10 ways you know you’re a bschool applicant, buzzfeed-style

1. You simultaneously cannot survive with or without the GMATClub and other MBA forums.

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2. You inexplicably start the process of recruiting for post-MBA jobs before you even start your first day of school.

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3. Suddenly, the numbers between 700 and 800 take on a kind of heavenly aura to them.

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4. Every day, you tell someone a detailed plan of your short- and long-term goals, but inside you are screaming I DON’T KNOW WHAT I WANT TO DO WITH MY LIFE!!!

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5. You spend an inordinate amount of time calculating odds and computing your chances of admission knowing full well that your numbers are completely meaningless.

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6. You suddenly start meeting so many awesome people with so many different backgrounds that you create a stalker-ish list in Excel to keep track of everyone.

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7. You become an expert on area codes.

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734: Ann Arbor!! And sometimes even area codes that aren’t provided. “Unknown” caller ID?: Ithaca!! One more loss for you, Yellow Pages.

 

8. You go through a Jekyll-and-Hyde mental process that goes something like this:”That guy isn’t that great, and he got into Wharton. I’m totally gonna get in!!…”that person owns her own multi-million dollar company, founded a nonprofit on the side and spends three months a year feeding starving children in Africa. I’M SCREWED!”

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9. You pick up an uncanny skill to transform every weakness you have into a strength.

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10. Every time you receive an email blast from the admissions office, your heart skips a beat and you wonder…is this specifically directed toward me? What does this mean???

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The Costs of Applying to Bschool

USCurrency_Federal_ReserveNow that I’m basically in the waiting phase of this entire application process, it’s time to reflect on my journey thus far. Specifically, how much it hit me in the wallet. This post is inspired by The Billfold’s recent post: “What It Costs [Me] To Apply to Grad School“.

Here’s my cost breakdown so far:

GRAND TOTAL: $1,747.94

I probably could have saved $28 by picking the schools to send my GMAT scores to on exam day more prudently. I wasn’t sure where I’d apply at that point, and I was really waiting to see what my score was before making that decision. So I wussed out and didn’t include Stanford in my original list, even though I knew I wanted to apply. Some kind of weird superstitious move, probably. But then again, I probably shouldn’t have spent that $275 on Stanford’s app anyway, seeing that I was denied without interview.

I’m sure I’m missing some expenses in here, including the money I spent on clothes for interviews. I previously owned one suit that my parents bought me after I graduated from college almost nine years ago as a kind of graduation present. Needless to say, I no longer fit into that suit. And guess how many times I actually wore it? Zero. So I bought one the weekend before my first interview. I bought a skirt for the bottom because I had no time to tailor pants. That’s how cool I am.

I also did not travel to visit any campuses (I’ve been to almost all of these campuses before for one reason or another; I’ve just never been there solely for business school purposes). It seems that applicants are expected to visit 1) Before they apply so they can get fodder to add to their essays; 2) When they interview to “show their enthusiasm”; and 3) After they’re admitted so they can be wooed and decide to attend. This is insanity, in my opinion, and unfeasible for most people without big salaries and an unbelievably flexible work schedule. I have neither of these things. If I get into more than one school, I may visit a couple campuses at that point, if the two schools are close in my personal ranking already.

And I did not spend money on admissions consultants or anything like that. I heard some stat flying around that said almost half of all bschool applicants use consultants–that sounds unbelievable to me. But then again, maybe not…? I luckily only had to take the GMAT once. And my org covered that $700 GMAT prep course. So I’m in relatively great shape, actually, despite my horror at seeing that $1,700+ figure.

I’m ramping up for a better year next year–I am set on making 2014 a positive and productive one. 2013 was rough for me in so many different ways. I am looking forward to saying goodbye to this year and starting anew. And I am hopefully going to kick that off early with at least one “Congratulations, you’re in!” from one school in the upcoming few weeks. Stay tuned…

How I broke 700 on the GMAT

Kaplan GMAT PremierI had a little money available to me from my workplace to spend on professional development back in May of this year. At that point, the idea that I needed to get my MBA was tickling the back of my mind, but I hadn’t actually done anything about it. Then I found out that I could use my professional development funds toward a GMAT prep course at a local school. Being a test prep course veteran, I jumped at the opportunity. I knew the course wouldn’t be very rigorous (this wasn’t a fancy Kaplan or Manhattan course–it was something like an equivalent to a small community college course), so I didn’t depend on it for my learning. It was more of an excuse to get going.

Keeping past lessons in mind, my #1 goal by far in terms of studying was to complete as many full-length CATs as possible. To this end, I bought the Kaplan Premier GMAT prep book (only the 2013 version was available at the time) since it came with the most CATs–five. You can get more if you pay to enroll in a Kaplan classroom course, but I just didn’t have the money (nonprofit, remember?). I also ended up buying and using this imitation noteboard a lot, which was very helpful for me because it took away a lot of the unknowns of the testing experience. And, of course, I got the Official GMAT book.

My initial 3-month study plan went something like this:

Early May: Take practice exam 1 with the free official GMAT software, start methodically working through the Official GMAT book in its entirety.

Mid-May: Take CAT #1 from Kaplan Premier, wrap up all the questions in the official book by the end of May.

Early June: Take practice exam 2 on the free official software, then start working through Kaplan Premier in its entirety.

Mid June: Take CAT #2 from Kaplan Premier, continue working through Kaplan book

Early July: Start (free to me) GMAT classroom prep course and use it as a refresher. Continue through Kaplan Premier book on my own + homework from class. Take CAT #3 from Kaplan Premier.

Mid July: Take CAT #4 from Kaplan Premier. Continue through Kaplan Premier book on my own + homework from class.

Early August: Conclude classroom course. Take CAT #5 from Kaplan Premier + retake CAT #2 from the official GMAT software from back in June for a reliable prediction of my final score.

August 10: TAKE THE REAL GMAT. Then figure out what schools to apply to and try to get all apps in for round 1.

A pretty tight schedule, as you can see, and I was working full-time, too, of course. I tried to study for 1-2 hours each weeknight and around 6-8 hours total each weekend. I ended up not going through the Kaplan book in its entirety (just all the quant since that’s where I had the most ground to gain). I took a full CAT every other weekend, and I am so very glad I did so. I took some of the Kaplan CATs more than once, too. If you email them and ask, they’ll reset your scores for you so you can take them again, and I didn’t notice any repeat questions (or had forgotten them).

This is what my practice scores looked like:

Official Practice Exam 1 (before any studying): 650

Official Practice Exam 2: 670

Kaplan CAT #1: 600 (told you they skew the first exams really hard!)

Kaplan CAT #2: 650

Kaplan CAT #3: 610 (I was in the worst mood [for unrelated reasons] when I took this exam. If I had even gotten a 400 I wouldn’t have given a shit)

Kaplan CAT #4: 660

Kaplan CAT #5: 690

Official Practice Exam 2 (repeated, and not particularly reliable since I could remember a lot of the questions): 730

Official GMAT Exam Results: 730 (percentage-wise, 80-something quant, 90-something verbal)

From the practice scores, it seems pretty surprising that I ended up with a 730 on my official exam, right? 730 was the highest I ever got on a practice exam, and that one didn’t even really count. But from my experience, the Kaplan material is pretty difficult in general, so the scores I got on their CATs make sense to result in a 730, IMO. But, in general, I made out very well compared to my studying results, and I chalk that up to being very used to sitting in front of a computer and charging through a four hour exam in a timed environment. I kept a very steady pace during the official exam and could definitely feel myself in the zone the entire time (so very unlike my GRE experience). My goal was to break 700 on the official exam, so I was ecstatic to see my 730 at the end of the test.

If I could do things over again, though, I’d definitely change a few things. First, I would have done the Kaplan book first and the official GMAT book second. The official book doesn’t really teach you anything, and I needed a refresher of all the math (uh–how do you do long division, again?) to get some solid footing. Also, instead of wasting time on that small classroom course (it was just way too basic for me), I should have done something like the Kaplan 800. The GMAT really tests your potential, so figuring out how to do the hardest questions possible for you is really important. If I had spent more time dissecting difficult math questions instead of reviewing basics again and again, I think I could have scored higher. I also just completely lucked out timing-wise. I could feel my brain settling into thinking the GMAT way at the end of July–right before my official exam was scheduled. If I had tried to condense my timeline any further, I would never have reached that level of comfort or confidence.

A note on the new integrated reasoning section:

I was basically in a kind of denial about integrated reasoning during all of my time spent studying. The section was pretty new, not much material was available for review and I was hearing conflicting things about how much the score actually mattered in the first place. Meanwhile, I was scoring everything from as low as a two (yes–two!) to as high as a seven on the section in Kaplan CATs (IR is scored out of 8).

Well, I ended up with an 8 on the section during my official exam. The real test differed from my practice tests in one big way: There were fewer huge tables of data to comb through and more logic questions (Tom sits next to Jerry, but Jerry cannot sit next to Sally, but Sally must sit next to Jane–who does Tim sit next to?), which was only beneficial for me and my skills. On practice exams I struggled a lot with running out of time after having to do a bunch of arithmetic with data from tables with 10 columns at 30 rows, but I didn’t have that experience during the real exam. I also got a 6 out of 6 on the analytical writing assessment, but if I had gotten anything lower than that I would have been extremely disappointed with myself. I do write for a living, after all.

The long path to GMAT

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Is this GMAT logo big and foreboding enough for ya?

I’m a smart lady, but I’ve never been a natural at standardized tests. Don’t you hate those people who don’t study and get perfect scores on all the standardized tests they take?? I’ve known a few in my life, and they drove me nutso. Back in high school, I basically studied for the SATs for three years. I also took the exam five times: Once in 6th grade to gain entry to a summer program, once in 8th grade to gain entry into a special high school, once again in 9th grade to gain re-entry to that high school after my parents wouldn’t let me enroll the previous year, and then twice in 11th grade for college applications. So yeah, I basically grew up with the exam and knew it very, very well. I also took Princeton Review courses a couple times, made an ungodly number of flash cards and became very familiar with every coffee house within a 10 mile radius in my house. And with all those countless hours and days and months and years of studying and money spent on instruction, I barely broke 1500 (this was back in the day when SATs were still scored out of 1600). Of course, that’s not a bad score by any means, but when I think about how much time and effort and stress I poured into that exam, the score I got is not impressive. Meanwhile, I was surrounded by geniuses who got 1600s with minimal effort. They can go sit on a cactus.

Anyway, the saga of the SAT only enforced my worldview that you can hack your way through almost anything as long as you spend enough time on it. You probably won’t get a perfect score no matter how much effort you put in, though (unless you’re one of those cactus sitters), but you can get close (more so in quant than verbal).

Another key experience that affected how I approached the GMAT was the fact that I took the GRE once several years ago when I was considering other graduate programs. I paid for a Princeton Review classroom course and thought I had a pretty good handle on things. Back then, there were no computer adaptive tests to practice on and everything was on paper, but I was feeling pretty confident. I went to my GRE exam location, sat down in front of the computer and completed the essays with no problem. Then I started on the math section and breezed through the first few questions…then BAM. I was hit with a math question that I had absolutely NO. CLUE. how to solve. Didn’t even know where to begin. I wasted 7 minutes trying to figure it out, knowing that the first batch of questions were most important for my overall score. I finally gave up, guessed, and hoped it was one of those fake questions they use to test for future exams. The next question popped up, and once again, I was completely lost. I started panicking. Then it was allllllllllll downhill from there, and the score I received was absolutely terrible (I knew it would be terrible, but everyone always tells you to never cancel your scores because you probably did better than you think, so I accepted it. It was even worse than I thought it would be. I should have canceled them).

I took away a few very important lessons from my GRE experience.

  1. Practice exams on paper are COMPLETELY USELESS for computer adaptive tests. The experience is not even remotely the same. Use them for practice questions, but do NOT take them timed with the hopes of estimating the score you’ll receive at the real exam.
  2. Don’t freak out about the importance of the first few questions. Well, kind of freak out. But not enough to mess up your overall timing.
  3. This depends on how well you know yourself, but there are situations when canceling a score is the right choice. Make up your own mind.
  4. And lastly…Princeton Review’s score increase guarantee even applies if your score only increases by a mere 10 points, so you can’t get your money back. You can tell how poorly I did on the GRE if my final score was only 10 points higher than the first-ever exam I took at Princeton Review (and we all know that those companies skew the first test really difficult on purpose so you can feel like you’re improving). They did offer to let me take the course over again for free, though, which I declined. I was done with the GRE…I just wanted my money back. And they wouldn’t give it to me.

Anyway, these are all lessons and memories I carried with me when I started prepping for the GMAT, and they informed my entire studying strategy. I’ll be back in a later post with how I went about it.

The stats

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No one likes to be reduced to a set of numbers, but let’s face it…we can’t get enough of them. So here’s mine:

GMAT: 730 (I’ll cover my studying saga in a later post)

Undergrad GPA: 3.4 from an Ivy; humanities major, only a couple math courses (did get A’s in them, though)

Work experience: 7 years in marketing/communications at think tanks and universities (might sound okay, but in all this time I haven’t even fully broken into middle management. I’ll go over that in a later post, too).

Personal stats: 30, female, Asian American

As for other aspects of my applications, my recs will be good, but probably not unique. My essays/career goals will definitely be memorable…maybe too memorable. I’m definitely a nontraditional applicant! Will be back with more later…

Better late than never?

Well, I’m not quite at the beginning of my MBA journey, even though it’s only been about four months (!!) since I decided to go for bschool in the first place (I can’t believe I made this life-changing decision only four months ago and how fast everything has moved since then!). My GMATs are done and I’ve pretty much chosen the schools I’m planning on applying to. But, I like blogging, and I figure I could add to the very little material out there about doing non-profit work and getting an MBA. So…better late than never, right?

Come back for stats, strategies and stories. And sex, violence and intrigue. Well, not violence (hopefully), and not sex (sadly)–but intrigue, yes, as I wait to find out what schools decide to admit a very strange and unlikely candidate (me).

Big head nod to the guy behind www.mybreakaway.com — love the blog and appreciate the insights.