Team Gr8r

December 26, 2009

Today, I’m meeting one of my recommenders in the evening. I’ve been thinking about it since last night. He has been by direct supervisor, my mentor, and knew I’d be applying for an MBA even before I’d told him so. He’s not the only one. All my recommenders are in the same league – supervisors cum mentors who know me so well, and believe in me so much that it is almost humbling. And they have had to take time out of their very busy schedules to read the essays I’ve sent them – one containing interview excerpts of Ms. Leopold, another a write-up of the history of HBS and details of the admission process and student and faculty profiles, and yet another listing the work I’ve done under them. The last essay is totally useless, for they know it all. And then they’ve had to write the recommendations – each 250-word essays.

And they are just one set of people who are helping me through the process.

When I look at the journey I’ve undertaken over the course of … well, over a year now, I have come to understand that I am indebted to a lot many people – my GMAT tutors who prepared me and constantly encouraged me to go beyond what I thought I could achieve, my friends on Beat The GMAT from whom I learnt so much, and who so thoroughly encouraged me through-out the preparation phase, my friends who looked through my essays despite their own busy schedules, current students from HBS who sat down with my essays soon after their first semester exams and gave such incredible feed-back, friends from GMAT Club who form such a great community, and from whom I have learnt so much, people who have guided me to the right materials, given me the right advise, my recommenders, my family, my friends, and strangers.

And I realise just how much it is at once my effort as it is everyone else’s. It is as if I am part of a team determined to get me to my destination – pushing me, guiding me, correcting my course when I go astray. I said earlier that the faith my recommenders have shown on me is humbling; what is even more humbling is the help I have received from others – at times from pure strangers.

I dedicate this post to my ‘team’ – to all of you who have been there and are still there. Because without you, it wouldn’t have been as much fun.

Beyond the laminated glass

December 21, 2009

Every day, on my way to work, I see people on the sidewalk, I see people hanging off buses, crowding into rickety cabs, on their way to work. Many of them have an education, many don’t. Many have fled the tragic droughts of eastern states, their bank accounts nil, deep in debt with money-lenders forever on the head. They come from places thousands of miles away in search of a living. They toil hard for every scrap of food, every scrap of clothing they can afford, and send what-ever they save back to their villages, back to their sons and daughters, and wife and ailing parents.

And as I look at them I wonder … how many of them have thought of a Harvard education?

There are very few who can think beyond basic necessities. Who have the luxury, if I may call it so, of spending sleepless nights over a GMAT score, fewer who bite their lips over a 700. Even fewer who can think of applying to Harvard for an MBA. The vendor on the side-walk selling his deep fired samosas has not even had an education and perhaps never will.

I must be very ungrateful if I neglect to realise that I am lucky, very lucky indeed, to just be able to prepare my application for an MBA. There is very little that I have done which makes me a candidate. Most, or almost all, of it has been done for me. I salute those who have been accepted to their chosen schools in R1, I salute those who will make it to their choices in R2 and then R3. I must not however forget that there’s a world out there which’d never have a Harvard degree, or even the need for one. And I express my gratitude to HIM for allowing me this opportunity and hope I can make the most of the experience for the benefit of those who haven’t had this opportunity.

Miracles & Calculations

November 16, 2009

What does it take to be selected to a quality B-school? Forums would have me believe in success stories that are truly inspiring. Forums would want me to believe in numbers that make a difference. Forums would want me to believe that miracles do happen. Do they?

It’s often that I find applicants working out intense calculations on the number of applicants in a particular round, the number of admits, the waitlisted, the ratio of admitted to dinged, the ratio of applicants to those called for interview, the ratio of those interviewed to those dinged. In all, a labyrinth of calculations — done much like a professional gambler — done to determine their chances of getting that coveted call. I’ve read entries of people with sub-700 or even sub-600 GMAT calculating their chances of getting in based on their pool or their WE or their community experiences. I read blogs by sub-600 applicants applying to HBS and disappointed at not receiving an interview invite.

Do miracles happen? Perhaps they do. But it seems to me that the only minor advantage that can make or break an application is not of numbers, but of luck. And luck is not in our hands. I like to tell myself that getting into HBS is 80% luck, 20% hard work and 10% magic. It comes to a 110% and that is what HBS requires. Anything less than that 110% and I can kiss my dreams goodbye. And by the way, the last 10% is what I have to create. It’s a very individual thing.

Calculations can give hope, not results. If one has a sub-par application, he’s not getting in. I would advise myself, and others, not to leave anything to chance. If something can be improved upon, do it. Low GMAT? Retake. Low GPA? There’s nothing you can do; but try to push up the WE and GMAT. Low WE? Don’t apply. It’s that simple.

The Summer Months

August 18, 2009

Before I’m too tired to even look at the flickering screen, I’d like to point out that HBS, by my reckoning, is a desolate little island these days. It has been so for the past few months; ever since the kids went away for their summer internships. The dorms must be empty, the classrooms empty, Spangler empty, Aldrich empty. I know one who’s in DC. I know it because she updates her blog weekly. This is also the time when one batch of HBS Grads has almost edged themselves out, and the next batch hasn’t quite moved in.

And that creates a problem for me.

Suddenly, all the juicy stuff leaking out of HBS has coagulated. Of all the blogs I follow, rarely has any been updated with any news of HBS. [Aside: Of course, there isn’t much news when the school is out.] And even the Harbus, the official mouth-piece of HBS, has been oddly silent. I can see the same group photograph, and the same write-ups still garnishing the front page that have been there since May 2009. Thankfully I have the archives to read. Correction: “had”. I’ve devoured them too by now.

So what’s the problem?

If you’re applying to a business school, you need to know everything, as in EVERYTHING, about the school before-hand — the culture, the happenings, the events, the schedule, the drunken parties, who is sleeping with whom, etc. In my case, I already have more than the requisite stash of information. I’m gathering the extras. I’m living the experience even before I’ve taken the GMAT. That might make me want to kill myself if I don’t eventually make it in, but on the other hand, also makes my decision more informed and my application more…to use an oft-repeated counsellor word “compelling.”

But now, it appears that the summer break is almost over, and the start of the new EC and the RC batches is close, very close. And I’m waiting, eagerly, to see what’s up.

Just a hunch.

July 6, 2009

The following is merely a hunch:

I’m an international applicant, and coming from a media/legal background means that I’m not part of the mainstream IT/Engineering pool which dominates the total applicant pool from India. In such a scenario, how do I judge the competitiveness of my profile? A few thoughts:

[Note: Profile excludes GPA and GMAT scores, but includes work experience, industry and country]

For those applying from within the US, international exposure, among other things, is of high importance. Is international experience as important for an international applicant? I think that international experience is necessary for bringing a diverse range of opinion to the table. An international applicant already brings with him that ‘other’ viewpoint, so the necessity is diluted.

As far as applicant pool is concerned, who are my real competitors? I doubt if it is the entire pool of applicants. My hunch is that the adcoms look at sub-pools – Total Applicants > Indian Applicants > Male/Female > Resident/Non-resident > Engineering/IT /Consultancy/Legal/Media/etc. – to determine their choices. So my real competitors will be the Indian applicants, and further in that group, the non-Engineering/IT pool.

I cannot not point out the differences in work culture that exists between the US and India, or for that matter any two countries (or even industry). As such, what would be the factor that would equate us to one another? How would the adcoms create the ‘level-playing-field’ to judge the applicants? Honestly, I don’t think there is such a thing called the ‘universal-level-playing-field’ in the minds of the adcoms. They are obviously (and hopefully) aware of the glaring differences within the pools and know that a one-size-fits-all policy will not work. This is where (and why) I believe the adcoms will create the sub-fields – small level-playing-fields for small groups of applicants who are relatively similarly profiled.

      So, the rarer one is, the better his chances?

      Between the Old and the New.

      June 13, 2009

      The DU admissions took up most of this week. There were campus visits, college visits — all to pick up and deposit forms on behalf of my younger brother who is getting ready to start college this year. Naturally, the GMAT prep took a substantial hit — not only because of the time spent on travelling and planning and discussing, but also because I was too tired after a day of running about in the heat, and then attending office, to sit with any prep materials.

      If one were to visit North Campus — one of the two campuses of DU, and clearly the most sought after location for students — one will certainly be necessitated to visit St Stephens College and Ramjas College which form two out of the three constituent colleges of DU. The difference in attitude in these two colleges, even though both lie in very close proximity to each other, are remarkable.

      St Stephens College feels old-world. It had maintained its old student’s desks, black-boards, architecture, notice-boards and classrooms with veneration. The red-brick architecture, which is almost eighty years old, has been expanded only slightly over the years, and that too in sync with the present style. There’s a sense of pervading nostalgia throughout St Stephens which is oddly comfortable.

      Ramjas College, on the other hand, is avant-garde. While almost as old as St Stephens, Ramjas prides itself on modernity and in-your-face high technology. Digital notice boards, Wifi campus, state-of-the-art canteen (housing an MF Hussain print at one point of time), fully air-conditioned auditorium, dedicated seminar room with Jamo-Denon audio system and LCD projectors, black-boardless class-rooms, eccentric mosaics etc. is the norm at Ramjas. There is a constant ripping out of the old and ushering in the new there.

      I mention these two colleges not only because they are the best two colleges in DU, but also because they remind me of the top MBA schools across the world. Institutions always display enormous pride in their heritage, and in the number of years they’ve been standing. A few MBA schools in the USA are over a century old. The ones in Europe are relatively new. Students have to choose between the new and the old. Both have their selling points and weaknesses. And at the end of the day, it eventually comes down to individual choices. A high-tech experience, or an old world charm. Personally I’d prefer a mix of the two; but I have a fondness for old institutions. I have a fondness for heritage which shows in the facade of the school and within. My choice, if I cannot have both, would be the old-world charm. I love the smell of Ivy!

      Ranking or Fit?

      June 9, 2009

      I can see why so many MBA aspirants are so fed up with rankings. Not only are there too many establishments bringing out their subjective views on the topic, but these views almost always yield very disparate results. On one hand, this disparity gives a lot of schools the chance to occupy the top slots of one ranking or the other, on the other hand, these rankings end up siphoning fuel into chat forums, resulting in regular tirades on which is number #1 and which is not. The discussions, needless to say, are usually inconclusive.

      HBS occupies the top slot in this year’s USNews rankings; Wharton takes No. #1 on the FT list, IMD/Booth is top on The Economist, Tuck/ESADE gets the top slot in WSJ (2007), and Tuck gets top slot in Forbes (2007). So which one is really the best? If I could give a very personal response (which is the very purpose of this blog) it would be that I really don’t care. Surprising as my answer may appear, my rationale is built upon the notion that each school is fundamentally different from the other; each gives the admit a very unique experience and exposure and that cannot be ranked. It’s the same case as comparing apples and oranges — fruits they are, but not quite comparable. Instead I’d be looking at ‘fit’. I’d pick up a set of schools I’d want to go to based on curriculum, teaching methods, location, campus, recruitment figures, student profiles, classroom experience, section experience, and financial aid packages. Basically I’d look at the sum total of the possible experience that the school environment would be able to generate for me to determine the fit. If a school fits me, then by correlation, I’d fit the school.

      I haven’t mentioned brand value because that is largely a subjective matter. Most discussions on forums on A vs. B eventually end up with the participants presenting their perceptions of the brand. “A has a slightly higher brand value than B” is nothing but an individual’s perception and the response to that, “No, A and B are equal” or “B has a better brand value among PE recruiters” exemplify the point.

      After months of elimination, I have found only one school (Ahem!) that would fit me like a glove. The general advice appears to be to choose two reach schools, two competitive schools, and two safety schools. But with each application costing me US$ 250, it doesn’t make sense to me to turn it into a lottery. I will therefore apply to just the one school that I’ve come to conclude as the perfect fit.