Introducing An Underdog MBA Applicant & His Journey to B-School

USA-Brazil-flag2It was a typical summer day during the dog days of August 2011.  I’m sitting on the porch at my parent’s house when my cell phone rings.  With great anticipation, I quickly glance at the caller ID and flip on the phone.

“Is JustinTime available?,”  the voice asks.

“This is him,” I say, trying not to let my voice shake.

“This is the United States Marine Corp (USMC).  We regret to inform you that you have not been selected to participate in the Officer Candidate School program this fall.”

Cue an anvil being dropped on my head, Wiley Coyote style.

Without being given a specific reason, I had just been rejected from an elite military program where acceptance is extremely competitive (in 2011 less than 30% of applicants were accepted.  With the 2013 military sequestration into effect, I would estimate it is less than 15% these days).

Eight months of applying and putting my best foot forward had resulted in being dinged just like that. Sound familiar? Sound like anything we read about or discuss on this website on a daily basis?

Welcome to the world of applying to the best MBA programs money can buy, through the eyes of a less than perfect applicant.

Who was I then?..

If I can be unbiased for a moment, I was applying to the Marine Corps officer program as a mediocre candidate at best.  Here is why:

  • Back in college, I was your typical undergrad at a state school in the mid-west (think of somewhere between Ohio and Nebraska).
  • Due to immaturity, working multiple part-time jobs, and one too many drinks, I graduated with an undergraduate business degree in five years with a ‘B’ average.
  • Sure, I was a member of a couple of business organizations and attended the meetings here and there, but certainly never took an active role. My leadership and community service were minimal and was mostly facilitated through required fraternity events.
  • I did not study a foreign language nor did I study abroad.
  • The only thing I had going for me for was a solid Physical Fitness Test (PFT) score. You could think of this as a GMAT equivalent of sorts – and as we all know, having high standardized test scores is not the only thing admissions boards look at when assessing a candidate’s profile.

Not too much to hang my hat on wouldn’t you say?

..Who am I now?

A few months after my humbling rejection from the USMC, I landed a job in financial services on the East Coast. It is your run-of-the-mill back office job.  But I have definitely excelled and earned the respect of my peers in the past two years. Most importantly, I have matured and done a complete 180 from who I was back in my college years. To wit:

  • Since the team I was hired into is less than two years old, I’ve been on the ground floor collaborating with my colleagues to develop and implement important operational efficiencies.
  • I’ve played the dual role of manual writer/instructor by helping create training manuals that are used as a guideline for our processes while at the same time providing instruction to each new hire as they come aboard.
  • My community outreach has included having a leadership role in a couple of volunteer outreach programs with an emphasis on economic empowerment and health services.  I am also one of the leaders in our company’s affinity networks.
  • I have run three full marathons over the past two years.
  • I am admittedly addicted to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and have completed quite a few courses on various business subjects.

Oh, and did I mention I am moving to Brazil later this year? World Cup 2014 here I come!!! (More on that in the next post)