Sunday, September 21, 2008

Applying to Grad School - My November Part Time Job

I've noticed that many of my fellow classmates have provided very useful posts about the application process and figured that it might be worth sharing my process (I use the word process very loosely) to offer a different view on how things can turn out well. In other words, I hope to point out that there's many ways to put together a great application.

To refresh your memory on my situation (or in case you are not an avid blog reader - shame on you!), I am one of those people that did not know that I wanted to go to grad school. I never had a master plan that involved an MBA, and although I had thought a lot about it, this time a year ago, when most of my classmates were in the throws of the application processes, I had not even registered to take the GMAT.

I tell you this, because for those of you who are interested in applying, but feel like you are behind the curve, I really believe that it is not too late. Yes, I acknowledge that putting together the application, writing your essays & studying for the GMAT is a lot of work, but the application deadline is still almost 3 months away. And, since I feel like I was a rockin' (aka - good) candidate, I am sure there's more people like me out there.

So, now....

Johanna's Tips

Tip 1: Decide which school you want to apply through.
LFM allows you to apply through either the School of Engineering for the engineering degree you'd pursue or through Sloan. This makes a difference for 2 reasons: 1) If you don't get into LFM, that school will review your application for their degree program and 2) GMAT versus GRE. I applied through Sloan.
I'll leave it at that since I think this is largely a personal decision.

Tip 2: Figure out who your recommendors will be & talk to them.
I think this is a big one because it is important to find people who will represent different strengths that you have. No one person knows everything, so the key is finding people who have worked with you in different environments and that can accurately capture your EXCEPTIONAL qualities. Once you've identified someone, talk to them! I had very candid conversations explaining not only why I was applying but why I wanted THEM to write my recommendation. I gave them over 2 months to submit the recommendations and am thankful that all of them finished WELL before the deadline.

Tip 3: The essays are very important.
In my (not so professional) opinion, I think the essays are the most important part of the application because they offer the best insight to who you are... forget the GMAT scores or your undergrad GPA - in the essays this is your chance to talk about who you really are. This is the portion of the application where I spent the most of my time. Yup, while others spent close to or even over a hundred hours studying for the GMAT/GRE, I decided to invest time in my essays. The reason I decided to do this? Well, because a number is a number, but a story... now that's something that people remember.

Tip 4: Study for the GMAT or GRE. (Ok, you had to know this was coming next.)
Don't get me wrong, I studied and bought books. There were two 9 hour plane rides between Los Angeles & Puerto Rico during which I am sure I did dozens of practice problems. Sunday afternoons were spent in front of the TV rooting on my fantasy football players while doing practice problems during commercials I put my hours in and felt prepared. And, since I didn't start studying until October, I waited until 17 days before the application deadline to take the GMAT. In hindsight, sure I wish I had more time to study and to get a score that I could brag about to my kids (ok, not really), but the reality is, life was busy, and I couldn't do everything. Plus, I know standardized test taking is a weakness of mine, so I focused on making my strengths even more prominent.

Tip 5: Don't forget the details & don't wait to submit until the last minute.
There's a lot of little things that need to be completed for the application... a transcript, a list of classes taken during undergrad, filling out a lot of random information. I actually logged in and started filling out some of the easy stuff (name, birth date, etc...) well before I needed to. This way, the last thing I did was a few days before the deadline

Ok, that's it! Hopefully it's not too general to be useless, but I really did not want to get into details and duplicate the great advice of my classmates, because you can read it there.

I'm going to end with a few caveats/notes.

First, I'm not on the admissions committee. This means, I don't really know the answers, I just know what worked for me.

Second, I am not going to promote my methods as the best. But, I think, as an individual, it's important to know your strengths and do everything you can to play them up so you look as rockin' as you likely are.

Third, Once I committed to applying (paid the GMAT fee), I was totally in. I built a spreadsheet to track everything that needed to be done and I got myself focused. So, despite my laid back approach, organization and dedication were absolutely required to get it all done.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fall means it's Football Season!

....oh, and also the start of a new school semester and classes.

But, before I get into that, I'm obviously very excited for football season. And, since I am from California, my teams of choice are not highly followed here in Boston so, I'm making sure everyone knows where my loyalties lie. This weekend is the big USC vs. Ohio State game and in order to be as supportive (aka - obnoxious) as possible, I'm going to start wearing USC shirts to school tomorrow for 4 days straight. (Don't worry, I have plenty of USC shirts to wear and not have to re-wear a dirty one!) Also, in the NFL realm, some of us LFM Xers (10s) are in a Fantasy Football league and I'm excited that I won the first game of the season. Off to a good start, which is better than the Chargers did.

Ok, enough football, I could go on for pages.


So, if I could offer you one piece of advice (besides wearing sunscreen) for those who are here next summer, it would be to take time in the summer to learn about the classes you can take for your engineering degree. I chose my engineering major as Engineering Systems because I thought it'd offer me the best opportunity to take classes that interested me, and aligned with my career plans. Once I got here, however, I realized that I had really strong interests in Logistics & Transportation and the ESD program didn't give me exactly what I was looking for. The great thing about LFM & ESD is that I've been able to take the initiative to shape my own program with this focus. While it's definitely a good thing, it's also bad because I've had to meet with various people to negotiate classes that would form a good course plan for my engineering degree. I unfortunately, have been scrambling and doing this for the past week and a half since Registration Day. It would have been time VERY well spent if I'd done a lot more due diligence before classes started. While it's intimidating to look at all of the options out there, it's much better to do it when you're not being e-mailed daily asking how things are coming. :) Fortunately, tomorrow, I should be able to get all the signatures needed to finalize things. Phew!

So, what am I taking?

Well, all first year MBA students at MIT participate in the Core Curriculum, as LFMs we take Accounting, Economics, Communication for Managers & Organizational Processes with our core. Non LFM students are also required to take Finance or Marketing and Data Model Decisions in their first semester, we take DMD in the summer, and can take Finance/Marketing at a later date if we want, depending on our schedule. On top of those 4 courses I am taking 1 Sloan Elective - Power & Negotiation and 2 Engineering Electives - Logistics Systems and Logistsics & Transportation Planning Methods. It's a bit of a heavy course load and I think I'm going to regret it at many times this semester, but the nice thing is that the classes do actually feel very practical and a lot of the professors seem like they'll be very engaging (which also helps!).

Another highlight of the first semester of the MBA program is the Core Teams. Just like in the summer, we are put in study groups with other individuals in our cohort that we're to work with on group projects and help each other learn the core material. The LFM students are separated so you are the only LFM on your team. It's always a nerve racking experience meeting the group, but I'm really pleased! My group, the Caribbean Cranes, has been productive in all our meetings and are working together real well up to this point.

On that note, I'll leave you with a photo from one of our team building events during orientation week.


Friday, September 5, 2008

And now... 350 more people to meet!

One of the greatest things about LFM is that we start school in the summer and have 3 months to get settled, get to know each other and meet the rest of the class. We become very close and comfortable with one another, and pretty much have a good time among ourselves. It is a great time because we have the run of the Sloan buildings, the LFM office and pretty much anything we want.

But, I think it also makes the Fall and meeting the rest of the Sloan class a bit of a challenge.  The social experiment (at least this is what I call it) begins when Sloan Orientation starts and we are forced outside of our "comfort zone" (which 3 months ago did not exist because we were all strangers!) and integrated with the rest of the Sloan class.  Surprisingly, it's hard -- it's intimidating, the rest of the Sloanies are pretty impressive people and are very excited and motivated... but, worst of all, they are new people! haha, It sounds silly, but I am sure everyone knows the feeling!

We're lucky to have such a great LFM class, but it's easy to fall back on each other. As a result, I've actually been trying pretty hard to get to know a lot of people outside of LFM.  It seems silly to consciously avoid other LFMs when there's a group at a table or talking together in a bar.  But, it pays off -- the rest of the Sloanies are awesome.

Also, I'm actually very excited about my Fall study group. The 6 other people in the Caribbean Cranes pretty much rock, and although I know nothing is ever perfect, I think we'll have a good team experience.

Despite all of the fun of meeting new people, I am admittedly glad to run back into the "arms" of our classmates for an occasional boost to continue with the slightly daunting task of meeting the other 350 people!

It really is crazy to think that 3 months ago us 48 LFMs were all complete strangers!

Coming Next.... more about Sloan Orientation and fall class selection.