Confessions of An MBA Consultant

As a senior in high school, I had my heart broken by Duke, a college I’d fallen in love with simply because it was a popular choice at my large, competitive, public high school outside of Washington, D.C. I was terrified that I wouldn’t get in and tried to create a perfect application for them, focusing on their needs, not mine. When they rejected me, I saw myself as a complete failure.

It didn’t help that the day after we got the news from colleges, I walked through a hallway at school only to hear someone say, “Can you believe Katie Malachuk didn’t get into Duke?”

Ouch. Instead, I headed off to Northwestern, a great school but one I only applied to because a lot of other kinds in my honors English class were doing so as well. There I became incredibly depressed for a lot of reasons, none of which had to do with Northwestern because it’s a wonderful place. But one of my biggest issues was this idea of having failed at college admissions, which stuck inside the perfectionist, young adult me.


I ended up dropping out of college, taking time off, and doing some massive soul-searching. I wasn’t sure if I’d return to Northwestern, which I knew would be different with a different frame of mind, or if I should transfer. I decided to explore my options and fill out a couple of transfer applications. It was a completely different experience from my first time applying to college. I was really open and honest in my essays and applications, and the entire experience helped me to understand what I’d been through and how I’d grown. I ended up transferring to Harvard, which was a major victory, not because I got into Harvard but because I had come to know and accept myself in an unprecedented way.

Of course, I didn’t get the self-acceptance lesson in one take. So I had a lot of twists and turns throughout my twenties as I tried to find my place in the world. Indeed, my graduate school experiences mirrored the undergraduate in many ways. I applied to law school as I was finishing up my two-year teaching commitment to Teach for America. I had no interest in being a lawyer. I was applying out of fear, scared to be in the world without the safety of an affiliation. I was tight and stiff in my applications and got rejected from my top schools. Again, Georgetown was a great school—I just had no interest in being there. Having been through this experience at Northwestern, I recognized the sadness and detachment, and I left after one semester.


Again, I entered soul-searching mode, and that’s when I returned to Teach for America in the role of director of admissions. I applied to business schools because I Ioved managing my team and was interested in studying nonprofit management. But a part of me still felt like a failure from the law school episode, as if I needed a graduate degree of some kind.

I wasn’t dead set on going to business school. I approached the process in an exploratory way. What would I gain from this? Why should I be making this move? As with my transfer applications, the process was about me, not the schools. I only applied to three schools: Harvard, Stanford, and Yale, and I was accepted at all three. Stanford felt like home immediately, and I loved my time there.

When I was applying to business school, I didn’t know anyone else applying to business school (I now realize this was a blessing). My friends from undergrad weren’t into that kind of thing. Back then, not as many TFA folks were applying to B-schools.

The finance guy from TFA had gone to Stanford, but that was it. I made the decision to apply at the end of summer and started studying for the GMAT right away. I took a course, having always struggled with the math on those tests. I was stressed because I would only have time to take the test once before the final deadline, and I wanted to make the first deadline (through this was mistaken pressure, as we’ll discuss later).