Waitlisted For Six Months, He Was Admitted & An MBA Student In Less Than A Week

Columbia Business School waitlist

Columbia MBA student Matthew Maimone

Patience comes easy for Matthew Maimone. When he was all of ten years old, he sat at a piano for eight hours a day to get ready for his audition at The Juilliard School.

But even Maimone’s disciplined composure honed over his young career as a concert pianist and entrepreneur had to be tested by his acceptance to one of the most highly selective MBA programs in the world. After six agonizing months on the waitlist at Columbia Business School in February, Maimone was admitted to the school’s MBA program on Tuesday, Aug. 15, only to show up for orientation six days later on Monday, Aug. 21. The very moment he got the good news will be forever embedded in his mind as the day 19 years ago that he brilliantly played Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor at Juilliard.

He was at the gym, on a treadmill, when the phone call from Columbia Business School finally came after those agonizing months on the waitlist. He had programmed his cell phone with the numbers of all six schools to which he applied so that he would not miss the call when it came. “I saw it was Columbia,” he says, “and I almost fell off the treadmill.”

‘I HAD LESS THAN A WEEK TO TURN AROUND AND GET EVERYTHING SET TO GO’

Maimone leaped off the machine to take the call.

“When they let me know I shouted for joy,” he recalls. “They welcomed me into the program. I called my wife and my parents and all of us just celebrated. When I came home, we just jumped up and down. We were jelling at the top of our  lungs. I ended up going to dinner with my wife and parents that night to celebrate.”

No less surprising, of course, was that Maimone would have to report to the school’s campus a mere six days later.

“I had less than a week to turn around and get everything set to go,” he says. “They knew I was in New York and because of my portal updates they knew I was ready to start last minute.”

TAKING THE GRE EXAM FOUR TIMES AND GETTING A TWO-POINT GAIN EACH TIME

Unlike many candidates, he didn’t have to give notice to an employer. He had his own company, an online music education business called Metropolitan Concert Artists that provides private music lessons from a roster of Juilliard graduate tutors. “I moved heaven and earth to make sure I could attend my top choice and boy was it worth it,” he now says, after his first orientation week at Columbia. “Thankfully, my job is flexible. Running this company, I can do it from 9 to 12 or 2 to 5. I am looking to expand my team as well, and this is the perfect opportunity to do so. Now is the time to hire more help.”

In fact, his business is the reason he began the marathon journey to get an MBA in the first place. “My primary goal is to scale the company,” he says. “If other things come along that are social enterprise-focused, I am going to be open to learning about that. But I want to learn the business basics to grow my company.”

Of all the twists and turns in his efforts to get an MBA, landing on the waitlist at his first choice school had to be the single biggest setback. After all, waitlists can be mysterious black boxes in the world of elite MBA admissions. No one ever knows how many applicants a school will place in limbo but it is generally believed that few are ever plucked from a waitlist and into a class. He had taken the GRE exam four times, each effort yielding a two-point improvement in his score.

“Honestly, it was quite a journey,” he recalls. “The last time I had done math was when I was 16 and even then I was touring as a concert pianist and doing competitions so math was in the back seat. To be kind, I was very rusty. What I would do is study in the morning before work, work all day teaching and running the company and then study until bed. I still needed to make money and grow the company while learning these fundamentals.”

He joined a group of MBA aspirants put together by MBA admissions coach Petia Whitmore to get more comfortable with the ins and outs of applying to top schools.

HIS PASSION AND SKILL FOR THE PIANO WAS EVIDENT AT AN EARLY AGE

Matthew Maimone

While not an applicant from McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, or Google, Maimone was truly an unusual candidate for an elite MBA program. Born and raised in New York City, he was five years old when he started piano lessons. Within the first month, Maimone was able to play everything in books one to four of the legendary John Thompson Modern Course of piano playing. His immediate passion for the instrument and what it could do was unmistakable. “It makes me feel at peace,” he says. “Creating melody and harmony centers me. When I think about the piano, I realize that we are in control of an entire orchestra all at once which is just incredible. No other instrument can imitate the range and the scope of the piano. It allows for such richness of repertoire and expression and poetry and that immediately drew me to the keyboard day after day.”

At ten years of age, his parents brought him to Juilliard for an audition. To prep for it, he had practiced eight hours a day for a full week. “It didn’t feel too long. I loved it. Those eight hours flew by.”

He studied there for 12 years as a concert pianist. At his senior recital, he played Chopin’s Third Piano Sonata. In fact, he would open his Columbia essay by noting that were 34,856 notes in the piece and he had memorized every single one of them. “This was the culmination of years of discipline, focus and passion all in one final performance at Juilliard when I graduated.”

‘I WENT FROM RACHMANINOFF TO ROCK AND ROLL’

He earned academic honors when he graduated in 2017 and performed classical concerts all over the world. He has won prizes in several international piano competitions and performed in many of the most famous concert halls, including Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Merkin Hall, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, Peter Jay Sharp Theater, Steinway Hall, Wave Hill, Interlochen, Bargemusic, and Guild Hall.

“But when I finished school I was interested in seeking more creative outlets. I started writing pop and rock and played the Bitter End in New York. One of the scouts for American Idol heard my playing and I won a golden ticket on American idol for my singing and piano playing. I went from Rachmaninoff to rock and roll.”

He wrote and acted in an off-Broadway musical and was featured in Playbill magazine. He toured in 20 different countries, often playing in support of refugees for a non-profit organization, Concerts For Compassion, that brings music to refugees across the globe. “I performed all over and a few years into it I was enjoying these performance outlets but I definitely wanted to do something more with my skillset. I wanted to have a greater impact.”

He launched his company to connect conservatory-trained artists and performers with students across all instruments. We have grown our client base and are looking to expand our reach. That is one of the main reasons I am at Columbia to scale and grow this company so it can have a real impact.

Maimone was invited to interview by Columbia in late January and left the 45-minute session with an alum thinking it went well. “I was grateful that the interview was in person and overall my experience was smooth,” he remembers.  “There were one or two curveballs but overall it was the standard kind of MBA interview.”

‘THERE IS NO GUARANTEE YOU ARE GETTING OFF THAT WAITLIST’

If anything, what most surprised him about the process was how competitive it actually is. “I was surprised at the rigor of all the applications. I thought I would get more interviews than I did. I didn’t want to overestimate my abilities, but it is reminder of how competitive MBA programs are.”

A few weeks after his CBS interview, he was put on the waitlist in February.

“I was disappointed,” he says. “I know there is no guarantee you are getting off that waitlist. I thought I was down and out. You always start to second guess how eloquent you were in the interview, or how well your essays were, or whether your test score was high enough. But my wife said, ‘Don’t give up, keep waiting and keep working.’ I proceeded to read 40 books to get ready for the potential of starting school.”

‘NEVER GIVE UP AND NEVER GIVE IN’

But he didn’t give up hope. Every now and then, he would go back to the CBS portal to provide career updates and make sure Columbia knew he was still very eager to become an MBA student there.

His first week in orientation has been a joy. “I definitely am intrigued and excited to learn the fundamentals that will take me to the next level,” he says. “I read books on finance, accounting and entrepreneurship during the dating period and it sent me in the right direction. I am not going to know every Microsoft Excel shortcut but I have a base level of knowledge that will help me in school. I was definitely anxious because I felt mentally I didn’t have time to prepare, and I was so pleasantly surprised by my classmates and my learning team. And in the first two or three days, I felt a wave of support from the school and my classmates. I know that community is really how the school lives day to day. It just really made me feel like yes this is going to be a challenge but I can definitely do it.”

His advice to others? “Never give up and never give in. Be persistent but pleasantly persistent,” he says.

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