Monday, October 29, 2007

Around the world in (less than) 80 days

It's getting to the point where I need a few minutes when I wake up to remember where I am. Over the span of 9 days, starting last Sunday, I will have travelled around the world, making stops in Beijing, London and DC, and racking up over 30,000 frequent flyer miles in the process. I probably spend more time in the air than most flight crews. Don't get me wrong there is a lot that's good about it. At a (relatively) young age I have seen a great deal of the world, at a cost that is heavily subsidized by my company since so much of it is business-related travel. But on the personal side it takes a heavy toll to spend about 50% of your time living in various hotels.

Beijing was an interesting trip. It was my second time in China, but first in Beijing and first with any real time to spend doing tourist things. My schedule worked out so that I could take a 4 day weekend while I was over there, and a good friend who's living in Beijing let me stay at his apartment for the weekend and took me out to see the city. It's an interesting city to see the mixture of old and new architecture, and interesting to see the rate of growth and construction, which I'm sure is also being driven by the Olympics next year. Construction crews literally work 24/7 - there was a crew outside my friend's apartment putting in a road/sidewalk. One night I went to sleep and literally woke up the next morning to see it completely finished. There is a bit of another side though. My friend's roommate teaches English to a local man's daughter. The man has a little corner store, and recently the government came in and said they were going to demolish the store. No due process, no compensation, nothing he could do. It really reminded me that as much as a great story China is economically, on the political side it is a very different system to what we have (and often take for granted) in the west.

Once I get home I'll see if I can post a few pictures from the Great Wall and Forbidden City.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Let the great waiting game begin!

Ok, so I am really the least patient person ever to walk the face of the planet. Ever since I got the email notification that my last Stanford recommendation was submitted, I could not concentrate on anything else. Eventually I just gave in and did the essay revisions that I planned to do tomorrow. Long story short, the essays are done and in as good a shape as they will ever be. Application is submitted. That is the last of my planned applications for the year. Funny enough it's not nearly the emotional relief I thought it would be to have them all done. Maybe because I know this is not the end, just the beginning? Maybe because I know that now I'll have to think harder about what to write about in this blog since I can't just give updates on app progress? Either way, now I am going to go home and relax, knowing that tomorrow I'll have to do the work I put off doing today. Good luck to all the other Stanford R1 applicants out there.

All recommendations are done.

Just got the email confirmation from Stanford that my backup recommender submitted, so now I'm all set. Just have to revise essays, do a final review of the app, and I'm done. Being this close to the finish line (ok, not the real finish line, but the finish line for this phase) it's hard to believe it's been 6 months since I seriously started preparing for the GMAT and researching schools. On the one hand it seems like so long ago, but on the other hand it seems like just yesterday I was in Borders buying the Princeton Review and Official Guide. I can only hope that the weeks of waiting go by just as quickly.

It always pays to have a backup plan

I am disappointed in my third recommender for Stanford. After promising to get it done by last Monday, I got no love. Followed up with an email. No response. This person has a reputation for missing deadlines. Not good. Rewind to last Thursday. I was discussing the situation with another partner (who had already written me a recommendation for Chicago) who also knew my Stanford recommender. She was concerned and told me if I needed her to write one for Stanford, she would do it. I told her the Stanford recommender had promised to have it by Monday, so thank you but I don't think I'll need it. As Monday turned into Tuesday and Tuesday turned into Wednesday, I started to have another concern. If my Stanford recommender hadn't started it yet (when he promised to have it done by Monday he indicated he hadn't started yet), would he have enough time to write a quality recommendation or would it be a generic "he's good you should admit him" letter? After thinking about it, I decided to go back to the Chicago recommender and ask if her offer was still on the table. It was, and she said she has time Friday (today) to do it. While I am more confident that she will get it done on time and it will be good, since she already has the basic outline and examples from Chicago, I don't feel great about telling the first recommender I don't need him anymore. I sent him an email to let him know I didn't need a recommendation. I'm going to see him in China next week so I'll have to smooth things over then. Even though I feel bad about it, the bottom line is that I had just lost confidence that he would actually get it done on time.

Besides that, everything else for Stanford is going well. Got my reviewers' feedback on my essays, and it's positive with only minor suggestions of places where I ramble at bit and could be a bit more succinct and impactful. So, I will work on revisions tonight and tomorrow and submit tomorrow afternoon or evening. Then it's off to a bar with some friends to lift a glass and celebrate being done with this stage of the process.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It's done

My supervisor submitted the Chicago recommendation last night so it's 100% complete. I don't know exactly why, but I'm not nearly as nervous about submitting this one as I was for HBS. I was a bit paranoid about hitting Chicago's submit button after my post-submission discovery of 2 typos in my HBS application, but after reviewing the Chicago app like 5 times, I hit the button and am now in a somewhat Zen-like calm state about it.

Now to turn my attention to Stanford. Did a review of my data sheet last night and came across the part-time employment page. The instructions say to include summer employment, internships, etc., so I've gone back and listed the two jobs I had during summer and winter breaks from college. I haven't gone back to the fast food job I had during high school since I don't think that sheds any light on my candidacy for bschool (well, I did rise to the rank of "Assistant Manager", but that just took staying at the place for a few years rather than any demonstrated leadership abilities). How are other Stanford applicants handling this?

Good luck to all the other Chicago R1 applicants out there. Hopefully we'll see each other in Hyde Park at Admit Weekend in February.

Monday, October 15, 2007

2 Down, 1 More to Go

Chicago is officially submitted. Well, actually that should be "submitted*". My supervisor still has not submitted his recommendation. But everything else is in and submitted so now my focus is 100% on Stanford. I am very happy with the Chicago application. Even though I struggled at first with the "put yourself in someone's shoes" essay, I think the application I submitted is as strong as it could be. It's done a lot to bring my confidence back after my bad experience in the BusinessWeek forums. I do have a bit of a concern that I'm getting better at this as I go, which would imply that HBS will be my weakest application. Not good since it's my first choice school. Oh well, c'e la vie. Nothing I can do now but wait and see how it all shakes out, and try not to think about it too much.

Stanford is in pretty good shape, but am going through a last round of review and revision on my essays. Data sheet is complete so it's really just the essays at this point. Well essays and one last recommendation. Plan is to finish it and submit on Saturday before I fly off to China, and to chase down the final recommender this week and make sure he's on the ball. Hopefully the 2 week trip will keep my mind off the waiting game. Unlikely, since I'll have access to email while there, but we'll see.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gekko says lunch is for wimps? I think he meant sleep is for wimps

Well after a week of 14 hour days at work (today I'll "only" be at work for 10 hours), I have made no progress on essays. I've sent my Chicago drafts to a final reviewer, and will do my final revisions to them over the weekend. I also plan to do my first round of Stanford revisions over the weekend, and get them out for final review. And I have work-related stuff to do over the weekend as well. Needless to say it's gonna be a busy weekend. On the recommendation front, 1 of my Chicago recommenders submitted, my supervisor promised he'd submit over the weekend. I spoke to my final Stanford recommender and he also promised to get it done over the weekend or on Monday at the latest. So basically it looks like everything is coming together. Now I just need one last push to get everything done over the next week or so, and then I can take a deep breath.

For those in HBS R1, in case you haven't seen the latest post on the Director's Blog, interview requests should start to go out the week of Oct. 22. Of course, they'll continue to go out through January 16, so there still could be a lot more waiting to go. What's nice, and I'm not sure if it's different that last year, is their use of an online self-scheduler for interviews so you can try and pick a date that is most convenient for you. Should help with my travel concerns.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Stanford GSB Event in NYC

As promised here's the scoop from the NYC Stanford event held Monday night. No refreshments or socializing beforehand, which was just as good since I got to the event 2 minutes before it started. Format of the event was about 40 minutes or so presentation about the program from the man himself, Mr. Derrick Bolton, followed by about an hour alumni panel, then another 45 minutes from Derrick on admissions. A lot of the info on the program and admissions was right off the website, but here are some nuggets of info I jotted down:

  • The program presentation was oriented around the 4 themes of the Stanford MBA program: personalized education, innovative learning, global & social impact, and collaborative community. He spent a lot of time in the first two areas talking about the new curriculum. I won't go into detail here since it's all on the website.
  • He mentioned a few times (and alumni reinforced the message) that innovative faculty research makes its way into the classroom, giving Stanford students an edge on the market since they see it first.
  • Heavy focus on "leaving a legacy" and being a force for positive change in the world. He also mentioned here the loan forgiveness program, for people who take jobs in the public or not-for-profit sector, and also the Stanford Management Internship Fund, which subsidizes internship income (up to the median of all students' internship income) for people who do summer internships in the public or not-for-profit sector. The loan forgiveness sounded similar to other schools, but I think the SMIF is unique.
  • He mentioned briefly the Global Management Program certificate, and the Public Management Program certificate, and said that each program gets about 25% of the students in any year.

At that point the alumni panel started (6 alumni, mostly in finance post-MBA). Their main points were:

  • A few alumni talked about the great opportunities and support for entrepreneurial ventures while at Stanford (one of the alumni was CEO of a startup menswear company). They said beyond support, it is possible to get academic credit for working on a startup venture, and that culturally entrepreneurs were looked up to as superstars.
  • All of the alumni had gone through the program before the new curriculum, so unfortunately they couldn't give insight on it. But, they did talk about how the curriculum is fluid and students have an opportunity to influence courses or to create new ones with faculty support.
  • In response to the "Why Stanford" question, the answers were all about the culture (more empathetic and collaborative people than other schools) and small class size (about 7-1 student to faculty ratio).

Most of the other questions focused on whether it matters if you don't have a finance background (it doesn't) and whether it matters if you're earlier in your career (it doesn't). People seemed to be asking questions that were already answered earlier, which got a bit frustrating. After the alumni panel, we went back to Derrick for some admissions info. Again, not too much that wasn't on the website, but here's some bits he added about the application:

  • Pay attention to the wording of the essay questions. They pick the words for a reason, and omit words for a reason. There is a big difference between asking "career vision", "aspirations" and "post-MBA plans". Hint: Stanford's use of the word "aspirations" means that could be both inside and outside work.
  • For Essay A, he mentioned the Steve Jobs commencement address at Stanford where he talked about connecting dots. Derrick used that as an example of the type of reflection they're looking for in this essay (but obv. not meant as a template for applicants to use).
  • For Essay B, he said they're not just looking for a 5-year career plan. Again, they're trying to understand what is important to you, inside and outside of work, and how Stanford can support those goals. He also made the point that they know your career progression from other parts of the application (i.e. resume) so don't spend too much time in the essays restating that.
  • For the short-answer essays, they're looking for specific anecdotes, both at what you did but equally important on the impact the experience had on you and the people/organisations around you.
  • With regard to interviews, they expect to interview between 800-1200 applicants, with a target class size of 400-500. The interviews are behavioral (again trying to get to know you), are just one piece of the application that they look at so they influence the decision more for some than others, are largely (95%) done by alumni, and are blind (the interviewer only has your CV, which you send them, and will not have seen your application).
  • The winner of the stupidest question I've ever heard in my life was the guy who asked Derrick whether they coordinated their deadlines and decision notification dates with other business schools, or whether it was just coincidence that the dates were the same as another school. There was actually an audible groan from the audience when he asked that.

My overall impression was very positive. You definitely got the strong sense of innovation from the presentations and alumni panel and it's definitely a top-notch program. One thing that left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth though was the repeated references to their "competitors in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago". At the HBS event, they never once mentioned other schools and why they think what they're doing is better than other schools. They just talked about HBS. Here, they kept saying that X at Stanford is better/more exciting than HBS, Wharton or Chicago. My feeling is that if you're confident in what you're doing and it really is better, you shouldn't have to say it, people will see it for themselves. I know it's just a minor thing, and certainly wouldn't affect my decision regarding the school, but if I could have changed one thing it would have been that.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Quick update

Just spoke to my supervisor, and mentioned my concerns about my travel schedule and interviews. His response? "Well we'll just have to manage around your interviews so you don't have to reschedule them." It's nice working for someone who cares and is supportive of my goals.

T minus 9 days and counting...

Well Chicago's deadline is rapidly approaching and so far I have 0 recommendations submitted. I spoke with my supervisor this morning and he promised it is in progress and he will submit it this week. I will see the other partner writing my recommendation tomorrow and will speak to her about it as well. My application is in pretty good shape so I'm feeling pretty good about it. As for Stanford, I have 2 of 3 recommendations already submitted, and will chase down the 3rd this week. Since I fly to Beijing on Oct. 21 and don't know how quickly I'll be able to get online once I'm there, essentially my deadline for Stanford is the 20th. That application is in ok shape, but I still have some work to do on the essays. Needless to say, the projects I'm involved with at work are getting pretty intense, so it's going to be a fun 2 weeks leading up to the deadlines. Thankfully I planned a 4 day long weekend into my trip to Beijing, I will need the time to decompress.

One thing that does concern me a bit is that I have quite a bit of travel for work in November and December. While I am getting a bit ahead of myself, I'm concerned that it could impact interview scheduling. I guess that's a bridge I'll have to cross when I come to it.

I'm going to a Stanford reception tonight in NYC so I'll give the full rundown on it within a day or so.