The Best Word

IMG_0825There is one word that right now means more to me than anything. Can you guess what it is?

One word. 5 syllables. 15 letters.

Tess graduation 2013-0033

Congratulations.

Welcome to acceptance season, where if you are like me, you search through your inbox, spam folder, and mail box daily waiting for that letter that hopefully houses that special word.

I decided pretty late in the application period to go back to graduate school to earn my MBA. In January, I found myself with only four short months to research different programs, study and take the GRE or GMAT (I opted for the GRE), visit campuses, request letters of recommendations, apply for financial aid and scholarships, write a compelling statement of purpose, and submit separate applications to both the general college and the business school of each university I applied to.

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Although it was a little daunting, I finally had the drive I needed to start the process. I had, after all, been putting off applying to MBA programs for over a year and a half. Finally, three years post-graduation, the timing felt perfect and I actually had an idea of what I would want to do with an MBA.

As the application deadlines for the programs I applied to were between April 1st and 15th, I find myself twiddling my thumbs, eagerly awaiting replies from all five schools. Wanting the process to be over, I submitted my applications a few weeks early. On March 23rd, the same day my application was submitted, I received my first graduate acceptance letter. It was a shock to receive notice so soon. I was an even bigger shock to be accepted.

I want to tell you a bit about my experience with MBA applications.

Know What Is Important to You:

IMG_5264As I will be funding my own MBA, tuition costs became a big deciding factor. This quickly eliminated all private schools and most out-of-state programs, and drew me instead to in-state, public programs. In California, this mainly left options within the University of California (UC) system and the California State University (CSU) systems. As I am a product of the UC system currently (I went to UC Davis undergraduate), I was first drawn to these schools. However, after realizing that the estimated cost of attending UCLA’s Anderson School of Business for one year is $80,000 (including housing), I decided to give the much more affordable CSUs a try. In the end, I applied to five of them.

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The second main factor for me is location. Every program that I applied to is in a city that I would love to live in for one reason or another. Whether it is proximity to my family, great weather, amazing hiking, or being in a hub of business start-ups, location trumped the ranking of a program for me (I know, what?!). As someone who thrives off of her location, I knew that I had to be true to myself when deciding where I would happily live. Los Angeles is not the city for me, and although USC and UCLA have nationally ranked programs and my mom attended both and my father was a professor at each, LA just isn’t where I want to be. The same went for Stanford: I never want to live in the Bay Area, I mean, they call those hills “streets?!” Humor aside, an area that densely populated would add stress to my life. It is important to know yourself and what is important to you.

Don’t Over Apply:

While it is great to have options, applying to college is not an inexpensive process, so don’t over apply. My advice would be to start with a large list of potential schools (mine included about 30 universities, all the way from California to Colorado to Indiana to New York) and make strict research-based cuts. Use what you learned from my first tip to cross some names off of your list. In the end, I would keep your number under seven schools if you really want options. I personally applied to six programs, and I already wish I had kept my number closer to three.

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Here are some numbers to know before applying:

  • The cost of the application will run you anywhere from $50-$250 (although some applications are free!). UCLA, the most applied to school in the world, has a $90 application fee, which is on the relatively cheap side.
  • The Graduate Admission Testing (GMAT or GRE) will cost about $200-$250 per test. This factored into my deciding to take the GRE over the more-expensive GMAT. With the GRE specifically, you can send your scores to four school for free and then pay a $27 fee for each additional school (another reason to keep your application number under five).
  • If you have been out of the academic world for a few years like I had been (what is the Pythagorean theorem again?), I would highly recommend purchasing a test prep course for your upcoming Graduate Admission Testing. I used Magoosh which ran me under $100 for a one-month unlimited online subscription. I personally would recommend studying hard for 3-weeks before the test and then moving on with your life. Honestly, if you give yourself 3-weeks or 3-months, you will probably study with the same intensity, so save yourself some time and just bust ass for 3-weeks.

Play to Your Strengths: 

If you are applying to business school like me, them more than likely you will have the option to take either the GMAT or GRE (the GMAT is still the universally accepted admission testing however, so check that your schools will accept the GRE before hand). When deciding which test to take, do some research and play to your strengths. Both testing companies offer free practice tests on their website so take one of each and see which one you score higher on, then prep accordingly. I personally took the GRE because it is less math intensive and more verbal focused (two essays instead of one). Being that I write almost daily and try to read a book every other week, I feel much more confident in my verbal skills than I do in my math skills (haven’t taken a math class since statistics five years ago). The GMAT also does not allow the use of any calculators, so be ready to convert fractions into decimals in your head, for four hours straight while being timed per question. And as I mentioned before, the GRE will save you about $50, although it is a longer test (by about 15 minutes, but when you are testing for 4-hours straight, is an extra 15-minutes really that much?).

Know the Options:

Traditional, evening, executive, accelerated, online – the options are endless. Choose the MBA program that is right for you by taking into consideration what you are trying to get out of your MBA. Looking to go back to school while balancing a family? Maybe online is the best option. Want to get in and bust it out so you can earn that promotion at work? Try an accelerated program. Hoping to enjoy every moment and have another college experience? Stay traditional with a two-year full-time route. Not willing to put your budding career on hold? Opt for an executive MBA program and take classes on the nights and weekends. With all of these options there has to be one that will best fit your life.

I personally have applied to every available option…I know…it is a little much. I wanted to explore all of my options and figured I would submit an application within each section.

Here are my thoughts on each, for what it is worth:

  • Online: About a year and a half ago I applied to an online MBA program. About halfway through writing my personal statement, I realized that, although an online program would accommodate my work schedule as an Executive with Target, it wouldn’t provide me with the experiences and connections I am looking for. There are somethings you just can’t achieve through a computer screen. I withdrew my application.
  • Evening: The main benefits of an evening MBA program is that it can allow you to keep your current job (or in my case, get a job) while earning your MBA. You can easily make time for a 40-hour work week with this option, a luxury that isn’t afforded with any of the other brick and mortar programs. The reason this MBA program lacks appeal to me personally is that student peer connections might suffer. I firmly believe that business school is a great way to make lasting friendships and possibly meet future business partners. With classes ending at 10PM on weeknights, and having to be at work from 8AM-6PM the next day, I find it hard to believe there would be time for study sessions, let alone grabbing a drink with a fellow student. As I currently don’t have a career to take into consideration, this is a very low-ranking option for me.
  • Executive: Much like the evening MBA, the executive MBA takes place during nights and weekends. The difference is that an executive-specific MBA will have stricter admission requirements. You typically must “currently hold a mid- to senior-level management position with significant responsibility,” “demonstrate at least five years of career-related work experience,” “demonstrate at least three years of managerial or leadership experience in a position that included supervision of other employees, responsibility for budgets, or financial performance, project management, account management or similar responsibilities,” and “hold an undergraduate degree from a US or internationally accredited institution of recognized standing.” All other MBA programs will not require work experience (although it is a huge leg up). I applied and was denied acceptance to an executive program, which honestly was not surprising as I am not currently working for any company and only have four years of work experience under my belt (give me a break, I am only 23). Honestly, I only applied to see if it was an option and because the program is in Portland, OR. As the typical age range is 27-55, I don’t think I would have fit in with my cohort much anyways. C’est la vie.
  • Accelerated: As someone who does most everything with intensity, an accelerated MBA program really intrigued me. The ability to finish my MBA in a year or less (I have applied to a 10-month and 13-month program) seems crazy, but there are programs out there that will allow you to do just that (and they are great programs too, so don’t be fooled into thinking a longer education makes for a better education). As I think more about it, I am not sure that an accelerated MBA is the right track for me. As someone who already completed her undergraduate education at an accelerated pace (I finished in three years), I am not sure that I want to make the same happen for my graduate degree. Over the past six months I have made efforts to not rush myself and my life, as I had been doing over the past 10-years. In many ways, I feel like my college experience suffered because I was not only taking classes with upperclassman I didn’t know, I was also working full-time with Target and balancing a relationship. A part of me worries that if I accept a spot within the accelerated programs (decisions are due May 1st, so I need to decided soon!), I will miss my second chance at a great college experience. But I know it is important to keep in mind that unlike my accelerated undergraduate experience, everyone in my MBA cohort will be moving at an accelerated pace as well. Maybe, in fact, the pace of the program will actually foster closer and stronger relationships with my peers.
  • Traditional: This is the MBA program that most easily comes to mind when people think of graduate school: two-years of classes, typically Monday-Thursday. With the traditional route it is possible to have a part-time job or internship. What appeals to me most about this option is how much it allows for and encourages socializing with student peers and professors. The idea of being able to grab a quick bite to eat with friends after class or spend a solid few hours in a study group seems like a great way to get to know people in business, rather than just the processes. This is the route that I am most considering.

As you can tell, there are tons of things to consider when it comes to choosing the right MBA program to apply to, and I haven’t even touched upon researching class sizes, post-graduation placement rates, or specializations! At the end of the day, having too many options can be more stressful than helpful, so trying to narrow your focus and have a semi-clear idea of what you want to get out of your MBA program. I hope this post helps demystify the process for anyone looking to take the plunge and earn a Master’s. I’ll be sure to keep you posted with which program I choose, although the pictures might give you a hint at which I am leaning toward.

-TM

Do you have any questions or advice for us about applying to college? Let us know below.

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