Blogging Your Way to an MBA

When Mehreen Khalid was applying to Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, she found little information that might help an international student like herself. A graduate of Lahore University of Management Sciences, Khalid wanted a primer: What will life in Durham, N.C., be like? How can I better prepare myself? What should I expect from a rigorous MBA program? She thought Fuqua could do a better job expressing its program through the eyes of students. “Fuqua was very difficult to understand what to expect,” says Khalid, class of 2011.

Her complaint spurred two solutions. She started her own blog and, as Choc Heaven, chronicles the B-School experience from the agonizing pre-admission butterflies to landing a summer internship. “Lessons learnt from my subjective experience …,” she wrote recently. Fuqua, too, has embraced the benefits of student bloggers, collecting a half-dozen B-schoolers from different backgrounds to share their insights with prospectives. Khalid represents the international point of view, and her admissions blog is appropriately called The Fuqua Kaleidoscope.

Khalid is just one in a growing group of bloggers making the B-school experience entirely transparent. In many cases, applicants share the often anxious journey of studying for their GMAT tests, completing their applications, and then awaiting word from the schools with the kind of sleep-depriving excitement that a child may have on Christmas Eve. Soojin Koh, director of admissions at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, says she has read some of the blogs with a mixture of fascination and empathy. “I feel for them,” she adds. “It’s such a nerve-wracking process. They agonize over every word and who they get as recommenders. It is a soul-searching and stressful and these blogs bring you inside those feelings.” (See our Real Time MBA blog for some of the best posts from applicants to top schools).

It’s an information age, and this crop of MBA writers see their blogs as a way to chronicle their experience, shed light on the B-school journey, establish social contact and keep their name in front of job recruiters. “There’s a common theme that we all just enjoy sharing info that might not be available to people,” says Jeremy Wilson, Class of 2012, who is pursuing a joint JD-MBA degree at Northwestern Law and Kellogg School of Management. An aspirant for two degrees, and still Wilson puts in 20 hours each week to build content and maintain his Web site.

Why? Part of the reason is that like Khalid, he’s experienced the shortcomings of not having access to the right information. Well before Northwestern, and Stanford  (Class of ’05), Wilson was born up in Youngstown, Ohio, a depressed city on the Pennsylvania border. Neither of his parents had the finances to finish college, so they moved their family to Mesa, Ariz., in search of opportunity. Wilson stumbled in his rookie years, struggling through grade school at an early age because he lacked acces to the right academic resources. “I was raised on the side that didn’t have information,” he says, noting that one of the main reasons he applied to Stanford was due to a nice piece of social intelligence: One of his best friends applied, too.

Now, Wilson’s relentless fuel shows through on his blog. In May, he posted, on average, every two days. He curates 78 outbound links by topic  (business, law, politics, career resources) and source (NYT, WSJ, Above the Law, fellow bloggers). He acts as mentor and consultant, often writing in second person and sharing readers’ questions as well as his response. For instance, a reader asked Wilson for advice after getting laid off at an investment firm: Wilson broke down the reader’s question into four parts and went on to write a thousand-word recommendation.

A few years ago, Wilson might have been an anomaly in considering blogging a vital component of his B-school experience, but now, even within his own school, he has company. Northwestern students took the first two spots in Clear Admit’s Top Student Bloggers of 2010 awards, and they took seventh, too. As Khalid said unsolicited, “I could learn about Kellogg very easily.”

A Tale of Two Communities: B-School and Professional

Stephen Windsor, Kellogg Class of 2011, placed seventh on Clear Admit, and says the examples set by Wilson and, especially, Orlando O’Neill (see sidebar), inspire his own writing on B-School Voyage. For the first few weeks of school, Windsor wrote from behind a pseudonym (Kellogger) but felt walled off. “At the end of the day, I felt like if you’re not willing to stick your neck out and stand up for your statements,” it feels wrong, he says. Blogging anonymously is a good way to keep self-doubt from overpowering production, or staying invisible on Google, but it slows down social contact. As researcher Thomas Glynn pointed out more than 20 years ago, being on a first-name basis is one of the most important predictors of a strong community. And in the B-School world, it’s no different (ever see a business card with a pseudonym?)

Ross School of Business student Raghu Thricovil, Class of 2011, gets frequent emails and phone calls from first-years asking follow-up questions and expressing their thanks for his transparency. In the admissions office, “I was known as ‘the blogger’ when I applied to school,” says Thricovil. “They know me by [the blog], and that kind of opens up a bunch of doors.”  Like Khalid, Thricovil also writes for his school’s admissions blog, an process he sped up through his track record.

Just as blogging chronicles daily life with prospective students in mind, writers also keep in mind the prospective employers they’re out to impress. B-School is not just a “critical transition point” (as Wilson puts it) for readers, it’s also critical for the bloggers who are only students B-School is not just a “critical transition point” (as Wilson puts it) for readers, it’s also critical for the bloggers who are only temporarily students.. Well past his pen-name bashfulness, Wilson finds himself straddling these two audiences. Windsor might chronicle his whole day – “1:30-1:45 PM: Attempt to print my paper. Fail miserably due to paper jams and general printing catastrophe” – but he also wants to build his reputation as an original thinker who can contribute in the early-stage venture capitalism business.

Like Kellogg, the VC industry is filled with prolific writers who share intimate thoughts. Jeff Bussgang, a partner at Boston-based Flybridge Capital Partners, notes that 10 to 15 percent of venture capitalists keep blogs. “The amount of transparency and richness of information available to entrepreneurs about the VC world is unprecedented,” Bussgang writes. (I came across Bussgang’s post via Windsor.) Fred Wilson, a principal at Union Square Ventures, is a role model for Windsor, and despite the sensitivity of early-stage investing, shares his thoughts on Twitter and his blog. By providing transparent advice and pointing out industry trends, it’s easy to see why Wilson has attracted more than 70,000 followers.

While established professionals like Wilson and Bussgang give readers inside access, outsiders – like, say, an MBA aspirant – can connect to the professionals by blogging. Windsor experienced just that after penning, “Why Bother with Twitter?” He took his uncle’s question, a personal one from everyday life, and addressed it publicly on B-School Voyage. Soon after, Private Equity Hub picked up the story; his blog traffic skyrocketed; his comments increased and his visibility became more opaque. “That definitely nailed home for me the positive impact of the blog.” Windsor now receives more attention from students interested in venture capital than the Kellogg experience.

Blogging keeps you on recruiters’ radars and shows them you know social media

For B-Schoolers, blogging helps them connect with each other, publish original thinking and move upmarket, but what about securing a job? After all, writing is good, but students are earning an MBA, not an MFA. And while blogging is enriching the B-School journey, the destination is typically a summer internship, full-time job and a salary. Does blogging assist in reaching that destination?

Wilson says, absolutely. He displays his blog on his resume, and like a good publisher, keeps an eye on upstream traffic. Vedder Price, a Chicago-based general practice law firm, pays Northwestern frequent recruitment visits, and Wilson made sure to be around each time they came by. When a Vedder recruiter mentioned Wilson’s blog, he knew his writing had at least been influential in keeping him on their radar. Then, he noticed that traffic was coming from LinkedIn and, specifically, from Vedder Price. “I know for a fact that Vedder looked.”

Windsor, who doesn’t put his blog on his resume, figures potential employers will look him up and comes across B-School Voyage anyway. He seems to be right; every interviewer has brought up the blog as a conversation piece – including the Houston-based DFJ Mercury, a venture capital firm, where he’ll be returning this summer for the next portion of his internship.

Blogging served a different role for Thricovil and Khalid. When Khalid applied for a summer internship at Inspire Learning, an education-software company in San Diego, they wanted proof of her creativity. Building a publishing platform from scratch can be evidence (Check out the blog by Stern School of Business’s Nistha Tripathi). Khalid didn’t get the position at Inspired, but has a nice fall-back working on a new financial product with Bloomberg in New York City. Thricovil, on the other hand, reaped the benefits of being a social media veteran.

Not only does he write for Ross’s admissions blog and keep his own, he is a former product evangelist for Adobe where he was charged with manning multiple social platforms. At his interview with EcoLab, a food-services company headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., they asked how he might use social media to better project their company. (“There’s a new thing called Twitter,” they said.) Through experience, Thricovil was able to differentiate between and communicate the value of tools that are increasingly vital to the business world.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.