Friday, July 01, 2011

Psyche Out

I wasn't getting it. I'd gone through the entire quantitative section of the Kaplan 2011 GMAT Premier study guide. I'd read through every review topic from fractions to geometry to rate/distance/work. The concepts were pretty familiar. I was getting it. "When two or more people/objects are working together add their rates together to determine how long it takes to finish one job." Simple enough, I got it. Bring on the problem sets. "In the economy mode, a printer prints twice as fast as in the optimal quality mode. If after working for 20 minutes in the optimal quality mode and 40 minutes in the economy mode the printer printed 120 pages, how long would it take the printer to print 120 pages in the optimal quality mode?" (C) 2008 GMAT Club. On second thought, maybe I don't get it.

I was about 3 weeks into my GMAT studies when I realized that Kaplan's review book would not be enough to get me to 650, nevermind 700+. The overview of each quantitative topic wasn't really connecting with the practice questions. Looking at the majority of the problems, I didn't even know where to begin to try to solve them. In dire need of help I turned to the only place I could go to for answers: Google. I typed GMAT into the search engine and Google opened the floodgates and rained down upon my results page website after website dedicated to GMAT preparation. I chose and never looked back.

GMAT Club is an amazing resource for anyone preparing for the GMAT. The site offers reviews of test prep companies and study materials. Members post detailed debriefs of exactly how they got that 770 that's listed in their profiles. Over two dozen Quantitative and Verbal tests are available for a nominal fee in addition to problem sets of the most difficult questions. The forums are full of encouraging words for Club members who feel defeated by a 550 and high praise for members sharing their triumph in clearing the 700 hurdle. People share test taking strategies and help explain difficult problems to one another. GMAT Club was a lifeline for me while studying. I owe my Q48 to that website, so even though I wasn't thrilled with my score I shared it and my study methods in the GMAT Experience forum. Having closed (but not locked) the door on the GMAT, I turned to the MBA Forum section of the site to seek direction about the application process.

If GMAT forums are the kumbaya part of the MBA journey, then b-school application forums are their passive aggressive, kill or be killed cousin. Let's be real for a minute. Top-tier business school applicants are an insecure bunch. We are on the outside of a very exclusive party with our noses pressed against the window pane, praying that someone notices something special about us and lets us in. We worry that our work experience isn't enough, our GMAT scores are too low, our undergrad alma maters are too pedestrian, or that our 4 year involvement tutoring at-risk children can't possibly compare to the person who started a non-profit that saved thousands of poverty stricken children from landmines. Basically, we spend endless amounts of brainpower wondering if we're good enough to get in. When people are insecure they look for reassurance. They just want someone to tell them that they aren't deluding themselves by adding Wharton to the school list. However, the kind of reassurance they need is rarely found on the online playground populated with other potential applicants.

Before I'd even taken the GMAT a good friend, who recently graduated from MIT-Sloan, told me to stay away from the MBA forums. "They will only bring you down," he said. Never being one to take someone's word for it, I dove in head first. He was right. An aspiring applicant can easily drown in the sea of naysayers. Checking any, "What are my chances of getting into ______" thread, forum members put up their stats (age, GPA, GMAT, Work Experienc, ECs) just to have them shot down. "You're too young. Get more work experience." "You're too old. Schools are going younger." "You're the right age but you work for the wrong company." "Your GPA is too low." "You're an Indian male. There's too much competition." "You're too different." "You're not different enough." There's always reason why someone doesn't have a shot in hell and shouldn't even bother applying. Ocassionally, someone passes the litmus test and gets the peer/consultant approved stamp of approval, "You're a shoo-in for H/S/W," only to come back in the spring with zero admits and scant hope of making it in off the summer waitlist. Meanwhile the poster who was too young/old/ordinary/Indian to even apply gets accepted in the second round.

So why bother evaluating anyone's chances, especially when you've never received an acceptance letter yourself? While MBA admissions isn't a total black box, there's enough uncertainty that no one can say for sure who will get in to a particular school and who won't. It makes me think that the "honest advice" is less about helping other applicants and more about helping oneself. It's easier to compete against someone who isn't even on the playing field. If you can make sure your opponent doesn't even show up then you've already won. To be honest, I've even found myself doing it a few times. "You can apply without work experience, but you'll need a super high GPA and GMAT along with high profile internships in order to have a chance." I parrot what I've heard others say, effectively placing doubt in the mind of that college senior who sees himself at Stanford's class of 2014 instead of 2017. I honestly don't think most of us intend to crush one another's dreams. But spend enough time reading about all of the reasons a school can say no and you become a naysayer yourself.

This is just the application process. What happens after we all get the long awaited admit call? Do we take this win at all cost mentality to school with us? While I'm competitive, I'm not a fan of competing with people who are supposed to be my teammates. Will the same people who told me I have no shot at my dream schools be the ones to tell me I have no shot at a job with my dream company when fall recruiting starts? Will they tell me not to bother to apply for that awesome fellowship because I'm not one of the elite few who can play Mozart while standing on their head? One of the aspects of my current job that I've always hated is being stacked up for evaluation against my peers across different jobs with different customers. Ultimately it creates an air of competition between people who are supposed to be working together. I know it's necessary at times and I'm not a fan of the "we're all winners" mantra. I'd just like to not deal with that for 2 years. I want classmates who are invested in my success, not my success relative to their own. This is one of the reasons why I was always wary of b-school. More than making me doubt my chances of getting in, MBA forums sometimes make me doubt my desire to even go.


mbalady said...

Very interesting post! As an aside, I've actually found that the gmatclub forums are less toxic than say, the business week forums. That all being said, I completely agree that it's insecurity that drives folks to discourage others or challenge their candidacy. My take on it is.. it's best to lock in on the root of your ambition.. the original driver of your quest for an MBA and let that propel you through the application process, as opposed to the opinions of strangers. I really would like to stay off these sites when I am in the heat of app season (lets see how that goes lol), as I dont want the negative energy to seep its way into my applications. It's easy to think, 'man, if so and so didn't get an interview and they went to an Ivy league univ for undergrad with a 4.0GPA and have an 830 GMAT (cos GMAC gave them an extra 30 points for awesomeness), what kind of chance do I stand'? Saying all that to say, don't let all this discourage you; this kind of sentiment rears its head in all areas of life not just Bschool. While there will be folks who will 'nay say' and discourage, there will also be others who are secure and balanced enough to encourage and provide guidance from a 'good' place.. be it other candidates or family/friends. Hope you're ready for this application ride!

KT said...

very good post...i liked the part that said -- i want my classmates invested in my success... :)

the way you structure ur posts, i am sure u ll write winnin essays

Chesty LaRue said...

If only you had enlisted in that head-standing classical music class I told you about! :-P

It as the same when I applied to law school but I never joined any sites. It was usually the over-achieving paralegals that I worked with who obsessed about the application process. At the end of the day, call me naive but I'm a firm believer that what's meant to be will be. I had a lot working against me: a C+ GPA, a mediocre LSAT score, and stiff competition. Now I'm a 3L. I have no doubt that you will get into the school of your choice. Not only are you super qualified but you deserve it.