MBA Application Essays: Is it all about creative writing?

It’s that season! If you are reading this, you probably know that I am not talking about the ‘Fall’ season. Yep, I am talking about the approaching first/early round deadlines. Time to put those finishing touches to the essays and hit the Submit button. Talking about that, it’s really amazing how much strength it takes to finally hit that Submit button, it’s more than just a click!

Of late I have been reading about fellow applicants trying to get the opening of their essay right. My friend was talking about how he was struggling to bring his essay to a good ending – in his words “a good climax”.  To an outsider this might look like a bunch of people trying to get the next big script right, the next ‘Avatar’.  So is the MBA Application essay really about creative writing? 

There isn’t a unanimous answer to it. A member of the MBA Marketing team, from a top school, once told me “MBA essays are all about creative writing”. Some current students I have spoken to are also of this opinion. But some of the chat sessions that I have attended and blogs from admission committees don’t really concur with this. 

The best answer that I ever came across was during my Tuck visit. During the session with the admission committee, one of my fellow prospective students asked this question “I believe I am a strong candidate and have faith in my abilities. But my writing skills – it’s nowhere close to creative writing, to the point that I think I am a ‘dull writer’. Will that be held against me? ”. It was an honest and blunt question, and the answer matched it in those aspects. The response was “We don’t mind if you are a dull writer and will read it thoroughly irrespective of how dull it may be. But if, at the end of reading all your essays, you come out as an equally dull person, we will find it difficult to consider you. If not, we will treat you as just another competitive applicant”. 

I think that sums up what the ad-coms are looking for (mostly). Creativity or lack of it doesn't really matter. What matters is the ad-coms interpretation based on the essays, and it is your responsibility to make sure they interpret it right. If you can write creatively, it probably can have a better impact. If not, that is no reason to get worried about. Simple words and plain language is enough to convey that you are a strong fit. After all, you are not expected to churn out the next Pulitzer prize winning piece of literature after b-school (though you definitely can take that route!).

The P.O.L.O Club at Booth: Bringing families with little ones together

As I venture out in pursuit of the MBA, I realize there are so many variables that I have to balance out to arrive at the perfect equation for my 2 years at the business school. Two years is a big time in ones life, and I want to make sure that these two years are equally enjoyable for my wife and my little daughter. So one of the key things that I am looking at, while selecting schools, is the support and network available for families with kids.
Most schools do have a partners club and in most cases the partners club does organize activities for families with kids as well. While researching the Chicago Booth School of Business I came across a sub-club of the Booth Partners Club – they call it the P.O.L.O Club (Parents of Little Ones). With the help of the Partners Club, I was connected to the co-chair of the P.O.L.O club. She e-mailed  me a brief overview of the activities and events organized by the club, and happily agreed to speak with me to  answer my questions about the club. By the end of it I was convinced that my family will be able to enjoy our time at Booth.
For those of you who might be interested, here are some of the activities initiated or supported by the P.O.L.O Club:
-          Organize play-dates for children
-          Organize activities for women, including a weekly “day out for Moms” (Dad’s have got to take care of the kids some time, school or no school. And BTW, even though there are male significant others this club comprises of females only)
-          Family parties and events celebrating special occasions
-          Overall, it networks parents who are undergoing similar experience and helps make stronger bonds between families 

Waiving off your right to view your recommendations: why it is a no-brainer?

Those of you who might have submitted an MBA application or have at least started their online application must have surely come across the option that asks whether you waive off your right to view the recommendation written by your recommender. When I came across this the first time, I took some time to really think it over. In the end I decided to waive off my right and now when I think about it, the decision should have been a no-brainer. This is blog is about why I think so.

To begin with, the only way you make sure you have the best people to recommend about your candidacy is by speaking to each person whom you consider as a possible recommender. Tell them in detail why you want to do an MBA and if they are not well versed with the MBA application process at a top school give them a sense of the whole application process – how competitive it is, how it should bring out your overall candidacy, how it is so much of a holistic process in spite of all the variables involved and all those things that make you sweat and lose sleep during the application process.  After this ask them if they have the time to write recommendations for you and more importantly do they have enough ammunition (strong/weak points about your personality) to really fire up your candidacy. This exercise should help you arrive at your ideal recommenders.

Coming back to “waiving off rights” now, if you have arrived at your recommenders by using the approach above, do you really want to give them any hint that you doubt their honesty? Well, by not waiving off your right you would do precisely that and that’s why I said it was a no brainer. Forget what the ad-com thinks about it, you want your recommenders to be on your side make them feel you are fully confident about them and do not let them think otherwise.  On might counter that by not waiving off your right, you will make sure that the recommender will write a favorable review. Well there are two things to it – first it doesn’t really have to be the case, if they really have something against you this little check box will not make them change their mind and second by doing this you are tying to control your recommender which is definitely not what is expected of you.

Though I say that it is a “no brainer” I do understand that, like everything else in life, there can be exceptions here too. There could be those situations, though I cannot think what they would be, which warrant that you do not waive off this right. So it definitely is not a thumb rule, you may say this is just my “cognitive bias” speaking!

Any thoughts about this little piece of the MBA jigsaw puzzle are highly welcome. 

The Economist’s 2010 B-school rankings and what it means to me?

The 2010 MBA rankings by The Economist has the US schools back at the top in big time. The Economist reports that US schools are in ascendancy and that the European schools have taken a beating. The Economist places significant weight, more than 50%, on employment statistics at graduation and it is no surprise that the European schools fared badly given the extremely bad economic scenario last year. There are some major changes in the rankings this year with Tepper, Marshall & MIT Sloan being some of the top beneficiaries while LBS, INSED & IESE are some of the ones dropping down. The magazine agrees that this time there has been some substantial overhaul, in its words “This time around, however, swings have been wilder”.

What does this mean to me? Well the best part is that I have one more school in the top 10 as compared to last year’s rankings. But there could be a flip side to it as well, better ranking might mean more applications and that definitely adds to the competition. Then again, someone who is solely driven by these rankings will not be prepared to apply until R2 so if I can focus on my apps I need not bother. In any case, I think I should not bother! The rankings are good, but that’s it they are just rankings. I should just get back to my essays and not get distracted.

Here is a related article from Poets & Quants; it has a very good analysis of the changes in this year’s ranking. 

Playing catch-up : Connections, how I got connected with my Tuck contacts?

I am going to play catch up here at my blog; last few weeks have been so hectic I haven’t had a chance to post a lot. I plan to make amends for that over the next few days and post some interesting things that took place over this period.

Late in July, I had posted about reaching out to current Tuck students as well as alumni. I will devote this post to – How I connected with my contacts? My first contact at Tuck was a ‘friend of a friend’, sounds obvious I guess! I contacted this person and filled him in on my career aspirations, and guess what, based on my choice he got me in touch with two more alums.

The alums I spoke to had some great insights, but a lot of the key information that helped me make up my mind about Tuck came from current students. Again, it was one of these alums who got me in touch with a current student. The Tuck website is also a great resource to reach out to current students. Each student led club has its own web page, and apart from a lot of useful information about the clubs activities, they also have contact details of the club leaders. These are current students, mostly second year. So I looked up these clubs, found the ones that were of interest and e-mailed one member from each of these clubs. I did not get any response the next day, realizing that these students were in the middle of their internship I figured it was not reasonable to expect a prompt response. To maximize my chances, I contacted other members as well from each of the clubs and to my surprise I was flooded with responses. Within 2 days I had a response from all of them, I ended up speaking to eight current students with a wealth of information. 

Back to the grind - From GMAT to Essays and now back to GMAT.

I have spent most part of last 2 months researching schools and trying to build the plot for my essays. I think have done enough research on the schools (at least for some of them) but my essays – that’s a different story altogether. I think I have listed down enough points from all aspects of my life but somehow I am not able to push myself to put everything into coherent stories.

At this point I have decided to bring out my GMAT textbooks again and prepare simultaneously for the retake. Though I am not highly convinced about the timing of the retake, I don’t want to leave any stone unturned. More importantly this is my way of compensating for all that slack (even though I was so busy with my school research and thinking about essays) over the last few weeks.

This time for the GMAT I will have to be on the turbo mode right away and highly focused to improve on the weak areas from the last attempt. The BTG practice question set looks like a good place. 700 questions with high quality explanations, worth trying out I guess.  

Want to make God laugh?

Earlier today I was discussing with my wife about the ROI of MBA from a top school and the debt I will incur in pursuing that MBA. I showed her the salary statistics of the school that happens to be my top choice now. Needless to say she was very impressed by the average base salary and bonus figures. I showed here more statistics – tuition reimbursement, other bonus etc. and slowly started drifting towards what life will look like post MBA. After listening to me very intently she finally said – ‘You are going too far with your train of thoughts. I like your dreams, but at this point all it does is remind me of the Woody Allen quote - If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans”.

She had conveyed her thoughts very well, I was probably taking it too far. I am still working on my applications and am nowhere near  completing them. The mention of the Woody Allen quote did get a chuckle out of me, but I am hoping that God is not laughing at my plans! 

FuquaVision – Fuquans take on the school life

While researching the Fuqua school of business I came across FuquaVision, which is a home production by Fuqua students (Fuquans, as they are called) and is largely made of video skits that mock the school life.

I think this is a good indicator of the social scene at Fuqua. Some of the videos are absolutely hilarious.  Here are a couple of my favorite ones. 

Also, if you visit the site do read the founding story as told by the student who created this. The story makes a very interesting read and is a lot is fun too. 

Should you really visit the school you are considering?

Yesterday a friend of mine, who is in the same boat as I am in (with regard to MBA application), asked if I had made any substantial impact after my recent Tuck Visit. He pointed me to this excerpt from the HBS admissions blog“Visiting campus has absolutely no impact on how your application is reviewed. It may have a gigantic impact on how enthusiastic you are about US - that's where the value-added comes into play”. His question was very valid; do you really want to visit the school just for the sake of it, especially if the school does not think that it impacts the application?
Here is what I think about this. Two years is a big timeframe in one’s lifetime, more so for people with partners and families. The balancing act can be very tough and you want an atmosphere that makes it convenient for everyone around you to enjoy, instead of having to struggle. Add to this the cost factor – the tuition going out of your pocket and the income that is no longer coming in. Now imagine spending these two years at a place that you do not like and it becomes really difficult to get the best out of the school. This is the time when you want to focus the most on studies and activities with the least possible distraction. But if you are not happy about your choice your mind will constantly be troubled by the thought of not having the best possible investment of your time and money.
You might ask - At a top 20 school nothing can go wrong? Not really, these schools are so different in so many aspects and there can be that one thing which really gets onto you. Some might find a large classroom intimidating, some might find a remote location suffocating and some might find a school right in the middle of a big city too distracting. A school visit will not only help you identify such concerns (if any), it will also help you identify the areas that make you a better fit at the school, something that will add great value to the essays. Agreed a lot of information is available on the internet and school brochures. But visiting the school really allows you to put things to perspective. Some people really get that ‘wow’ feeling after visiting the school and the decision process becomes very simple. It happened with me, I visited a school that was #2 on my list and after the visit it now sits right at the top! If you are planning to move in with your partner or family it is important to check the facilities that the school provides and more importantly to know whether your partner/family will have enough opportunities to keep themselves occupied and have a good time.
The school visit does not change anything from the Ad Coms perspective about your candidacy, but if utilized well it has the potential to empower you with enough reasons to justify why you are a good fit for a specific school. The second sentence from the HBS Admissions blog (above) really sums this up in a subtle manner. Not everyone is well positioned in terms of location to visit the schools of their choice, but whenever possible it definitely helps. 

Creative thinking at 30,000 feet.

A colleague of mine, who is a frequent flyer, once mentioned that at great altitudes you tend to indulge in either extremely mundane activities or extremely creative ones and there is no middle ground. I am not sure how much of it is true, but based on my observation and personal tendency I would like to agree with him.
Yesterday when I flew from Boston to Omaha I tried to test this little theory. I have always spent my time during flights either sleeping or reading, nothing that I would call really creative, so this time I thought I would test out the creative aspect. Given that I am ‘supposed to’ be writing my essays now (I say so because I started my essays more than a month ago and have completed only the first draft of 2 essays!), what better than attempting the essays in flight.
I spent a good part of the time thinking about bullet points for 4 essays and I must admit it was highly productive. Hopefully I am not the only one who thinks so, only time and my contacts (once I send them my essays for review) can tell that. I have set myself a deadline of this Friday, to fit all these bullet points into nice essays. Maybe, I should use my return journey for some creative writing now!
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