Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Core Exemptions, Future Careers, Recruiting Strategy

It looks like there's been a spate of dings recently on the BW and GMATclub forums for CBS. Like everyone else, I don't know why this is the case, especially after they seemed to accept such a high percentage of the early submitters (yes, I consider myself extremely fortunate). My guess is that they may have realized how many people they were accepting and decided to become a lot more stringent and selective, knowing full well that the volume of apps at the very end of the ED cycle and RD cycle would be ridiculously high. I'm sure they've already started seeing signs of this. In an chat with the Dean of Admissions, Linda Abraham, several weeks ago, she revealed that ED apps were up "double digits" in terms of percentage points at that time.

As for me, the euphoria is slowly wearing off but of course I'm deeply appreciative of my situation. Let's just hope I pass the Kroll background check!

Anyway, I've been spending my last couple days researching the Core curriculum. I want to exempt out of either 1 full semester course or 2 half semester courses. That way I can take an elective (or 2) while still spending the bulk of my courses with my Cluster-mates. The electives will allow me to take something interesting or to take a course in preparation for my summer internship. Originally I wanted to exempt out of either Financial Accounting or Corporate Finance, both full-term courses. But after emailing people from the Hermes Society (CBS' student ambassadors), I realize that I should probably take those courses since I have no background in them. Instead, I'll try to place out (via exemption exams) of 2 courses that I am well-versed in, Managerial Economics (aka Micro Econ) and Managerial Statistics. Taking 2 half-semester courses might be even more interesting! Plus this will allow me to meet some 2nd year students which might be helpful for networking.

The great thing about this new plan is that I don't even have to learn a whole new subject. I can just brush up on what I already know a month before the exemption exam and I should be golden. In the meantime, I'm still going to learn some basic Accounting principles. I heard that the course really flies by and I don't want to be caught off-guard. Btw, kinda sux that CBS has grade disclosure.

In other news, thanks to everyone for voting on my poll (on the right side of the page!) ... I'm really surprised how much support General Management has received. This has totally changed my perspective on it and I recently learned that it's more than just managing people; it's also about managing the bottomline and thinking about strategy, marketing, pricing, etc. Sounds realllly interesting. At least that's what Wikipedia's description makes me think hehe. I'm gonna put investment/asset management on the back-burner for now. My primary 2 career paths I think will be Sales & Trading (more trading than sales please) and General Management. For GM though, I'd like to focus on the luxury retail sector- just sounds much more interesting unless it's something else I find interesting such as GM for basketball-related organizations. On the same note, my 2 areas of focus/concentration I anticipate to be Finance & Economics and either Entrepreneurship or Leadership/Management.

Work sucks but it's easy so I can't complain too much. I did learn from one of the Hermes members an important tip though (sidenote here: only 2 of the 4 I emailed actually responded which doesn't seem too good considering that they volunteered to be student ambassadors). She suggested that I have fun and do enjoyable things before b-school starts. She revealed that recruiting is less about what classes you take and what experience you have (since so many people are career-switchers anyway), and more about effort and interpersonal skills. She emphasized that if you want a job, you need to attend all their recruiting events and be a personable person when you meet the recruiter all those times. Basically the recruiter needs to think "this is a person that I'd like to work alongside". That means it's more important to travel and try new, fun things before b-school than it is to learn accounting. Makes sense especially cuz I used to interview candidates when I was a trading assistant at a bulge bracket bank. We basically took whoever we liked the most (aka fun and personable) out of those who met the competency/hard-working threshold.

In other news, the friend whom I've been GMAT-tutoring pro bono just took her exam on Monday. She did okay but didn't get her goal and is incredibly discouraged. We'll whip her back into shape though.

And on a final tangent, I started thinking of names for my future children (please stop reading now if you don't want to be nauseated). I think my top choices for girl names are Avery and Paige. For boy names, I think Penn isn't bad... or maybe TienyChesney Junior! I'm a big fan of naming kids after locations. Maybe one of their middle names will be Morningside :)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

HBS Visit - Part 2

We take a hiatus from my CBS revelry to finish my recounting of my HBS visit which was a full month ago now. When we last left off, I was walking into the Technology and Operations Process Management class (or something like that).

The classroom (forget the building name now) was in the basement. But don't be fooled. The halls and facilities were immaculate. There were students milling about happily and conversing. The hallways were actually quite crowded as class was just about to begin. Everything was clean and comfortable and there were student mailboxes everywhere and free food (I think) on some tables. We entered a classroom and our student host introduced us to the professor who was very welcoming. We took 2 vacant seats near the front (all classes have assigned seats as per the norm at most b-schools I think). At the beginning of class, the professor introduced us to the rest of the class which surprised me. Then even more surprisingly, the entire class applauded! I was astounded by this. It was kinda strange but the unity of it all really made an impression on me. It was a good thing.

The class went on and I was surprised at how much everyone participated. There were probably 90 students in the class and for any given question, maybe 10 to 30 of the students would raise their hand. People really participated! The students were excited to participate and the professor really guided and steered the lesson. He would take the salient points and write them up on some cool chalkboards. I noticed that HBS even used some high-end, really thick chalk hehe. The students applauded whenever a fellow classmate made a good point and they all laughed whenever anyone goofed up or said something funny. Never was anyone condescending. I was really astonished and impressed. The community feel was definitely there. After the class, I would learn that TOP Management was supposed to be the most boring class! Yet I had a blast. I didn't even come close to nodding off (falling asleep) which is something that I've battled at every other class visit I've ever had anywhere else. I think this is attributed to the participative atmosphere and the insightful and sometimes humorous comments made by the students. At the end of class, the professor came directly over to me and my friend to ask us what we thought of the class! Amazing.

The classroom facilities rival those of any school I've visited. They are tiered stadium-seats like any other classroom but super nice and clean and large with great acoustics and tons of chalkboards. Each seat also has a voting panel so that the class can take impromptu votes at any time!

At the end of class, the Cluster held their end-of-week awards which is their way of poking fun at each other. For about 15 minutes, they handed out silly and hilarious awards like "person guilty for having a calculator with the most flair" and it was accompanied by a knee-slapping powerpoint presentation. I laughed my ass off. The class then voted on where to take their October cluster weekend trip. This generated a lot of open debate and almost caused a riot. I thought it was funny but some people were actually getting riled up which kinda put my friend off. It was probably the only negative (slightly) thing I experienced. All in all, the case study method at Harvard is unbelievable. I am a super fan!

Afterwards, our student host had to go meet some people (forget what) so my friend and I went back to Spangler cafeteria. We sat down with some random students for lunch that we recognized from the class and they were obliging. It was a good conversation and they were encouraging me to apply even though I said I thought my chances were slim. They insisted that they were all normal people but that wasn't necessarily true. For instance, 2 of the guys we were sitting with were an energy trader at a hedge fund prior to entering HBS and the other was an Olympic gold medalist on the national ski team. Normal guys huh? I don't remember what the third guy was but he was talking to my friend more while I was talking to the other two. I asked them about the "HBS douchebag" stereotype. They laughed and estimated that maybe 50% were douchebags and that it was probably even a conservative estimate. Then they followed that up by saying that there are all sorts of people in such a large class so you'll still find people you love hanging out with which is true. Afterwards, I told my friend that the "HBS douchebag" stereotype wasn't apparent at all. She said it's funny because she considered the students we sat with as "the douchebags"! Haha, I can see what she means by that but considering my undergrad alma mater, I guess I didn't really notice it (she went to a liberal arts school instead). I guess that means I am more immune to douchebags because I was around them so much already. Then we ran from lunch because we were late for the admissions info session at 2 pm.

We were stressed cuz we were actually 5 minutes late for the info session cuz we got lost. There were about 25 people there and the admissions officer was obviously a rookie. She was visibly nervous and talked extremely fast. No new info here (as usual) but she did mention that HBS was trending younger (in response to someone's question). This is an interesting trend because other schools (Wharton and Columbia are specific examples) who have also stated explicitly that they are seeing and accepting more early-entry candidates. At the end of the session, I lined up to talk to her and ask her real estate-specific questions. Unfortunately, there was a scattered line and three people actually cut in front of me! I was not going to make this an issue obviously but I was kinda staggered by their gall. I guess it is competitive to get into HBS hehe.

I felt bad for the rookie admissions officer because she said she had a meeting in 10 minutes and that she was going to grab a quick lunch from the Spangler cafeteria beforehand. Four other prospectives and I walked alongside her with our questions. I had a nice, brief, 2 or 3 question chat with her and then I let her go. Unfortunately, she stopped right in front of Spangler and the questions kept coming hard and fast from the other prospectives. Wow, these HBS prospectives are really motivated! She was so nice and such a rookie that she took all the questions and Spangler closed behind her and she couldn't even get her lunch. In the end she walked out late to her meeting without any lunch. I kinda felt bad for her that us ravenous aspirants overwhelmed her (not me specifically but you know what I mean).

Seconds later, my friend bumped into her friend who she recognized from high school who was there. He was a 2nd year and apparently turned down a private equity job offer to attend HBS. He was looking to become a portfolio manager for a very specific kind of fund and said that he's been networking like crazy and still hadn't found the job he wanted. He said he was definitely feeling the economic downturn but I have a feeling that he was being super selective. He seemed like a superstar.

Afterwards, we went to the HBS Co-op (aka the bookstore) and it was huge! Harvard Business School has its own bookstore which is the size of most university bookstores! Seriously. I could not believe all the merchandise they had. It seemed to be priced a bit higher than most other school's merchandise too. It was crazy how many shirts and pants and mugs and knick-knacks that they produced, but it made sense. After all, I'm sure all of the students are super proud and buy aparell for all their friends and family.

That was the end of our HBS visit. It completely blew my mind in every way possible. The campus and facilities were definitely top top top. The professor and case study method was unbelievably engaging and stimulating. I was entertained. The caliber of student body was amazing too... everyone seemed incredibly articulate, attractive, bright, and had perfect teeth. They all looked like their clothes were purchased yesterday. I cannot imagine a better b-school. Seriously. I gave serious thought to applying to HBS after the visit but in the end, the extra recommendation (3 instead of 2) and non-transferrable essays (for the most part) made me decide against it. I will say this, however. I would only give up my CBS admit for one other school, and that is HBS. I understand there are plenty of schools that are generally considered "better" such as Stanford, Wharton, etc. But for me, I would only trade CBS for HBS. But I don't have that decision to make and obviously I'm ecstatic about Columbia :)

Afterwards, my friend and I walked through Cambridge. What a nice town, really! Then we rested and met up with a bunch of her friends for dinner, one of whom was an executive for Teach For America. We called it an early night and then took a taxi to his apartment (where we stayed) in the Back Bay area of Boston, which was reallllly nice. Quite impressive. The small but intimate and high-quality apartments reminded me of Manhattan. We had some really good conversation and had a great night's sleep before waking up for brunch and catching a flight back to DC the next day. All in all, HBS rules, every other school drools (except CBS of course hehe) j/k.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Quick Updates

I submitted my deposit the day after I got admitted- never been so happy to spend $6,000 in my life. I mailed my official transcripts today too. There are a million things on the school's to-do-list but that's a good problem to have. Many of the tasks can't be completed until after January 1, 2009 anyway.

I just signed up to be a research participant for Rosetta Stone. Coincidentally, they need participants for Spanish (Latin America) which is precisely the language I am trying to learn. I would also get paid if I am selected! I should find out by Wednesday whether they've selected me. In the meantime, I need to do some self-study. I want to get either a Financial Accounting or Corporate Finance textbook. I will read it myself (no continuing education for me, probably not worth it) and if I'm lucky, I'll be able to text out of a Core class and replace it with an elective. Even if I don't pass, I will have a leg up. Corporate Finance sounds more interesting but we'll see. I'm going to see if I can get the syllabi to learn which textbooks that CBS actually uses.

I've also been thinking about post-MBA jobs and career tracks and all that. It's really quite difficult. I no longer want to do real estate development (though I'm still highly intrigued by it) and recently considered investment management. The problem with that is that I'd start off doing research and I don't know if analyzing securities appeals to me that much. I'd much rathe analyze something on a macro-level; I would rather analyze the market. So I considered a trading career which seems to match up well with my interests. However, I don't get that excited thinking about it, which worries me. It's funny that I used to be a trading assistant and left, and now I might return!? Also, what are the exit strategies? From my personal experience, the traders that flame out wind up being brokers. I don't want to get a top MBA to become a broker eventually. Trading is extremely risky in that you can have massive losses in the short-term and be laid off after a week. I've seen it happen myself.

General management sounds interesting but I feel like that is settling. Plus, aren't middle managers the first people to get fired once hard times arise? Lastly, I've thought about Luxury & Retail Goods. Sounds really interesting, right? But what is it exactly? It seems to me that it is basically upscale brand management (marketing) but a lot more strategic. That's really appealing and of course, everyone likes luxury goods. Is it right for me? I like fashion but don't know if I can represent it. Lotsa research to do.

Anyway, I have a new poll up on the right side. Please vote :) Thank you!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Preparing for B-School

Wow, that was exhilirating. Thank you to everyone who expressed their support throughout this journey and congratulated me recently. I'm still taken aback by the high level of community support and encouragement I've gotten from the blogosphere. The fact that my last post (my shortest one ever) got the most amount of comments is really telling. Ya'll have been wonderful and I'm really glad to share the rest of my adventure. Even if my applicant life is finished (kinda), a new one begins. I'll be sure to keep bloggin though I might change the name of this at some point.

I figured I'd recount what happened on Thursday, Oct. 9th. The "status change" email was sent at 11:41 am EST but I didn't check my email until 11:50 am. I had been checking it obsessively (nearly every ten minutes) that morning becuz I had a feeling that it'd be the day. To be honest, I had felt every day was going to be the day for the past week hehe ;) When I saw the email in my inbox, my heart jumped. I sat back in my chair and accessed the all-too-familiar CBS website to click through the jungle of links that one must navigate before accessing the applicant status page (couldn't they make this more streamlined? hehe). While clicking, I breathed heavily and kept telling myself "NYU is a great program and you'll love going there for 2 years. Are you ready to apply to NYU Stern?" I said that to myself a couple times to brace myself for disappointment if it were the case. Then I clicked onto the final page and the first word was "Congratulations..." and the rest of the line read "on behalf of Dean. Glenn Hubbard and the rest of the Columbia..." and the end of the sentence read "... to offer you a place in the class..." !!! That was it, I stopped reading. I couldn't even read the rest of the three paragraphs that talked about the deposit and next steps. I started shaking my hands in flustered disbelief, grabbed my phone, and walked out of my office building with a ridiculous grin on my face. I probably scared everyone who walked by me. Then I made the obligatory calls to family and a couple friends before I realized that I'd be spending way too much time on the phone (and i'm actually working on a proposal effort right now) so I went back to my desk and emailed some others and updated my blog. Then I went back to work (kinda).

And that's it. That's how it happened. I did go out for just a little bit that thursday night. I'm still not sure which is the greater feeling: 1) being in the Columbia MBA class of 2011, 2) being done and happy with the certainty of my future for the next 10 months, or 3) not having to do any more applications which would be such a huge investment of both time, money, and energy. Oh who am I kidding- I guess number one trumps them all. Yesterday I mailed in my check for the infamous $6,000 deposit. CBS allows 2 weeks for you to mail or wire it. I don't think I've ever been so happy to write such a large check. Later that day, I updated the GMATclub and was delighted to find that some had already known about it from my blog... same with the BW forums. I also went on the CBS online bookstore to pick out t-shirts and sweatpants. Yes, I am that much a tool.

So what do I do now for the next 10 months? Aside from the mountain of virtual forms and to-do-list that CBS gives its admitted students (well over a dozen tasks ranging from health forms, to transcripts, to submitting a deposit, to filling out career development surveys, to housing forms, etc.) and the overwhelming wealth of info on the Admitted Students Page, I want to prepare for b-school. I want to position myself to take advantage of everything. So here's my personal plan in no particular order:

1) Transfer to the economic analysis unit within my company to learn more quantitative work.

2) Beef up my excel skills. This will go hand-in-hand with number one.

3) Learn spanish via Rosetta Stone discs. Seriously. I really like the little spanish I know and CBS has such a large contingent of Latin American speakers that this will prove very worthwhile for me.

4) Take an intro accounting course or corp finance course. Or at least buy and read a textbook gradually. Maybe I can place out of one of the Core courses (just one cuz I'd like to have the other courses with my cluster-mates) and take an elective instead.

5) Learn more about investment management careers, jobs, recruiting, etc. I think I want to go into this (tough I know).

6) Stay abreast of current economic news. Seriously. I don't do a good enough job of this. I need to make CNBC my homepage.

7) Keep checking out the housing market in the UWS and Morningside Heights for ideas/possibilities.

8) Consider taking an unpaid internship at a local investment management firm. It might be worth it because I'm not in dire need of salary right now but the experience could help me a land a good internship which in turn will help me land a good full-time job post-MBA. I might need the leg up as a career switcher if the economy's not rebounding by then.

9) Purchase much Columbia gear (Columbia gear in general, not CBS gear because I hate the branded logo- so ugly!)

10) Help fellow blogger community join Maxwriter and I as classmates. I'm looking at you Soni, HappyBuns, Samantha, and everyone else. For those of you who are Regular Decision, I will persuade you to matriculate upon your acceptance.

Obviously I'll try to attend all the admitted student events. There's one on December 3rd that is still not finalized but I'll definitely make a one-day trip up to NY for that. I can't wait to get involved. I wonder if I should update my facebook to show the Columbia network? But then again, I don't want certain co-workers to know... Okay, it's actually my alma mater's homecoming weekend so I will be getting blasted tonight but maybe I'll play with my resume a lil right now to see how it might look in the future :)

I attended a Wharton presentation on Tuesday but I won't be blogging about it. I'll still finish up my HBS Visit post at some point though. And I'm going to post my own personal guide to combatting (and hopefully conquering) each stage of the admissions process. Maybe it'll prove helpful to a few who are still in the earlier stages. Again, feel free to reach out if I can help in any way.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


My heart is still pounding... got the status email right before noon. Frantically calling friends and family now. Will post more later. AY CARUMBA!~

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

HBS Visit - Part I

I’ve heard that the waiting period after Columbia’s interviewer feedback is submitted (and before a final decision is rendered) is the most torturous wait. Luckily, I haven’t found that to be the case. I was much more anxious on Aug. 13th while waiting for my app to change to “under review”. I’ve been fairly relaxed, checking my inbox for that “status change” email only once every half hour as opposed to every ten minutes. I’m sure that the wait will become much more excruciating as the days drag on and my chances of a ding increase (shudder). I will attempt to pass the next half hour by debriefing ya’ll on my HBS visit from a couple weeks ago.

We stayed at a friend of a friend’s place in the Back Bay part of Boston, which was really nice. Really impressive. The tiny but beautiful apartments reminded me of Manhattan. Boston certainly is cozier/more intimate but still a pretty nice city. It was nice to sleep in a real home as opposed to a post-college den. The friend of a friend is actually one of the execs for Teach For America and he (and his girlfriend) were excellent hosts.

That morning, we wanted to catch the early Finance class (I think at 9:15 or so) but it took us forever (nearly 15 minutes) to catch a taxi in Cambridge (inexcusable) that we were 5 minutes late. The student (another friend of my friend) was already in the class and we didn’t want to disturb it so we walked around campus for the next hour or so. The HBS campus is astonishing. It blew me away in every respect. It is literally its own campus and situated on the Boston side of the Charles River as opposed to the Cambridge side with the rest of Harvard’s schools. HBS is made up of approx. 7 or 8 very nice, modern buildings. They are all connected by underground tunnels so you don’t even have to step foot outside when the weather stinks. I quickly realized that having its own physical campus was a plus, not a minus. I originally thought it would be a disadvantage because I wanted to be able to fraternize with the students from other schools and feel a part of a larger community. But the thing is, HBS is so freaking large (900 students per class) that it is its own community. It is still a bustling and vibrant campus without having all the other schools around. I totally didn’t foresee that.

The first building that we entered was Shad Hall aka the gym. HBS students have their own exclusive gym (other students can’t use it) but HBS students can use the other gyms! Awesome. It was really nice. There were 3 new basketball courts and the weight room and exercise machines were all in these really rich mahogany-walled rooms with crimson carpeting. It looked like somebody accidentally put the exercise machines in the library of a mansion! All the machines looked new. The locker rooms were unbelievable and had tissue boxes and hairdryers in every row. The urinals were weird and super fancy- they were “98% waterless” and used some microbacterial technology that kept it clean. It sounded disgusting but I’m sure it does the job. The gym got me so pumped!

Then we walked into the non-faith-affiliated Chapel which is in the shape of a stout cylinder. When we walked inside, it was really pretty. The stairs into the ground floor of the chapel had its own garden with lush plants surrounding the staircases. There were 2 workers watering the plants. It appeared to me that HBS really had a ton of excess money to spend on such luxuries which I guess shouldn’t have surprised me. The auditorium itself was very nice and basic with several dozen chairs and two pianos (I think) and an alter. Tasteful.

We didn’t have any interest in checking out Baker library so we went to the Arthur Rock Center which is their center for entrepreneurship. I don’t remember much except that there were lots of cabinets and glass cases showcasing all the inventions and products that alumni had created over the years. Sorry, I don’t remember anything of particular note though I’m sure there were plenty of good ideas.

Then we decided to walk into the Admissions Office located in Dillon House which was definitely the most low-key of the buildings, it looked like a small townhouse. There appeared to be only 1 person working there at the time and they were in the back. When we walked in, we were unattended for the first ten minutes. This is probably because class visits and tours don’t start until October and we visited in mid-September. We browsed the various magazines and pictures and I took some candy from the mammoth candy bowl. There was a stack of really cute and innovative fold-out maps of the HBS campus sitting on the receptionist’s desk. It folded out to become a really artsy (it was illustrated) map of the campus. It’s hard to describe but it was really impressive and I could not imagine any other school having the resources to commission such a neat little thing that was unnecessary but so, so nice. When an admissions person (she seemed like staff, not an officer, but I don’t really remember) finally came out, she told us that visits had not started yet but that an info session would be held at 2 pm. She suggested that we walk around campus and maybe grab breakfast in Spangler, the student center and cafeteria.

We opted to grab breakfast at Spangler and wow, was it nice. It was the nicest school cafeteria I had ever seen. The food was prepared by Restaurant Associates, the same firm that did our food at Deutsche Bank’s cafeteria, but it looked better, maybe because it was so spacious and clean. The presentation really matters I guess. I got an egg and cheese croissant while my friend got a smoothie. When we sat down, we were amazed at the furniture. There is typical cafeteria tables but they were much smaller and nicer. The wood looked really rich (maybe just the paint or whatever). There were also a lot of other areas that you could sit since Spangler is the student center as well. Those places you have to check out on the HBS website’s campus tour because there were rugs everywhere and rich leather couches and loveseats. It was the difference between having $200 chairs and $800 chairs (note: those values are wild conjecture). Completely unnecessary but so luxurious to have! There were only a few students there eating breakfast and reading simultaneously. I noticed that the women at HBS are certainly more attractive than any other school I’ve seen. They were on par with the NYU Stern girls except the HBS women had more expensive-looking clothes hehe.

The food was good though. I can totally imagine eating there every day for 2 years (okay, maybe not every single day but still). After eating, we met up with my friend’s friend, Amy, at 11:30 or so to sit in on her next class, Technology and Operations Process Management (TOP Mgmt) or something like that. We met in front of her class's building, Aldrich, which was very state of the art.

I’ll post on that and the rest of my day in Part 2 because I’ve already written 2.5 pages single-spaced. Oy! Oh, and the funny thing was that there wasn't a sign-in sheet at the Admissions Office. My friend and I joked that HBS probably didn't care about keeping track of which applicants were truly interested in the school (in order to manage their yield)- instead, HBS probably just assumed that you would matriculate if accepted! hehe

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Interviewer Feedback Submitted

My interviewer submitted her feedback a few minutes ago so that's great news. Hopefully I will be one of those quick turn-around decision cases. Judging from last year's trends, quick decisiosn tended to be acceptances while long decisions tended to be deferrals or dings (with a couple exceptions of course). So hopefully a decision will be forthcoming quickly :)

For some odd reason, I was starting to lose hope and went through the entire NYU Stern website today for the past 5 hours (yes, I am serious). I was just about to start the application when I got the "status change" email from CBS. I will be visiting home in NY this weekend so it would be sweet to have a decision by friday. One can dream :) If I do get accepted though, rest assured that I will continue blogging and even provide in-depth posts on every single stage of the admissions process, from GMAT prep to managing recs to deciding what tie not to wear during the interview hehe.

Yup, this was a short post for once. I just wanted to keep ya'll in the loop :)