Saturday 29 September 2012

Book Review: Clear Admit School Guide – Haas School of Business


I just finished the Clear Admit School Guide on Haas School of Business. I would like to thank Melanie from Clear Admit for giving me a complimentary copy of the guide and it has been a great experience reading this book especially given that I am running short on time for researching b-schools.
The guide covered almost everything that I would have wanted to know about Haas from an applicant’s perspective. The guide begins with program highlights which describes the most distinct features of the MBA program at Haas. I mean to say, as an applicant myself, whenever I consider a school I ask the question, “What are the most special things about the program”? The Clear Admit guide starts right with that note so that one can further do deeper research and ask more insightful and meaningful questions to current students/alumni while researching the school.
One notable feature of the guide is its comparison of key statistics (like Class Size, regional and industry-wise employment, class composition) with other comparable schools which in my opinion offers a sneak peek in to the other comparable programs too, if you have not thought of them previously (so much for the value added service here). The student demographic section discusses everything, from GPA, GMAT, Undergrad majors to Minority representation, International composition, and average work experience.
The section on Academics is simply great. It even tells the durations during which the school is closed i.e. no classes. Curriculum details are highlighted in their very minutest details with content descriptions about Pre-Term, Orientation, and Core Curriculum, Class structure, Electives and related guidelines. The curriculum comparison offers great insights into comparable MBA programs in terms of flexibility of the curriculum at Haas. Haas’s emphasis on Entrepreneurship and Innovation provides enormous opportunities for students interested in this area and details of all such resources are given in a special section dedicated to this topic.
For an international applicant like me for whom visiting the campus does not seem a feasible option, the section on Life at Haas offers great insights into the Infrastructure at Haas, City life, Life in San Francisco and Housing options. Personally, I’ve found that getting information on these topics is generally difficult and hence the guide is an excellent resource for this.
Among other things, Clubs and Professional activities section details various interesting conferences and competitions that happen on the campus. The Careers section titled is simply awesome. It has every detail of the entire recruiting process – timelines, school guidelines to companies etc. From an applicant’s perspective, now I know what I have to look forward to if I happen to secure an admit at Haas.
The guide also contains detailed Admissions section covering every detail of the admissions process like application requirements and Financing the MBA. As a final value addition, the guide concludes with essay analysis for the essays for current application cycle and an interview with the Director of Admissions at the Haas School of Business.
Bottom-line: If you have just thought of an MBA and are falling short of time to research schools, just go for this. While most of the information in the guide is available across thousands of forums and blogs over the web, researching through all of this is a very cumbersome process. The guide does an excellent job in consolidating all the info at one place. Now, if you are in the advanced stages of business school research, the guide may still offer some great insights, especially in terms of comparison of key statistics across similar schools. Personally, I also feel that some sections offer very interesting insights into the program and its constituents which may build a base for further deeper research to understand these components. It should make a case for asking more meaningful and insightful questions to alumni/current students/admissions office rather than general questions.
Coming up next are my experiences from the Yale SOM Bangalore Info Session..Stay Connected..!!!

Saturday 22 September 2012

Book Review – MBA Admission for Smarties by Linda Abraham & Judy Gruen


I just finished this great MBA Admissions resource – a book by Linda Abraham (founder of accepted.com) called ‘MBA Admission for Smarties’. I was fortunate enough to have been given a complimentary copy of the book by Sarah (from accepted.com). Based on my own personal experience and the experiences about the MBA applications process of a couple of friends of mine, I can vouch that the book describes the MBA admissions process right from to-dos when one first thinks of an MBA to the moment he gets an acceptance letter from an MBA program through some concrete examples at every step.
The book starts with the importance of clear and objective goals when making the decision to do an MBA as the next career move. To quote from the book, “In their quest for an MBA, applicants must ask themselves two fundamental questions: (a) Do my career goals and personal preferences match the school’s curricular, extracurricular, and recruiting strengths? (b) Do my academic and professional qualifications compare favorably to the school’s recent class profiles”? The chapter then discusses similar issues about goals selection at length. This section is followed by discussion on the ‘Researching MBA programs’. What should go in business school research, how to find the right match of the business school and the right MBA program are just to name a few of the highlights from this section. The book simply explains almost everything about MBA admissions that an applicant has to face viz. importance of rankings, when to refer to them and when not to, work experience, how to project a work experience, projecting personal traits, how many programs to apply, when to apply to highly competitive and potentially competitive programs and many more. The best thing about the book is its objective approach to all the sections. There have been tips given on almost all sections in the book and these tips have been shown in action through sample essays, resumes, recommendation and anecdotes.
The second half of the book is dedicated to application process. Again, the book objectively defines the characteristics of great essays illustrated by examples, planning essays. I particularly liked the STAR approach to writing essays and the concept of ‘editing funnel’ to fine tune essays. This essay section also discusses at length, the approach to the common essay questions like Why MBA, Why Now, and Why XYZ School, Short and Long term goals essay, Failure essay, Leadership essay, Teamwork essay and other similar most common essays again through great sample essays. This is also one major take-away from this book because although these essays seem common but they need a very specific and calibrated approach while drafting them. The book has a dedicated section on writing Resumes which most of us applicants tend not to pay enough attention to. More importantly, I realized the difference between a Resume for a job application and a Resume for an MBA application. These two are entirely different pieces of a cake. The book has illustrated a couple of sample resumes which I feel can also be used as a template for writing my own resume for MBA application. Now comes the toughest part of MBA application – gathering great Letters of Recommendations. Based on my own research and knowledge about MBA application, I think this was my most important take-away from the book. First, a couple of sample LoRs have been given which again show how to guide my recommender in writing a great recommendation, especially when my recommender will be doing this for the first time without having an idea of what should go in an LoR and what not. In this section, a compilation of tips for recommenders have also been provided which I feel is of great significance if we hand it over to our recommenders. The section called ‘Preparing to Shine during Interviews’ is another asset in the book with key issues that one should take care during an interview and more importantly, while preparing for an interview. The last section on what to do after submitting an application provides some good tips for specific applicants like Older applicants, re-applicants, waitlisted applicants and so on.
The bottom line is that as an applicant, I knew most of the important issues and how to approach them. However, for gathering this amount of information, I have spent countless hours on my laptop reading through thousand of blog posts, forum posts, chat with current students and alumni to name a few. The best thing in my perspective about the book is its objective approach and the consolidation of everything about MBA applications in one book. Most importantly, the book does not guide you specifically on any one point or the other about the applications process. Instead, it gives a 360 degrees holistic view of the entire admissions process while highlighting the importance of each process and tips on handling each process. Just to illustrate, I think I have spent the past 2 months on researching MBA programs and application process but I still had takeaways from the book. So finally, ‘Recommendation on grabbing a copy’? – Well, I would say if you have just thought of an MBA, go for the book. You will know what it takes to get an Admit confirmation mail from a top MBA program and for that matter how to decided if that top ranked MBA program is a fit for you or not? If, however, you are in advanced stages of the application process, I would say it still deserves a read given the tips of LoR, Interviews and post-submission issues.
My experiences from the Yale School of Management (Yale SOM) - Bangalore Information Session coming up next. Stay Connected...!!!

Sunday 16 September 2012

NYU Stern School of Business - Bangalore Information Session


Hi Readers and my fellow applicants, here are the insights from NYU’s Stern School of Business Information session in Bangalore. The session was hosted at Infosys Technologies Ltd, which fortunately is right next to my company. The session was scheduled at 7 PM on 13-Sept and was hosted by Brian White, Assistant Director-MBA Admissions at the Stern School of Business.
Here's the first surprise from the info session. It has not been done at any of the business school info sessions that I've attended till now. The session started with a mini-Networking activity. Brian gave us 5 minutes and asked to meet 2-3 people and get to know each other. During this get-to-know event, we had to also find out 1 business challenge or scenario that his industry is facing. Trust me; it was truly a great exercise. After the activity ended, 2 of the participants from the gathering were asked to share the most interesting business challenge that they came to know about. It was a great start of the event. I could interact with 3 other participants and got their contacts. Hope this will help me in my applications process. It truly helps when 2 people are in the same boat.
The formal presentation then started with the words “The Power of Possible”. Stern School of Business believes in the power of possible. They challenge students at every stage. Brian told us that the culture of Stern is not to follow status-quo but to challenge every aspect of it. Stern makes this “Power of Possible” happen through its 4 core values.
Academic Excellence: Stern has over 300 renowned faculties some of whom are former business leaders. Some of the faculties are current practitioners too. They bring real business learning to the classroom and that is indeed a great thing to have in classroom, in my opinion. Stern offers more that 20 specializations. Students at Stern can also take up to 25% of their classes at one of the various school of New York University other than the business school. To apply the classroom learning, Stern has this program called Stern Consulting Core where Stern students do consulting projects for small businesses and non-profits in New York. Stern also offers global study opportunities in various forms. There are exchange programs where one can go to a foreign university for a semester. If one semester is too long, there is this DBI (Doing Business In) program wherein a group of students travel to different country for a 1-2 week assignment.
New York City: Now, this is one aspect that really matters big time. They say it as ‘The Energy of a Global Hub’ and I truly believe in this. New York City offers numerous opportunities. To engage the Stern students outside the classroom, there is a dedicated Student Engagement Office. There is also this Boards Fellow Program where a student can become the Board-member of a non-profit and get to understand what it means to be a board-member. The alumni network is over 100,000 strong and spread all over. When Brian was asked about Entrepreneurship at Stern and in New York, Brian told us that Entrepreneurship is coming up fast in New York City.
Collaborative Community: Brian gave us a snap-shot of the collaborative community at the business school. He shared instance like a student coming out of the interview room told others waiting outside the questions that he was asked during the interview.
The presentation finally turned to Admissions. There were general and lengthy discussions about the admissions process and requirements and hence I’m only writing the major takeaways from the discussions. At Stern, he application is seen in the light of IQ + EQ i.e. stellar academics are not enough to secure an admit at Stern. The application is evaluated on three categories without any weight to any category. The categories are Academics, Professional and Personal. Transcripts can be self-reported and the originals are required only at the time of interview. TOEFL is not required of the medium of instruction during the undergrad was English. Stern asks for 2 recommendations (preferably professional). However, more than 2 recommendations can also be submitted, if an applicant wishes so. Brian advised us to talk to our recommenders well in advance since the recommendations given during the last minutes were usually not the best ones in his experience. There were some discussions on the Essays too. Essay 1 in essence asks for short and medium term goals while Essay 2 asks for long term goals. For Essay 2, Brian told us that it was not necessary to say something like ‘this is exactly what I want to do’. One must have a broad idea of what he wants to do post-MBA. Brian told us that everyone is interviewed before being offered an admit and hence interview waivers are out of question. It appeared that Stern interviews are not blind interviews and the interviewer has read all the application before interviewing. The good news is that Stern conducts interviews world-wide and fortunately there is a interview conducted in India too, preferably Mumbai. As far as application deadlines are concerned, the deadlines are there but essentially Stern admissions are a rolling admissions process and deadlines are only to highlight the notification dates. Brian informed that there is a preference for scholarships if one applies by the first deadline. The scholarships can be up to full fee waiver. All the scholarships are merit based and determined on the basis of Academics and Professional achievements. Stern also offers US co-signor free loans. A good news for Indian applicants – Stern has partnered with HSBC to offer loans to Indian applicants.
The formal presentation thus ended and I had to leave the venue due to some other engagement. There was one more surprise in the store for the participants. Brian asked us to write our names on an info card and collected them from all the participants. He then picked 3 names from the pack and offered Applications Fee waiver for the current application season. Now that was really a great gesture from the business school.
So that was all about my Stern experience. I’ve got some contacts of a couple of fellow applicants. Hope you found the above info useful. For more, Stay Connected…!!!

Sunday 9 September 2012

Business School Selection Criteria for International MBA - Part 2/2

As promised in my last post, here are the remaining criteria which I think must go into Business school selection.

4. Teaching Methodologies

Now this is one more important thing that I feel can impact our learning. Although I have come to understand that much of the learning in a business school happens through peers but for whatever part that happens in the classroom, the teaching methodology will definitely play a significant role in grasping the fundamentals of some courses. Most popularly, there are two types of teaching methods viz. Case Based Approach and the Lecture based approach. These days, some business school believe that not one approach is suited for everything and hence depending on the course content, business schools are combining courses with a mix of cases, lectures and group discussions. Let us consider the values of each approach. While the case approach is best suited for learning the real-world applications of the concepts first hand, it might be sometimes not very suitable to courses which a student might not have any background about. In my opinion, case approach is best suited when a student has some background into the course content and then he learns to use those concepts to solve real problems. The theoretical lecture based teaching will help learn the fundamentals but only in a theoretical sense, there will be limited opportunities to see the concepts being applied to real world problems. Thus while selecting a business school, an applicant must gauge his best learning methodology based on past experience and knowledge about business fundamentals.
Information about teaching methods is usually available on the Curriculum section of the business school’s website.
5.  Student Culture – Collaborative vs. Competitive

This is again one of the major factors that must go into the decision making process while selecting a business school. As an alumnus once told me, the business concepts remain the same everywhere, Accounting will be accounting in every b-school but what differs from school to school is the culture of the school. Every business school has its distinct signature of the student culture. One has to find his fit within the student community. This fit is very important as it appears every time during discussions if business school selection. Business schools have either competitive or collaborative student culture. Even within these two broad categories, there is a lot of distinction and focus across schools. Unfortunately, getting to know about the student culture of the business school becomes the toughest job in business school research. A fit into the culture of the school helps to realize the true potential of the MBA program.
The best way to learn about culture of the school is to visit the school. However, this might not be possible for every applicant and hence as applicants, we must talk to current students/alumni at the business school. The online discussion forums are a great tool to connect to current students. A lot of current students from various schools have started discussion threads which are usually like “XYZ business school – Current Students taking question”.

6. Career Center, Recruitment, Work Visa Policies, Desired Companies.

One goes to business school with a desire to finally end up in his desired function/industry/company. Hence, as applicants we must understand the resources provided by the concerned Career Management Center in helping through the recruiting process. I am making it a point specifically for us Indian applicants who are used to the normal college (read guaranteed) placements. The job hunt in US or for that matter anywhere else in the world is entirely different. The student has to do a lot of networking before he gets shortlisted for the interview. Networking drives a lot of recruiting. The thing to look out here is how active and responsive is the career management centre towards the students’ requirements. In my research, unfortunately, I have come to understand that not every Career Management Centre is same and hence a lot of research is necessary in this direction.
Information on this can be availed only by talking to current students at various schools and then one has to make his own conclusions based on the conversation.
Apart from the Career Management Centre consideration, a prospective applicant must also know if his desired dream companies come to the campus for interviews. More so, the number of candidates being hired by one’s dream companies from a particular campus must be seen for. Almost all big firms go to many campuses but recruit in different quantum. One should look out for the business school where the desired dream company recruits big time.
The school employment statistics are a great resource to learn this aspect about the business school.
One other aspect of selecting business school based on this criterion is the Work Visa policies of the respective country. Obviously, this should be a part of the “Location” criteria pointed above but I’ve deliberately put it here as it is more relevant to career/recruiting post-MBA. As pointed above, the location where one wants to work post-MBA is a significant parameter for business school selection as the recruiting process is often more local. In this connection, a prospective applicant must be aware of the ground realities regarding the post-MBA work VISA issues. It is easier to get work VISA in some countries than others. In some countries it is really difficult to get work permits these days. In such situations, one’s dream company might be reluctant to hire international candidates.
Be an informed citizen to learn more about this. Talking to current students also helps in understand the recruiting of international candidates at the business school.

7. Alumni Network

Alumni network will be of special significance considering the fact that a strong alumni network which is tightly associated to business school goes a long way in networking for career and recruiting. A strong alumni presence in a region of industry helps is opening doors that might not be easy to get in otherwise. During my business school research, I’ve come across instances where a strong alumni network has helped new admits secure a pre-MBA internship. Now this is something which can’t be ignored. Moreover, if you are an international student like me and planning to return to your home country in the short to medium term then you must consider this aspect more strongly. Especially, we must look at the alumni presence from the business school in our home country. This will be very important in re-locating back.
When I talk of strong alumni network, it does not necessarily mean a very large alumni base. It essentially means who tightly knit are the alumni to the business school. A very large alumni base without significant engagement with the business school should be less relevant to even a small alumni base but a tightly knit one. I’ve talked to a couple of current students from some top business schools where they expressed that had it not been to the alumni, they would never have got that interview in the first place.
Now, the only way to learn about alumni network is to talk to alumni and preferably current students. Ask them to share their experience where they have contacted an alumnus for something and the response of the alumnus thereafter. Try to learn the activities and efforts the business school makes to engage with the alumni.

8. Co-signor Free Loans

This could be of a real BIG concern to applicants like me who don’t come from a financially good background to bear the almost around $ 200,000 for the international MBA program. If you are wondering if the above amount is true, just check the website of any business school. The total cost of attending the class (i.e. Tuitions and Living Expenses) comes to around $ 80,000 - $ 90,000 per year. Here comes the need for Bank Education Loans. Unfortunately, in India (and I suppose this is true for any other developing country) the maximum amount of education loan that one can borrow is Rs. 20 Lakhs (i.e. $ 40,000). Hence, for applicants like me, we need international student loans from banks in the U.S/Europe or other country where the business school is located. The hard fact about international student loans in the U.S is that they need a U.S Co-signor for giving the loan and the co-signor must have a credit history in the U.S. Now, for an applicant like me who has no connection to the U.S, it will be really difficult to finance the MBA program. Here come the Co-signor Free loans being offered by some business schools. Actually, in this case, the university/business school becomes the co-signor for the loan and hence the student does not have to look for a co-signor. Unfortunately, not every business school offers this but most of the top business schools offer co-signor free student loans.
Information on co-signor free loans is usually available in the Fee and Financial Aid section of the respective business school’s website. However, these policies keep on changing depending on the market scenario. Hence, it is not a bad idea to drop a line to the admissions office to check of the co-signor free loan program is being offered or not!
And last but not the least..!!!

9. Brand Name

Finally, I would say that Brand name does matter a lot. It can open doors which are normally always closed to people from elsewhere. The brand name helps to get connect to people at very senior positions in the industry. Some alumni have shared their experience of how they could connect and get an appointment with CEOs of MNCs by flashing their business school brand name. So it matters and matters a lot. This brand name can be of much more significant value if you are an international applicant and want to come back to your home country post-MBA. Consider the Brand recall of the business school in your home country. This will be very important to get your desired career once you re-locate back.
Talk to your contacts in the industry and get to know the brand reputation of the business school in their industry.
I’ve myself used the above criterion to shortlist an initial list of business schools. I’ve to do further deeper research again based on the above criterion to decide on the final list of business schools where I will apply. Next up is my roadmap to MBA admissions that I’ve prepared for myself. To know more…Stay Connected..!!!





Monday 3 September 2012

Business School Selection Criteria for International MBA - Part 1/2

Hi Readers and my fellow Applicants,

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been researching and reading about International MBA admissions. One thing that has clearly come up is that an admission to top MBA programs is all about FIT. As an applicant, one must look at his priorities, his career goals among other things that should become the guide for business school selection. This business school is a very important decision considering the unquestionable fact that each international MBA program has its own signature and has something unique to offer. Moreover, in most of the cases, MBA becomes the last formal education in one’s career and is also almost the last chance to make a significant career change. Hence, one should have a clear understanding of one’s expectations from the MBA program and choose the business school that fits them. From the research that I’ve done until now, here are a few parameters that one should consider in his business school selection, as per my opinion. These criteria are from the perspective of an International Applicant and hence some points may not be applicable for non- international/domestic applicants, although this is purely my personal opinion.
Now, I'm kind of short of time and hence I am going to break this topic into 2 parts. I think that there are possibly 9 important criteria that we must use to select a business schools. I am dividing my post into 2 parts with discussing the importance of 3 criteria in this first post. Hope you find it useful.

         Program Duration
Here, the choice boils down to choosing between European and US business schools. European MBA programs are typically of 1 year whereas US MBA programs are typically 2 year programs. There are obviously 1 year executive MBA programs in US business schools as well but my focus here is on Full-Time Regular MBA programs. The opportunity cost of being out of full time work is definitely a factor which should be considered while choosing program duration. In my personal belief, people with NO business background are more suited to 2 year programs. People who have worked in business areas and have a business exposure may consider 1 year programs. Moreover, 1 year programs don’t normally have an option to do an internship which might be not be a good thing for somebody thinking of changing careers post-MBA. Internships offer a good platform to know about the industry/company first-hand and hence one gets to know his fit with the industry/company before taking a full-time offer. This becomes especially important considering the fact that MBA, in most cases, will be the last formal education and also, to some extent, a last chance to change careers.
Program duration information is available on the website of respective business schools.

 
         Desired Career Focus
What do you want to do post-MBA? This is the most important question that an applicant must ask while selecting a business school. Different business schools have different strengths. When deciding about pursuing an MBA, one must have a clear understanding of what he wants to do in his professional career. This helps a lot both in securing an admit to desired MBA program and recruiting. Having a Plan B also matters a lot here. We applicants must look out for business schools where our career goals will best be fulfilled.
Caution: As I had described in one of my previous posts, I had talked to an alumni and he suggested that business school is such a dynamic place that student experiences many things on campus. During the numerous networking and other activities, some students normally realize that they want to do something else, other than what they had earlier planned to do in their career. In such situations, it is better to go to a business schools which is generally strong areas. In my opinion, one cannot be sure of all the things in ones’ life. Here comes the Plan B. We should choose a business school where both the Plan A and Plan B should work out nicely.
For information regarding this, in my belief, applicants must look for the Employment Statistics, find out if the Student Club of desired career focus is available and more importantly how active is it? An active student club in the desired career focus is a good signal of the student community’s focus in the area. Read through online forums, there is tons of info out there. Talk to alumni and current students. Do career informational interviews with people in the industry to understand a career option.

 
         Location (Connectivity, Business Hub)
During my personal research, location has come up as one of the most important business school selection criteria. Some have even gone as far as to say that business school is all about Location, Location and Location. Location is useful in 2 senses: (i) where is the school located and (ii) where do you want to work in future post-MBA. The first point i.e. the school location is especially critical to International students. I say this because, International students might not have the network that resident student might already have. Networking is a very very important aspect of recruiting at international business schools and hence, in my opinion, if you are in the middle of nowhere, you might have to travel every now and then to attend a networking event in a relatively distant city. This apart from increasing the expenses, may significantly affect your On-campus MBA experience. Just in case, at least be sure to go to a place which is well connected to everywhere else. My second point above regarding the location where one wants to work is connected to the first point too. In my research, I’ve found that except for few industries, the hiring is more or less local and hence the region where you want to work comes to play a very important role in business school selection.
Most business schools put information about their city of location on their website. Research more via Google. Discussion forums on various websites might be useful here.

That will be all for this post. Coming up next are the remaining 6 more important criteria for business school selection. Stay Connected..!!!