Friday, September 25, 2009

Analysis Paralysis, and great stories I won't use.

Schools Submitted: 0*/6 (Schools ready: ~4/6)
First Deadline: 6 days
Essays Submitted: 12/30(ish)

Everyone's heard of analysis paralysis - where you are psychologically trapped by too many options and end up unable to make a decision. There are actually usability studies about the danger of giving your customers too many choices; they don't buy anything!

In late night conversations with the peer that's been my MBA-App wingman, nothing has come up more lately than our analysis paralysis. We both have solid essays, but we'll pick them up at 10PM at night and find thousands of nitpicks, or things we wanted to add, and spend hours getting lost in the trees, and at times end up burning part of the forest down in the process. I completely mangled an essay on Tuesday as a result. Fortunately, Google docs has revision history log, so I just reverted to the previous day's version. I love technology!

There's also analysis paralysis around choices of topic. I've written a lot of drafts, and in many cases I have two or three essays for a question and I'm trying to decide what tells the most about me in relation to an MBA and how it fits with other essays and the data entry. This means cutting stuff that I like; I had a mistake/personal improvement experience that certainly wasn't extraordinary or superhuman, but it's one of my favorite life-changing moments.

Gist of the story I wish I was telling in one of my essays:
Took a foreign language class outside school, my TA was a giant muscled body builder; I assumed he was an idiot. Got shown his book at the end of class, turned out he was a surgeon, artist, and humanitarian who'd attended an ivy league. Er, whoops.

Also, he'd been as scrawny as I was in college... and had written a book on bodybuilding and his experience gaining weight. I put on 30 lbs in college with him as inspiration, and bodybuilding taught me about discipline and nutrition, as well as building my confidence significantly.

The discipline and nutrition came in quite handy both for dropping weight after a year or two of being a little too sedative from work, and for healing my collarbone fast enough to get back into a championship game for my team in the same season I broke it. The confidence bit is, well, confidence is really good stuff to have. Helps out in life, y'know.

Why am I not telling this story? I have more dramatic and impactful stories, and while this is one of my favorite mistakes, it doesn't tell much about me other than I used to be a scrawny, judgmental kid that gained some knowledge/confidence in the gym. I really wish HBS asked 'what are your three most significant accomplishments, and why' rather than substantial, as I would throw bodybuilding into significant, but not substantial. But then I'd have to revisit that school's essays, and I've forced myself to put them down for now.

Ah well, "Praise the lord and pass the (caffeine)" ... back to finalizing. If anyone has tips on dealing with analysis paralysis, please share. I lapse into a state of ultra-analysis after 2 or 3 hours of essaying now; great for programming and model/data work, terrible for essays.

Edit 1: My own tip: Body-mind connection. My head dips in when I start to focus. I literally am snapping my head back and shaking it to reorient. It does work!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Reviewing an MBA Tour Event

On Sunday I attended an MBA Tour Event, and had mixed reactions. Two of my peers who are currently applying attended as well, and we met up for lunch to compare notes.

Takeaways from our conversation (both of them have gone through the app process once already):
  1. You don't learn much if you've already done thorough research of the school you're interested in.
  2. Unlike some other panels (apparently a HBS/Wharton/Stanford GSB panel a friend had attended) no school gave much explanation as to how they went through an application; essays first, transcript last, resume first, essays last, etc - pretty much every school said 'holistically' and left it at that.
  3. In general, the presenters didn't sell us on anything. If I hadn't already done my research and talked to current students and alums at the schools I'm applying to, I might have been disincented.
I'm not trying to convey that the event didn't have value:
  1. If I was just beginning my search, it would have been a solid way to learn about the process. I say solid because I think I got far more information in less time over the internet.
  2. One school did mention they looked for specific things (such as a B average in calculus) and that was an excellent takeaway.
  3. Overall, chatting with the adcom reps was useful more for getting a feel for their personalities and thought processes than it was for the information they provide. That was, by far, the biggest takeaway - how they think, and therefore how to position some of my statements. ( This made the event very worthwhile )
I'm staring at my checklist... the schools with the furthest out deadlines were done first (? not sure how that happened, guess I got more excited about them) and the October 1st deadlines are, well, in progress. I finalized my resume and moved from a 56 line 10pt font to a 50 line 11pt font. It still might be a bit too much information, but I have done a lot of work in my time at my company, and it has sufficient white space and readability not to confound an interviewer.

I held off on any submissions due to the MBA Tour, and I'm glad I did - I'm going to do a little rewording and work in the optional essays section to better target the adcom mindset. 11 days to freedom, I hope!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

... too much caffeine?

First Deadline: 14 Days
Schools Completed: 0/6
Essays Submitted: 4/28

Short entry, I hope. I'm crashing early tonight (before midnight!) because I need to be functional for meetings tomorrow and have to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to teach on Friday. In my experience, if you want to feel well rested, the sleep you get two nights before is what matters.

My essay total went up; I've decided to use the optional 'explanatory' essay for two schools that I'm nearly finished with. Sometime later I'll write an entry about my journey to that decision, but definitely not now. I did not quite get where I wanted to on S#1, but another productive evening!

... oh right, the title of this post! So I had a 9am phone appointment with a current MBA student to ask some specific questions about a program her school offered, and she called me at 9pm due to a calendar mix-up. I'd actually talked to an admissions adviser at her school not an hour before, which had led to the decision to use the 'explanatory' essay for that school, and I was rather fired up about it (plus, had quite a lot of caffeine in me) ...

The poor woman! She opened the conversation wanting to learn about my background and goals, and I love talking about my passions so I took off at a caffeine-fueled four hundred miles an hour... she couldn't get a word in edgewise for a while. Admittedly, I disclosed early on that I had talked to another student in the same program and gotten great information, which changed the direction of the chat. We had a good discussion and I learned a few things about the school I didn't know. That said, I'm moderately appalled at how much talking I did, although she was incredibly gracious about it - if I get a chance to visit the campus I intend to look her up and demonstrate that I usually am more composed than a seven year old overdosed on pixie sticks.

Incidentally, I doubt I'll keep the silly running count up top with every post, I'm just motivating myself to finish strong.

Unlikely uses for Linked-In.

Quick entry. On Labor Day weekend, I spent at least half a day updating my Linked-In profile. (I also accidentally spammed everyone I'd ever emailed. Whoops, sorry.)

Tip: This was a good idea (update, not spam), and here's why.

I thought having an up-to-date profile would be prudent if any adcom googled me, but I didn't expect to get so much use out of my work. Today, I'm constantly viewing my own profile... to copy and paste information. Like yahoo, Linked-In has a profile of most companies, and from my public profile I can quickly dive into each one to get relevant information (size, industry, descriptions, etc). I also copy and paste my preloaded job descriptions, activities, etc. into fields. More or less, having an up to date linked-in profile is akin to having a professional cheat-sheet. So handy, and available everywhere - and beats a traditional resume due to the links.

Updating my profile also led to a number of other very significant events which completely consumed my labor day weekend (I did finish one monster essay, but no other progress). Frankly, had it not happened only 11 days ago I'd consider the experience grounds for a solid essay topic. That said, today I'm finding unlikely uses for linked-in, and loving it!

PS: The modern MBA applicant should be comfortable using two browsers; currently I'm leveraging Firefox and Chrome to pass information back and forth between schools as well. (Why does this matter? ApplyYourself, used by most of the top MBA programs, only lets you log into one school at a time. 2 browsers, 2 cookies, 2 schools.)

No pain, no gain?

First Deadline: 15 Days
Schools Completed: 0/6
Essays Submitted: 0/26

Perhaps an overly dramatic title. I sit here wondering "Where'd the last nine hours go?" and feel concern that I've made no "real" progress, while simultaneously feeling extremely satisfied with my abundant progress. IE: I submitted nothing and finalized no drafts today, but spent 9 full hours sitting at my desk after work being extremely productive in revisions and general application data entry. Come to think of it, I should consider putting some food near my desk tomorrow night.

It's 3AM (east coast) and I just finished conversing with a fellow MBA aspirant (helped slim & focus his Wharton draft) and am settling back with a shocked grin on my face: Tomorrow, after work, I'm going to fundamentally restructure Stanford #1 for the 5th time. Well, the first two restructurings were more akin to 'burn the house down, then rebuild it' but with each pass I get happier with the clarity and direction.

I can appreciate the days where there was no set length to that notable Stanford essay, and can see both bad and the good in the word limit. For one, I've already chopped four incredibly valuable experiences out of it, and will probably chop one or two more - there's just not enough room to cover so many life experiences and clearly link each to a central theme. I'm both pleased and annoyed at having to cherrypick the experiences that best fit my theme and clearly convey my message; On the one hand, I leave a lot of great material on the side, but on the other hand it is a fantastic exercise.

We learn about the '80-20' rule at work - to apply it here, 80% of an outcome takes only 20% of the effort. Essays feel more like 95-5 at this point; I wrote a 500 worder for Wharton in perhaps an hour back in early August, and have since spent at least 10 revising it. Stanford #1 has consumed a solid 40 hours of my life thusfar, no doubt. At the same time, all that extra effort has been well spent, and there are only a few 'big hitters' that have been truly time consuming. Given I lost quite a lot of essay time a few weeks back, I'm content-but-concerned with my progress. I will have finished a few school applications by the end of the week.

G'nite... I'm off to quickly revise 2 school drafts and send them to a recommender at their request, then sleep, then work, then essays!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Final drafts... and Football!!!

I'm sure many readers are not from the USA, but this is the NFL kickoff weekend!!! Talk about a distraction.

Finalizing four school drafts and submitting this week. Two other schools to finish up and submit before Oct 1. All in all, I've been over these drafts dozens of times and can't spend any more energy on this as work is about to pick up in a major way.

Hope everyone else is having a great MBA September - and is excited for FOOTBALL!!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Labor Day Weekend...

Also known as "finalize my apps and get them submitted" weekend for some of my schools, or that's my (perhaps overly aggressive) goal.

A lot's happened lately: In the past few weeks I've gotten quite behind, missing a week of work (and essay writing!) due to an infection. I also had to travel for work in the middle of my sick spell, which left me rather drained. All in all, I probably lost about 8 days of essay writing... and a full five days of work!

On the flipside, I'm happy with how my essays are maturing. I've gotten insight from roughly 10 extremely talented individuals on 18 or so essays, and it has really helped out.

Tip: If you are using Google Docs, the word-count feature has a "Flesh-Kincaid Grade Level" index for a section, a rough evaluation of its 'readability'. If a paragraph of your essay scores a '22' (ie: being suitable for '22nd graders'), you probably should revisit that section. A peer pointed out that my writing is incredibly dense at times, a result of some of the technical and research documents I've read and written, and so I am aiming for 10-13 as a F-K score for all my essays and paragraphs. There are the occasional complex sentences (particularly ones involving long class titles) that eke out a 15 or 16, but for the most part I've been successful. I'm quite proud that my most difficult essay nets a 10.0.

Anyhow. A weekend of revision and targeting ahead.

Note to any MBA officials reading this: As a prospective applicant, I found Haas the easiest school to learn about. They have done an excellent job of putting out an amazing amount of material about the strengths of their program and what makes them unique on their website, and it is well-organized and easy to navigate.