A Cosmetic ChangeLorena Sánchez García
A year of intense work and three months of grueling anticipation have radically changed my life. The journey began last summer when I decided it was the right time to go back to school. After a fast and rewarding career filled with satisfaction, friendship, air miles, and hotel points as an internal consultant at a Mexican company, the decision to apply to business school was one that could not wait any longer.Every year I spent in consulting felt like I was betraying my passion for cosmetics, which I discovered during my internship at L'Oréal in Germany. Despite my enthusiasm, I did not know how difficult it would be to apply to a top MBA program. I had fun at my job. I had been recently promoted and just returned to my home country after three years of voluntary exile. I was not acquainted with any MBA graduates from top schools, and I had little understanding of what the schools offered. I was aware that I had to prepare for the GMAT, but I had never taken a standardized test before. The summer months seemed short because I had to search for study guides, which were unavailable in Mexico. My job, which was extremely demanding, forced me to study on airplanes, at dawn before leaving for my office, or late at night. Preparing for the exam was like running a race. I was training for speed and endurance. Sleep deprivation and exam burnout made me cranky, which made my life harder. My only breath was my dancing classes. After living in England for two years, I didn't think I had a problem with the English language, but my GMAT score proved me wrong. I decided to apply to school in the second round and rescheduled my GMAT test for the Christmas break, which was the latest available date before the application deadlines. Campus VisitsDuring the fall, I attended many MBA fairs and school presentations in Monterrey, Mexico, where I was based at the time. Searching for the best business school for me was confusing; the curriculums all looked the same. At the school presentations I met many MBA graduates who worked for my company. They eagerly shared their business school experiences in e-mails or over coffee. Trying to decide which schools to apply to, I took a week off work to visit some of the campuses, including Stanford (Stanford Full-Time MBA School Profile), Kellogg (Kellogg Full-Time MBA School Profile), Booth (Booth Full-Time MBA School Profile), and MIT (Sloan Full-Time MBA School Profile). The travel was definitely worthwhile, because I was able to narrow my options to three schools. During my trip to Kellogg, I felt at home and met with the MMM (MBA + MEM) directors and current students. I came back excited because I had found the perfect program, made some contacts, and gained clarity. I realized that, in the major leagues, education is defined by location, student body, professors' research, industry focus, and teaching methods, rather than solely on the program's content. There were so many other people with amazing backgrounds. I had to dazzle the admissions committee with my essays. However, selecting the right stories and deciphering the meaning of the questions the universities asked was a difficult task. I researched the Web and books, and I invited several MBA grads over for coffee to prepare a basic outline for my stories. Essay OrdealSince my last year of college, I had kept an e-mail blog, so I had almost five years' worth of information relating to my story—from my first job out of school to the adventure of living in Europe for two years leading a postmerger integration process. My stories about traveling were amazing, but putting them on paper was frustrating. I had so much to write and so little space to do so. I could not find the words to express my feelings, my business jargon was limited, and my editors, all my friends who read several versions of my essays, said that they lacked flow. I did not even know what flow meant; as a chemical engineer, I see flow as the transportation of a liquid. How did this translate into writing? When I thought the GMAT nightmare was over, the power failed at the institution where I was retaking my exam and it was canceled. I felt frustrated. All the preparation and effort seemed senseless. On one hand, I knew I did not have the score that I wanted, but on the other hand I had several strengths as a nontraditional applicant—a Mexican woman who graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering; who speaks four different languages; who has lived in five countries; and who has a clear definition of her career path. Then it was time for the recommendation letters. It was easy to select my recommenders because I have a very good relationship with my mentor and my previous managers. They were inexperienced in the process, and my mentor has basic English-language knowledge; therefore, they needed some coaching. Consequently, I met with them privately to talk about my future. I explained my objective of leaving the company, pursuing an MBA, and specializing in operations, to accomplish my long-term goal of becoming an entrepreneur in the cosmetics industry in Mexico. The letters came from their hearts and despite my low GMAT score, I got an interview. I was thrilled but, at the same time, panicked. I feared both success and failure. Amazing InterviewI have always been a social person, and explaining to my interviewer why Kellogg was the best place for me was fairly easy. My connection to Chicago was the next logical step after spending the past 10 years in industrial cities, including Monterrey, Toronto, Hamburg, Barcelona, and Birmingham, England. I love the buzzing of busy cities, and the explanation of my stories strengthened my connection to Kellogg's SMART values: Social, Modest, Academic, Responsible, and Team-workers. The interview exceeded my own expectations. One hour of formality turned into a four-hour chat full of valuable information. What a relief! From that moment, waiting was the only activity left. It was an agony that was only enhanced by reading in BusinessWeek Forum, where an increasing number of students reported getting offered seats at Kellogg. A few days before the deadline, I received an e-mail. I trembled because, according to the forum, most of the time an e-mail meant bad news. Mine read: "Hi Lorena, I was hoping I could catch you via phone, but had some difficulty getting through to the number provided in your application. I thought an e-mail would reach you fastest. We are very pleased to tell you that you have been admitted to the Kellogg School of Management MMM Class of 2011! Congratulations on all of your hard work." The whole world seemed be spinning around me. I was excited and nervous at the same time. I finally had the opportunity for which I longed. Since then, I have had to request financial aid, obtain a visa, find a place to live, attend DAK (Day At Kellogg), take medical examinations, and do pre-term work. But the most exciting part was meeting many bright and interesting people during the admissions process. They, like me, want to improve the society in which they live. This was only the beginning of my journey to Kellogg. There's much more to come.