Monday, January 31, 2005

The binder has landed 

The Kellogg admit binder arrived this morning. Pretty much all of what's in it is on the admit website, but it's useful to have it in an off-line, paper form as well. They've also included a copy of the alumni magazine, which is going to be my on-train reading tomorrow, and a reprint of B-weeks info on Kellogg from last year's ranking issue. The latter has a photo on the back of hundreds of smiling students (presumably) in Kellogg t-shirts, with their arms in the air. The whole big smile, raised arm thing seems to be quite a feature of Kellogg publicity photos, some of which I actually find quite disturbing. But I think that says more about me than about anything else. The rankings info also comes with the Kellogg entries highlighted in yellow, just to make sure we don't miss them, I assume.

I got a bit panicked when I couldn't find my registration e-mail for DAK, and thought I'd maybe been interrupted half way through the process and had never actually registered. So I went and registered again, got the confirmation e-mail and then promptly found my original confirmation. I now need to e-mail someone and let them know that there'll only be one of me coming.
Did slightly better with Wharton and have managed to put my name down (just the once) for the Womenin Business dinner at Wintr Welcome and an alumni event in London on Friday that they've invited admits to. It's hosted by Bombay Sapphire and features 'complimentary cocktails'. If my brain is behaving anything like it has been today, I think gin may not be a good idea.


Compare and contrast - penultimate (?) 

I think this is probably going to be my last comparison post until after the admit events when I can properly assess fit and also look at other issues once I've asked some questions and considered the answers.

The other big issues I haven't written about yet is looking at what I want to do post-MBA and the relative advantages of the schools when it comes to that.

In the medium-term, I know that I want to be back in the non-profit sector. In the shorter term, I'm interested in management consulting - very interested in consulting specifically in the nfp sector, but open to more general commercial consulting. So I'm going in keeping those two threads in mind. Looking at the career and recruiting stats, both schools are recruited at by the big name consulting firms. There look to be slightly more, relatively speaking, internships and full-time offers at Wharton, but it's so slight a difference that I'm not sure that it's significant. One difference in recruiting practice is that at Kellogg 50% of interview places are available for open bidding, at Wharton it looks like individual firms determine the ratio of open to closed slots. Recruiting to non-profits is a different beast, but I'm not seeing anything to suggest that one school has much advantage over the other. It will be interesting to talk to students about their experiences.

I've also looked at the relative approaches to international students. I'm working on the basis that I'm coming back to the UK post-MBA. Apart from anything else, I know that I'm always going to have the right to live and work here (hopefully that's not making too many unwarranted assumptions about future Government policy). I'm keeping myself open to all possibilities though. The Kellogg careers website points out that it is extremely difficult for international students to get jobs and permission to work in the US (which is fair enough) and basically seems to be saying "don't even think about it", although not in so many words. The Wharton site has some specific advise to employers on work permissions and international students, which suggests that there might be a bit more support should I find myself wanting to work in the US for a while. In general, there's more immediately accessible information available on Wharton's career management office than on Kellogg's. It's interesting to see that Wharton has someone with a specific remit for students with 8+ years' experience, and also that the same person covers consulting and public-interest.

Student activities and alumni networks are both also important when it comes to careers and recruiting, and both schools look strong when it comes to these.

So, once again, I'm not finding a whole lot of immediately obvious advantages or disadvantages of one school over the other. Maybe talking to students will show up some differences in this and other areas.

The last part of the whole compare and contrast thing will be fit, and that's going to wait until three weeks from now, by which time I'll have done both admit events. And it is fit which I think is going to be the deciding factor. As long as my brain is convinced that an option is 'good enough', I think it will be happy to go along with what feels most right. Whereas my gut (or heart, or liver, depending on preference) will be less amenable to giving way to logic if one place feels more right than the other.


Sunday, January 30, 2005

Leadership and teamwork 

There were a couple of things I was going to mention in my last post, but didn't because I got distracted by realising while I was typing just how beneficial the whole balance thing could be. So . . .

One of things I mentioned in my 'Why Wharton' application essay was the school's leadership programme, and it is certainly something that I'm very impressed by. While leadership is by no means absent from the Kellogg curriculum, or from other aspects of school life, it doesn't seem to be anywhere near as pervasive or holistic (the Business Leadership Club has laying the foundations for a Leadership Program as one of its aims). I also really like the 'learning teams' approach at Wharton, which puts a group of students together for the whole of the first year. At Kellogg it seems to be that teams are put together on a class by class basis. I've worked in enough tems and learnt eanough about team development to think that the former approach has the promise of being ultimately less frustrating and more productive.


Saturday, January 29, 2005

Compare and contrast some more 

So, on to the more substantial factor of academics.

When I was researching schools and writing applications I put together a sort of 'fantasy curriculums' spreadsheet. Basically this was a list of the classes I thought I might like to take at each school, taking account of published requirements for majors etc., but assuming that things like availability and scheduling would all work in my favour (which' I appreciate, they may well not). This has served as a useful starting point for comparing academics, but I've also gone back and looked at courses in more detail, compared cores etc.

One difference that jumps out straight away is the balance between core and electives. Wharton has a 10-unit core and electives are then between 9 and 11 further units (more is you waive any of the core requirements. Kellogg is a nine unit core with 15 units of electives (with the same proviso about waivers). Wharton works in semesters compared to quarters at Kellogg, which I guess accounts for at least some of the difference in balance.

Looking at the respective cores, it seems to me that Wharton covers macroeconomics, which Kellogg doesn't, as well as covering accounting in more detail and being a bit broader in marketing, operations and people management. The question is, how much does this matter to me? Well, much as the thought of macroeconomics doesn't make my heart leap with joy, I can see why it's included and think it would be useful to know. The same goes for accounting. Of course, I don't imagine there'd be anything to stop me taking electives in these areas at Kellogg. But I do ask myself whether I actually would (although that ball is in my court, not the school's) and also whether I'd prefer to be struggling along with other people in a compulsory core class rather than being with people who would likely have more of an interest in /aptitude for it in an elective.

When it comes to electives, while the courses aren't by any means identical there are lots of classes that interest me at each school, and there's not really anything where I think "I simply must take that class, and there's nothing remotely like it at the other school." The biggest difference is that Kellogg offers a non-profit management major, and Wharton doesn't. When I started out researching schools, that mattered to me, but as I've journeyed through the process, I've realised that it's not actually that important. I've got ten years of very solid experience in the non-profit sector, so I don't think I need a major to establish my credibility. In terms of actually looking to learn things, the areas I'm interested in that are covered at Kellogg are pretty much also available at UPenn, even if they're outside Wharton. The one area that isn't, looks to be the 'board fellows' opportunity, which involves being a shadow member of a Board for a year, but to be honest I don't think that's the kind of thing that actually needs to be a class and I'm sure I could find other ways to get that kind of experience. Another significant difference is that Kellogg structures its course so that you ge more opportunities to do electives in your first year, which they say gives their students an edge when it comes to securing internships. I can sort of see the logic in this, but I'm not sure how much it will actually matter.

The overall impression I'm getting is that both schools will enable me to get the sort of MBA education I'm looking for, but that Wharton maybe has the edge when it comes to balancing the breadth of the core with the depth of electives. I'm also increasingly thinking that Wharton's reputation for 'being all about the numbers' is a good thing. I'm used to taking an approach which seeks to balance quantitative and qualitative sides of a situation, while being aware that I'm naturally stronger on the latter. So combining Wharton's quant. with my natural qual., and a 'hard' focused core with more 'soft' focused electives could all work rather well.

Good heavens, I might actually be coming off the fence and starting to form a preference based on more than gut feeling.


Friday, January 28, 2005

Contact from Kellogg 

Many thanks to everyone for their comments and observations. As Linda says "the program and how it will help you achieve your educational and professional goals" is of huge importance, as is 'fit' and I'll write about my thoughts on both of those over the next few days.

I've been away from home for three consecutive office-based days, and got home yesterday evening to find a 'we tried to make a delivery' card, which I think is for my Kellogg admit binder. I also got a call from a current K student on Wednesday. I wasn't in the best frame of mind to talk as it was mid-afternoon on a work day and I was grappling with the relative weights of an elephant and a Routemaster bus (don't ask!) When she asked if I had any questions "Can you think of an animal other than a whale that's heavier than an elephant?" was the only thing that sprung to mind, but I thought I'd better not. It was nice to be contacted though, and I now have the callers e-mail so I can follow up if I think of anything more relevant to ask. She also told me that there's a Women's Business Association event on the Thursday evening before DAK kicks off. Between travel and jet lag, I doubt I'll make it, but you never know.

It was a pretty odd few days workwise generally. I had to find a way of politely turning down a significant amount of money and put together a set of figures that might need to be used to burst some people's bubble about the supposed success of a big fundraising appeal a few years ago. Neither of which are things people would usually include if asked to describe what a fundraiser does. So maybe the elephant and bus thing wasn't that odd after all . . .


Thursday, January 27, 2005

Compare and contrast contd. 

For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that these posts are very much a thinking out loud as I consider my options. I don't take the view that they are the only or the most important factors, but they are things I'm weighing up and am therefore burbling about here. They are also things that I can rationalise at a distance, whereas the bigger issues like people and fit really need to wait until after admit wekends.

So, next in line of the things I've been pondering is geography. B-skewl said in a comment on a previous post: "Please don't fail to assess what it means to be living in the middle of the USA vs. on one of the coasts. As an outsider, this is probably one area that you're least familiar with and therefore potentially most likely to be surprised by." Well, the whole coast vs centre issue is one that I've thought about, although I probably don't fully 'get' what the differences are. I heard an interview with a British comedian around New Year who, when asked about the experience of performing to American audiences replied something along the lines of "The ones who've seen the sea are OK, it's the ones in the middle you have to worry about." I think this probably sums up the perception of the difference on this side of the Atlantic. Anyone with observations, comments, refutions of stereotypes etc., please feel free to share them.

Geography also encompasses proximity to other cities (better in the case of Philadelphia, I think), and weather. In weather terms, Philadelphia winters cold, Chicago winters colder is the immediate thing that springs to mind - remember, I speak from the persepctive of living in a country where the word 'bitter' gets used to describe any temperature below freezing. (As a slight aside, friends and family have tended to translate the location of places I applied to into TV programmes in order to better understand them. So Kellogg equalled ER, which meant cold, wet and horrible, whereas Stanford equalled Buffy, which meant sun and blue skies. Wharton/Philadelphia equalled "where?".) Then there's time-zones, which makes Kellogg an hour further out with home and, from what I can tell, having less intuitively sensible TV show times (note the possibly misplaced optimism that I might actually have time to watch TV). And there's travel to home, which seems to be slightly cheaper from Philly, although Chicago maybe offers more choice of direct flight to Northern England, which is where my family is.

Also under the banner of geography, is the relative locations of the schools themselves. While Evanston may be near Chicago, it's not the city itself, whereas at Wharton I'd be right in the city. I lived in central London (literally two minutes from Oxford Circus) for my undergraduate years, and really loved it, so I quite like the idea of being back in the heart of a city.

Finally, there's the question of how much any of this matters. If I were looking at upping sticks and settling somewhere for the forseeable future, then it would. But I'm actually talking about living somewhere for less than two years. So, in that context, I think the city centre vs more of a suburb distinction will have an impact, but the other things less so.


Monday, January 24, 2005

Compare and contrast 

Unsurprisingly, I'm spending a lot of time looking at the pros and cons of both Kellogg and Wharton. I touched on the financial stuff a little yesterday, but the other major consideration in terms of money is housing.

Wharton produces a housing guide for the Welcome Weekend in April, and last years is currently available for reference. This lists the buildings that current students live in, gives rent information, scores on different aspects and comments, as well as giving a map showing where they all are. In relation to Kellogg, there's mbaproperties which specifically caters to Kellogg students and has a very useful website with property details, maps showing walking times to school and a grid that shows all the properties, rents amenities etc. Realistically, I'll most likely be making my decision about where to attend before I physically look at apartments, so having these resources is really useful.

From what I've seen so far, at the lower end of the price range for a 1br, things are pretty comparable, with Philly prices falling a little below and a little above those in Evanston. If I'm willing to go for minimal space to lower the cost, then studios in Evanston look cheaper. In both cases, 'on-campus' housing doesn't look like it'll be any cheaper then off (although it would be furnished) and for a range of reasons I'd really rather not take an on-campus option.


Sunday, January 23, 2005

Change of Status 

This past week has seen the official end of my time as a business school applicant. Now it's down to me to do the choosing, and suddenly the prospect of being a business school student seems a whole lot closer. Depending which school I choose, I'm just six or seven months away from packing my bags and getting on a plane, and I know just how fast those months are likely to go.

So far my response has been fairly unstructured. I keep coming up with things that I need to do or decide or be aware of but in a pretty random manner. I flit from passports to buying furniture to waiving courses to tax rebates in seconds. I'm also starting to get mildly daunted at the prospect of being expected to be a properly functioning adult whilst living in a new country where things don't quite work the same. I'm sure it'll all be fine, especially once I'm actually doing and dealing with things rather than just anticipating them, and after all experiencing a different country and culture was part of the reason for deciding to do an MBA outside the UK, but I must admit it is all making me a little edgy right now. I'm going to try to sit down this week and make a more structured list of what I need to do and give it a timescale, which should hopefully make me feel more in control and a bit calmer. And as one of my friends pointed out, the whole, charming, smiling, terribly English damsel in mild distress thing can have its uses, if I don't mind debasing myself!

The one practical thing I have started doing is filling out the financial aid forms. By and large they're pretty straight forward, especially as I seem to be putting a big fat zero in most sections. The only thing I'm struggling with is working out which figure to put in the section for retirment plans, becuase my pensions statement doen't give one nice easy figure. It's probably slightly academic anyway because that money, such as it is, is completley untouchable until I retire, but I'm going to get in touch with the financial aid offices and see if we can work out what I should put.

In terms of money, both schools look pretty comparable at the moment, but in different ways. Wharton's offered me $$ which Kellogg hasn't (although there's the possibility that they might, their scholarship decisions are made in March I believe) but Wharton also expects a personal contribution of 10%, doesn't include the cost of a computer in the student budget, and money isn't available there until the start of term in September, even though you have to be there for pre-term in August. The 10% is going to be 'interesting' , the rest I think should be manageable if I'm careful, a little creative, and can cope with no furniture other than a mattress for pre-term. With Kellogg starting a month later, I'd also have some extra money from having worked a month longer. So in summary, Wharton currently works out better in the long-run, but Kellogg will be easier at the beginning. Right now, the easier beginning feels more comfortable, but I don't want a relatively small financial hurdle to push me in one direction if I want to go in the other one. There are always solutions to be found right? And hopefully ones that don't involve the sale of body parts.


Better late than never Pt 2 

So, I suppose I ought to say more about the Wharton SIM conference. (Edited to say that there's also a review in the Wharton Journal, thanks to Robert for the link)

I flew from London to Newark and then took the train down to Philadelphia. This may not seem the most logical route, but sort of makes sense in terms of keeping all my frequent flier miles together and benefiting from my ff status with lounge access etc. (As an aside, I had the slightly surreal experience of sitting in the lounge at Heathrow, trying to proof-read some letters to Bishops for work, while being unable help overhearing a British 'glamour model' giving a rather explicit interview over the phone. Any fans of Jordon out there, you can rest assured that you will be seeing more of her (is that actually possible?) over the next year.) After a bumpy flight, a relatively quick journey through immigration, and a compfrotable train journey (so conmfortable I was scared I was going to fall asleep and find myself waking up in DC) I reached Philly and the Sheraton University City.

Having woken up the next morning at the absurdly early hour that one does with west-travelling jet lag, I got to conference registration just as it was opening. I picked up my badge, information pack, Aveda goody bad and a thermal mug (a reward for being one of the first x to arrive), helped myself to some much needed caffeine (courtesy of Green Mountain Coffee) and then read through the infor pack whilst trying to dry out. (The rather strange weather systems had resulted in torrential rain and high winds that morning.)

The conference started with a few words from the chair of the organising committee and then the opening Keynote address from Assaad Jabre of the International Finance Corporation on 'The Future of Developent Finance'. He spoke about thecntext of dvelopment, some of the ways it has changed over the years, questions that need to be asked about what you do with development finance, and the role of the IFC. (If any one would like a copy if my more detailed notes, shoot me an e-mail). The rest of the morning was spent in panels, with two panels running simultaneously. I went to 'Making Business Decisions in Social Enterprises' and then 'Trends in Corporate Philanthropy'. The first session consisted of a panel of three people involved in social enterprises (Jean Griswold, founder of Griswold Special Care, Daniel Lubetzky founder of PeaceWorks, and David Hess, CFO of American Reading Company. They talked about the background of their organisations and what the organisations do and discussed some of the questions and challenges that arise (Is it better to focus on making a profit and using that profit to fund social impact activities, or do you trade less profit for socila impact directly through the work? Do you seek to grow the business with something that doesn't directly relate to the mission? Funding challenges when you're neither a non-profit nor a profit-driven organisation.) In the second panel, Kathleen Buechel of the Alcoa Foundation talked about the foundation and how it works. Unlike some corporate foundations, the Alcoa Foundation has a seperate asset base from the company, so that it can ensure that funding is not reliant on corporate perfomance. She talked about how they work to ensure that their philanthropy in locally focussed but globally organised and how they look to use a mix of grants, product donations and employee involvement.

During lunch, Judy Vredenburgh of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Amir Dar of idealist.org spoke about theie experiences of transitioning from the for-profit to the not-for-profit sector. I didn't take any notes, as I was eating, but overall I'd say they painted a picture of mixed experiences, good and bad, where non-profits had things to learn form the for-profits and vice versa, and I think clearly communicated that people shouldn't look to transition into the non-profit world whilst wearing rose coloured spectacles.

There were two more sets of panel sessions after lunch. I went to 'Beyond the Workplace: Making a Difference in the Public and Nonprofit Sectors' where Dorrit Bern of Charming Shoppes Inc, Martin Stein of Stein Optical and Stein Drugs and Stephen Steinour of Citizens Bank talked about their individual and their companies' involvement in philanthropic activities. They spoke about what they did, mistakes they'd made, what they'd learnt etc. It was an interesting range of perspectives, with Dorrit Bern coming clearly from the perspective of the CEO of a for-profit company and anything she or the company did having to be looked at in terms of what impact it would have on the company's reputation and on shareholder value, and Martin Stein taking the view that as an entreprenuer he wasn't answerable to anybody and would do what he and he alone felt to be right. Following this I went to a panel of four Wharton alumni on 'Can I Afford to Pursue a Public Interest Career'. The answer form this was pretty much 'yes' but that you would see your classmates who went into MC, IB etc race away from you in terms of material standard of living, you'd have to do more individual research to secure internships and ful-time jobs and not secure them until much later in the year than classmates going down more 'traditional' paths, and that whether you could afford to take a job would be part of the decision making process when it came to securing a full-time position. All seemed very happy in their jobs, happy to have gone to Wharton, and gave the impression that the trade-offs were worth it.

The closing Keynote was by D Wayne Silby of The Calvert Funds. By this point in the proceeding tiredness was really setting in and my caffeine levels had dropped, so I wasn't focussing as well as I'd have liked, but he spoke about the funds history wioth social enterprise type investments, and plans they are pitching to credit card companys for a card that shows how much carbon impact your purchases have and helps you to off-set them. By the time he finished, I really was tired, so I stayed around for a little while to talk to studnts and then headed to bed.

Overall, I was really impressed. It was good to see the level of engagement with these issues and the willingness of people to get involved with Wharton on them. It was also great to be able to meet some fellow admits and some of the students, who made an effort to seek us out and introduce themselves. I'm really glad I made the journey over.

I spent the Saturday, which was thankfully drier, if colder, looking round some of Philadelphia before heading back to the airport and home. I really liked the city, certainly a far cry from the urban wasteland that some people seem to imagine it as. There's some beautiful colonial architecture in the historic district and a vibrant and friendly atmosphere in centre city. I certainly had a strong feeling that this was somewhere I'd be happy living for the next couple of years.


Better late than never - pt 1 

The end of last week got a bit hectic, so here are delayed congratulations to Megami and everyone else who got the nod from Harvard and to Power Yogi , for whom even getting the acceptance confirmation from Chicago required all the tenacity and optimism he's shown over the months. Also big congrats to everyone who got into Stanford, which I somehow forgot to say while I was blethering on about my feelings on not getting in.


Wednesday, January 19, 2005


I was going to start by saying that I was reflecting on the Stanford ding overnight, but actually I spent 'overnight' sleeping. I did spend a lot of yesterday reflecting on it though, as it became increasingly clear that was the most likely outcome as the day wore on. (For the record, I know that getting a phone call ahead of time is a great way to find out you're in, but not getting one when you know they are going out is a pretty brutal way to find out you're not. I much prefer the 'putting everyone out of their misery' at the same time approach.) Thanks to everyone for your good wishes, support and messages. They mean evern more when you get bad news than when you get good.

Eight months ago, if you'd asked me, I'd have said that I'd be really excited to be offered a place at Kellogg or Wharton, but that I'd willingly crawl all the way to California over broken glass if that was what it took to get into Stanford. Since then, my feelings have changed. Over the months I've got less infatuated with Stanford and more enthusiatic about K and W, especially W. So whereas eight months ago I'd have thought I'd be devestated at getting a ding, I'm not. Of course, I've always known that this was the most likely outcome. And if, eight months ago, someone had told me that they could off me a guarantee that I'd be accepted to one of the three schools, but only to one of them, and that one would be picked at random, I'd have taken the deal. So to be sitting here with two offers to choose between, one of them with $$, is fantastic. Sure there are things which Stanford offered that were pretty unique, but the same can be said for Wharton and Kellogg too. If I've learnt anything over the past few years, its that things work out the way that they are meant to, and its going to be exciting discovering just how they will work out. So the next step is to go to Wharton Winter Welcome and Day at Kellogg and take things from there. At the moment I'm leaning towards Wharton, but keeping an open mind.

Speaking of Wharton, I spent yesterday evening at a pub with some of the other UK based Wharton r1 admits. There were about ten of us, originating from all over the world, and with a pretty even split between definates, probables and possibles when it came to accepting Wharton. It was a fun evening and a great bunch of people. Being at school with people you enjoy having a beer with is as important as being with people you can learn from, as far as I'm concerned, and yesterday evening was positive on both counts.

Finally huge congratulations to wakechick, poweryogi I'm sure it's good news for you too. And to everyone waiting for news from Harvard today - good luck!


Tuesday, January 18, 2005




Monday, January 17, 2005

Who am I kidding? 

Stanford decisions come out sometime in the next 36 hours. I'm feeling much calmer about getting the news than I was at the same point with Wharton. Of course, knowing that a. I'm going somewhere and b. I've got a choice as to where I go, makes things a lot easier. I've also spent the last four weeks being able to focus on attending Wharton or Kellogg as potential realities, in a way that I haven't been able to do with Stanford, and I've been giving some serious thought to the disadvantages that Stanford has compared to the other two. I've also been reminding myself that it's much more likely that I'll get a ding than anything else. So all in all I've been basically 'getting my disappointment in first' and working on the basis that I will take bad news in my stride.

Then, about half an hour ago, my home phone rang with 'International' showing on the caller display. Now I know that it's the middle of the night in California, that today is a holiday, and that I asked to be called on my mobile, but my heart raced as I grabbed for the phone nevertheless. It was my credit card company wanting to inform me about a prmotional interest rate for balance transfers. I think I might have been a bit short with the poor guy.

So if I'm honest with myself, I really want to get the call from Derrick Bolton. I'm by no means 100% sure that Stanford is where I'll go if I get the option, but I would like to have that option, and to know that they want me as part of the class. But if I don't get it, then I'll still have a choice of two great schools, and I'm not sure how well I'd have coped living in graduate accommodation without a bath tub anyway :)

Finally, for all those waiting for decisions or who've recently got them, there's a really good post from the B-week boards here. What it says about LBS is jsut as true for any school, I think.


Sunday, January 16, 2005

In a word . . .  


Got back from Philly / Wharton SIM Conference earlier today. I'll post more detail in the next couple of days, but impressed pretty much sums it up. The conference, the people (current students, alumni, admits, others), Philly, the bargain I got on a new winter coat . . . . OK maybe not the weather on Friday morning, when it was what we on this side of the Atlantic commonly refer to p*ss*ng-it down, but other than that everything made a really great impression. Looking forward to going back for Winter Welcome.

Now, after two days of making myself stay awake, I need to make myself go to sleep . . .


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Strange weather 

I've just been checking th eweather forecast for Philadelphia for th enext few days so I can decide what to pack. According to the BBC tomorrow it's going to be 15-17 Celsius (59-62 Fahrenheit). Surely that's not normal? Friday looks set to be colder and wetter . Saturday, which is the only day I'm likely to have significant weather exposure, pleasantly cold and bright. Must remember to pack hat and gloves . . .


Why MBA, why now, why here? 

Post two in an occassional series on my thoughts about the MBA application process. If you haven't already, please read the disclaimer here before proceeding.

The question of why you want to do an MBA, why you want to do it at this point in your career/life, and why you want to do it at a particular school is one that we are asked in virtually every application we submit. I found it to be more than just an essay question though. For me, it was a thinking process that really drove the whole application experience. Considering those issues early on can help you make choices about where and when you apply, as well as being invaluable when it comes to wrtiting the essays.

Why MBA?

What is it that you are setting out to achieve by studying for an MBA? Will an MBA actually help you to achieve it? Is an MBA the only/best/optimum way?

Why now?

Chances are, this will link in with the answers to the first question. So, why do you think that now is the right time? What will you lose or gain in your life/career/learning experience if you do an MBA now rather than later (or not at all)? Will you be able to 'leverage' an MBA more or less if you do it now rather than in a couple of years' time? Are you ready for the financial implications, the lifestyle changes etc.

There's a really good post on this from AxeChick here.

Why here?

If you are doing this thinking early on in the process, the chances are that you don't have much idea of where 'here' might be. (If you are starting out with a firm idea that you want to go to school X and only school X then I think you're probably making a mistake, but more on that in another post.)

In the early stages of the process, I think this part of the question is more about determening the factors that will help you decide whether any particular 'here' is right for you or not. Think about what you need/want/would like from a school/programme/student body/location. What will help you to achieve your goals and make you happy? Think about academics but also the type of community you want to be part of, the type of people you want to be with, how the rest of your life fits in and your own preferences and foibles. Do you hate heat or can't stand cold? Do you want to be within easy travelling distance of family or as far away as possible? Do you need to be somewhere you can take your pets, or where your SO can easily find a job? Do you have particular needs or preferences when it comes to housing? Do you need certian types of financing to be available?

Of course all this can change over time. Your circumstances may alter, something that seemed important may be come less so (or vice versa), and you'll learn about or think about new things as you go through the process. But I think that there's real value in doing this thinking, and knowing what is an absolute must or must not have, what is highly (un)desireable, and what merely a preference. The results I ended up with (some details here) really helped me to focus, to shortlist schools and kept me on the straight and narrow when I was in danger of getting carried away by irrelevancies (Tuck may be a beautiful part of the world, but I know that I'd go stir crazy in such a small community in a relatively isolated place. Harvard may be 'Harvard', but it doesn't have lots of the other things I'm looking for.)

In all likelihood, no one school will be a perfect fit, but if you know what you are looking for you will be able to tell what a school is missing and make an informed decision about whether to apply on that basis. And of course, when you do apply and have to write the essays, a nice chunk of your thinking will already have been done. :)


Sunday, January 09, 2005


GMAT seems to be the first thing that people focus on, so it seems like a good place to start. Please read the disclaimer in my previous post, but here are my thoughts, for what they're worth:

1. If you can, get it over with early

Studying for the GMAT takes time. Writting application essays takes time. Trying to do both at the same time must be a nightmare. So if you can get the GMAT out of the way early on you'll be able to focus on the rest of your application, and maybe manage to have a social life too. You'll also have time to re-take if you feel you need to , and you won't find yourself panicing about getting scores to schools before their deadline. I also suspect that it's much easier to schedule an appointment in late winter, spring and early summer than it is in the period leading up to r1 and r2 deadlines.

2. Prepare

There are lots of resources out there to help with the material the GMAT covers and with test taking stategies. Find one (or more) that works for you and practice till you feel you're doing as well as you can. And don't forge there are non GMAT specific resources out there as well - I wish I'd picked up a decent generalmaths revision guide when I was preparing to refresh my understanding of some concepts. Taking complete practice tests gives you a fell for the length and deamnds of the test, helps to develop your pacing and stamina, and lets you get accustomed to the format if you're not used to this type of test.

3. Keep it in perspective

The GMAT is only one part of you application. Exactly what role it plays will, I guess, depend on where you're applying and what's in the rest of your application. Yes, a 'good enough' score is important but don't obsess. Schools could fill their classrooms with people with 750+ GMATs if they wanted to, but there are plenty of people with 99%ile GMATs who don't get to sit in those classrooms, and plenty of people with much lower scores who do. To parpahrase from a Wharton information session, the GMAT helps to define if you are admissable, it's the 'other stuff' that gets you admitted.


One-eyed queen? 

A few people have contacted me for suggestions and tips on this whole MBA admissions business, and I remember that this time last year I was starting to get stuck into the process and blindly trying to find my way around. So I thought I could fill the days until I get going on decision making with some of my thoughts and answers to people's questions.

Before I do so though, a disclaimer. I have no knowledge about MBA admissions that goes beyond my experience as an applicant. I don't claim to understand the inner working of admissions offices. Anything I write is just personal opinion based on my experiences and observations. Read it with a huge shovel full of salt, ignore it, disagree with it, or whatever you want to do, but please don't take it as any kind of definitive truth.


Saturday, January 08, 2005

Contact from Kellogg 

My plans on the sleep front were somewhat scuppered by a gale that kept me awake late last night and woke me early this morning. Still, we seem to have got off quite lightly down here compared to much of the country.

My admit pack from Kellogg finally arrived this morning. It had been mailed on New Years Eve, the delay due, I think, to the setting up of password, e-mail address etc. Rather less explicably, it was postmarked Malmo, Sweden. I can only assume that there is a logic for that somewhere. So I've now been able to log on, register for DAK, and have a look around. The message board seems little used at the moment, but hopefuly thay will change as more admits go out in the next week. I'm feeling rather less abandoned now, especially as there was a very nice handwritten postscript from Beth Flye at the bottom of the admit letter. The cynical marketer part of me knows the value of postscripts and why people use them, but I'm a sucker for plausible flattery never the less :)


Friday, January 07, 2005

Thank Crunchy it's Friday 

The first four days back at work have been a strain. The very early mornings in particular have been a real struggle. But tomorrow's a Saturday,which means the possibility of a lie-in, and next week only involves three days of work (and only one early morning) becasue I fly out to Philly onThursday. Everyone at work now officially knows that I'll be disappearing in the summer, and it's good to be able to talk about it openly, particularly with a colleague who starts a new job in Conneticut in the next few weeks.

I've been vaguely thinking about things that are going to be relevant wherever I spend the next couple of years, like sorting out getting a CFRE qualification, and Visa photo's, and the fact that I probably ought to get a new passport (mine runs out in October 2007 and is starting to look worryingly full). I need to sort out the CFRE form this weekend if I'm going to make the next London exam sitting, but the rest can wait for the time being. Sleep and 'sofa time' are higher priorities right now.

The UK Wharton admits are getting together in London on the 18th, which should be fun. It'll certainly be one way of keeping those of who are waiting to hear from Stanford occupied. With a Philly trip at the end of next week, and the promise of a really hectic start to the week after, workwise, I'm hoping I'll forget that I'm meant to be expecting anything.


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Sitting back and watching 

It's been a slightly odd feeling observing the last minutes rushes and panics as r2 deadlines approach, but not being part of it all. I must say that I'm very gald to be done with all that. Just thirteen days to go until the Stanford decision and then, unless I'm waitlisted, the waiting and wondering will be over (at least for the time being) and I'll be able to start making decisions. At the moment, the Stanford decision isn't really preying on my mind at all. If they say yes, it'll be great to have a three-way choice. If they don't then I've still got two other great schools to choose between. Believe me, I'm really thankful to be in this position.

Good luck to everyone working on apps.


Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Welcome to 2005 

Today's been the first day back at work (yesterday was a holiday because New Year's Day fell on a Saturday) and it's been a bit of a shock to the system.

I saw out 2004 quietly, my landlord/flatmate and I had a couple of friends round for dinner, and then spent the weekend with a bunch of friends that I sing in a choir with. I don't get to see some of them very often, so it was fun. We seemed to spend an awful lot of time discussing where I was going, when I was going, how I possibly thought I was going to survive two years without Radio 4 / decent newspapers / Chocolate Hobnobs / decent beer / HP sauce / easily available curries /edible chocolate / people with a sense of irony etc etc, how in fact all of the aforementioned could be got in the US if you tried, and whether American Men should generally be considered to be a good thing or not (no clear consensus reached on the latter). It's been really touching how my friends have been excited for me but at the same time sorry that it means I won't be around.

One of the things that really struck me over the weekend was how much my life has moved on in the last three years. I spent New Year 2002 with the same group of people, but have only very patchy memories of it. I think my mind just blanked lots of it out as a stress response. At the time I felt like I was sitting on the edge of very ugly precipice. I'd recently found out that my husband was having an affair and I was at the start of a six-month period that would see me go through some of the lowest points in my life, including the end of my marriage. It was truly horrible. But in the obscure, roundabout route that life and God so often take, those experiences have helped to bring me to New Year to 2005, and to a feeling that I'm on top of a mountain looking at a whole vista of opportunities. Having received so much support from my friends through the bad times, it's been wonderful to be able to celebrate something good with them.


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