As I write this journal, I am on a flight from Austin, Tex., to New York to visit nine companies in the next three days as part of a multifunctional trek organized by our school, the McCombs School of Business. Some of the companies we'll be visiting are GE (GE), Unilever (UL), PepsiCo (PEP), American Express (AXP), and ESPN (DIS). Unfortunately, since my trek will not officially begin until 7 a.m. tomorrow, I won't be able to share highlights. But I'll definitely summarize this experience in my next entry. In the meantime, I'd like to rewind a little, and share some more insight on the admissions process and give a peek on the activities and emotions you might go through during your first few weeks of class.
Concerning the applications process, the best advice I have is to start as early as possible. Ideally, if I could do it all over again, I would take a GMAT prep course in early June to prepare for the test in August or September. This also gives you the opportunity to retake the test in October to get the best score possible.
Next, I would spend the next two to three months preparing the applications (i.e., filling them out, getting recommendations, requesting transcripts, and writing essays, etc.). Yes, the GMAT is important, but this is your last chance to stand out from the crowd. Work on those personal essays and make them memorable!
Brush Up Your Quant Skills
Finally, be prepared for the interview. If possible, do a mock interview with one of your friends and see how you respond to questions like "Why have you decided to come back to business school?" or "Can you tell me about a time when you were involved in a conflict and how did you handle the situation?" For more examples, try referencing the different schools' essay questions. These may not be the exact questions asked, but you'll be much more prepared for your interviews.
While waiting for your acceptance letter, one extra tip I highly recommend for non-business majors, even if you're an engineer and are good with numbers, is to take a financial accounting, managerial accounting, and finance class at a local university or community college before school starts. More than likely, you will already be at a disadvantage against a third of your smart classmates who have business degrees. I can guarantee that you'll be better off having some background in these courses rather than learning this material for the very first time in a very fast-paced environment.
Hopefully, after this entire process, you will get several phone calls congratulating you on your acceptance. Again, this is just how I would have liked to schedule my time if I could do it all over again. But the point I hope to make is that this process takes time; and the earlier you start preparing, the less pressure you'll put on yourself.
Dollars and Sense
The brief summary above is just half the battle. Now that you've been accepted into B-school, how are you going to finance it? I just quickly read over my first journal (see BusinessWeek.com, 11/28/06, "MBA From Deep in the Heart of Tech") and saw that I already talked about applying early for financial aid. But, in addition to that, I hope the following tips will help you save or make more money.
First, to possibly save thousands of dollars on your health insurance, find out if your current employer has a leave-of-absence (LOA) policy. In larger corporations, employees might be able to take an extended, educational LOA without salary but still keep their current health plan.
Furthermore, if you have a 401(k) retirement account, you might be interested in rolling that over into a traditional IRA account and now have the freedom to invest in stocks of your choice. Also, if you were granted stock options, find out when those options will expire—before you leave the company. Mark your calendar and make sure you exercise them before they expire. If they're still worth something, this could be extra money to fund the drink specials at your favorite bar, or future trips like the one I'm taking now.
Orientation: Relax and Enjoy
For my final money-saving tip, find out which textbooks are required during your orientation and either buy them online or from the second-years. When I ordered my books online, I was able to save more than 40% on all my books because I didn't mind that they were soft-covered and happened to be international versions. Also, talk to the second-years before you buy anything "required or recommended" because they were just in your shoes a year ago, and they can certainly give you a few tips to save you from breaking your piggy bank. Again, these are just a few thoughts I had, but I hope that they will start your mind thinking about your finances and how you plan to support yourself for the next two years.
Now that you have accepted the offer to your top B-school, what happens next? Besides leaving your current employer on good terms and getting everything in order for your move, take a small vacation or enjoy the time you have left before orientation starts. Our orientation began one week before classes started. These days and nights were jam-packed with team-building activities, information sessions, and entertainment. During the days, we had several panel discussions with the second-years, alumni, faculty, and administrative staff. We also had many great speakers and even Mr. Red McCombs joined us to share a few words of wisdom. Then, during the nights, we had several fabulously catered dinners, from a formal five-course meal to a Texas-style BBQ outing. After each dinner, we would then take over some "establishment" to continue with the festivities and bond with our new classmates. Yes, it was a little tiring going out every night and waking up early every morning. But I can guarantee that you won't regret taking part in all the activities, especially when you look back and realize that that was the most worry-free and relaxing time you had before hitting the books.
For our class of 2008, we have 260 students, which are split into four cohorts of 65 students each. In addition, each cohort is further split into 13 groups of five-person study teams. For our first semester, we have to take all core courses (financial accounting, corporate finance, marketing, statistics, and microeconomics and operations) with the same cohort and do our group-assigned projects with our study teams. So teamwork is highly encouraged and having an environment that fosters cooperation makes the whole B-school experience more manageable and that much more fun. But after the first semester we are only required to take two more core courses (managerial accounting and strategic management) with our cohort, which leaves us with at least 13 more electives to take before we graduate.
Bombarded With Challenges
So what do I think about my first semester so far? First, my professors are "amazing!" When you go to any top business school, you can rest assured that you will be learning from and challenged by the leading researchers and practitioners in their respective fields. But what I've been most impressed about and thankful for is how our professors genuinely care about our progress and well-being. Second, I can't be happier taking this two-year journey with my current classmates. I can confidently say that if you're looking for that ideal environment and culture where students cooperatively compete (I know that's an oxymoron, but that's one of the best ways to describe the "McCombs Culture"), then I guarantee that you won't be disappointed considering McCombs as one of your schools.
Finally, how about the emotions and feelings you will likely experience during your first few weeks of school? There is no doubt that you will question why you're needlessly torturing yourself daily or if you made the right decision to come back to school. Some of my classmates have compared managing the course load and all the other activities (e.g., family life, info sessions, outside projects, challenges, club activities, interviews, etc.) to trying to drink directly from a fire hose. It just never stops! But, after a few weeks of being bombarded with everything, you'll begin to adjust and notice yourself becoming more resourceful, working smarter, and getting better at time management.
In conclusion, I have to apologize for ending this journal early due to my current trip, but I will fill in the missing gaps in my next entry. I also hope to talk more about the other excellent opportunities outside of class (e.g., challenges, student organizations, PLUS projects, development courses, etc.) as well. So far, I believe I made the right decision coming back to business school fulltime. I'm taking full advantage of almost everything McCombs has to offer ("almost" because there's only 24 hours in a day) and I hope you plan to also at wherever you decide to go.