Sunday, March 30, 2008

Urban Land Institute

So the best piece of advice I received from soliciting the admissions consultants on their respective BusinessWeek threads was to participate in some real estate related activities, clubs, etc. This should make me appear much more serious about my dream job. I agree.

I went to Columbia's real estate website and realized that they actually post all the resumes of MBA students who have declared Real Estate as one of their foci (plural for focus). There's about 25 per class that take the real estate major (or focus). So I looked at all the resumes' extra currics sections for ideas. It appears that none of them are relevant to me except for the Urban Land Institute which apparently is a non-profit (I think) that conducts research about land usage. It doesn't advocate any specific point of view but rather, it tries to educate everyone about trends and such. The website is really cool as it offers podcasts and webinars (web seminars) that teach basics of real estate and even has professors from Wharton, UCLA, etc. that share their views on current events and trends in the industry. Useful stuff. This seems to be a treasure trove of info. I can apply for their Young Leaders membership (since I'm under 35 they call me a Young Leader). This is $175 instead of over $225. I tried to sign up right away but unfortunately they did not recognize my age for some reason so I'll have to call tomorrow during business hours. Hopefully my company will pay for it too since they pay for 1 professional membership per year. So this is another membership I'll have under my extra currics. There's a conference coming up next month too called Real Estate 101 or something in Washington DC. It costs $25 but I think it's worth it for me to go to learn and show my interest. I also listened to 4 of the podcasts already and they are definitely helpful as the topics were real estate development careers (how convenient hehe).

The other useful piece of info I got was that I should try to do something industry related at work. This is a tough hand to play. I don't want to abandon my team after only 6 months though admittedly, I'd be best doing so. I'm just afraid it will hurt my recommendation though it sounds like I can get one from the project manager who will just ask me to write it for him. But still, I'm hesitant. Ideally, I would stay on the project and do cooler tasks such as budget forecasting (that's certainly real estate finance related right?) or maybe I can help them research/scout out new office locations which I heard them mention. Both would be fun and interesting and related to my interests! The other thing is to look out (in the long-term) for real estate related projects. After all, I'll be at Booz Allen for another year and a half at least.

Friday, March 28, 2008

U.S. News Rankings released

Oooh lala, isn't it crazy how all of us prospective applicants salivate when new rankings are on the horizon? The fervor is real and crazy. Some people on the BusinessWeek threads even leaked the MBA rankings 2 days before the official release date of march 29th. I think the new US News ranking thread generated over 200 posts in one day. Anyway, not much actually changed. Yale and UCLA got huge bumps but that was about it.

Most important to me was that Columbia stayed at #9. While I'd obviously like for it to rise in the rankings (and battle this reputation of being the laggard of the M7 that so many purport), I'd rather it rise after I get admitted hehe. Selfish I know. I think I read somewhere that application volumes do increase after schools get a bump in the rankings and lord knows I don't need more competition. Especially since Columbia is the 3rd most selective school already with about 6,000 applications for 911 acceptances last year. Also, the down economy will see apps rise next year (as the opportunity cost of forgoing employment is less) in addition to the typical small increases we see each year. Just like in NY real estate, the time to buy (or apply rather) was yesterday.

I' m glad Columbia stayed at 9. NYU Stern followed at #10 which surprises me considering the facilities didn't impress at all during my visit. I don't care to get into the methodology employed though and I realie that NYU has always hovered around #10 historically. Yale rose all the way to #13 (just barely edging out a three-way tie at #14). Wharton was #3 and Berkeley tied for #8. These are the only schools I care about :P The full rankings are available on the US News website though I couldn't access it (server probably crashing due to hit volume, something my blog never has a problem with hehe). I actually put more weight in the BusinessWeek rankings (it seems like this is the majority educated opinion as well, though by only a small margin) and I think those come out in October, which is strange considering Richard Montauk says that the US News and BW rankings are released alternating every year. Oh whatever.

Another interesting development is that my co-worker who was going to apply to NYU Stern full-time for Fall 2009 is forgoing that route. Instead, she is going to apply part-time to Maryland (Smith) starting Fall 2008. I don't know if I agree with that decision but to each their own. It would've been fun to have both been in NYC though.

Like the free-riding dork that I am, I solicited free feedback from 4 admissions consultants on their respective BusinessWeek threads 2 days ago. Surprisingly, only 2 have gotten back to me (Maxx Associates and thus far. They both said I should be competitive (which I knew but still so good to hear) and advised that I get involved in more real estate related activities, perhaps club memberships or try to do something related at work. I think these are great ideas. I'm going to check out all the real estate student resumes at Columbia to see what memberships they have, then see if I can join those professional societie hehe :) I understand that it's only 5 months until my application is submitted but every little bit helps. Work will be a lot harder to manipulate not only because of practicability but also politics. I am going to fight tooth and nail to get involved with some of the financial aspect of project planning though (such as budget forecasting) which I may be able relevant to real estate development. After all, everything can be conceptualized as a project with a budget. I know our project team was looking for additional office space in the area (which we have to procure ourselves) so hopefully I can get involved with that search as well. I'll be lucky if even one of these two work tasks comes to fruition as my manager already shot down the financial tasking request 2 weeks ago with no explanation.

Good news is that my co-worker who is applying to Maryland has already asked our project manager about writing a rec. He said he would love to but due to time constraints, he wants her to write it and he'll just sign it. He seemed very gung-ho about getting her into a good program though so this is good to know. This bodes well for me but the difference is that I'm going full-time so they may think I'm abandoning them (after only 6 months too). Oh well, we'll see how this plays out.

BTW, does anyone know what the Consortium is? I've seen it mentioned on the BusinessWeek forums and it seems like a medium for applying to multiple schools. Not sure yet. Must research.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Free Admissions Consulting!

In the last two days I've become a lot more serious about admissions consulting. Still not 100% positive I'm going to use a consultant but I feel any advantage (as long as it's legal) is worth it. I don't mind paying $2000 (hopefully not much more than that) if it paints my applicant portrait in the best light possible. Why risk it? I had used's free 15 minute consultation a month ago and thought Saichen Waikar was very nice and helpful with his insight. Then I stopped looking cuz of the hardcore GMAT studying. Now that that's done, I'm researching consultants again. First stop: the Business Week forums. Naturally.

Today I posted my first thread. It asked how those insanely high success rates boasted by admissions consultants are possible. Some places claim 95 to 99% success! How do they define success? How many schools are they looking at? Are they self-selecting the applicants they work with to boost their stats? I doubt it because I don't think an admisssions consultant would turn down a customer. After all, $2000+ to give advice and edit essays is pretty easy money. Which isn't to say that they don't provide some insight and strategy that can increase one's chances... it's just that I think the majority of services are a bit overpriced for what they do offer. Anyway, I only got 2 replies and it seems like I should just take the percentages with a grain of salt. I think if I do use a consultant, I'll probably use MBA Apply as Alex seems the most level-headed. He seems genuinely smart and insightful and isn't overly self-aggrandizing or condescending as I've seen in some other consultants' threads. His price and services also seem great.

I was about to close the deal but he said he's not accepting new clients until late summer! Crazy. I guess they do turn down customers. He said he wants to enjoy his downtime which I can understand but this would be easy for him because I have my sh*t together and he can get me out of the way before the flood gates open in late summer- at least that's how I rationalize it! ;) Anyway, I did send him my profile and asked him for a brief evaluation... little did I know it was going to be an incredibly brief one. He didn't give me any insightful information... he only said that I should be competitive at all my choices but that the economy will cause a jump in application volumes next year. Both pieces of info are old news to me unfortunately. I really got much less info than other people got but maybe that's because I emailed him instead of posting it on his BusinessWeek thread. Maybe he likes the thread because it basically serves as free advertising (that's how I found him after all). But he doesn't seem like the type who would be intentionally unhelpful so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Especially since he's giving me his time for free. :) I'll try him again in July when the Columbia app comes out. He said that there's not much to be done now but I countered that Columbia's Essay #1 and resume editing and story refinement can be done. He replied that those things can be easily handled in 6 weeks. Yikes. I am aiming for near perfection with my Columbia app so I hope that's not the case. I guess I'm a bit of a high-maintenace kinda guy huh? :P

BTW, I was quite surprised to experience how rude Clear Admit was. I had a very nice free consultation with one of their consultants and was very interested in purchasing their services. Unfortunately, they only bill by the hour and do not offer school packages. Billing by the hour is highly suspect. Anyone who's ever "been on the clock" (i.e. sitting in a taxi) knows that this has the potential to be a horrible idea. However, I liked my free consultation so much that I inquired about customized school packages. The founder Eliot Ingram then proposed the same services that they offer at an hourly rate, except that I purchase them in bulk for the exact same price. Basically he was not going to offer me any of the unlimited services (Clear Admit limits the number of drafts or edits that they'll help with whereas other services will edit until they think it's near perfect). His so-called "package" was basically buying a chunk of their hours at the exact same rate (no discount, so what's the point of the bulk buying?). When I asked him to clarify why his "package" was essentially the same as his hourly offering, he gave me a pretty curt reply via email. Jeez. I guess when you're one of the bigger consulting companies, you don't need to worry about customer service.

Even worse, the super nice consultant who gave me the free phone consultation was so good that I decided to leave a voicemail on her phone to thank her for her time... I also said if she ever decided to go into business for herself, that I'm sure she'd be super successful ;) I even emailed her as follow-up. She never responded to either. I guess Clear Admit doesn't care about courtesy after concluding that they aren't going to make a sale. I'm kinda glad to find this out though. I'd hate to have hired them only to find out that their service sucks after having secured my money.

In other exciting news, I put the URL to this blog on the signature of my BusinessWeek forum messages. I've already gotten more hits today than any other day (an easy feat I know, but still!) ... that makes me happy. Oh and one last thing, sorry for the insanely long Columbia entries. You know how I can get :P

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Columbia - Part 3

I immediately smiled and said hi to the student I sat next to. He, in turn, did the same and seemed quite friendly too. I explained that I was just sitting in to get a feel for what the class environment was like, but I didn’t phrase it that eloquently… in fact, I’m sure I articulated it quite awkwardly. I think this really threw him off as he started talking to his friend sitting on the other side of him at the first opportunity. I also introduced myself to the friend, who introduced himself in kind, but then they resumed the conversation. It’s amazing how an awkward sentence or two can so derail a potential conversation when it’s the initial impression. Since the seat to my right was empty, I decided to just observe the classroom dynamic. (there were only 4 seats in my half of the row as we were the last row)

The class had not yet started and students were still trickling in. I was surprised to notice how friendly everybody was. Most everyone was talking to someone nearby and were smiling and seemed genuinely happy. I asked the guy next to me (his name I forget) whether everyone in the class is from the same Cluster (since clusters take their core classes together) and he replied yes but that some were from one other cluster as well. With that answered, he resumed his conversation with his buddy. This particular core class had approximately 60 students I would guess. It was really impressive how everyone seemed to get along with each other. You really did get the sense that these people knew each other from several previous classes, and not just from this particular class. I’d say about two-thirds or seven-tenths of the class was male. I am happy to note that the female students were more attractive than the ladies at the info session (which was comprised of prospective, not actual, students). I did notice a few instances where the girls sat together. For instance, the right half of the class contained the vast majority of the girls in the room.

There were handouts in the front of the room that included one packet of powerpoint slides (for that day’s class) and also a two-page recording sheet for the operations game that they were supposed to play later that day. The professor would soon explain that the students were going to learn the rules of the game and engage in a trial run during class. Later on in the evening, the students were supposed to gather in their individual games and actually “play” the game in a reserved classroom. The game was supposed to elucidate the communication and logistical problems of a supply chain. It did this by having four students represent the different types of suppliers in the beer industry. Students were to play the role of beer retailer, beer warehouse, beer manufacturer, and something else that I forget. They were supposed to give orders to each other and try to maximize profit despite the mandatory time lags from communication and resultant penalties from over or under-produced supply. It definitely seemed like a fun, interactive way to learn about supply management.

Before the class started, two students made announcements to the class about a fundraiser that one of the Clusters was advocating. Apparently the men in the clusters were growing mustaches and collecting donations based on the amount of mustache grown (similar to any charity race except it is the person’s facial hair that is racing in this case). It was pretty funny since one of the guys had a full mustache and beard whereas the other student had almost nothing (like me!). One of the last people to walk into the class actually came to the back row and sat in the empty seat to my right. We both introduced ourselves to each other immediately. It appears that everyone knows each other in the classes (or core classes at least) due to the cluster system so everyone was really friendly about learning everyone else’s name at the least. Or maybe these b-school student all knew the value of networking. Whatever the case, everyone I met today was pretty good at greeting me or being greeted by me at the very least. His name was Tony.

The professor finally started class (probably a couple minutes late) and everyone quieted down. He explained the rules and then asked for questions. One student sitting diagonally in front of me posed quite a clever question: “If there are only penalties from mismanaged inventory and no actual revenue from the sales, then wouldn’t profit be maximized by refusing to participate in the game?” This was really a great question and half the class chuckled. Professor Weintraub also smiled and clearly enjoyed the student’s ingenious query. He responded that we were to assume that all participants earned the same revenue and would have the same sales- we were simply interested in minimizing the inefficiencies resulting from communication delays. The professor admitted this was perhaps a bad assumption to make but that it would have to be utilized for this game. The student who asked this question got a pat on the back from someone on his left. The guys who were sitting directly to my left (the guys who I had met a few minutes ago) made some teasing comment to him as well. Apparently they were all friends. It was at this moment that I realized they all had accents, definitely European and Eastern European. The professor asked if everybody would be able to “play” the game that evening. He had even gone out of his way to order beer and pizza for everyone. What a fun learning environment! One of the girls (a cute one too) asked what kind of beer and everyone laughed. The professor responded that he didn’t know but there would be a variety. A few students (maybe 3 or 4) did indicate that they wouldn’t be able to participate in the game and the professor told them to show up to the next class section so that they could arrange a mutual playing time with those students from the other section that were in the same situation. At this point, he told everyone to take out their laptops and get into their groups so they could do a demo run of the game (as it was on an excel sheet).

I noticed that in between every other pair of seats, there was a little circular orb that had two electricity outlets and two internet jacks. I’m sure this is fairly common but I had never seen it before so I thought it was pretty cool. It was very clean and organized I thought. Since everyone was milling about breaking into groups, I took the time to chat with Tony a bit more. I asked him all sorts of questions such as how many students did he know from his class year, what he thought of career services, etc. He responded with positive answers to most all my questions. I was concerned that I was preventing him from getting into a group but he seemed to be in no rush and the rest of the class was taking its time and chatting too. So I kept asking Tony stuff and he kept giving me sincere replies (that’s my impression at least). I noticed that many students had IBM Lenovo ThinkPads and I asked him if that was the standard. He said that they were somewhat popular but by no means required. Satisfied that I had received answers to most of the questions on my mind, I thanked him and said that I was going to sneak out since there wasn’t much point in me watching them run the demo. I certainly felt like I had a good sense of their class dynamic (a really fun, collaborative learning environment for sure!) and I didn’t think I’d be rude since there was so many people milling about. Tony was really cool about it and offered me his business card in case I had other questions. Not sure if it meant anything but Tony did not yet have an internship secured and did say he was anxious, though I’m sure that’s natural. He did admit that it seemed like most everyone gets one eventually. Jairo, the Student Ambassador whom I met earlier, was a second-year student and had already gotten a full-time consulting offer. Happy that I got another business card, I grabbed my bag and walked away. The guy who I had the awkward intro with (sitting to my left) said bye as well even though we hadn’t really connected from a conversational standpoint. At least he was trying to be nice J

I snuck out of the class unnoticed I’m pretty sure and didn’t feel bad about it at all. After all, I saw two students walk out and then back into the class while the professor was talking. This was a break in the action.
When I got outside, one of the students was out there talking on her cell phone. I noticed pizza and soda sitting on the bench. Before I entered the class, there were about 6 boxes of pizza and a dozen cans of Sierra Mist. Now there was only one box and one soda. I opened the box and saw that it was spinach tomato pizza (perfect!) so I grabbed a slice (slightly cold but whatever, I was hungry) and grabbed a Sierra Mist and walked out. The pizza was real New York pizza too, not Domino’s or Pizza Hut. I ate the slice in the cold weather and walked back towards Uris to seek out some more students to chat up.

Apparently there’s always b-school students lingering around the main lobby of Uris which makes sense considering it’s a b-school dedicated building. I saw a student sitting down who just finished talking to someone who was walking by, and he seemed pretty cool so I introduced myself and asked if he’d mind my grilling. Surely enough, Andrew (I think that’s his name- I’m not positive because I didn’t get his card) invited me to take a seat. I asked him all sorts of questions (literally every one including ones that I had already asked other people) and he gave me most of the answers I expected. He confirmed that the Manhattanville campus was far from being completed. He said that if I applied in the next five years, I’d probably avoid having to move up to the future campus (at least this was his opinion). He cited that it “always” takes schools forever to erect new buildings which I don’t know is true or not. He also agreed that the gym facilities stink but reminded me that I wouldn’t be making my MBA program decisions based on that. He agreed that students live all around the neighborhood but that there is still a community feel to it, though it wasn’t going to be super close-knit like, say a Tuck or Kellogg, since we are in a huge city after all. He assured me that it’s no problem to find a friend who would be willing to grab some lunch if you wanted to (since I cited that as an example of the type of activitiy that I’d want to be able to do). He agreed that Columbia does not hold your hand through classes or job searches but insisted that there are a plethora of resources. He explained that if we want homework help, tutoring, or 1-on-1 sessions with the career services staff, that it was all available. If we wanted it, we could have it, but we would have to ask for it and get it ourselves. Nobody was going to check in with us to make sure we were understanding every single problem from homework (his example). I was glad to hear this.

I talked to Andrew for maybe fifteen minutes before I exhausted my list of questions and decided to thank him and leave him be. It was interesting to note that an Asian female classmate of his walked by and asked him about a decision brief they were supposed to review together. He said that he was reviewing it in half an hour with some other guy and she sounded startled because she didn’t know about it and wouldn’t be able to join. He insisted that the other guy just called about it a few minutes ago and that it wasn’t a big deal though she clearly seemed slightly disconcerted that she wouldn’t be able to join in. I don’t know if Andrew just didn’t like this girl or if he indeed saw it as harmless to review the decision brief with someone else, but I decided not to read too much more into it.

I walked down the hall to use the bathroom and was surprised how clean and spacious the bathroom was. I even heard there is one bathroom that has gold leaf in the urinals. I don’t know if that’s true but I was certainly impressed by the classiness of this particular lavatory. I then walked into Uris Deli to check it out since I know that a lot of b-school students eat there. It was nice, comfortable, and clean and the menus all seemed to contain the typical fare. There were unlimited topping salads for $6.25 (I can see myself getting this a lot) and also sandwiches, wraps, all the basic stuff, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary. It was a nice deli though and one wall was made entirely of glass which allowed a view of the outside which was very nice. This was around 3:30 so the deli was only 30% full. I noticed that about half the students in there were female though, and most of them were attractive. I can’t be certain if they were b-school students or not though, because I’ve read (in the b-school newspaper, The Bottomline) that other students, namely School of Journalism students, have been frequenting the Uris Deli too.

Happy that the Deli was sufficient for my needs (I think), I decided to leave early to catch a ride to NYU Stern, where I was attending a 4:30 info session and tour. However, I convinced myself that it was early enough for me to pop into the Columbia bookstore. The bookstore is on campus but the entrance is on Broadway so you have to walk out the front gates and walk south a block and a half to get to it. Interesting that the bookstore has a Barnes & Noble sign on it. I went primarily to check out t-shirts as I really want one. I know I am just setting myself up for heartbreak but I figure having the shirt may also further motivate me. When I got to the store, I saw a sign that said all hats and t-shirts were 25% off so I knew it was fate. I decided I would buy one if I saw any decent design. I eventually settled on a graphic Columbia University logo (not the b-school logo unfortunately, as the newly re-branded b-school logo is hideous; there was even an article in the Bottomline about it this issue!) on a light blue t-shirt. I would later find out that the shirt was incredibly long despite the small size. Whatever. One other thing I noticed in the book store was the inordinate number of young females purchasing apparel. I didn’t ask them but my guess is that they were all high school seniors who had just been admitted (and were planning on attending) Columbia next year who were all excited to show off their new loyalties. I guess I’m not much different huh? It appeared that most of the girls were Jewish too. It is true that a substantial amount of Columbia’s student population is Jewish (I think I heard 40% but I don’t know if that’s undergrads or graduates or b-school). It reminded me of high school so it’s a setting that I’m very familiar and comfortable with, but I thought I would mention that my observations did indeed echo the statistics. In fact, most of the demographic/stereotypes about the student population seems true from just walking around campus. There are definitely a lot of Jewish, Asian, and international students. Of the international students, many seem to be from Latin America. And it’s also true that Columbia students are smart, unassuming, artsy, and cool. I could definitely see myself fitting in hehe.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Columbia Visit - Part 2

I walked into the admissions office and it was really tiny. In fact, it was a closet. I don’t think it was the actual admissions office, rather, it was just a 8’ x 10’ room for people to sign in and get name tags. I approached the table and signed in and the guy behind the table encouraged me to sit in on a class and showed me the schedule. I politely said that I already had my classes picked out and he said it would be a good idea to check that the schedule hadn’t changed. I did so and thank goodness I did because it turns out that the majority of the class options (I wrote down 4) had changed! They were in different rooms or had different professors from the ones posted online. Phew. I was curious to learn if the guy behind the desk was on the adcom, in which case I wanted to ask a couple questions, so I asked him what his role was. I guess he must’ve taken my question the wrong way because he seemed slightly taken aback by my question before replying that he was one of the Assistant Directors of Admission (I learned from Clear Admit that Columbia has 4 Associate Directors under Linda Meehan, and then an unspecified number of Assistant Directors, as well as part-time student staff). I was a bit haphazard with the schedule too, cuz I had to double-check it and he seemed to be alarmed by that action. All in all, he seemed a weird dude so I didn’t wind up asking him the questions I had.

I left the building to make my way to the info session which was supposed to be in Warren Hall. Warren Hall is actually on the corner of Amsterdam (the front gates of Columbia is on Broadway) and it was cool cuz right next door was Camille’s (apparently an Irish pub/restaurant), as well as a deli. I could envision myself grabbing many a sandwich/salad from there on the run before class. I was hoping to catch some b-school student on the way to class so I could chat and walk with them but no luck as I was too shy after the weird assistant director experience in Uris. I was so harrowed that I didn’t even want to look at his name badge.

I got to Warren 310 for the info session and sat outside for a few minutes to observe the gaggle of students in the hall socializing (it appears that a class just ended or was about to start). All the students seemed happy and sociable and got along really well with each other from what I could see. That’s a good sign. I saw some people walk into the info session so I followed. The room was (what I would soon learn is a) typical b-school classroom. The front has a couple large screens for the projectors so that everyone in the room can see the powerpoint slides. There’s a lectern in between the projectors. Then there’s about 7 curved rows of communal desks (split into 2 sides) with comfortable swivel chairs. There were about 10 people already there. I took a seat by myself in the middle of the fourth row.

We started about five minutes late at 12:35 and there were about 16 prospective applicants there at that time. A couple more would trickle in later. I would say maybe 12 of the 16 prospectives were males. And out of the few girls, none of them were lookers L hehe. Our host was Michael Robinson, one of the Associate Directors of Admissions. He seemed to be a very happy, nice, friendly guy. Apparently he’s a grad from 2001. He did a decent job going through the major themes of Columbia (new york advantage, broad curriculum, international, entrepreneurial, etc.) but didn’t reveal anything that couldn’t be gleaned from a thorough perusal of their website or other literature. I guess I’ve done much more research than most at this point. Some of the questions that were asked were pretty basic. A funny moment occurred when Michael couldn’t work a short film in the PowerPoint slide and when he finally got it to work, the volume was blaring so loud that it was almost painful. He didn’t alter it though because the last time he did that, the movie shut off and it took him awhile to get it back up. Just a bit embarrassing :P Anyway, I asked about the opening of the Manhattanville campus as I heard Fall 2011 as a target date and also 2015. He said that they don’t really know because real estate politics in NY is tough to predict. This is a positive development because I would really prefer to be integrated with the rest of the Columbia community while at b-school (as much as is possible that is) rather than stuck on 130th street!

He originally stated that we were going to get 10 minutes for questions but the presentation took a bit long so we only got 5 minutes. When I raised my hand for second question, he looked at me and asked if anyone “who didn’t already ask a question” had a good question to ask. Ouch! He said it in a nice, encouraging way for the other prospectives but unfortunately, the person he wound up choosing asked a really basic question that showed he clearly had not looked at the website for more than 2 minutes. Oh well. After the session, I waited to say hi to him and asked him whether the talk about reducing the J-Term class to 100 was true. He said that the talk is currently off the table but the thinking originally was that there’d be more resources for the other students… and something about recruiters that I don’t remember any more. He said that if the talk ever re-surfaced, that the total class size would then be 600 (which means the Fall class would remain fixed at 500). I also asked him if there were any plans to renovate the gym. I could tell he was slightly surprised by this question (I don’t blame him as it’s slightly off-topic but c’mon, it does effect the quality of student life and the gym really is that embarrassingly bad). He said he didn’t know J

It’s interesting to note that maybe 7 of the 16 prospectives in my info session were international students. Not just that, but they were all coincidentally from Latin America (same goes for Jairo, the friendly Student Ambassador who gave me his business card). I can definitely say that there is a large international contingent in the b-school since 40% of them are international. Too bad the female percentage wasn’t higher though. I think getting that 33% figure up to 35% would be a significant accomplishment (how does NYU get 42%???)

Since I waited to speak to Michael (whose card I also have as he laid them out on the table for everyone to pick up), there was no chance of me getting to speak to a Student Ambassador before the 2:15 class. In fact, I couldn’t even make it back to Uris for the Investment Banking Tax class that I had planned on taking. Since I wasn’t going to walk into a class late, I decided to wing it and attend whatever class I could find in Warren at that time. I went to the second floor and was glad to finally see some ladies walking around. I asked one of them what class she was going into and she revealed it was Operations Management (B-6801-007), part of the core. I thanked her and walked in after her. I introduced myself to Professor Gabriel Weintraub and took a seat in the back row next to a student.

Egads, this is already a million pages long. To be continued! (only one more post on this visit I promise)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Columbia Visit - Part 1

Columbia Visit

On Thursday, Mar 20th, I visited Columbia for some information gathering. The plan was to sit in on a class from 10:45am to 12:15pm, take the info session from 12:30 to 2:00, maybe speak to a Student Ambassador quickly from 2:00 to 2:10, then run to another class from 2:15 to 3:45. After that, I figured I’d chat up a few random students before departing for NYU Stern’s info session at 4:30 (jam-packed day I know). I’ll talk about NYU Stern in a separate post.

Well the morning started off poorly as I woke up at 10:15 cuz my alarm didn’t sound. It takes me about an hour and a half to commute to campus from my parent’s home in Long Island (where I was staying) so I wound up getting to campus at 12:10. For those of you who don’t know, Columbia is located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, not the choicest of locations considering how sweet the city’s other neighborhoods are, but still really cool because of its proximity. Though it’s sandwiched between the Harlem (not a good thing) and the Upper West Side (relatively good thing), Morningside Heights does have a culture all its own, thanks in large part to Columbia’s presence, creating a young, indie, artsy, intellectual atmosphere. I used to hate the neighborhood before I got to know it, thinking it was just a poor, dangerous area. Now I like it (again, in large part because of my positive Columbia associations). I like to characterize it as a “poor man’s East Village” for those of you who are familiar with the city’s coolest, trendiest, and most artsy area for young people (in the opinion of some, including mine). There’s no doubt that the neighborhood will become more “desirable” as the years go on (again thanks in large part to Columbia) but even now, it’s not half bad either. It can’t compare to NYU Stern’s premier location in the middle of the Village right below Union Square but still, pretty darn cool since it’s still in NYC and lotsa young people abound.

I’ve actually been to Columbia millions of times because I lived on the Upper East Side for over a year. It was (and still is) incredibly difficult to find a good place to play indoor pick-up basketball so I used my wits to acquire a membership to Columbia’s gym which goes by Levien Gymnasium as well as University Blue Gym (they are two gyms part of the same underground complex). I should probably take this time to note that Columbia’s gym is probably the least impressive thing about the school- it’s just plain horrid. I liken it to a crappy high school gym and the university blue gym actually has some blue artificial tack-like surface in place of a court. Space is really limited too, meaning that students are always fighting over court availability. I’ve personally witnessed more than one argument from people who want to play pick-up basketball and people who want the space for soccer scrimmaging. Sometimes they even split the courts up so that both groups can use it which makes for really cramped, embarrassingly limited play for both parties. Basketball is a huge part of my life so this saddens me greatly. However, I know the gym isn’t the most important thing in the world and that I’ll likely have far less time with which to play when I’m in b-school.
But I digress. Columbia’s campus is really quite pretty. The architecture is beautiful and there’s really a sense of history about the place. The Low Memorial Library and Butler Library are both iconic Columbia buildings and they sit on opposite sides of the campus green which is really pretty especially considering the fact that we’re in the middle of Manhattan (or in the north of Manhattan to be more precise). Columbia does not have a “city campus” like NYU which is a conglomeration of NYU-owned buildings in a concentrated area among non-NYU buildings. Rather, Columbia has actual campus gates with security (though anyone may enter) and a campus green to offer an enclosed community feel. I really dig that. I used to think the campus was small and unimpressive but the more you walk around, the prettier the architecture becomes, and you come to realize that the campus isn’t that tiny after all. Rodin’s sculpture of “The Thinker” is even on campus in addition to a huge sun dial and numerous other details I can’t recall right now.

Columbia B-School is situated almost entirely within two buildings, Uris Hall, which is exclusively business school stuff, and Warren Hall, which is shared with the Law School. I arrived at Uris Hall and went searching for the Admissions Office on the second floor. I couldn’t locate the room so I asked a random student. As luck would have it, he was one of the Student Ambassadors that was supposed to be at the info session later, and he was looking for the office as well! His name was Jairo and he was extremely friendly and helpful. With Jairo leading, we found the admissions office within 30 seconds and I thanked him, but not before I grilled him with some questions. I asked him about the student body and whether the career opportunities are really as great as they seem, and he answered them all with great sincerity and candor (at least I think). He was a really nice guy, no wonder he was an Admissions Ambassador. He even offered me his business card (all Columbia students are given business cards for networking purposes, a great idea!) so I gladly accepted, knowing that I’d see him again in the info session.

Looks like this is already quite long… I’ll give it a breather for now and continue soon.

Friday, March 21, 2008


For those curious (read: myself and no one else), here's a lil background info on my profile, motivations, and preferences as they relate to the b-school app process.

Academically, I should be pretty competitive. I graduated in 2005 from Georgetown undergrad where I studied Psychology with minors in Economics and Cognitive Science (yea yea, I know no one cares about minors). I had a good GPA and even graduated with honors. Perhaps it wouldn't be a great idea to give out my exact stats so I'll borrow a line from AxeChick (anyone know who I'm referring to?) and say that "I won't be lowering the average at any of the top schools." Ditto for the GMAT, in which I fall in the highly competitive range with an even distribution between verbal and quant.

Professionally, I've held a lot of research assistant jobs during undergrad. The most notable experience was probably an NIH-funded diabetes study that I did for several semesters and collaborated on a poster for the annual APA convention. This is cuz I was convinced that I wanted to get my doctorate and eventually practice as a full-blown psychologist. Following graduation though, I changed my mind as I didn't want to commit myself to all those years of schooling and low starting salary without trying some real work experience first. My first real job was as a sales associate for an executive gifts company. I sold (or tried to sell) "tombstones" or "deal toys" to investment bankers. I sucked and got fired in a month cuz my personality didn't fit, which was very true. I networked into an assistant bond trader position for a very small retail desk at Refco Securities, which was the world's largest commodities broker at the time. Refco had a $500 million accounting scandal and went bankrupt 3 months later. So I took a temp-to-perm trading assistant position at Deutsche Bank. I became perm and worked on Deutsche's Emerging Markets trading floor as a lackey for almost 2 years when I decided that I wasn't going to do middle-office operations the rest of my life. I decided to try consulting and networked into a tech consultant position at Booz Allen Hamilton where I currently advise the U.S. Postal Service on security issues. A fun and storied career thus far, I know I know :P

Why do I need an MBA? Well, I realized right away (in the first two months) that consulting wasn't for me. I mean, it's a good enough job and all, but it wasn't very challenging (probably because it's public sector rather than private) and it didn't excite me. The weird thing is that finance kept pulling me back even though I thought I didn't like it any more. I started following the markets on my own (even losing a few grand thru personal investing) and have now come to the realization that I need to get serious and pursue my passion. Since professoinal basketball probably isn't a viable career move for me, I've decided to pursuer real estate development. I've loved real estate ever since I was fortunate enough to get my first condo two years ago. Actually being a homeowner made me really interested in the housing markets (and consequently other financial markets) and New York's housing market in particular. When I moved to DC, I became a de facto landlord as I'm currently renting my NYC apartment out to three wonderful tenants. Since I miss the market but don't want to be a banker or trader, I think real estate devlopment would be perfect for me as it's the intersection of finance and real estate, which I love. It'd be great to contribute to NY's skyline and it's also a lucrative career (which is still important) so it's my dream job... for now :) Also, I think it's a great blend of utilizing my analyical skills and tapping into my actual interests. I also happen to be a minority owner in a tiny family-owned real estate holding company but I don't have any active role in it (my father used to develop really small-scale apartments in Queens when I was younger).

So that's my story. Demographically, I'm 24 which I know seems young but I have a late birthday. By the time I apply later this year, I'll have a little over three years of work experience but I will have over four years of w.e. by enrollment so it's all good. I hear many programs are trying to snatch up younger applicants nowadays. I'm a guy and I'm also Asian American so those two over-represented demographics probably don't help my case. I was born in Taiwan though and do have dual citizenship so maybe that helps? Whatever. My family lives in Long Island and I recently moved to DC (Arlington, Virginia actually) several months ago.

Who knows how my essays and recs will turn out but I plan on spending a lot of time on my essays. And I've started the schmoozing process for recs already. I figure my essays will be competitive to highly competitive whereas my recs will probably be average (you never know). I'm also a good interviewer in my humble opinion but that's getting ahead or ourselves.

There aren't that many top MBA programs with real estate concentrations (focuses, majors, whatever they wanna call them) and I'm not willing to venture outside the Top 15 really. Another sticking point is that I really need to live in a city, preferrably New York City since that's where I would want to work and live the rest of my life hehe :) My top choice by far is Columbia Business School which I will be applying for early decision (probably in late August). After that is some combination of NYU Stern, Berkeley, Yale, and perhaps Wharton. All have real estate majors (or at least inordinately strong in finance, which is a huge component of real estate development) and are located in livable cities (I'm being generous with Philly and New Haven). Wish me luck!

Birth and Rebirth

Bueno! A wonderful welcome to you. I've decided to chronicle my MBA admissions adventure via blog, not because many people will care, but mostly as a way of focusing my attention and capturing my thoughts. Maybe the blog will prove informative for other people who are learning about the admissions process. Even if it doesn't, hopefully it'll keep me on track.

I'm just a city boy (not born and raised in South Detroit though) who is looking at enrolling in full-time MBA programs for Fall 2009. My definite first choice is Columbia Business School though I will obviously be applying to a few others as well. Application season is only half a year away (Fall 2008) so I'll be documenting my thoughts and activities here. Hop along for the ride and feel free to comment/ask about anything your heart desires.