Friday, May 25, 2007

Wharton Essay 1 Outline

Question 1: Describe your career progress to date and your future short-term and long-term career goals. How do you expect an MBA from Wharton to help you achieve these goals, and why is now the best time for you to join our program? (1,000 words)

I am writing about my approach here as an example of what I had thought and done. I am sure there are better ways to address the same question. Although bschool essays are not required to follow the exact rules of English style or grammar, a well written essay will have a good flow and will convince the reader about your answer to the essay question.

Opening Line:
This wasn't an eye catching phrase or anything like that. In my case, I was able to write one sentence summarizing the essense of my application, a certain theme that I gave the whole application. I don't think I struggled for this line. In fact, it just came to me one fine day when I was redrafting my essay. Nevertheless,this sentence also fit in making the transition to start my next paragraph describing my career progress.

Paragraph 1, 2, 3, 4:
As the question asks about career progress, I wrote 4 short paragraph talking about my career, instead of writing big paragraphs. I am a software engineer. And as such, my goal was to describe the learnings that came out of my experiences. I gave references to couple projects instead of being generic. These paragraphs summarized my 4 years of work in the software development industry and how I was using technology inside and outside work. This helped me to lead the discussion into my community work

Paragraph 5:
This was how I grew because of my community involvement. Again main points. I was going to write about the specifics in other essays. I was writing about this here because this was leading upto my goals. Once I was satisfied that I had provided enough context. I wrote about my goals.

Paragraph 6, 7:
Statements and discussion about short term and long term goals and why they mean so much to me, what I need to achieve to my goals.

Paragraph 8, 9, 10:
Once I spoke about my goals, I linked that to how an MBA helps here. And then spoke about Wharton MBA, why it would help me in my goals, and what I do with it.

Last paragraph:
I mentioned couple lines about why now is the best time for an MBA, which also summarized my essay.

In my approach, the essay flow addressed the question in order. However, you could also do this differently. For e.g, start with the goals, then link them to your about career progress, and then write about how MBA helps here. Instead of hurrying to write the essays, spend some time organizing your thoughts, and then pen them down. Also, the goals and Why MBA essay question will be repeated for all bschools in different forms. The flow that works for one question might not work for other.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

H1B and International students

I read about this article on Run Forrest Run's blog. I do hope that this problem is resolved soon and international students do not have to undergo any arduous processes for getting an H1B work visa. The process of relocating oneself and family to a new land might be tiring enough. Then, think about this work visa hassle while graduating!

Meanwhile, for international students who will be travelling to the US for the first time on a student visa, definitely find your options for working in the US. F1 visa provides one year of practical training, and then, most international ppl switch to H1B visa. There are additional work visas depending on your country of citizenship (for eg: TN visa for Canadians, E3 visa for Australians to work in the US) . Some time back, USCIS has also introduced a seperate H1B 20K quota for students with advanced degrees (Masters, PhD etc) in the US.

There's some positive hope in the Immigration Reform Bill that is being discussed in the senate currently, regarding increasing the annual H1B visa cap from 65K to 115K? Also, a good thing for international students who have already held H1B visa within the US, their new H1B applications post graduation will not be subject to the annual cap, provided they have not exhausted their 6 year limit on H1B.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

BSchool Research

Guideline while researching bschools : (in no particular order)

-- About the school
• What is the school culture like? What's the student body like?
• Is the school a general management one or major based? Strength in any particular business area?
• Bschool professors - any particular prof. that you are interested in working with? Student-to-faculty ratio.
• Study and project trips, Clubs and other programs
• How will this bschool and its programs help me in my goals?
• Bschool location- city or in university town (city == $$expensive)
• BSchool courses - which courses interest you? How are the courses taught?
• Career options after bschool - which companies recruit for internships and for fulltime opportunities?

-- International Students
• Loan and finaid options for international students
• Support network within the university
• Percentage of internationals accepted; percentage from your country
• School's influence,intitatives and network in your home country
• Help with visa and other international student matters
• TOEFL requirement - most bschools waive this requirement if you have already spent some considerable amount of time living and working within the US

Some points from my own research:

Stanford GSB
- Top 5 business school with Small size
- Experiential learning opportunities where you can experiment, practice, and learn by doing
- At the Stanford Graduate School of Business, leadership means taking full responsibility for changing an organization for the better.
- 6-to-1 student-faculty ratio
- has certificate program in Global Management, PMP , plus there are 4 special centers - Center for Entrepreneurial Studies (CES), Center for Social Innovation (CSI)
- Customized Curriculum after 1st semester

Top 5 bschool
- Run largely on student initiative
- Student’s top choice: finance
- Great focus on team initiative
- Has many programs, conferences and other opportunities- e.g. Global Immersion Program, Global Consulting Practicum, Wharton Small Business Development Center, Business Plan competition, Leadership Ventures, Global Treks, Wharton Entrepreneurial Program
- Close to NY city (approx. 2.5 hours drive)
- Large student body (800 enroll each fall)

MIT Sloan
- Sloan Values: Innovate, Learn, Collaborate
- Programs include Sloan Innovation Period (SIP) - a one week period between semesters to work with the faculty , Independent Activity period
- Centers include MIT entrepreneurship center
- Global Entrepreneurship Lab is the flagship international internship course
- Annual Business plan competition – MIT 1K, MIT 100K
- Greater MIT network
- Slightly more focussed on Quant within the courses

You may choose to do this bschool research by spending few hours or days or months. That's really upto you. What you uncover here is important though. Alternatively, the market is flooded with "Get into the top MBA school" books. Most of them have already researched the bschools for you. You can supplement all that by talking to current MBA students, admission officers and dig deeper into aspects beneficial to you.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Leadership, Strengths and Weaknesses

Almost all the bschools ask about leadership, teamwork, strengths and weaknesses.

- Leadership: Describe your leadership experience? What did you learn from it?

While understanding this question better, I had found a very good post by Stacy Blckman . For some candidates, this is an easy question by virtue of their position. They are already in a leadership role at work (e.g. VP, CEO, founder of a organization etc). But this question is not about role or a position. It is about what you did in a position or role that qualified you as a leader, where your team looked upto you for vision, guidance, motivation and the ability to direct the team along a certain path.

I personally believe that leadership happens amongst a set of people. It is not solitary. Therefore, winning a competition in the first place where you were the sole beneficiary may not qualify as a leadership activity, unless you have led a team here. Questions that can help you while writing an essay are:

-- What was the situation? Give some context
--- What your role, what did you do ? Write very briefly
---- What were some challenges that you faced, ethically, with people on your team, strategic decision making, other team or client issues?
----- How did you solve these challenges? Did you consult your team? What was the impact on the team? How did people respond ?
------ What did you learn from this experience? (Cannot miss this)

Strengths and Weaknesses:

This is another common question in the essays or during interviews. Most people are aware of their strengths, but it is the "weakness" portion that pose questions. What "weakness" is the bschool looking for? If I write about my real "weakness" , won't they reject me? NO.

We, human beings, are not perfect at everything. Each of us has some weakness, that no matter whatever you do, remains our weakness and sometimes shows up in the way one does things. This is what we should be writing about. This is not the "I really work hard" type of weakness. Do not write something that the books tell you write. The bschools want to know that you are aware of your shortcomings and can channel that weakness through strengths of others. Great leaders showcase that strength. They find the right people in the team with complimentary skills.

I am not going to mention further examples here, but if your inner conscience is clear, I am sure you will know what your weakness is && how you have dealt with it in the past.
Regarding strengths, the message is clear. In both cases, you will have to provide specific examples in your essays. Do not write vague, generic answers for such questions.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

My MBA admission experience ...

This post is really long overdue. Ever since I mentioned that I will be going to bschool in Fall 2007, I received questions from several ppl. I hope I have attempted to answer them to the best I can. Including this information for future MBA aspirants: (Disclaimer: this posting reflects , my opinion based on my MBA admission experience and is not endorsed by any business school)

1) To MBA or not: The MBA thought has popped in my mind. But, I am not really sure if I want to do an MBA or not.
A: There is no straight forward answer to this question. It really depends on you, where you are in your career and what your aspirations. Talk to people, who have done an MBA. While there are various reasons to do an MBA, the most prominent ones are:

a) i want to advance in my career using advanced business skills, use it within my or different organization
b) i want to switch careers - maybe something like XYZ to finance or marketing
c) i am not really sure. I will do my MBA and figure it out.

No matter what your reasons are, don't use it only for the sake of a career switch, job search tool. Academically, the MBA degree will include courses which will provide a good foundation in business, leadership and teamwork. But the two years that you spend doing an MBA, will help you develop perspectives (global or otherwise) and incorporate non-textbook knowledge that will last a lifetime. Therefore, it's not enough to simply state that you want to do an
MBA for career switching or advancement. You should find out your mainstream goals in life. What is that one or few things you aspire to improve in this world? And then, does the MBA degree help you with that? After some introspection along these lines, 'to MBA or not' may be simple enough for you to answer ..

2) If I decide to apply for MBA, what should I do next?
A: There are several things in store for you,if you decide to apply for MBA. Depending on when you start the process, you may want to understand that the bschool deadlines and how your tasks fit with those application timelines. Generally, there are 3 admission rounds. Very few schools have either 2 or 4 rounds. Round 1 deadlines are in Sept/Oct, followed by round2 in late dec/early Jan, while round 3 deadlines are in march. A rough guideline to align with the application deadlines:

- Your goals and reasons to do an MBA : 6 months before the deadline
-- GMAT (spend ~two months) : 4 to 5 months before the deadline
--- Research, visit and finalize bschools : 4 months before the deadline
---- Start writing essay drafts, talk to current students, prep your recommenders : 3 months before the deadline
----- Get essay feedback, revise your drafts, prepare other application materials such as bio, work etc information : 2 months before the deadline
------ More feedback and essay revision, follow up with recommenders : 1 month before the deadline
------- Submit application when you are ready, follow up with recommenders : days or hours before the deadline

Generally speaking, the application process will keep you busy for a good 6 to 8 months (Don't forget the two months wait after you submit the applications). While most tasks are driven by the applicant, the one that requires the most careful attention is recommendations. You should definitely allot a good amount of time to your recommenders to complete this task, be patient with them and follow up carefully, so as to not come across as bothersome. Do not wait till
the nth hour to ping your recommender. If they haven't completed the recommendations a few days before the deadline, you should remind them about the deadline and try to find if they are working on a draft. Sit with them and have a conversation about yourself. That will make it easy for them to write a recommendation. At the same time, if you have had a close working relationship with your recommender, you should know what is your recommender's style, and
if he/she will be completing the reco minutes before the deadline, trust them on that.

3) Any advice regarding the GMAT examination?
A: Use the OG (Official Guide). See my post here for my GMAT plan. There are several MBA applicant blogs that talk about this. Dave's MBA blog is a good starting point for various resources

4) What about the essays? What do bschools want? What should I write in the essays?
A: Hmmm...this one really deserves a seperate post. There's no golden answer to what be written in the essay. To start with, do not think in terms of "what the bschool wants to hear", think about "what you want to tell them". Answers to the essay questions should come from within you. (Remember that inner voice of yours, listen to it. Now is the time.)

I chose to begin this journey with by writing my own story (I was born here. I did this and that. I want to this and that etc..). Writing in such plain old fashion helped me to find the loose gaps between the statements, add my thoughts and then keep refining them. Trust me when I say that I trashed the first set of drafts here. In no way, they reflected me- the person. Some things that also helped me were making a list of all things that I have done so far, things that I have enjoyed doing, things I like and don't like, and of course, things that i cannot live without. Doing this exercise also showed me some patterns in my life - of the type of person I am, the choices I make and how they define me. I took help of family and close friends while going through this
task. I think I spent about a month & 1/2 on this, taking breaks when I found myself going in circles. When I found my voice reflected through the essays, I knew that the time spent doing this was well worth the effort. And I had to move on to the next phase.

After writing my own story, I was clear about what I had done, what I am doing now and where I wanted to go. In my opinion, answers to these questions form a crucial part of your essays. However, this is not just about essays. It's possible that when you have reflected so much, you may come to the conclusion that you really don't want to do an MBA. That's fine. All the thinking, writing, reflecting that you have done is not a waste of time. It will help you make
decision on how you want to not just the MBA factor, but also how to want to advance in your career, what activites you want in your life. Now, before I entered the next phase, I had finished my GMAT, researched my schools and more or less finalized the schools that I would be applying to.

Looking at these bschool essays, you will notice that there are some common questions and themes around them:
- Career goals & why - the exercise that you did at the start should help you here. Bschools do not give instructions on what is a right goal or wrong goal. But don't get confused about this. A good rule of thumb is the ability to express these goals to a stranger and if they stil make any sense. Most ppl I spoke to mentioned "starting a company" as a goal. While that is a good starting point, dive deep into that aspect. Why do you want to start a company? What
problem are you trying to solve? What is the company about? What is your vision? Simply mentioning that you want to start a company will not do any good.

-- Leadership - almost all bschools will have a question or two about leadership. Infact, the underlying theme of HBS application is leadership. They either ask you to describe your leadership experience in your past, or ask you about how you plan to use the MBA to enhance your leadership skills. In writing answers to such questions, you have to first find out what leadership means to you, how you have dealt in such situations, what you have observed about your leadership skills.

--- Personal or work experiences
---- Involvement within your community
----- Creative or ethical experiences

The above 3 points are specific questions related to what you have done so far. A good guideline here is the 'what have you done, how did you do it, what you have learned from that experience'. Such questions usually have a length of 400-600 words, which suggests that you should be writing in a concise manner. You can also use a certain theme for your essays for a bschool.

Your school research will help you in polishing your essays. You will notice that each school has a distinctive culture, a spirit that is embodied within its student body and also reflected in how the school operates and what the school values.

The End
Get feedback on your essays, revise them to fit within the word limits (+/- 5 to 10% rule is a good idea), and complete the essays at least 10 to 12 days before the deadline. Let them rest a while. Within the last few days, you can do some minor tweaks, correct grammar and focus on any polishing. Rewriting at the last minute is not a good idea, unless you are really sure what you are writing about.

The following should sum up the above:
- Write your own story. Be true to yourself. No one other than yourself can write these essays
-- Do not cut, paste, copy amongst the various bschool essay.
--- You are different and unique. Do not worry about others. What you choose to worry about can sometimes define how your application shapes up.

Coming up: my essay outlines ...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Wharton is really happening to me ....

Time flies ...
I can't believe all the things that have happened since Feb Wharton Welcome weekend. I have completed the employment verification, got the award letter, received my wharton student account and finally even signed a lease this past week for a studio in Philadelphia and soon, I will be quitting my job.

I am all excited to be at Wharton! I have emailed various current students, and each one of them has been super helpful to me in answering all my questions. And I hope I can be the same to furture Wharton applicants/students.