Meet Georgetown McDonough’s MBA Class of 2017

Chris Cottrell

Chris Cottrell 

Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona

Undergraduate School and Major: Arizona State University, BS Political Science

Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation: Before moving to Washington, I worked at Yodle, a marketing software company, initially as a consultant working with small businesses to use the platform. From there I moved into managing the teams who worked with clients under the brand of one of our international partners.

I also started a nonprofit called Daddy Read a Book that helps connect parents to their children through reading.

Recalling your own experience, what advice do you have for applicants who are preparing for either the GMAT or the GRE? A strong GRE score was key to my application, so my preparation process probably took longer than others will need. I studied for about a year and took the test more than once before it felt like my score accurately reflected my aptitude.

It takes a lot of willpower to keep up the sometimes Sisyphean task of studying for the GRE and GMAT. My biggest mistake was that, after a good but disappointing test score, I stopped studying for a few months, which really set me back. For me, a high score came down to having the speed and accuracy it takes to not make any small mistakes. That is lost very quickly, which made long breaks in studying particularly detrimental.

What did work for me was setting aside a regular time to study and to finding the hardest preparation materials available, not necessarily the ones with the best platform or marketing.

Based on your own selection process, what advice do you have for applicants who are trying to draw up a list of target schools to which to apply? It depends on what an applicant is looking to achieve through an MBA. Having both grown up on the West Coast, my wife and I wanted to experience a few years on the East Coast, so I only looked at schools in that area. For applicants heading to finance or consulting, the overall university brand is probably less important since recruiters are well aware of the good programs. For me, brand was also a factor. From the remaining schools, I picked ones that had good entrepreneurial opportunities. Georgetown matched all of these categories perfectly.

What advice do you have for applicants in actually applying to a school, writing essays, doing admission interviews, and getting recommenders to write letters on your behalf? Not all applicants will have the same luxury, but because I decided to get my MBA about three years before I actually applied, I had time to build the strength of my application in significant ways that I never could have done in even 18 months. The first step was reading through a few books and dozens of articles (particularly from former admissions committee members) and outlining a long-term plan to be a successful applicant.

Answer the “why” question very, very early. Reflecting on my life and motivations and tying everything into an overarching narrative made the essays and interviews fairly straightforward. It also was motivating when I was deep in the valley of the shadow of standardized tests.

On Twitter, I sought out students at schools I was interested in and started following them. It was kind of a distant application of the “five friends” principle. It helped me understand how successful applicants thought and what they did that set themselves apart to the admissions committee. From there, I found ways to do the similar if not the same things. This can be done many ways, but Twitter worked especially well for me.

For my recommenders, I made a “Guide to Recommending Chris” document, which I’m embarrassed to say, came out to 15 pages. It outlined why I wanted an MBA; which schools I was applying to; what my strengths were (and examples they could use to display them); what my weaknesses were; and quotes from admissions committees about what made good recommendation letters. It even included examples of common recommendation questions and which examples would be best for each. Overkill? Probably…

What led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA? The entrepreneurial opportunities at Georgetown were a huge factor. McDonough has shown their commitment to this through the Entrepreneurship Initiative, known as StartupHoyas, which has an incredible set of resources and programming. Some examples include the Summer Launch Program, an incubator that takes the place of a summer internship and gives students space on campus and access to mentors while they bring to life an idea. I think this will be one of the most defining parts of my experience. Washington, D.C., also is one of the best cities in the country for access to venture capital, which will be valuable after school.

As a married student, it also was important that the school I chose had a lot of opportunities for my wife. DC is one of the best cities in the world for young professionals and that’s already proven true for her. Though I won’t be able to take advantage of that vibrancy very often during school, this will be a superb city where we can work and live after graduation. The location and prestige of the university brings incredible people to campus regularly.

Finally, the school’s Jesuit tradition and emphasis on cura personalis, the education of the whole person, was attractive to me. A strong moral compass is equally important to a rigorous education and I have appreciated the school making this a point.

What would you ultimately like to achieve before you graduate? Before graduation I hope to have gone from idea to execution on a venture, whether it’s my own or supporting a classmate. It may not be a venture I pursue after graduation. But that experience will be invaluable.

This isn’t part of a typical MBA experience, but I hope to vastly improve my coding ability and CS knowledge. I think it’s a skill many of my classmates would also find valuable and I’d be proud to help in the creation of a coding class or intensive weekend for students in the business school.

Outside of school, attending the 2017 inauguration would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!