From GMAT To Deposit: An Engineer’s Journey

Dean Nordhielm will start his MBA at Kellogg in the fall and graduate in the Class of 2017

Dean Nordhielm will start his MBA at Kellogg in the fall and graduate in the Class of 2017

I just finished a 12-month process to get from GMAT to putting down the $2,000 deposit for Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. In some ways, it has been a spectacular process of self-discovery, and in others, it has been a grueling process of painful disappointment. I’ve been fortunate enough to benefit from the MBA applicant community, and I’d like to pay it forward by sharing a bit about my experience.

My Story

I graduated from a Top 5 engineering school in 2011, and, after receiving offers from a few of the large management consulting firms (not M/B/B, but other well-known consulting firms), ended up going to work for a small procurement consulting company in Atlanta.  After there years working primarily on logistics projects, I decided to pursue an MBA to open additional career opportunities, specifically in supply chain management.

In March of 2014, I began preparing to apply to MBA programs, beginning by taking the GMAT and deciding where to apply. I felt like the GMAT prep classes were ridiculously expensive and weren’t that much better than studying on my own, so I bought a couple of prep books (including one online prep software) to help me prepare instead. I ended up taking it in May and getting a 750.

After knowing my GMAT score, I was ready to decide where to apply. I talked to a number of admissions counselors, and they were very helpful, but I didn’t feel comfortable spending the thousands of dollars that most of them charged. I ended up using TouchMBA’s free school selection help as well as my own research (including talking to a number of current or former students) to determine which schools I would be applying to in each round. I settled on applying to Stanford GSB, HBS, MIT Sloan and Kellogg in round 1, and then Emory, Georgia Tech, and either Fuqua or Tuck in round 2.

Long story short, I ended up getting into Kellogg with a scholarship and got waitlisted at MIT Sloan. I think I would have gotten into Sloan off the waitlist if I could have committed to going there without a scholarship, but that’s neither here nor there. Kellogg actually told me my answers to their video essay questions was one of the major factors in getting a scholarship.

But that’s enough about me. Let’s get to the stuff that you’re really want to know about: how can I help you get more money at better schools?

What I did right:

Start early – By prepping for the GMAT in March and April and taking the GMAT for the first time in May, I had one to two months to prep for the GMAT and one to two months to research schools before first round applications came out.  Even if I wasn’t happy with my first GMAT score, I would have had plenty of time to study some more and retake it. The earlier you begin, the better your application will be. Plus, you will have the opportunity to apply in the first round. Applying in the first round signals schools that 1) they’re your top choice (or one of your top choices) and 2) that you had the discipline to prepare ahead of time.

Do your research on the schools – There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of MBA programs, and you’ll get burned out after finishing three applications. You can probably tough it out and finish five to six applications if you really want to, but doing the research ahead of time is much less stressful and ultimately leads to a better application. If you want to go into brand management or investment banking or technology, you should have a clear understanding of what programs are the best for those areas. Trust me, it will help in literally every step of the process

Planning what schools to apply to in each round – By planning out what schools I was applying to in each round, I got the best shot at scholarships at the schools I was most interested in, and had an opportunity to apply to backup schools if necessary. Plus, I could focus 100% of my efforts on the first round applications until those applications were due, then take a one-to-two month break before beginning on second round applications if necessary.

What I did wrong / what I didn’t anticipate

Didn’t apply to schools in different tiers in the first round – All of my first round applications were to top 7 programs.  I thought it would be a good idea to apply to all of the tough schools in the first round so that I could apply to second-tier schools in the next round.  What I didn’t consider is that some of those second-tier schools may have offered me scholarship money.  If I had gotten into a top-tier school without a scholarship, I wouldn’t have had the option of a scholarship at a second-tier school because I wasn’t applying to them until later. A number of my peers had those options and, to be honest, I was jealous of them. In retrospect, I would have dropped one of the top schools from the first round and added Emory or Tuck in round 2 (if you have a slightly lower GMAT, I’d recommend applying to two top 7 programs and two second-tier programs in the first round).

Didn’t consider recommendations for the 2nd round – I had two recommenders do all of my applications in the first round. They provided great recommendations, and it turned out great for me, but I have a strong suspicion that I would have either had to add another recommender for the second round or watched the quality of the recommendations fall. Just like I started to get burned out after three applications and a waitlist, my recommenders were getting burned out as well.  If you are planning on doing 5+ applications, make sure you have at least three, preferably four recommenders.

  • Laura Decampo

    Hi Dean, congrats! Hope you are having a good time in Kelloggs.

    Any specific advice on how to approach that video essay? You seem to have aced that. Just sharing your experience will do.

  • Ramesh Krishnan

    Hello Dean, Congratulations! Sorry if I may sound silly, but what according to you constitute M7 Schools given that the list keeps changing…What was your school selection strategy…What exactly did you mean by applying to tier 2 colleges in R1 forScholarship Chances…What is your Post MBA Career Transition?

  • Dean Nordhielm

    Hi M7, I don’t have any regrets about my application process. I took a few risks that could have turned out poorly, and I was fortunate that they didn’t. The goal of this piece was to help others avoid some of the risks I took and imitate the things I did well.

    I am not at all disappointed at getting into Kellogg. It’s a spectacular program and I’m super excited about going there. You should have heard me when I got the call from Kellogg. I was so excited I couldn’t form a coherent sentence!

  • M7_Alumnus

    Was it just me or did anyone else get the impression that Dean was disappointed with being admitted at Kellogg? If so, I think it’s unfortunate because, after all, he got into an M7, which is more than MANY can hope for. Dean should be immensely grateful for this accomplishment, and could display a bit more humility and maturity in his judgement. In my view, he has absolutely nothing to complain about nor should he have any regrets (at all).

  • jk2018

    Thanks for the reply and congrats on Kellogg. I went to NU for undergrad and loved my time in Evanston. No doubt you’ll have a great experience, just be prepared for winter as it’s no joke being on the lake.

  • Dean Nordhielm

    Congrats! Looking forward to meeting you in person.

  • Dean Nordhielm

    Hi JK, I think my biggest weaknesses were not having a “brand name” on my resume and extracurriculars (I do a lot outside of work, but very little of it is what I would consider resume-worthy). Unfortunately, neither of those are correctable in the application process, they’re more lifestyle changes.

    If I were doing everything everything over, I would have started doing the activities I wanted on my resume a year before my application. I think an admissions consultant would have made a difference if I spoke with them a year before applying, but otherwise, I think the result would have been the same (that’s just my take though).

  • JohnAByrne

    Great question JK. Dean, what do you think? And would it have mattered if you hired an MBA admissions consultant?

  • jk2018

    Nice post. What do you consider your biggest shortcomings in not getting an interview at H and S, and getting waitlisted at MIT? If you could do those three apps over again would you do anything different? Thanks.

  • loll

    I really like how sincere this post is. Congrats on getting into Kellogg! I too got accepted this year so excited to meet you in person.

  • Boothie16

    Good advice pal, way to go! Good luck in Kelloggs!!