Saturday, September 30, 2006

I actually hit the SUBMIT button!

I just submitted Kellogg Part 1. I checked and rechecked and rechecked my data form endlessly. I could not get myself to submit my essays first, so I picked Kellogg part 1 as a rehearsal to submitting the entire application for other schools. If I obsess so much before submitting a data form, I don't know what I will do with my essays. I foresee uploading and deleting my essays a zillion times before I hit submit for each school :-(

My roomie is flying to the US on a long term assignment next weekend. So I'm gonna be doing large scale shopping with her this weekend. I think she's gonna shop for a few months or a year. I hate long hours of shopping :-(

Ok she just called me and I'm off to a shopping spree right now. Ciao!

Friday, September 29, 2006

What a gratifying feeling!

I got my Wharton essays read by a Wharton alumni who is much older than me. And guess what! He really liked them a lot!

This is particularly important to me because so far all my readers were pretty young (except my uncle), or they are applicants themselves, or they just know me well. This Wharton alum is quite senior and has different expectations, so the fact that he likes my essays is a good validation of how appealing my essays are to different types of readers. I know this is no guarantee that the adcom is going to like them, nevertheless I feel a wee bit more confident about hitting the submit button.

Another nice update- I got a 300 on my TOEFL.

I have a long weekend coming up, I have Monday off and Wednesday's off too. I think I will be submitting HBS, Wharton, Chicago applications and Kellogg Part 1 by Wednesday. I would rather submit on holidays than after a long day at work. That will change my schedule a little, for the better though.

Right now I'm brain-dead, my eyes are refusing to stay open. So zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz......

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Kellogg Essays- A round of celebration ends!

Kellogg- A great mix of conventional and fun essays

What I like most about the Kellogg essays is their word limits or lack thereof. Another thing I really like about Kellogg is the mix of topics for the short essays. If the first essay is too cramped for space you can use the "significant leadership experiences" essay or the "how did you persuade people" essay to elaborate your professional achievements that you could not fit into essay 1. If you find that essay 1 covers your professional life adequately, then these essays will work really well for talking about some important extracurricular activities too. And there is always the "Outside of work I..." essay for extracurricular activities/ interests/ hobbies. This essay is a real boon, I have not found so much space to focus on my interests in any of the other schools' essays.

Frankly, I was really glad that the ethical issue essay is optional. I guess that says all that I feel about that essay. The open ended nature of "I wish the admissions committee had asked me..." is really cool. This is a great chance to discuss some aspect that does not fit into any of the usual B-School questions. It could be about a unique experience, your ancestory, how you overcame a traumatic problem. Or it could double up to do the job of an optional essay to explain a gaps in workex, poor grades/GMAT etc.

The "uniqueness" essay is also pretty open ended. You can choose from background, values, academics, activities, leadership skills. This essay can be used to discuss a couple of specific incidents or a general overview of your life in a different country or a mix of incidents from various realms of life. The liberal 2 page word limit will allow you to do all this and more if used judiciously.

It's important to remember that essays are supposed to be double spaced. So the 2 page essays can be about 1000 words each and the shorter ones 400-500 words each. I guess the lack of word limits is in a way illusory, but the good thing is I did not keep checking the word count after completing each line of my essays. So the illusion does make for a peaceful writing experience :D

Another important thing about Kellogg is the emphasis placed by the school on "team work, collaboration, community experience, cooperation, collective learning experience...". Although the school does not explicitly ask you to demonstrate team skills, I'm sure it's one quintessential quality they look for in your application. So make sure to weave in stories that highlight what a good team player you are!

Update on my applications:
  • Harvard and Wharton essays are in final form (hopefully), apps are filled and ready to be submitted. Yippie!
  • Chicago's long essays are ready
  • 2 Page resume is ready. Thankfully I can submit the same one for all schools. None of them specify a one page resume
Target for October 2nd (End of long weekend):
  • Have Chicago and Kellogg app also ready to submit. That will make 4 schools complete.
  • Remaining recommendations submitted/ready to submit, have to nudge the recommenders to action :-)
  • Submit Kellogg part 1 (Am waiting for my damned TOEFL score to reach me. Grrrr)
Also check out: My take on Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Chicago essays.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Ultra Cool Chicago Essays

Chicago- up close and personal, every question has a hundred answers...

Let me begin with Chicago's 100 word essays. At first sight they seem really easy and you might even wonder how they actually fit into the typical B-School admissions criteria. But think again! These are the most personal questions I've seen. Of course Stanford has a personal question too, but it does not explicitly ask you to get personal, you can choose something not too personal. These essays are different. For example, one essay asks you about a little known part of you. Now most of our traits, most events in our lives are public or they are too personal to talk about. This question calls for a lot of judgement. You obviously cannot talk about, say, the worst breakup you've had or your secret crush :D. This essay is a great opportunity to discuss something that is not directly evident in the rest of your application, some great characteristic that you could not bring out due to lack of space maybe, or a very traumatic situation you faced in your childhood, basically something that is little known for a good reason.

Recommending a book/play/movie to the adcom- this is my favorite question. It shows that they are really interested in getting to know what attracts you, what stimulates your emotions, what kind of person you are. This question will or should give the reader some insight into the way you think and your outlook in life. It's not enough to write up a review/critique here, it's very important to say why this book/play/movie is ingrained your mind, what is in it that made a difference big enough to make it the best book you've ever read.

What value will you add to your study group? This question is a bonus. While answering "Why Chicago", you will ideally write numerous ways in which you will contribute to the school. Now you can concentrate only on extracurriculars and other non-academic contributions while answering "Why Chicago". Your academic contributions can be moved into this essay. You could weave your superior mathematical skills, sharp analytical skills, innovative ideas, out of the box thinking etc. etc. into this essay; 100 words is a lot to do that!

Coming to essay 2, here again Chicago gives you a great opportunity to talk about some issue you are very passionate about. Say you live in a underdeveloped country, I'm sure you would have seen enough to talk about. Or if you work in the non-profit sector, your work will expose you to many such issues. But pick this question only if you have very good evidence to support why you think it is a pressing issue. And because they call it an editorial, I'm not too sure if you can talk about personal experiences here.

I found the question about your colleague's view of you very refreshing. If you are smart you can actually lead the reader to see exactly what you intend him/her to. You can even ask your colleague who spends most of the work day with you to describe you using a list of adjectives and work them into your essay. Or you could ask your colleague to tell you his/her first impression about you and create a story around it- something like "this is the effect I have on people". Or you could use this essay to supplement your career progress by quoting a couple of incidents from the professional realm.

Coming to the all-in-one essay that asks you write pretty much an autobigraphy in a mere 1500 words. Here also they've got pretty philosophical and asked you to describe "the path" that led you to pursue an MBA. You can't obviously leave your career completely out of this essay- Fat Chance, but you can minimize describing what you did in your career. I say this because Chicago apparently has a detailed resume, at least it did last year, I'm yet to check this year's application. Assuming they have it this year also, you can push most of the "What you did" to the resume and actually describe a series of incidents in your life (both professional and non-professional) that have influenced you to seek an MBA. Next they want to know what or who influenced you to apply to Chicago, I guess this is to see what kind of research people do before they decide where to apply. They also have a "Who?" element to this question. You could discuss a role model who is a Chicago alum, the students you met during the school visit, at the info sessions, through discussion forums. It's a good chance to rave about the GSB Community and how well you fit in :-). The remaining parts of this essay address the usual career goals and "Why Chicago".

On the whole, most of your typical MBA essay responses will go into essay 1. The other essays offer hell a lot of leeway for creativity and humor. I had fun writing them. I hope you do too!

Also check out: My take on Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Kellogg essays.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A jolting discovery!

Out of curiousity I had a peek at the extracurriculars section of the HBS application. I started filling the application long ago but I somehow never went to this page till today. I got a bittersweet surprise. HBS gives me 250 characters each to describe 4 extracurricular activities during college and 4 after college. I did expect them to give me space to list the activities but not to describe them. So I sat and filled out the extracurriculars section completely. Now should I laugh or cry? This means I'm going to make a lot of changes to my essays, all the descriptions will have to go and all the learnings will have to grow!

I feel like giving myself a pat on the back for finishing the essays earlier. Now it's very easy for me to just remove the redundancies, I already have ideas for the new-found space. Had I realized this 15 days later, I will be kicking myself for all the rewriting I will have to do in the last moment. I think the undergrad essay and other info essay will have to change significantly. The other essays are fine for HBS. But I think they won't be so fine for other schools if their applications are anything like that of HBS. So I will spend a lot of time tomorrow and this weekend to investigate the applications of each school and decide how to change my essays. My plan will allow this, I just need to move things around a bit :D.

So people out there, rush and complete the data forms in your applications. This will really help you to better utilize the space in your essays. Ok it's 4 am. Ciao!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

One more packed month coming up!

Yesterday I realized that I have exactly one month to go before I submit 5 applications. And I'm completely swamped at work, I have increased responsibilties, increased deliverables, people to manage, multiple roles and lesser and lesser time at home. I've not been coming home before 10pm :-(.

So far I've been prudent. I anticipated the workload and that is the one of the main reasons for completing my essays so soon. But I don't want to relax and lose steam at this stage. I want to use the next one month to edit/rewrite/perfect my essays school by school keeping the complete picture in mind, to trim down words wherever possible, research the schools some more and incorporate my research into the essays, fill out applications, sit with my recommenders etc. Since I want to manage so many things at once, I've made a solid and colorful plan :D.


I've specifically marked days for essay editing, recommender management, buffer time, application forms etc. so that I don't have a chance to slack on anything whatsoever. So by 18th October (one week before Stanford's deadline) I would have submitted all 5 applications. Then I'm going home for 5 days to celebrate Diwali. I will work on Columbia app once I'm back and submit it by the end of October!

PS: I WILL complete my writeup about Chicago and Kellogg essays this weekend...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Supershrunk Wharton Essays

Wharton- very conventional essays, very few essays, very few words...

To me Wharton had the most frustrating set of essays, it's the only school that did not allow me to write all my stories. I just spent 2 hours chopping Wharton's "Career Progress, Career Goals, Why MBA, Why Wharton, Why now" essay. It's very very difficult to do justice to all these questions in just 1000 words, more so when the school has just 3 other microscopic 500 word essays :-). I know I'm exaggerating, 500 words is anything but microscopic. But that's how I feel now. I wish I could throw a fit and get some more words from Wharton :D. Maybe Kellogg and Stanford have really spoilt me with their liberal wordlimits. Or maybe I want to say too much :-). Kidding aside, no applicant would want to choose between important stories that collectively show you in the best light. But Beware! Wharton might just make you do it. Wharton essays are a true test of your zipping abilities. Discretion and conciseness are the need of the hour.

First of all you might end up spending hours wondering how to distribute the space in the first essay between the various questions it wants you to answer. Secondly because of the wordlimit you might not be able to provide too much of anecdotal evidence in the first essay itself. To make your story strong elaborate key professional incidents in the one of the other essays and refer to them in the first essay. Of course if you can elaborate everything in the first essay itself then you are God!

Another problem you might face is with the failure essay. You may not find a failure significant enough to talk about, your failure might be too significant to talk about, you may be tempted to make a masquerage out of the failure essay and talk about an incident that's simply not a failure etc. As long as you have an incident where the expected outcome did not occur, a worse outcome occured, you learnt something from it and applied it to your life, you are safe. Just articulate it well.

Thankfully Wharton offers a lot of choice in the remaining essays. You can create a balanced story by choosing essays and stories that will highlight your personal and extracurricular life and complement the professional side projected in essay 1. Now again, if you use one of these essays to elaborate on incidents refered to in essay 1, then you might have to compromise a little on the non-professional you. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that the ethical issue essay is optional. Although I did write on this topic for HBS, that was too futuristic and will not make sense here. The "What do you do best and Why" is the only open-ended question. Practically anything can be twisted around to answer this question. But the word "Best" is the key. While you need not be THE BEST at it, you will have to justify why you really are good at whatever you choose to talk about. So this essay could be a little tricky if you don't pick the right topic. The remaining essays work differently for different people, but they are fairly standard questions.

Wharton essays are like the blurb of your autobiogrpahy. You need to write just enough to attract the readers and make them want to meet you to get to know the rest of you!

Also check out: My take on Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Kellogg essays.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Recommendations submitted & The long long Stanford Essays Deconstructed

I again have something to celebrate about. One of my recommenders submitted his recommendations today! That is one recommender less to manage and a big job out of my way now. I also sent my TOEFL score reprot to Kellogg, something I kept constantly forgetting to do. Now I'm just waiting for my printed score report to reach me so that I can submit Part 1 of Kellogg's application. So here's another celebratory post. This time it's about the Stanford essays.

I had planned to finish one post each for all 5 schools by now. But I've been returning from work after 10pm everyday. So the entire application process is suffering :-(. I have not touched my essays after Monday. But I guess it's good to take a break from the essays before beginning to review and rewrite them. So now I'm officially into total rewriting mode.

Moving on to the Stanford essays...

virtually no word limits, just one question that will scare the shit out of you and make you feel a loss for words...

Let me start with the advantages of Stanford's approach to essays. Stanford like Harvard allows you to focus on whichever aspect of life you want through the "What matters most to you" essay and also the other essays to a large extent . You could get carried away with Stanford's topics, but it's important to remember that it is a B-School application essay after all. So all the essays put together should reflect your professional, personal and XC life to paint a complete picture. But these essays definitely give you the freedom to move things around endlessly.

Stanford is one school that gives you something like 1500 words (Career Aspiration essay) to divide between your goals and Why Stanford. This is really cool, 'coz you can make a really good case about why stanford is perfect for you. At least you are not stifled by a super stringent wordlimit that forces you to write about your dream school in 150 words :-). This essay will be a winning one only if a large portion of it is devoted to how you can contribute to Stanford, moreover this is probably the only place where you can do it. People who use the "What matters most to you" essay to talk about something very specific in the personal or XC realms might have to use this essay to talk about their career progress also. If you are planning to use this essay for your career progress then keep in mind that this is phrased as a futuristic question; it will do you good to discuss your career progress in the context of your goals and thus maintain the futuristic tone. Otherwise this is a fairly standard but really long Career Goals, Why MBA, Why now, Why school essay. We should try to completely capitalize on this essay to give the adcom a compelling reason to admit us!

Although I hated the idea of the 2 short essays initially, I think they give a real advantage. If you notice, for the first two essays you need to define a theme and stick to it- you need to have a smooth flow between the anecdotes you choose and they need to fit into an overarching theme. The 2 small essays, an addition to last year's questions, do not pose this problem. Of course they might take 2-3 stories away from your other essays, but as far as essays go I feel- The More The Merrier :D. These essays are cool because there's something for everybody.
For example:
1. "Tell us about a time when you did something that was not established, expected, or popular"
You can use this essay to project innovation, risk taking ability, entrepreneurship, even a failure and what you learnt from it.

2. "Tell us about a time when you felt effective or successful"
You can use this essay to describe a personal achievement, something that need not have produced measurable results on a very large scale. It is pretty abstract and can be worked to project your perception of success.

3. "Tell us about a time when you had a significant effect on a group or individual"
This essay is a godsend if you who have a lot community service to talk about. If you've never done any community service this essay is still a godsend- you can use it to show that you have a humanitarian side despite your jetsetting busy career. You can use this one to talk about any good deed you did for someone in the last 3 years. Of course you need proven impact on the group/individual, but selecting a powerful experience should do the trick.

4. "Tell us about a time when you tried to reach a goal or complete a task that was challenging, difficult, or frustrating."
This essay is perfect for a failure/setback that you want to talk about, it can be dressed as a difficult challenge and worked to your advantage by explaining all the lessons you learnt. This essay is also good for describing complex professional assignments, starting a new venture/club, a self disciplined effort etc.

The short essays don't really give you additional space because the recommended wordlimit is still 11 pages, same as last year. But they do give you a chance to isolate key incidents that may not fit into your theme and describe them in detail.

Finally, What matters most to you and Why?
This essay is the most open-ended, teasing, paralyzing B-School essay I have come across. This essay forces you to be personal on some level. When I say personal I don't mean the nature of the stories you pick, but it is really difficult to articulate your reason to someone who has never met you without getting personal and introspective. The "Why" is what makes this question difficult. This essay can be anything, you could write up a broad account about your life and what shaped it into what it is today, you could write about a single experience you went through and how it changed your life, you could write about a single characteristic or personality trait that defines you, you could write about your family, your children - the options are limitless. Whatever you choose, it has to be life changing or you should not be able to imagine living without it. Read more on my approach to this essay here.

For someone who enjoys writing and has lots to say, Stanford essays are a dream. If you can also get creative with them, nothing like it!

Also check out: My take on Harvard, Wharton, Chicago, Kellogg essays.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Celebratory Post! & HBS Essays Deconstructed

I have completed all 5 schools' essays (H, W, S, K, Chicago) within the deadline I'd set for myself, i.e TODAY. And of course I finished them yesterday itself! To celebrate I decided to write a post describing the insights I gained while writing each of these school's essays. Yes I know it sounds ironical (may even sound dumb) that I want to celebrate completing all that writing by writing some more. That is the curse (or fortune) of being a creative writer you see :D. I can write tirelessly...

Most B-School applicants are well into their essay writing sojourn. I feel now is a good time to share my insights about how to fit the same story into different schools' essays. Most of us apply to around 4-8 schools. So we have 4 different schools, 4 different sets of essays but a single applicant and a single story. At first this realization can be paralyzing. But improvization is an art, a manager's art :-). I call it improvisation because we cannot invent a new story each time we are faced with a different essay stub, we simply have to make do with the experiences we've had so far.

Now a single post convering all 5 schools would be a big hindrance to your readability and my writability:D. Moreover it will be too much to sustain within the average human attention span. So I've decided to write 5 different posts, one for each school.

Before I begin my ramblings about the HBS essays let me establish a thumb rule here. Honesty is an absolute must while writing essays. Once we decide to spin stories this particular problem ceases to exist and this blog post is worthless :-)

Harvard Business School - the school with the most stringent word limits, the school I would die to get into :D...

HBS essays are not rigidly structured like the usual B-School essays. There is no single essay where you can talk only about your profession, no single essay where you can talk only about your extracurriculars unless you consciously choose to do so. HBS essays make life difficult because you can wonder endlessly whether you should pick a personal, professional or extracurricular incident to talk about for 3 out of the 6 essays. The balance is very difficult to achieve. You might need to make a huge compromise for you might end up writing all 6 essays and then find that you have 3-4 more good anecdotes from various realms of life still left to say. Harvard really tests your discretion, judgement and above all your conciseness.

HBS is the only school that gives you 400 words to write about undergrad alone. This is both a boon and a bane. A boon for people who have not really been involved in any XC after undergrad days, such people can use this essay to talk about all the XC they managed along with their "gruelling academics". A boon for people with a low GMAT, such people can use this essay to prove that they can handle the academic rigor at HBS. A bane for people who have lots of experience and could have used this precious space to talk about more recent and more indicative accomplishments than about something that happened in a previous era. A bane for people who are still involved in lots of extracurriculars, they have to devote at least a part of this essay to academics and rest of it also is restricted to 4 years of undergrad, space that could have been used to talk about current involvements that cannot be worked into the other essays.

The ethics essay,I know I know, It's a pain to write something on such a futuristic note and yet keep it grounded in your past/present experiences and yet sound convincing. But don't underestimate the power of research. There's truckloads of material available on ethics. Some exploring and reading should give you a fairly large number of ideas that you can relate your past, present and future to. So start googling and clicking around right now!

Coming to the career vision essay, first of all we need to note the phrasing here - "Career Vision". They are not simply "goals"like other schools. This is another indication of the legendary mission of HBS to create great leaders and visionaries. It's better to have a concrete goal for all schools, more so for HBS if you want them to take you seriously. This is particularly true for younger applicants who may not have too many stories of professional leadership to talk about and who have a tougher time explaining why they are ready for an MBA from HBS so early. In general HBS wants demonstrated leadership potential. Weave as many leadership episodes as possible into your saga, taking care not to go overboard and sound like an alpha personality.

HBS' style of asking questions has its own advantages. You can portray yourself in the best light by talking a lot about one of personal, professional and extracurricular aspects, whichever has the richest and most interesting experiences. Admittedly, it is a more prudent approach to strike a balance between the three. But I feel the risk is well worth it, if you feel you can pull it off. For example if you are a very young applicant you can pick 2 achievements from extracurriculars, or your defining leadership experience could be a personal one. Similarly people from a very heavily represented demographic such as the Indian IT pool or Investment Bankers, Management Consultants etc. can differentiate themselves very well. HBS does not force you to talk about professional experiences alone, so you can avoid talking about experiences which you feel will be very similar to those of others belonging to your demographic. An Indian engineer for example can stand out by talking about his/her proficiency in the creative arts, or deep knowledge of Indian scriptures/mythology/vedas, ballet dancing performances, adventure/wildlife photography etc.

Thus the key to the success of your HBS essays lies in choosing the right mix of stories to talk about. It's just takes a little foresight, a little more courage and a lot more introspection and digging into your past to paint a refreshingly unique picture of yourself.

Ok I'm off to do some serious rewriting ***Snicker***! Ciao...

Also check out: My take on Wharton, Stanford, Chicago, Kellogg essays.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

At Peace with Columbia!

I simply had to know what I should do about Columbia (just being my usual obsessive self). So I dug deep into the internet and I came across this. Read the answer for the question "What is the timeframe for Regular Decision applicants to receive decisions?" and you will ***Grin*** like me too. So that answers my doubts about Columbia. Their website did confuse me though. But whatever be the case I will just go ahead and apply by end of October. This is mainly because I really like the program and I don't want to replace Columbia with some other school.

On the essay front, I'm done with "Why Wharton" and "Why Kellogg" finally. This means I have completed 3 schools' essays- W, S and K. By the end of this week I will be done with all 5 schools (except Columbia) :D. I want to spend the rest of September to do the following:
  • Revisit all essays and harmonize them. I have improved my essays as I progressed through the schools. So I want to say my story in the best possible way for every school
  • Prepare my resume
  • Remind my recommenders and make sure my recommendations are ready
  • Prepare my transcripts for self-reporting. Get official ones if needed for any school
  • Fill out the online applications
Why do I feel I've forgotten something????

Monday, September 04, 2006

Smiles... Sighs... Grrrr... The Columbia Crisis...

I'm done with Stanford essays. I sent them out for comments last week itself. So Stanford is almost out of the way now!

This weekend I finished all of Chicago's 100 word essays. To write a personal essay in 300 words is fairly easy, to bring about the same effect through 3 disjoint micro-essays is very difficult and a tad frustrating. But I loved the challenge and have managed to show a different aspect of my personality in each of the essays. So I'm happy on the Chicago front!

I'm adding some finishing touches to (read rewriting) my Harvard Ethics essay. I've got the content straight though. Now that I've finally put an end to my procrastination- A huge sigh of relief!

My "Why Wharton" and "Why Kellogg" bits have taken shape, but lot of work to be done still. So I'm pretty angry with myself for assing off. I will finish them today.

Just back after a 11 straight hours at work. I have to start work on essays right away if I want to sleep at a decent time :-(

Oh yeah... There's an important thing I wanted to discuss here

Columbia says:

"September term Regular Decision applicants will receive a final decision from Columbia Business School within 12 weeks of the date that a complete application goes under review once the application review period begins. Be sure and check the options and deadlines page to see when the review periods begin."

Read the bolded text again. Although this has been troubling me, I pushed it to the back of my mind. Only today did it dawn on me that even if I submit my Columbia app in October (I'm not planning for Early Decision) it will go "under review" only on January 10th 2007. The earliest I can get my Columbia result is late February.

This is almost equivalent to applying in Round 2. So much for the Rolling Application Process. The only way I can get to know my chances in this amazing school at the same time as my other target schools is applying for Early Decision. And I don't want to do it. This is very sad :-(

I really wish someone would tell me that this is not true, that I can apply in October and get to know the result in 3 months :-(. You guessed it- I daydream a lot...