Monday, April 14, 2008

Lessons from an applicant

For all the help I received from the blogosphere during my application process, here’s my ode to all of you who made your thoughts, experiences and rejections public. I’m grateful for all the tips and all the information gleaned from the gamut of blogs I would visit. I’m pretty sure I’ve thanked a few people, just as certain I am that I couldn’t trace my steps back to thank all those I missed. So here’s what I’ll do: I’m going to put in some of my cents into this post and subsequent ones and hope that someday, when this blog goes public, some applicant will find something of use in here. So here goes!

Discipline. You’re thinking, what’s that got to do with anything? I’m telling you it does. If you have decided to take this little trip here then you have got to have discipline. I didn’t have too much to start with. I cultivated it somewhere midway in my process. I got lucky; I can’t assure that you will too. You need to start early. Take your GMAT a year early if you can and spend the coming year strengthening your profile as you research colleges, courses and essay writing strategies. Ideally you should have researched this stuff before your GMAT – researching will convince you of the need to pursue this line of study and you will know where you stand in the scene. Never mind if you gave GMAT just because everyone else did. Wake up now and do your research.

GMAT is not even step 1. This should have been my point 1. I cannot stress on this enough. A lot of people I know aspire to top 5 US schools because they got a 700+ in their GMAT. Take it from me now: 770 in GMAT may not get you a seat in Wharton (Argue with me that Juggler had a whopping score and she’s in Wharton and I will tell you that Juggler has a whopping personality and stellar talent/intelligence/writing skills… all this in addition to 770/780. Juggler might have made it to Wharton without the 770 too!). On the other hand, 620 in GMAT may not get you rejected from Wharton either. There’s a sane mathematical calculation behind the median GMAT range figures on bschool websites. So GMAT is just like this platform ticket you have to buy. Once you get in, you need to find the right train and your seat too. All of that takes up significantly more energy and time than the GMAT ever will. So, in addition to the GMAT, assess your candidature thoroughly. In other words, go over your profile. You’ll need all the information you dig up.

Essays are the most important part of your application package. There is a reason why bschools have essays. The sooner you understand what the school wants to know, the better off you are. Essays are not something you can write overnight, no matter how good a writer you are. Similarly, essays are not something you can write from a common generic framework and switch school names depending on which college you are uploading the essay for. In fact, I read on one of the blogs that if your essay is such that all you need to do is change the school name in the essay to be ready with a new one for a new school, then your essay is no good. Each essay has to be specific to the school. It’s common logic that the person you are and your accomplishments do not change ( and should not change) from school to school but writing essays specific to a school ensures that you are highlighting the part of your personality or profile that the school wants to read about. Perhaps a school like Darden would want to know if you can work in teams and if you have confidence to speak in a crowd. Maybe a school like Yale would be more interested in whether you have a sense of responsibility towards your community. Here's where all that introspection you did will bail you out. If you've got it, dig it up and say it... Make it sound good when you do! I do not have a spectacular success rate with my applications. But I made sure that I wrote out new essays for each college. My goals essay was essentially the same, but depending on the manner in which the question was worded and the word limit imposed, I rewrote that essay for all 4 colleges that I applied to. Was it painful? Hell, yes! But if you thought this was going to be a breeze then perhaps you should think again.

Optimism. I’ll try to do this one right so that I don’t contradict a previous paragraph. It’s good to be realistic about where you should apply to and should not. But don’t whine to all and sundry that you’re no good. While you're applying to colleges where you think you stand a realistic chance of conversion, it doesn't hurt to look a little higher up too. I speak from personal experience. I refused to apply to Darden because I didn’t think my GMAT/acads were good enough. A good friend brainwashed me into doing it. He said, think of this as your dream college and apply. Worse case scenario – you get rejected. But think of what happens if it works in your favor. I struggled but I managed to get in my Darden application in Round 2. I got rejected from all colleges ranked below Darden. Was it plain luck or something else? I’ll never know. But bottomline is I’m here and I’m writing this post. So there!

Well I’m done for this post. I am sure I have more information to share and I’ll do it over the next few months. If anyone does ever read this and wants me to write about anything specific, then drop me a line in the comments section and I will try my best to oblige.

When Darden Called

And the word is out! I got accepted at Darden’s Full Time MBA program!

And that is why I am back in India, filing my e-separation and hoping to enjoy a few months at home and with the family before I have to leave once more. Suddenly there seems so much to do, to plan, to calculate – all my years of taking CAT comes to use now as I convert Rs to USD and back again, trying to figure out where to meet expenses from. But on a different plane, there are other worries too. How will I adjust to being a student once more, after nearly 3 years as an earning professional? 3 years of not needing to be accountable to anyone for money earned or spent, of being able to eat out on a whim, or buy an expensive book or item of clothing without needing to trace back to monthly budget. All my Indian savings when converted to USD seem to amount to almost nothing, while my USD savings will probably whittle down to nothing by the time I get to Darden.

I guess this is a post to write about how happy I am, that a dream is finally coming true. I cannot shake off the feeling that perhaps it’s coming a year too late, but every time I think of Darden and the 2 years coming up, I cannot help but feel a sense of excitement and adventure. I wrote at the beginning of this year about how I could feel that this year was going to be significant for me, that my life was going to change drastically. That sense of change is heightened now and although there is some fear of the unknown, there is also this feeling that the ride is going to be not without a fair share of excitement. Despite the period of self-doubt that I went through during my application process – I’m hearing that the feeling is extremely normal! – I hear people telling me I’m getting what I deserve and with each passing day I’m convinced more and more that they maybe right after all.

Finally, I know my parents are happy. They’re worried, but they’re happy. They’re worried that I may not want to come back to India again, or that I may not be able to. They’re worried that the process of finding me a husband is going to get more complicated than it already is. But I know that they’re happy I’m going to do what I’ve wanted and to me that’s all that matters.

Reporting From...


The last time you checked I was in Chicago and the next thing you know, I’m back home in India. Sweltering hot, noisy, dirty, crowded, chaotic India. All that and home.

I made this decision to return all on my own. My assignment done, I was ready to begin on a new, longer one right there in Madison. But then all in a day, things changed and I decided to return. I was unable to concentrate on work and I kept thinking about all the million things I had to arrange for and do. I know I’m being all mysterious, but I’m saving the big news for another post.

Madison. What a life altering experience that was. Did I anticipate having so much fun? Or did I anticipate enjoying work as much as I did? Answer to both is a resounding No! It is ironic how, having written off work and The Company as something I do and enjoy in bits (like when I’m quizzing or organizing events here or meeting the amazing people I have at The Company) while cursing to oblivion at other times, I actually began to enjoy work at Kraft. Add to it a fun boss, great location, healthy work hours and great junta. I had fun even when my project looked like it was crashing all around me – ok it wasn’t all ha ha-fun, but it was like challenging-fun, the fun you get when you’re racing against time and each time you fix one hurdle you’re going yesss! Everything was a new experience, best of all being the knowledge that I could actually cook!

So why did throw it all away, that too all of a sudden, to return to India?


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