My Application Plans: Take Two

Steve Gargiulo

After getting dinged by Dartmouth, NYU, and Cornell last year, I’m back in the hunt for an MBA. My list of schools is going to be different this time around as I will be applying to some programs that are slightly lower ranked. My thought process on this is that I want and need to go to B-school this year and since my father has graciously agreed to pay for a semester of tuition (doing the same for my brother as an M.D.), the return on investment calculation would still be in my favor if I didn’t land a $100k+ job after graduation.

I’ve done a good bit of research on these schools and they are certainly different in many ways. But each of them has a good finance department and respectable finance placement stats: I’m going to try Cornell, which waitlisted me last year, and has a first round deadline of Oct. 5, but also Yale, Georgetown, USC, and Boston University. Still under consideration are Columbia and Notre Dame.

A little background about myself: I’m a recently married guy in New Jersey who works in the financial services industry as a credit analyst for a very large brokerage firm. I’m trying to get an MBA in order to become a buy-side research analyst and eventually a portfolio manager. With goals like these I am trying to shoot for a top-15 school. Anything outside the top 15 will probably fail to provide the payback I need to justify giving up two years of income and risking being jobless when I get out of school.

When I began this process in the spring of 2009, I completed a Kaplan prep course and got a 680 on my first GMAT. Initially, I was not very pleased with the score because I was shooting for something over 700 and 680 is so agonizingly close that I wanted to kick a puppy. Probably an overreaction, but in the heat of the moment puppy kicking seemed like the easiest way to take some joy out of the world. After a little reflection and an equally disappointing Subway sandwich (seriously put some meat on there), I began to reflect on how far I had come.

My GMAT journey began at the Hudson School in Hoboken, NJ. I was taking a diagnostic test to see how much help I truly needed. I scored 550 on the test and realized that I needed a lot of hard work to reach my goal. I went to every Kaplan course and did every assignment, even the optional ones. I took nine separate practice tests, (including the Ultimate Practice Test) to get to that 680 score and then to 690 on another try.

I worked hard on my applications and my first ding was from Dartmouth. I pretty much figured that once I got that Dartmouth e-mail that it was all over for this guy. My decision letter confirmed those fears. wasn’t a nail in the coffin for me, but it obviously hurt. Starting off the process with a ding was no way to build confidence. And then, it only got worse. Another rejection letter from NYU and then a torturous wait from Cornell in Ithaca, New York.

For my Cornell admissions interview, my fiancée, Danielle, and I drove to Ithaca just before a huge freaking blizzard hit the Northeast. After a Sunday dinner at an Italian restaurant in the hotel, we settled back into our hotel room and I tried to get some sleep before the big day.

It was no use, 10 o’clock turned into 11, into 12…I finally fell asleep around 12:30, only to wake up at 2:30! After some restlessness, I went back to bed around 3:30 and woke up at 7, so not terrible, but not a great night’s sleep either. I got up, ordered some breakfast and got dressed for my interview.

I arrived at around 8:50 for my 9:15 interview and waited in the admissions office until my interviewer arrived. I was supposed to be interviewing with someone from Cornell’s admissions committee, but was told that she would be joined by a 2nd year student. I didn’t know if this was good or bad, but I had to just roll with the punches. The 2nd year student arrived (along with the adcom) around 9:20 and after introductions, we made our way to a conference room.

The 2nd year told that this was going to be very conversational and that he would be conducting the interview under the supervision of the adcom. He started by telling me about himself and about his time at Johnson. Then we started the interview. Here are the questions that he asked, I don’t think you are going to find them as helpful because he tailored the interview to my work experience and the flow of our discussion.

Tell me why you chose your college.

Tell me about your internship at Bear Stearns.

Anything you saw that made you not surprised that it went out of business?

Tell me what ICAP (current company) is and what you do.

What 3 changes need to be made to fix the financial system?

Do you like the VaR model?

What is its main drawback?

What other schools are you applying to and why?

What is the main difference between Tuck and Johnson in your eyes?

Tell me how your teammates would describe you as a team member? (work and ex. curricular)

Asked me a long hypothetical question about morals and wanted me to detail my thought process for him.

Any questions for me?

The interview lasted for almost an hour and after that time I was escorted back to the admissions office. After that I met with Randall Sawyer, the assistant dean of admissions. We chatted about life in Ithaca and what having a partner there would mean. It was a really nice talk and it really helped with some of my concerns.The only bad part about the conversation was Randall telling me that I would still have to wait until Feb 15th to hear anything back. I had hoped that it would be rolling instead of a deadline.

I ended up being waitlisted and waited what seemed like an eternity for an answer. Like most people on waitlists, I didn’t make the cut.

Now, I’m at it again. I took a practice GMAT test on Saturday morning, around 8:30, and finally got a 700. When I clicked the final button on my Manhattan GMAT CAT I thought I had done reasonably well, but I didn’t think I would be hitting 700! I was really excited about this, as it seems that my hard work is paying off. My breakdown was as follows:

Quant: 45

Verbal: 40

Overall: 700

AWA: 6.0 (I think I deserved it….I am obviously kidding about this, there is no generated score for the AWAs)

I was happy with my performance in Verbal, as it was 4 points higher than what I scored on the real thing. I believe that confidence is a huge part of the GMAT and I had loads of it on Saturday. I prepared myself mentally before the test started by accepting that the test was going to be very hard, no matter how well I was doing. I think this helped me not get discouraged, keep my pacing, and ultimately score better on the test.

I was so excited about the result that I schedule my actual GMAT for October 2nd, which is the first Saturday of the month. It is scheduled for 8 a.m. in Lyndhurst, NJ (the same place I took the previous 2, I am a creature of habit!). My goal from here on out is to try and consistently score in the 700 range, but not to get too discouraged if a 660 pops into the equation. Bad tests just happen, for whatever reason.

This post has been adapted from Confessions of an MBA Applicant where Steve Gargiulo has been blogging since May of 2009.

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