So from the various free feedback that I've been able to glean from the admission consultant threads on the BusinessWeek forums, it appears that I am a competitive candidate for Columbia. I have the GPA, GMAT, undergrad transcript, well-known employers, a nice resume, good extra-currics though not overwhelming, just enough leadership activities (barely), and good essays and recs (assumed of course). I'm also applying super early in the Early Decision round and I should be a good interview, especially since I have a decent story and know a boatload of stuff about Columbia and why I fit. However, almost every admissions consultant pointed out one glaring weakness. I need to do more real estate related stuff (either work or activities) to flesh out my story. Currently the only real estate experience I have is as a Manhattan condo owner where I serve as the de facto landlord since I rent it out. I am also a minority partner in my family's business, a real estate holding company (dad used to develop apartment buildings on a very small scale but no longer). That's it. No actual work experience.
Thus I set out to do something about it. Some people say that with 5 months until I submit my application, that there is nothing I can do to change my profile. I aim to prove them wrong. I joined the Urban Land Institute on monday. The ULI (as I may have mentioned in my previous post) is a professional organization that provides research and info on land use, development, and urban planning. It's truly a wealth of info. I joined under a Young Leader membership (for those under age 35) which cost $175. Since my company sponsors one professional membership per year, my company will be picking up the tab on this one. I've been listening to their podcasts on real estate careers which has been helpful. I also wanted to attend an annual development conference on April 9th here in DC but unfortunately, it's during a work day and I'm not sure if I want to give up the entire day. But how can joining one professional society make up for my lack of industry experience you ask? Read on, dearie.
I was decently involved with my family business, the real estate holding company. When I was younger (high school and very early college), I would go visit the apartments on weekends with my parents and engage in various tasks such as cleaning, interviewing tenants, driving the construction crew insane with nitpicking, etc. When I was younger I also remember tagging along for errands to various federal building departments in addition to cleaning. Anyway, after college, I started handling a lot of the bookkeeping for the company. My father always hated it because English is not his first language. Obviously he can get by but it's frustrating for him, especially since dealing with finances in real estate (where contractors and ambiguous fees are always screwing you) is frustrating enough. Thus he employed my great English skills to manage much of the finances. Obviously he had all executive power but I ran the books, writing checks, collecting rent from tenants, calling contractors and plumbers and other random people. I printed statements and made sure everything ran smoothly from a financial point of view even though I didn't have any decision-making power. I didn't get paid for this as it's supposedly a responsbility of mine (I am a minority partner after all) and thus I don't get a salary nor pay taxes. I didn't even consider this work... more like a chore really. After I moved to DC 6 months ago, my sister took up much of the work (since proximity to the properties in NY is somewhat important) but I still advise her. I think I definitely need to talk about this activity. I can't put it on my resume as a job experience but it's definitely an experience to talk about since it took up to 10 hours a week of my time. Our company does hold 3 small commercial units, 1 house, 1 condo, and 2 investment properties (condos) in Beijing. So this is a noteworthy activity that fleshes out my story substantially. It doesn't make up completely for my lack of industry experience but does substantially mitigate it I believe. I will probably add a line in the "Additional" section of my resume for this. I'll also need to mention this in my essay #1 describing my short and long term goals (as background info). If I can't fit it in, then I'll need to include it in my Optional Essay #5 as info that I want the adcom to know about.
Besides, I can't quit my job now. I've only worked there for 6 months so it'll make me seem fickle, undecided, immature, etc. (all of which I am to a degree), since I switched from Finance to Consulting to Real Estate? and all within 3 years! I just can't do it. If anything, I've started to contact random people at my company regarding related projects with the Dept of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or the Economic Business Administration (EBA). Maybe I can help out on those projects part-time if they have to do with land use, development, or urban planning. Even if I can make this happen (it'll take a lot of networking though), I'll only have a couple months experience by the time I apply which is why I need to play up my newly realized activity. Hooray for a plan! I think this makes me a strong candidate overall. Just gotta ace my essays and recs now.
Oh yeah, good news on the rec. I don't think I'll tell my manager that I'm thinking of my MBA as he's a bit narrow-minded about certain things. He may support my decision but if he doesn't, then there'll be no convincing him otherwise so I'd rather not even try. Instead, I'll try to get a recommendation from my Project Manager whom is very gung-ho about doing anything possible to help you out. My co-worker who is going to apply for the part-time MBA program at Maryland (in a month!) for enrollment in Fall 2008 is going to get a rec from him next month. So she'll kinda be my test case to see if I get a rec from him. He seems like he's willing and will be good about it though.
One last tidbit, the Columbia Early Decision review period begins Wednesday, August 8th! That is crazy early. I literally have 5 months then! I've already started revising my resume (more time-consuming than you think if you are a perfectionist) and have obviously made significant progress with the Urban Land Institute membership and realization of my family business bookkeeping activity. In 3 weeks I am going to visit Columbia again and sit in on their Real Estate Finance course (plus others) before classes end. Then I'll start plotting/brainstorming my essays using last year's app. Unfortunately, Columbia doesn't release their app until late July (that's what they said when I called). Hopefully it's more like mid-July, that way I'll have a good month to do it before submitting by Aug 15th at latest. I should probably start approaching my recommenders in early June to come to an understanding. Oh boy.