SgHama's MBA Dream

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

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...


Blogger Mave said...

Wonderful post! Very well written.

Since you intend to go the MC way, have you considered INSEAD? They have a Singapore campus and an exchange program with Wharton plus an access to their career services.

5/20/2005 10:52 PM  
Blogger Forrest Gump said...

nice post...
i had thought that Columbia offers loans ... which doesnt seem to be the case

anyway - stanford analysis was a little depressing...but guess that truth is the truth....

5/21/2005 12:34 PM  
Blogger sghama said...


I did consider INSEAD. In fact it was actually the only school I was going to apply to because of everything it has going for it - lower cost overall (tuition for only 1 year, can save some money staying in Singapore for half a year), lower opportunity cost (only lose out on 1 year's salary), established recruiting program for MC, truly international compared to US schools.

BUT... 1) INSEAD used to have a guaranteed full loan program - not anymore. 2) Because everything is crammed in 1 year, I think that the exposure to other career options and opportunities might be limited.

Having said that though, INSEAD is still in my radar and I will apply for the Jan 07 intake (March 06 deadline for R1) if I don't have a place in any of my main target schools.

5/21/2005 5:48 PM  
Blogger sghama said...


Columbia used to offer loans without a US co-signer. They changed their policy a few years ago together with several other schools, at least that's what Linda Meehan mentioned at the infosession I attended a couple years ago.

They still offer loans for international students, but these are guaranteed loans that require a co-signer.

Are you thinking of applying to Stanford? Don't let my comments discourage you - it's merely an assessment with regards to my background and skills. You might have a much more competitive profile!

5/21/2005 5:55 PM  
Blogger Atta Girl said...

A few months back, I had spoken to a couple of Harvard Students - I was told that while basic format remains 'cases', many times for a better understanding of the subject the profs do mix-match teaching styles (lecture format).

Even I never chose a so called safety school. For me such a concept doesn't exist. The ground rule is 'You want best of education, a great environment, fulfilment of your goals and an experience to cherish for a lifetime --> so choose a set of schools where you see yourself getting that.

Good Luck!

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