Thursday, October 23, 2003

Carnivales in High Places

Is it just me, or does every MBA applicant go through this phase ? Of late, my life seems to be framed by a 1000-word essay. I am starting to see everything as essay subject matter !

Last night was a case in point. I got home after an exhausting day at work and was catching up on missed TV shows (as an aside, TiVo is SO addictive :). Was watching The West Wing and as President Bartlett was wrestling with the ethics of turning away a North Korean pianist who wants to defect (a potentially illegal act) because it would affect secret nuclear negotiations, I realized that I had suddenly gotten an idea for a missing piece on my Stanford 'what matters most' essay !! I actually paused the show, and went for a walk to think it over. How screwed up is that. It was supposed to be some down-time for myself and here I was writing up another essay in my head. Well, I got back and saw the rest of the show. Turns out the potential defector was asked to make a choice given the severity of the negotiations, he decided to sacrifice his chance of personal freedom now for a potential for a better tommorow for his people. And then the Koreans stalled the negotiations because they did not like the sizes of the flags on the negotiation tables. It's TV after all, but some serious lessons to be learned (for an essay writer at least ;-)

Then, on to K Street. This show is fantastic. It's about DC power brokers and how they play their games. Makes one wonder - will I be the guy on screen 10 years from now lobbying congress for my company or industry. Or better still - how will I make a difference, do things better, be more ethical when placed in situations like that. This is getting more absurd, but you get the draft.

Finished my night of watching TV with Carnivale - this is absolutely rivetting television. If you watch the opening credits, it's a collage of seemingly random clips - an olympic race, a baseball player, military action, circus acts etc - but as the show progresses, they seem to start making sense. My app-obsessed brain got thinking that this looks exactly like my applications ! I have a bunch of experiences from various phases of my life laid out in front of me, and I'm trying to piece together a story that has a central focus and meaning but also incorporates all these seemingly disparate experiences.

wow, this is serious shit ! Will I ever go back to watching TV for TVs sake ... i desperately hope so.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Ah, dreams. A few weeks ago, I expected to spend this weekend putting finishing touches on my Round 1 applications to MIT, Berkeley and Kellogg. But, reality caught up with me and I have decided to put off all applications to Round 2. I don't feel good at all about this, but my applications are not ready, and will really need to push my recommenders to get theirs in on time. So, woke up this morning and made the decision. Seems the right thing to do and I'm much relaxed already. The one constant that I have heard from all adcomms & students I have met is to apply when I am ready.

And i'm not ready at all. My schedule's been unbelievably hectic of late, haven't gotten home before midnight this whole week. And I'm probably going to make my essays worse if I work on them with no time to relax and get into the zone. Started out with a completely different strategy for tackling the app process but now I have to re-adjust my plans and go for all my schools in R2. I've spent a good part of the day at my desk doing a rethink on where I am going to apply. Here's my shortlist.

My mom-knows-these Schools

Was talking with my mom who's back in India last week and she said get into Stanford, Harvard or Kellogg, in that order, so she could tell all her friends with pride ;-)

Stanford - my dream school. Really want to go here, but to me it's the roughest appliction. However, I'll apply there irrespective. I don't think I can live with not having taken a shot.
Harvard - my toughest choice. It's got THE brand name, i actually like the place, but I'm not sure if I'm the Harvard type. Need to talk with more students/alums to get a sense for that. I should maybe just apply but not sure if it's worth the time and effort when I can only do so much.
Kellogg - I am definitely going to apply. I wish I had the time to go and visit but I've gotten a good vibe talking to students. The culture at the school is very appealing to me.

Jokes apart, the fact that my mom, and her friends, who are housewives in an Indian city know of these schools is a barometer of the 'street-value' of a degree from these schools.

My i-can-belong-here schools

The focus of my application process is going to be these schools. There is something about each of them that has appealed to me on a personal level. Rankings, GMAT scores, placements etc have nothing to do with it. The question I have been trying to answer about every school I consider is simple - will I be happy here ?

Tuck - Small class size, tight-knit community, and nestled in the White mountains. I love the outdoors. A good friend of mine is a current student, and he raves about the place. I know I'll be at home there.
Sloan@MIT - I was looking at the commencement materials last year, and there was a quote - the only way to get a degree at MIT is to earn one. For some reason, I haven't been able to forget it - kinda motivating actually. The greater MIT community is awesome. And the students are very down-to-earth & cool. I somehow find the company of engineers reassuring ;-)
Haas@Berkeley - Again, strong engineering/tech connection, and close to the Valley. I'll miss the seasons of New England but hear that CA's alright ;-) I think I will also fit in the liberal, coffee-shop-bookstores culture of Berkeley.
LBS - London rocks ! Both the city and the school. Love the international focus of the program, the really diverse student body and global opportunities. The thing that students and alums seem to have in abundance is class. Got the got-to-be-here feeling at first sight.

My should-i-should-i-not schools

I think the 6-7 schools above are all I can handle. But if I do get time (or panics about any of the above) I might pick 1-2 from Wharton, Yale, Fuqua or Michigan. These are schools I like but also have reservations about.

Can't help suppress a smile that I'm not even considering #2 chicago and #7 Columbia and flip-flopping on Wharton, Michigan & Harvard. When I started down this road a few months ago, I somehow felt that it would be a no-brainer to apply to all the top 5 + a few from 6-10 schools. If everyone says they must be good, they must be good right ? Absolutely, but are they good for me ? That's the question I have tried to answer and this is where I stand.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Sloan Class Visit {earlier in October}

I was sure I was going to lose it. My bicycle that is. As I sped across the Harvard Bridge towards MIT on a beautiful day earlier this month for the Sloan Ambassadors class visit program, I realized that I had left my bike-lock at home. And I didn't have time to go back as I was already running (biking actually :) late. So, I just left it unlocked outside Tang Center and ran to the admissions office. It was almost 9:40 and I was late for the info session. There were 6 other students - no Indians except me, three of them were asian, 2 americans and 1 south american. All male. The adcomm member walked us through the admissions procedures, requirements, and spoke at length about what makes Sloan Sloan. Enterpreneurship was an overriding theme of her presentation. She also said that Sloan makes about half of its offers during the first round and half during the second - and strongly advised applying early. But, only do so if your application is solid. A bad app is going to hurt, no matter when you apply. She also said that Sloan admissions people interview every person interviewed. No alumni interviews. She and her team will travel around the world for the next few months doing these. Impressive.

Then we met our student ambassadors who escorted us to one of their classes. MIT's cohorts { unlike HBS } don't use the same classroom all year round. So, they did not have fixed places and need to carry their namecards with them to class to place in front of their seats. The class I visited also did not have space for visitors with a desk. There were chairs along the back and side walls that we had to use. I was introduced by my ambassador to the professor and a couple of other students also stopped by and chatted. As I took a seat, the person next to me got talking and after enquiring about my background she suggested that I would be a good fit for the LFM program and that I should look into it. { unlike Harvard, visitors were not introduced to the class }.

The class I attended was an econ-type class and it did not use the case-study method. But, the professor was superb. I expected him to 'teach' but after some initial opening remarks the class participation took off and it was a fun class to watch. Students at Sloan I spoke to were, across the board, very satisfied with the mix of teaching strategies and not relying on one solely { like Harvard does with the case study }.

After class, my ambassador had to rush to some company presentation and she handed me over to a couple of other students who came by to lunch with the prospectives. There were a mix of first- and second-year students talking to us, and it was very informative. One first-year told me to make sure that I work on my Sloan app as the second school I apply to - he said usually the first crack is not the best. We talked about the student life, application procedures and work-fun balance.

The most impressive part about Sloan has to be the students. For students of an elite institution, they were unbelievably down-to-earth. Every single one I met was like that. Very easy to talk with, eager to share their knowledge and experiences with the app process, and forthcoming with advice for anyone who had a question. And the classroom diversity was very visible { one thing I noticed that there seemed to be more Indians and Chinese people at Sloan than at Harvard - maybe it has to do with the engineer ratios in the class ? }. I felt very comfortable walking the halls - I can see myself being a happy citizen of this school.
Being an engineer and wanting to remain in the tech industry after an MBA, Sloan was a natural place for me to apply. But, after visiting, I get the feeling that this is the school where I am going to have the most meaningful MBA experience.

As I walked out of Tang, I felt like something was not right. My bicycle was still standing where I left it ! An unlocked bicycle left unstolen in Cantabridgia !! This surely must be a sign ...

Monday, October 20, 2003

HBS Class Visit

"Waking up at 7 on a cold monday morning better be worth it", I thought to myself as I pulled into the parking lot at Harvard Business School this morning. I was there for the class visit program. A tip for those planning to visit - there's free parking for prospective students on campus ! That was a very pleasant surprise. I forgot to bring along a map - yes, this is a real campus with 20+ buildings. I found my way to Dillon and was given a personalized letter with the names of my student host & professor, class name, section & location. There are approximately 2-3 students per host and we met our host a few minutes before class and were escorted to the class.

This was a first year class, and the students use the same class room for the year. We were introduced to the professor before class, and a few other students stopped by to say hi while we were looking for empty seats. Parents of one of the students who were visiting her were also sitting in for that class. When the class started, they were introduced and given a loud ovation by the students. It was very genuine and very very cool. The prospective students were then introduced and welcomed and we got a round of applause also.

The formalities done, the class got down to the business of learning. Having read so much about the merits and demerits of the case method, I was very curious to see it in action. After an hour and half of class, I am a convert ! I learnt so much just by being a passive observer on a subject I had no idea walking in. I wanted to jump in and add my own questions and opinions to the mix many times. I can only imagine how much fun it must be as a student. The professor was excellent too - there was total class participation and he stepped in at the right times to steer the conversations in certain directions so that at the end of the class every aspect he wanted discussed and learnt was. I was impressed.

But there are some things I wish HBS did differently. The class visits at HBS are just that - class visits. You pretty much go home after that. My student host told me that some of them were going to meet at lunch to talk with prospective students. But that's very informal and not something that's scheduled. I would not have known about it if I hadn't talked to my student host about it. Also, their info sessions are at 3 PM, again no registration required. It would have been more convenient if all of these were blended in together.

I had an 8:40 class and the students had another class following that, so there was pretty much no time to talk with anyone except my host. It was hard for me to make the trek back to the campus for lunch at 12. I work nearby so I might go back and do lunch someday to talk to the students. Overall, a good experience, but feels incomplete. I really wanted to meet with the students to get a sense of what a HBS person is all about. Very few opportunities to do that on this visit. Great campus, smart bunch of people, the case method is awesome.

I wasn't sure if I should apply to HBS, and I still am not sure. The one thing my host mentioned was that if you don't have leadership written all over you (thru your essays) expect to get dinged. I want to get some elaboration on this and other questions I have for the students. The one thing I couldn't help was compare this visit to my visit to Sloan a few weeks ago. Will blog that tomorrow and maybe a comparison.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Hello, World.

I am planning on applying to some of the top B-Schools for the 2004 session, and have come across several blogs in the process of doing my research. I find them very useful in relating to the problems faced by the authors as they go through what is turning out to be for me a nerve-wracking process. In this blog I am going to try to chronicle my own experiences as I work towards my goal. On a more personal note, I hope writing a blog regularly will help me track my own progress and keep me focussed.

Briefly about me : Indian engineer, came to the US for grad school, been working for the past 3 years in the tech industry, and this is my first time applying to B-school. Did very well on my GMATs earlier this month and hope to have a good story crafted so that I can stand a chance at the top schools.

This is my life for the next few months. So, here goes ...