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Start With Your Brain

Interested in business school? If so, now’s the time to start thinking about your application, even if you don’t want to apply until 2010. Sure, that’s a long way away, but sometimes really good ideas take a long time to hatch.

Please note—I wrote “thinking about your application.” I’m not one of those admissions consultants that say you have to be rigorous with your timeline: if it’s the third week in June then you must be half-way through the GMAT quant section. No, that’s not me.

What I do to suggest, though, is to start thinking about starting to think about business school. That’s not a typo. Start thinking about thinking.

By putting even a fragment of an idea into your head, you are inspiring your brain. And it’s your brain, that big mass of grey matter that nobody quite understands, that is going to get you into the school of your choice.

Indeed, it’s your brain, with a little push from that part of you that knows how to meet deadlines, that’s going to make your application stand out from a competitive pool.

I don’t want to scare anybody, but getting into business school is competitive. Kirsten Moss, Director of Admissions at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, told me that applications there have risen 50% over the last three years. “The bar is getting higher,” she said.

To put yourself firmly in the running, start thinking about what the admissions committees want to know about you. They want to know about your career history, your goals, your achievements, and your character. So why not give your brain a little exercise, and let it mull over what you think you might want to say?

Here’s what turning it over to the brain can do for you (Part 1):

1. You can ponder

You’ve heard that some people get their best ideas in the shower, or while running, or even by mediating. Researchers at the University of British Columbia have found that daydreaming is a great tool for creativity. Think of these next few months—or years—as one long meditation session. But make sure you feed your brain the problem, for example, “What do I want to say about my brilliant career?” before heading off to that monastery in Tibet.

2. You open yourself up to new ideas

Have you ever had someone talk about something, say Uganda for example, and suddenly it’s everywhere? For awhile, everyone I knew was talking about Uganda. My brain was now alerted to Uganda and it started giving me ideas: maybe I should travel there and take a trek in the mountains. Maybe I should work with my friend who is supporting a microfinance project in Kampala, or another who is has just started a non-profit there to help reunite war-torn families there. I don’t know, but my brain is processing Uganda in a different way than it did before because now it’s on my radar.

If you read through the school websites early, explore the curricula, and start talking to current MBA students, you give yourself the chance to bump into some new concepts while you are doing your research. The more time you allow yourself to open yourself up to new experiences, the more you will be able to differentiate yourself.

3. You can brainstorm

Throw ideas out there. Go crazy with thoughts like “I’m going to take Digital Anthropology at Sloan” or “I’m going to apply to INCAE in Costa Rica because that way I can study sustainability up close” or even “I’m going to meet my girlfriend’s brother’s uncle’s neighbor who just graduated from Columbia and is excited about working in Mongolia next year.” That way you might discover something about a course of action or about yourself that you hadn’t even thought about before.

That’s all for this installment. I’ll be writing a column after July 4 (US Independence Day) to pick up on this idea of starting early. As for me, I started planning three years before I actually applied to business school. But that, as they say, is another story.

Never Believe It Isn’t Possible

In the midst of today’s celebrity news, I found an unrelated article in the Wall Street Journal about the heroin trade, Afghanistan and the Taliban. Not an easy subject, I know.
The thing is, the article reviewed a book called “Seeds of Terror” by Gretchen Peters, whom I knew very well when we were both working is Asia. She has been on Newshour, been interviewed by John Stewart on the Daily Show, and briefed members of Congress and the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The greatest thing about the book — well written, informative, and so typical of what 85 Broads is all about — is the dedication to her two “near-perfect daughters.”
To “Isabella and Sophia,” she writes. “Never believe it isn’t possible.”

Gretchen is one of those women that just plain followed her heart. We met in the Euromoney Magazine offices in Hong Kong. I asked her to intern for me on a project there, and we became fast friends. When she moved to Phnom Penh to work for, and ultimately edit, the Cambodia Daily newspaper, I took advantage and visited several times, bringing her Twizzlers and other junk food which you couldn’t get in Cambodia.

She later ended up as ABC TV’s bureau chief in Pakistan, and while there, started research on her book about the Taliban.

When I saw her on the Daily Show, I felt like cheering. She was the same Gretchen I knew from our days hanging out in the Foreign Correspondents Club. To think now that her knowledge may help guide US and worldwide foreign policy on the Taliban. Wow.

I recently followed my heart to start my business as an MBA admissions consultant. I did it because I want to help people be more like Gretchen. To be able to change the world in their own special way. To be honest, I didn’t see her and say, “There’s a woman who can become a foreign policy expert on Afghanistan and the Taliban.” I just thought that she was smart, interesting and had a great sense of humor. But I knew she had something… and boy, look at her now.

All because she believed it was possible.

Funniest MBA Acceptance Email Ever

I was going to blog about my weekend visit to a mentee at NYU Stern Business School, but something else came up that is almost better.

A potential MBA candidate just sent me an email regarding his application to Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School, writing, “Click on the link in the message below. While I was pleased, the cheese factor made me cringe.” Indeed, here’s the link:

http://www.tepper.cmu.edu/bschoolnews2009

I hope it shows up properly — it’s fun news, but it is a bit…much? Please email me with any other suggestions of funny or strange email responses from admissions committees. (No dings, though; no matter how you look at it, they aren’t amusing).

MBA Applicants Still in Demand

According to conventional wisdom, things are pretty bleak out there for MBA graduates and applicants. According to articles in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, “With Jobs Tight, MBAs Head for Home,” and the weekend’s New York Times, “Business Graduates Looking Beyond Wall Street,” things are really dire.

This conventional wisdom implies that business school is not worth it, since it’s expensive and jobs are scarce. Furthermore, if that isn’t enough to spook a potential applicant, a record number of students took the GMAT this year (true), and therefore, it’s impossible to get admitted (not necessarily).

Indeed, its 2009 and things are unusual. Financial markets jobs surely are going to be hard to find this year, but that’s not all that is out there. A 2009 MBA graduate I know turned down a job at a big Wall Street firm because she hopes to work for Timothy Geithner in the U.S. Treasury. Students are using their imaginations, reaching out and looking to work for firms that may not be household names…today.

Admissions Not Necessarily More Competitive
It was thought that MBA admissions would be more competitive this year, but the jury is still out. I just got an email today from University of California at Davis, an up-and-coming school, with this headline, “There’s still space for qualified applicants!” Kathy Gleed, Director of Admissions explains in the email, “We fully expect to admit candidates from our final round, even with the increase in applications.”

This call for applicants is not just a one-off. In St. Louis, Washington University’s Olin Business School has tried to attract candidates by waiving the $100 application fee.

Even vaunted Stanford GSB has been forced to capitulate. A week before Stanford’s round-three deadline, the committee posted a call for applications. http://www.stanford.edu/group/mba/blog/2009/03/apply_now_for_round_3.html
“The media hype says that business school applications soar when the economy is bad and, as such, there won’t be any spots left for third round applicants. This simply isn’t true.” says Stanford Admissions blogger Victoria Hendel De La O.

A higher percentage of students – many of them international – are not making the choice to go to the U.S. for business school. University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business attributed its second-round drop in applicants to lower international volume. At Cornell’s Johnson School of Business, as of mid-February, domestic applications were up 10%-15%, and international applications were down by 30%. Dartmouth’s Tuck School and University of Virginia’s Darden School are seeing application volume roughly equal to last year’s. “Applications are up in some areas and down in others” said Arielle Myhre,Assistant Director of Marketing and Admissions at Darden.

So it’s a mixed bag. Some schools will dig further into their waitlists. Dee Leopold, Director of Harvard Business School Admissions announced on April 9, 2009: “We will be making more offers from the waitlist this year, and we hope to make the majority of these decisions as soon as we can – definitely before the end of May.”

Perhaps next year won’t be quite so unpredictable. Either way, best of luck!