–OhDenny, a veteran gmatclubber graciously agreed to share his ‘Road to the MBA’ story with the world. This is the Final Part of his story–one of trial, tribulation… and triumph.-
Act III: Lather, Rinse, Threepeat
This time I was pissed. Pissed at myself, pissed at my job, pissed at the system. I thought that I had done everything in my power to improve my candidacy and present myself as the person these schools would want in their class. I felt like I was getting too old, too desperate, and too stagnant to make myself a good candidate again. I felt like a humongous failure and really started to doubt my personal and professional ability.
I will give my friends and family credit – they did not make a big deal of anything. That may have been by design, or it may have been unconscious, (they had better things to do with their time than to worry about me), but their laissez-faire sympathy ultimately gave me enough space for me to draw my own conclusions about the process. It allowed me to answer my own questions, and in some cases, figure out what those questions were in the first place.
Why was I so interested in going to Business School? Was it to switch out of the non-profit sector? Was it money? If I wasn’t able to articulate it for myself in those terms, how was I supposed to articulate it to schools? I’d paid some lip service to the ‘Why MBA?’ question by talking about going into non-profit consulting after school, running a mid-sized arts non-profit and then starting my own venture. Is that what I wanted to do?
It turns out that it IS what I want to do – for the most part. I thought about what made me most fulfilled in my life, and it was definitely the work I’d done as a producer and executive for my own theater company. I knew social entrepreneurship was more than just a buzzword, and that arts organizations especially would be benefiting from new forms of organizing (L3C and B-Corps). I was really excited about the idea of creating my own shop where I could showcase new cultural trends. So, did I need an MBA to do what I wanted to do?
Maybe not, but I definitely needed to change jobs. I was too comfortable at my non-profit (which I loved, and where I’m still a volunteer and donor), and I needed to broaden my strategy and management experience to get to where I needed to go – not to mention build capital and a network. THAT’S where the MBA comes in.
Well, since B-School was out of the picture for at least a year, I thought I should get a new job that would allow me to gain some of those skills, build capital and networks, and serve as a good springboard to a reapplication if I decided to give it one more go. I was lucky enough to land at my current firm where I am a fundraising consultant for a wide range of non-profits running large capital campaigns. It was exactly what I was looking for – brilliant people, really meaty and challenging projects, lots of cross-sector experience, and a crash course in how to run a successful non-profit operation. Plus – 5 members of my team were SOM grads, 3 were Sternies, 2 from CBS, and 1 from HBS. (We also hire from Ross, Kellogg, and Booth, but not on my team.)
It was midway through my first year at this firm that I decided I wanted to apply to schools again. I knew I was on the late end (I’ll be 32 when I leave school) but I’d seen what the MBAs on my team could do, and the respect that their degrees immediately conferred them. Additionally, I knew that my experiences after a year at my new job were far and away the most challenging and interesting experiences I’d had in my professional life, and that I was becoming the candidate that most schools would be looking for. However, one thing became very clear to me through this process, I knew that I needed that MBA. Not just for the reasons I enumerated above and in my essays – network, skills, strategy, credibility; no, I most needed to get an MBA because I wasn’t going to feel like I’d accomplished enough without it. It was a personal fulfillment thing. I knew I’d be losing a good amount of money to opportunity cost, that I had a good career track at my firm and was already keeping pace with my MBA peers, and that I was building a strong network amongst high-level funders across the country. But the need for me to check a glowing red box on my life’s list overshadowed the other concerns. The clear benefits that I would get didn’t hurt either. I started my apps early, in July.
This time around the process was probably the most fun I’ve had on any personal project since my theater company. I discovered GMATClub and Poets & Quants, (why it had never occurred to me before to find resources online about the application process will remain one of the key mysteries in my life), and I researched additional schools so that I wouldn’t be putting all of my eggs in two baskets. This time around I applied to SOM, Haas, Ross, and Fuqua – all Round 1.
I told my story simply. After a year of figuring out why I wanted the damn thing in the first place, it was much easier for me to put down on paper ‘Why MBA?’ and ‘Why Now? Why Here?’ I had a dozen new experiences to talk about, including massive culture shock when my firm sent me to work with a small Catholic parish in a rural exurb outside of Raleigh for 7 months. Suddenly the ‘Tell us about a time where you overcame an obstacle’ essay was the easiest one to write: A gay, agnostic, Northern Asian going to the rural South to work with a Catholic church, (re-learning how to drive after 10 years, notwithstanding). Aside from the obvious boon to my essays, the experience also changed me. I became confident in my abilities. Our campaign surpassed its goal. I loved Raleigh. I made friends and connections amongst the parish community. The priest (a Kenan-Flagler grad) wrote my recommendations and is still a friend today. I also met and fell madly in love with my boyfriend, who I’ve now been with for almost 2 years, and who I know will understand my B-School experience because he’s in Arch School, and knows what awful hours are like. But all of that is icing on the cake to what I learned – I want the MBA, and I know I’m going to get it this time.
I interviewed at all four schools and got into three. (Haas waitlisted me again! Full Disclosure: I’d gotten into SOM 18 hours before my Haas interview, and wandered in spacey, sweaty, and generally seeming like a big ol’ weirdo. Not that this is an excuse – in fact, it’s a cautionary tale!) I’ll be attending SOM in August.
When they find out I’m a threepeat, after the expression of astonishment/appraisal/pity flashes across their face, people typically will ask me one of two questions:
What did you do differently that last time?
How did you find the tenacity to keep trying?
Well, the first one was easy – I took Accounting and Macro. I spent time researching and visiting schools. I got a new job, new experiences, and a big bump in pay and responsibility. That’s it.
The second one was hard, and was the bulk of this 3rd Act. Without that introspection, without figuring out why I was so drawn to this degree, I didn’t have the passion driving me into school. I came off as a cold fish, when I am exactly the opposite. But something about getting rejected twice by something you were so convinced you’d be good at changed my mentality. I became the person that I’d only been describing in my essays before, and I was happy about the journey I’d taken – a journey that has essentially initiated another, different journey for me at Yale. I know I’m going to be a bit older than most others in my class, and that I could have started my social enterprise three or four years sooner, but I don’t regret anything. I feel like I am in the right place, at the right time, and I’m going to have just the Best. Two years. Ever.