[Thoughts for Applicants:] The Pizza Pilgrimage
Earlier this year, sometime soon after my Chicago admit, I went to Sugarbush resort in Vermont for a snowboarding weekend. Sugarbush is close to Waitsfield, among whose claims to fame is a converted horse barn where they are reputed to make some of the best pizza in the land at a restaurant called American Flatbread.
So we get there and turns out they don't take reservations. We put our names on the list and try to find a place to stand inside. Yeah, it was so crowded that they had a campfire for those standing outside. We eventually found a wall to lean against and the wait began. Minutes turned to half-hours which turned to hours. Serious. Two hours later, we were still not seated (well, we did manage to find a chair at the bar) and ran out of the energy to even talk. That was when a thought came to mind. This whole pizza thing was similar to my application saga.
Nothing I had ever done had prepared me for how long it would take.
I took my GMAT in August 2003. Was going to apply R1. Work got in the way. Applied to R2. Bad news flowed in. I went R3. Interview calls ! Ding. Then, a waitlist. Which turned into an agonizing summer waitlist. Which became a ding a few days before the next R1. Reapplied. R1. Interviews again. Sent in R2 apps just in case. Finally, I got the call. And in less than 8 hours I will be an MBA student.
If you are an applicant, this is something to ponder. All of you are successful people with a 'plan', but this entire process can be very, well, funny. Things usually, at least for me, have always had expiry dates. But, if you really want this degree, it can be a difficult beast. Please make sure you are prepared to deal with the uncertainities. Either with a better 'plan' or the right attitude.
The day after our pizza experience, I took the shuttle that goes in a long, slow loop around town. It was flagged down by a woman, and she asked for her destination. The driver told her that he could take her there but it would take a while. She got in. The same thing happened at the next stop. For some reason, I thought his 'line' was very interesting - it's gonna take a while. Not I can't go there. Or wait for the next bus. Nope. Just, It's gonna take a while. I think it is true of this process too. You just need to have faith and stick with it when the shit hits the fan. It'll all work out.
Just remember that It's gonna take a while.
But there is something else to consider too. We finally got a seat 2 hrs 15 min after we got there, waited another 15 minutes for a waiter and 30 mins for the pizza to be delivered. Was it really worth it? At that time, if you had given me a three day old pizza - cold - I would have told you that it was the best pizza I had ever had. One has to wonder if the reputation of the pizza has more to do with the starving partrons finally getting a meal rather than the pie itself.
Think about it. As you consider programs, and even the MBA itself, who do you get your inputs from ? I will, at the risk of heresy, suggest that current students are probably not a good source of opinion. They have recently been through a competitive application process and in some sense will justify both the degree and their school. Not exactly an unbiased opinion, in my biased opinion. I can't recall a single student at any school who told me this wasn't the best thing s/he's ever done. Or that it was the right step for his/her/my career.
Alumni, on the other hand, are a required source of perspective. I have found their advice to be reflective of the value of the MBA as relates to their more recent experiences back in the workforce. And, I have been told some pretty honest stuff too. My LBS interviewer told me straight up that he could have done his current job even before he went to school - except he couldn't have gotten the job without the degree. That was its main value for him. A Chicago alum I met had quit her job - and she was considering becoming a school teacher ! A Stanford alum I met had just joined a position in my company that one usually gets by doing the company sponsored part-time MBA. The point simply being, talk to as many alums as you can in your desired career field to get a more 'real' picture of what the degree you seek can do for you.
The best to both the applicants and the recently-applicants who are newly-students. Cool Runnings.