Class of 2016 | Wisconsin School of Business | Center for Brand and Product Management
Are you a career switcher that’s overwhelmed and confused about the MBA Admission process? Are you an older applicant whose afraid her age will harm your chance at admissions? Does the cost of an MBA freak you out? That was me three years ago. I spent my first career working in the nonprofit and govt. sectors and decided that it was time for me to take the leap and make a sustainable impact through business. My network was filled with friends who had Master’s in everything but business and I ended up turning to a consultant to help guide me through the process. I hope my profile and essays will help you brainstorm your own ideas. Check out my advice and avoid the same mistakes I made or just entertain yourself with strange faces I sometimes make while speaking into a camera. Don’t hesitate to reach out with your questions! I’d love to help.
CAREER SWITCHER | GMAT: 710 (41 V / 44 Q) | GPA 3.51 | Experience: 13 yrs | Nonprofit Sector (Intl. Development)
OBSTACLES: Age | Low Quant Score | Non-traditional
MBA INTERESTS: Marketing | Entrepreneurship | Impact Investing | Social Enterprise | Emerging Markets
HOMETOWN: New Berlin, WI
How did you study for the GMAT? I had been out of the standardized test game for over 15 years and at first I thought I could save some money and study on my own. I found a lot of used books on Craigslist and read some blogs. After several months, I wasn't seeing my score budge. As a working professional with a busy schedule, I was finding it hard to dedicate the time. I knew that I needed to sign-up for an in-person class which committed me to going to class every week and to actually doing the homework . My energetic instructor also kept me focused after a long day of work.
How many times did you take the GMAT? One time. I contemplated taking the GMAT again to improve my quant score, but with only 2.5 months to finish my applications I decided to focus on having great essays rather than splitting my focus between my applications and the GMAT. Not to mention, I dreaded taking the test again.
What GMAT prep course did you take? I signed up for an in-person Manhattan Prep GMAT class, used their books, and also bought the official GMAT books with older test questions. While my pocket book took a hit, my score increased by almost 200 points. Completely recommend David Chong as an instructor.
How did you study for the GMAT while working a 50+ work week? I brought my GMAT book with old test questions to work and every day at lunch would go time myself doing practice questions. I once read that studying for the GMAT was like getting in shape. You'll see different results if you work out an hour day every day compared to working out for seven hours one day a week. Close your cubicle curtain, put on some headphones, and start doing problems.
What was your most effective study aid? I had read that the old exam questions should be your go to in terms of sample questions to practice. I went through the book and would put an X next to each question whether or not I finished it quickly (under 1:00) and correctly. I would put a checkmark next to the question if I answered correctly but struggled and I would circle problems that I got wrong. My goal was for the entire book to be filled with Xs.
What odd GMAT related tip did you research? What to eat beforehand. I think I even sampled different energy bars. The brain needs energy. In the end, I treated the GMAT like an athletic event. I made sure I had a good night's sleep, ate some healthy brain loving salmon, and brought power bars, a banana, and some gatorade with me during the test.
Full-time MBA vs Executive MBA? When I would have conversations with Admissions officers, they would generally ask my why I wasn't interested in applying to their Executive MBA programs. In fact, when I was wait-listed at one program they referred me to the executive program as they felt I would have been a better fit. I was always certain that I wanted to enter a full-time program because I knew that I wanted to switch careers rather than advance in my current career. The recruiting process and summer internship were critical for me. I also really wanted to fully concentrate on school (and all of those fun MBA related experiences) rather than juggling work and school. In some ways, I thought of this experience as a two-year life-sabbatical.
How did you decide what schools to apply to? Given how time intensive the process is, I knew that I was going to apply to 3 or 4 schools. Geography was a concern for me as I preferred to stay in the Midwest. I chose Ross because of it's culture and it's commitment to social impact. I also knew that Ross has one of the more diverse classes and welcomes applicants with non-traditional backgrounds. I chose to apply to Booth over Kellogg, because I was drawn to their strong reputation in analytics, their investment in entrepreneurship, and because of the location. I applied to MIT Sloan as it had always been a dream school for me with my interest in entrepreneurship and had a great visit. I applied to Wisconsin because I was originally from the state and wanted to be closer to my family. They also have a very interesting specialization model and have been consistently ranked as a high return on investment. It also had the benefits of personalized attention with its small class size while also having access to the resources of a major research university. Did I mention Badger football and basketball games?
What would you recommend doing when visiting schools? 1) Sit-in on a class. Ideally, visit a class in the area that you want to concentrate in. You'll learn a lot about school culture and class dynamics from that experience. 2) Find a common area. Grab a coffee. Sit and watch people interact. You'll how collaborative the culture is by watching people interact in common spaces. I remember overhearing a team's conversation on a social enterprise they were working on and being super excited. 3) Take notes. You'll forget who you talked to and what class you sat in on. You'll want to refer to these in your admissions essays and interviews. The notes will be invaluable.
After you were admitted, how did you decide which school to attend? This is a very personal decision. The advice I received from many people was to following the rankings. I loved both cultures, they were both in the Midwest, and they were both in great University towns. Ultimately, funding and company access is what made the decision for me. Wisconsin gave me a full-funding package. I never thought that I could finish an MBA debt free. The freedom that I would have to choose a job based on passion rather than debt was priceless. As an older applicant, I was also more sensitive to taking on a higher debt burden. Your decision should not be made on funding alone. I might get a free degree- but is it worth anything? I knew that I was interested in a career in brand management and when I compared the employment stats of Ross and Wisconsin, they both had very similar CPG companies coming to campus, the same employment rates, and similar starting salaries for brand managers. I knew that at Wisconsin - I would be one of only 20 students that would be competing for these positions increasing my odds of getting a great internship. While I knew that I was giving up the larger network of Ross, I knew that I would have access to the resources and Badger alumni outside of Wisconsin's MBA program. I took a long time to make my decision and second guessed along the way. Remember, this is your decision - you're the one that owns it.
Did you pursue getting off the waitlist? Ultimately, I decided not to pursue getting off the waitlist at Booth and MIT. I knew that as a waitlist applicant, there was an extremely low possibility that I would receive any scholarship assistance if I was to be accepted into either program. Given the other offers that I already had, I realized that I just wasn't prepared to give that up - the $200,000 price tag became much more real.
THE APPLICATION PROCESS
Did you use an Admissions Consultant? When I first started looking into MBA programs, I had NO idea that there was such thing as an Admissions Consulting industry. My network wasn't familiar with the MBA application process and was learning a lot about the process via blogs and forums. I had read many articles that it was going to be extremely difficult for me to get into full-time programs as someone over 35+. I really wanted to find a current student with a similar background that I could speak to, but I had no idea how to find that person or if she existed. I decided to do several free 30 minute consultations with Admissions Consultants. I knew that I wanted to apply to extremely competitive programs and that I wasn't going to apply again next year. I felt that an Admissions Consultant could guide me through the process, keep me on schedule, and offer me unlimited and time-sensitive critical feedback. I used Jessica Shklar of MBAmission and was very satisfied with her advice and feedback although I'm still paying off the consulting fees. I created Admit Sensei in order to help other applicants find current students with a similar background and a means to make admissions advice much more affordable and accessible.
ON BEING A CAREER SWITCHER AND A NON-TRADITIONAL APPLICANT
What's the most difficult thing about being a career switcher with a non-traditional applicant? I had never taken a business class prior to my MBA program. All of the terminology was new to me - including simple things like a P & L statement. Who knew that people call a powerpoint presentation a deck? In addition to the lingo, my finance, accounting, and econ homework took me longer. Thankfully, the professors at Wisconsin are committed to teaching and have an open door policy. You're always welcome to come in for more individualized help. I have also realized that after I've picked up new concepts during class (in let's say Finance) that I'll forget these new learnings if I'm not continuing to apply them. I may or may not no longer remember how to calculate an NPV.
What's the best thing about being a career switcher with a non-traditional background? Every class is new, different, and exciting. While some of my classmates might have heard an econ concept for the upteenth time - it's the first time for me. I've really loved learning subjects way outside of my comfort zone. While I'm switching careers, I've enjoyed seeing how they could and should be applied to my former career. I'm also able to bring a difficult perspective to class
BEING A 35+ STUDENT
Is it a big deal? In my opinion, NO. Frankly, I didn't know that it was an issue until I started reading articles and blog posts early on in my application process which overwhelmingly concluded that it was more difficult for older applicants. I now wonder if the situation is more due to the fact that there are far less applicants in this age range. I do think it is something that you should address in your application. Being an older applicant DID affect how much debt I was willing to take on during an MBA program.
What's your best application advice for an older applicant? The Admissions Committee may wonder about why you waited so long to apply to MBA programs. You not only need to clearly articulate 'why now' you need to be extremely clear about what you plan to do with your MBA and that you've put much thought into this decision. I had entrepreneurial aspirations. I was also told that as an older applicant this could work to my advantage in applications, as it take the pressure off the MBA program to find me an internship or full-time job offer which could potentially harder to land as an older applicant.
Was your age addressed in your admissions interviews? It only came up during one of my interviews. The Admissions Committee wanted to 'grill' me a bit and make sure I really knew what I was giving up by leaving my career, that I was willing to 'start over,' and that it could be more difficult for me to find a job. Be confident about your decision.
Did you feel that companies treated you differently? I was concerned about this coming into the program. I remember when I came to my first company recruiting event, I was mistaken for a faculty member rather than a student. (During case competitions, I'm often mistaken for a case judge). It's quite possible that some companies didn't look positively on my age, but I never felt like that. I secured just as many interviews as my MBA colleagues and was offered a pretty great summer internship. In fact, my extra years of work experience and different background was extra fodder for STAR stories and often piqued the interview's interest.
Do your classmates treat you differently? No. Frankly, they're having too much fun to care about my age.
How are you funding your MBA? Wisconsin has consistently been ranked as a great return on investment and provides generous funding for many students. During my first year, I received a fellowship which covered my tuition and living expenses. During my second year, I received a project assistantship. This means that I work 13 hours a week at the Entrepreneurship Center and in return my tuition and half of my living expenses are covered. I've also taken out $16,000 in Stafford Loans to cover additional living expenses and to pay for traveling during the semester breaks.
Did you do on-campus or off-campus recruiting? For those new to the MBA game, on-campus recruiting is recruiting that is coordinated via your university in partnership with the company. Off-campus recruiting is when you use your networks to find a position outside of that internal system. It's a more time sensitive process and can be more of a gamble - but the rewards can also be greater as it can result landing an internship with the ideal job description with your dream company. Many people come into business school with a specific idea of what they want (which would require off-campus recruiting) but end up following the herd and doing on campus recruiting.
What was the on-campus recruiting process like? As someone who had come from the nonprofit and government sectors, this whole recruiting process was completely foreign to me. I was use to a life of when you finished your degree you had to network like a crazy person to get your foot in the door often taking an unpaid internship or very low paying entry level job (even with a Master's). Business school was completely the opposite, with major companies coming immediately after we started the program so that they could start to get to know us over happy hours and dinners. Rather than me paying for other people's coffee over informational interviews, companies were paying to entertain me. In addition to the food, drink, and swag - it was a great way to get to know the culture of the company and to have the company get to know you over a longer period of time (rather than basing an internship offer on only one interview). On the down side, juggling your first semester in B-school and a myriad of recruiting events can be difficult. It's a good problem to have and one that's hard to complain about - although you'll still probably complain about it.
What's the internship interview process like? I can only speak for what the internship interview process is like at Wisconsin and in our Center for Brand an Product Management. We have two solid weeks of interviews on-campus at the end of January. The companies that the Brand Center has partnerships with come to campus for a day of interviews. Generally, you'll have two back-to-back 30 minute interviews with a company. Some companies will extend internship offers that afternoon, others may take a week or two to get back to you.
Where did you intern? I interned with the Kimberly-Clark Corporation as an Associate Brand Manager Intern.
What was your internship like? Before starting business school, I didn't really understand what an MBA internship would entail. I was just ecstatic that the internship paid and would paid well. Think of the internship as a 10 or 12 week interview. For most brand management internships, you will have one to three projects for the summer. Each project will stretch you in different ways. I had two projects. One was meant to stretch my analytical chops and required deciphering a lot of data. Another project was more qualitative and creative in nature. These projects are generally areas that other brand managers would like to look into but don't have the time. My only responsibility were these projects and it was up to me to learn the business, find who I needed to speak to, set up a timeline, and make sure I delivered in time. In the govt. and nonprofit sectors, an internship often entails you pitching in do whatever that is needed - and frankly doing a lot of the grunt work that no one wants to do. This is NOT the case during your MBA internship. In fact, the opposite is true in that the mundane work starts when you begin the full-time role.
In addition to my projects, there was a bevy of different learning opportunities designed for the intern class (9 of us). I was also given a peer coach that I met with weekly, a team leader that I met with weekly, and a high-level mentor that I met with monthly. During my 12-week internship, I had the ability to join any and all meetings that my colleagues were going to. This was a great way to understand the business, get a feel for the culture, and learn from different leadership styles. I became a fan of stand-up meetings.
You're internship culminates with a presentation to your team and senior leadership where you present your findings and recommendations. You'll have shared these recommendations many times over with your team to get feedback - and they will continually change and evolve. Their involvement helps create buy-in for that final presentation. Some people will find out if they are offered a full-time job after they leave for the summer - or in my situation - you find out on your last day of work. Talk about stress!
How many other interns are there? Obviously, this differs by company. My internship class consisted of 9 people from 6 different universities. Each of us worked with a different brand, with different supervisors, and on very different projects. Getting to broaden your network. learn about other people's MBA experience, and learn from each other was one of the best (and least expected) parts of my summer internship. It's a stressful time for everyone and great to have others that you can lean on.
COULD'A, WOULD'A, SHOULD'A: The Admissions Process
What would you have done differently? (1) Made sure adcom knew my name before they were reading my application. I should have reached out to more students and faculty during the application process so that they would have been my advocates. Ideally, when adcom is reading your application they are just confirming the decision they've already made about you because they already know how wonderful you are (the same could be said for your internship and full-time interviews). (2) Done more mock interviews. I had read and been advised not to practice too much and seem over-rehearsed. I took for granted that I had been out of the interview game for awhile. My alumni interviews that were much more conversational went well - but the interviews that felt more like interviews weren't as crisp as they could've been. It's important to be clear, concise and crisp. That takes practice. (3) Enjoyed the process more. Applying for an MBA is a very introspective and reflective process. You're reliving everything you've been through and what's made you who you are. You're also meeting some amazing people along the way. Think about that for a minute. That's pretty amazing. Try not to be too stressed out.