SgHama's MBA Dream

After 2 years of what if's and worrying about the finances... class of 2008 here I come!

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Mind block

Over the weekend, I decided to really do something about my essays and tried to do some serious brainstorming. All the MBA books I've read so far have some form of organizing worksheet/tool to help you get started. e.g. Your MBA Gameplan has an activities grid to fill out, and Montauk's book has a list of questions in the Personal Organizer section. Clear Admit also has a questionnaire that they require all their clients to fill out.

Wait, what happened to the MBA gamplan website??? I wanted to create a link to the site but it's been replaced with some Veritas GMAT test prep page????? C'mon guys.... the original was 100 times better and actually quite useful, with sample essays and comments. Please bring it back!!

Anyway, back to the brainstorming. I'd already given some thought to career goals, why MBA, why now type issues. But how could I package it nicely and flesh it out with examples and insights that would bring out the real me behind my resume? I went straight to what I felt were the more challenging areas to answer in each of the "organizers". First up was the "Personal Questions" section of Montauk's list:

  • Who are the four or five people who have most influenced you? (who and how?)
  • What are the four or five things you most admire in others? (in whom and why?)
  • What are your four or five most memorable experiences, whether great or small?
  • What was your greatest success, and what did you learn from it?
  • What was your greatest failure, and what did you learn from it?
  • What fear have you overcome? (how, why?)
  • What do your friends most like (and dislike) about you?
  • What are the four or five (or more) key words that would describe you? What on your list demonstrates this?
  • Do you have a personal motto or something that you frequently quote?

??? I ran right into a mental roadblock. I'd never really considered such questions before and trying to list down the 5 most influential people in my life or what I admire most in others were insanely difficult. I think I finally understand how the whole MBA application process can be a period of intense introspection and a learning experience in itself.

I never made it past the first question and ended up watching the NBA playoffs instead. Will have to come back to this again, but I need to do some deep thinking first. I have the feeling it will be easier once I get the ball rolling. The first step is the key to it all!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Thrilla in Manila

So it finally happened. I flew to Manila on Sunday night and will be here till June 8. They've put me up at this place called Oakwood Premier and I lucked out with a really sweet studio. This apartment is fully maxed out - dvd player, stereo, fully equipped kitchen, and even a washing machine and dryer in the room!! Plus most people are friendly and helpful.

But as usual good things don't last for long. The cheapo running the engagement asked the project administrator to get me some place less expensive, so this super efficient lady went and found me a cheaper apartment. You have to admire the single-mindedness of these people - cost cutting was the number one priority and that's what she did alright. Well, apparently the Philippines is pretty high risk and even the client was uncomfortable about the new location so they sent their security guy to check the place out - the report will be out soon and then we'll see if I have to move there.

Anyway, I had to see the place for myself so last night I walked over to check out the apartment in question. And as luck would have it, I ran into the bane of all tourists in developing countries: crooked cops.

I was "forced" to jaywalk across one of the roads (the underpass was under renovations so couldn't use it) only to find a fence between the road and sidewalk on the other side! I had no choice but to keep walking on the road itself. And what do you know (I should've seen it coming), a jeep with 5 cops in it pulled up. You can't walk on the road... blah blah blah... you've broken the law... blah blah blah... let me see your ID.

Wait... hold up. There was no way I was going to show my ID to these guys - the circumstances were just too dodgy. I mean, so I was walking on the road instead of the pavement. Big deal - didn't they have better things to do than hassle me on the street??? Remember there were 5 of them! I apologized and told them I would move onto the sidewalk (I was prepared to jump over the fence if I had to), but predictably they wouldn't leave it at that. So I told them my passport was in the apartment and i didn't have any ID on me, so could they please let me go? Of course they wouldn't.

Blah blah blah... You need to pay a fine of 1000 pesos! WTF??? No way Jose I saw that coming a mile away. I told them upfront I wasn't comfortable with the procedure, I wanted to go to the nearest hotel and make a call back to my apartment so that they knew what was happening. No no no, why do you need to call your hotel? Well then let me go back to Oakwood, get my passport and show it to you, and at the same time check with the reception. No no no, we'll have to take you back to the station, to the prison. Blah blah blah...

Finally after a good 15 minutes, I guess they could see that I wasn't going to cave in and one of the cops came over and told me they'd let it go this time. Phew. My first encounter and if I'm going to be here till August, probably not my last. Nice to know corruption is alive and kicking here in good ol' Manila.

[Edit: Looking back I guess I was pretty lucky to have gotten out of it without a scratch. Next time I'll try not to be such a pain in the ass and will probably just pay up - don't want to end up in the wrong part of town at the wrong time.]

Friday, May 20, 2005

Target schools

I never really explained my school choices, so here's the obligatory post. There were 4 main criteria I used in narrowing down my target list:

1. Financial Aid - Because of my limited finances, the school must have a program to guarantee 100% loans without a US co-signer. This is by far the most important criteria, and automatically ruled out a couple of schools I was really interested in before I ran into this snag.

2. Top recruiting companies - The school should be a target school for the main strategy consulting firms. The big 3, M/B/B, should recruit on campus, or be among the top hirers of graduates. Other consulting firms should also instantly recognize the school and count it among their "in" lists.

3. Brand (and rankings) - Having attended an undergrad institution that is pretty well regarded in the US, but isn't as well known in Asia, I've found that doors do not open as easily here as they would in the US. In general, people here seem to only recognize Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and MIT. Most other schools tend to draw a blank or are considered of a lesser pedigree. Cornell... hmm don't they make pots and pans? Columbia - oh yeah... the sportswear guys? Jokes aside, I believe that only a few schools have the coveted halo-effect that makes employers think twice about throwing your resume into the ding pile. Never underestimate the value of brand recognition, especially in your home country!

4. Environment - I would like to attend a school where I would enjoy being a part of for 2 years. It also needs to be spouse-friendly since I plan to bring my wife-to-be with me and I wouldn't want her to feel bored/neglected/left out while she's there. I believe this will come with a close-knit environment that almost always comes with a small class size and team-oriented culture. Other pluses would be non grade disclosure (takes out cutthroat competition), intellectually stimulating lectures/discussions, and diverse student body.

Criteria 1 immediately narrowed my list of options down to the following 9 schools: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT Sloan, Kellogg, Tuck, Chicago, Duke, and Michigan. This was unfortunate because I'd previously attended info sessions for Columbia and Berkeley and was really keen on both schools. In addition to having top notch programs, both schools are situated in awesome locations, and tuition costs at Berkeley are significantly lower than for other top 10 MBA programs.

But such is life. Criteria 2 further excluded Duke and Michigan from my list but I knew that I would have a decent chance of getting into any consulting firm graduating from either one of the remaining 7. So that left me with Criteria 3 and 4. This turned out to be less straightforward and I had to do some homework on each of the remaining schools.

Pros: Unparalleled brand recognition - Everybody knows Harvard, even in the Gobi Desert. Breeding ground for managment consultants and the case method preps you really well for a career in consulting. Non-grade disclosure policy. Boston. High powered alums.
Cons: Almost 0% chance of acceptance. Younger class. Huge class of 900. All classes taught using case method - while I think it's a great learning model, I still feel that lectures work best for certain classes.

Pros: Phenomenal brand. San Francisco & Silicon Valley. Great entrepreneurship track (even though slightly off the official career goals, still have some dreams from the dot com days). Relatively small class with ~370 students. Close knit community. Non-grade disclosure policy. High powered alums.
Cons: Younger class. From what I know, you need to have an amazing life story coupled with fabulous EC's to get in. Nearly impossible for me. 4,696 apps for 371 places doesn't help either.

Another super brand rounding off the top 3. Not as "known" in Asia compared to H and S, but is definitely top notch in the eyes of those who need to know. Great overall program, especially in finance. Plethora of activities, classes, and concentrations. Non-grade disclosure policy. Good international mix. High powered alums.
Cons: At 825 students class size is huge, although students are grouped into cohorts of about 60-70 during the first year. Highly selective (21% for the class of '06), although it somehow seems more reachable than H or S (but not by much). Philadelphia.

Superb brand recognition in Asia - not necessarily in business, but the community's fabled brainpower just commands huge respect. Wide net of alums (again leveraging off the greater MIT network, not just Sloan's). Relatively small class with 375 students. Diverse international community. Boston.
Cons: Focus on quant - even though I majored in engineering I'm not a great numbers guy. Certainly nowhere close to all the Indian and Chinese math wizards. High proportion of engineers, low proportion of marketing and general management people.

Renowned marketing program. Chicago. One of the main target schools for management consulting firms.
Cons: Medium sized class of ~500 students. Kellogg name not as established in Asia.

Finance powerhouse with largest number of Nobel laureates on faculty. Most flexible curriculum with only one required class (LEAD). Chicago. Strong brand recognition in Singapore due to local campus (executive MBA). Non-grade disclosure policy.
Cons: Medium sized class of ~525 students. High proportion of finance and quant jocks.

General management program with solid core foundation. Close knit community. Incredible alumni network. Hanover - a chance (probably one and only) to experience the small town lifestyle. Small class size of only 240 students also ensures access to recruiters on campus.
Cons: Tuck brand relatively unknown in Asia. Hanover - it's at least a couple hours away from the nearest big city.

The Verdict:
I originally went with Stanford and Tuck (small class sizes, great programs, I knew I couldn't go wrong). Then self-doubt crept in - only 2 schools and both highly selective to boot? What if I don't make it? So I added Wharton and Chicago, not that they are any easier to get into, but including them made the numbers game slightly better. And that was where things stood when I started this blog.

(Side note: Harvard was never really in the picture because it somehow seemed beyond reach, Sloan was too quant focused for me, and Kellogg, well, it was a toss up between Kellogg and Chicago and Chicago won because of its location and better brand recognition in Singapore. I also think that subconsciously I discriminated against schools with websites I didn't like, and the Kellogg website just didn't appeal to me.)

The more I researched about Stanford though, the less confident I became about being able to put together a compelling application versus the rest of the applicant pool. And I didn't like the odds - so I acknowledged my limitations and moved on. I've decided to drop Stanford (even though it was essentially my dream school), and focus on a more realistic target like MIT Sloan. I figure my profile has a better fit with Sloan and hopefully I will stand out from the hordes of applicants coming from engineering and IT. Maybe if I have time I'll send an application to Stanford anyway, but only if.

So the final 4 (for now) are:
  • Wharton
  • Chicago
  • Tuck
  • Sloan

You will probably notice that I don't have any safety schools, and so there's a high probability that come next fall I will still be in Singapore, not going anywhere. To me, taking on the huge debt is only worth the risk if I can attend a school that will help me reach my career goals. It's either top 10 or nothing.

I know that if I do get admitted to all my target schools, I will probably go to Wharton. My heart leans towards Tuck (I know it's the one place where I will truly enjoy my two years), but my head tells me to go to the highest ranked school possible. But that again is a moot point if I don't get into any school. So enough daydreaming and back to the applications...

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Blogs and forums

My eyes are blurry and seeing stars. Just went through 5 hours of binge MBA blog reading. My trip to the Phils has been postponed by a week so just hanging out at home trying to take in the whole application process again by the guys that just went through it.

Notable reads (today):

Tagad_Tale - I pretty much went through the whole blog to find out what Tuck is like. Reaffirms the whole close-knit community with awesome bust-a-nut-to-help-you alumnis. Nice!

Chanakya - Another source for Tuck information. Well not that much, but he's going to Tuck this fall. cynical and funny. I like his style. too bad he hasn't been active recently.

Iceman07 - Going to Wharton this fall. Although I didn't get to really go through the blog (reached here late and i can't look at the computer screen for much longer), got a feeling there's good stuff here about the wharton application process. Will have to come back again and spend some time reading.

I used to spend a lot of time in the BW/S2S forums, but I'm finding them pretty low in quality content compared to blogs where you can find much more candid information and get immersed in someone's story. There's a limit to how many posts you can read by people thinking that the all-knowing forum community can accurately assess their chances of getting into H/S/W after putting up some GMAT/GPA stats and some other job related numbers. So you got a 770 GMAT and 3.8 GPA with 4 years in P/E. Do you really need someone to tell you, "Based on your stats, I think you got a good shot at H/W/S... blah blah blah"??? You know your numbers are within/above the range of your target schools. Get on the clue train already and start working on your essays!! Sheeeeeet.

Ok, I can't ignore the forums completely, but I think I'll spend less time on them from now onwards. I also discovered Bloglines which lets you get feeds from the blogs you're interested in following. Saves me the hassle of having to go to each and every blog individually. I know, i'm a little behind on the tools available. 2 months ago I didn't even know what a blog was.

Alright i'm seeing double now. later.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Good luck to the waitlisters

Browsing through the BW forums these days, I find an abundance of posts from people on the waitlists for their preferred schools. Poor guys, I can imagine the conflicting feelings they're probably experiencing now (having gone through the same many years back when I was doing my college apps). Disappointed yet hopeful, not knowing yet what the next few days or weeks might bring. The whole waiting period all over again, extended for who knows how long. And some with admits to make decisions on soon.

Yet at the same time it must be comforting to have forums and a community to share their anxiety and hopes with as they wait out the next few weeks. At least they know they're not alone, at least they can speculate on their chances with fellow WL'ers, or find whatever nuggets of new information they can online.

Don't give up hope guys, there's a ton of tips out there to boost your chances on the WL. And no matter what, keep praying. Hope you make it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

bad news

it's been 95% confirmed. i'm going to manila on sunday. flyback only every 2 weeks, if at all. and only on sat, and then back on the plane sunday afternoon. everything is so damn uncertain now.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Here I am at one of the Internet workstations in Changi Airport waiting for my flight to Bangkok, Thailand. My first vacation in over a year! Will be back from the Land of Smiles in 4 days - I think it's going to be mostly a shopping trip.

Borrowed the MBA Gameplan book to read during the flight. More to come later...