope that my four chosen schools will all feel for me what I feel for them. I want one of them to be my kitchen.

Who am I?

Any serious MBA applicant must ask this question before he or she can ever dream of putting pen to paper to write the essays that accompany the application into most MBA programs. I have asked this same question all my life and the time has come for me to put all of what makes me me together into that dreaded journey that is called MBA application.

First let’s get off with some introductions since this is my first ever post about my MBA journey. I fall into several buckets, and I hope I won’t give the admission committees a hard time where to put me. I don’t even know where to place myself, and this is why I have made up my mind to go for an MBA program. I am an African, a medical doctor, a CFA charter holder, and an investment manager. And for the records, I also happen to an older applicant.

There you go. There are so many pieces of me and the reason I have chosen to go for an MBA is to put all the pieces together into one place in order to make a sense out of it. A meal can be delicious when many ingredients are used, in the right proportions; in the same vein, the meal can turn into a disaster if some ingredients are too pronounced while others are relegated. Think of a cup of coffee with 20 cubes of sugar. I see the MBA program as a kitchen where all the ingredients will be mixed in the right proportions until a perfect meal is cooked. My African heritage, medical degree, and CFA charter need to be mixed in the right proportions so that I can become what I was made to be.

The journey started this time last year, when I began to ponder how to get to the next stage of my life. It dawned on me that there are some skills I need to get to the next level and these skills can only learned in one of two ways. Stay at my current job and learn the hard way for a long time or get an MBA and move on to the next phase. I chose the latter. After a little research, I made up my mind to go to INSEAD because it had practically everything that I needed right from the one year accelerated MBA program, to the fact that they accept older candidates and to the fact that they also have an international focus, which I needed to boost my career.

Then I told my then friend, who now happens to also be my boss about my MBA dreams. His first reaction was that I was about to sell myself short. He forced me to break out of the box where I had placed myself and dig deeper. He told me to set my target a little bit higher and take a closer look to US schools. Well, where I come from Harvard Business School is the thing and I knew he was talking about that. Fortuitously, I now met a few other people within the same period who had the same views about me. That is what has brought me to where I am today.

The next natural step was to take the GMAT. After three tries, I broke into the 700+ score category. Now my focus is to complete all my applications in the Second Round of applications for business schools.