Stanford GSB | Mr. Two Job
GRE 330 GRE, GPA 3.63
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Analyst To Family Business Owner
GMAT 710, GPA 3.2
Harvard | Mr. FBI To MBB
GMAT 710, GPA 3.85
Chicago Booth | Mr. Overrepresented Indian Engineer
GMAT 740, GPA 8.78/10
Tuck | Mr. Infantry Officer To MBA
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Darden | Mr. Program Manager
GRE 324, GPA 3.74
Tuck | Mr. Smart Cities
GRE 325, GPA 3.5
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Biz Human Rights
GRE 710, GPA 8/10
Harvard | Mr. Food Tech Start Ups
GMAT 720, GPA 3.5
Harvard | Mr. The Builder
GMAT 740, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Mr. International Oil
GMAT 710, GPA 3.7
Harvard | Mr. Consulting To Emerging Markets Banking
GRE 130, GPA 3.6 equivalent
Harvard | Mr. Comeback Kid
GMAT 770, GPA 2.8
Stanford GSB | Mr. Greek Taverna
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Harvard | Ms. Biotech Ops
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NYU Stern | Mr. Development
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Chicago Booth | Mr. Energy Operations
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Harvard | Mr. Big 4 To Healthcare Reformer
GRE 338, GPA 4.0 (1st Class Honours - UK - Deans List)
Wharton | Mr. Steelmaker To Consultant
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Duke Fuqua | Mr. Indian Quant
GMAT 745, GPA 9.6 out of 10
Stanford GSB | Mr. Food & Education Entrepreneur
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Harvard | Ms. Gay Engineer
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Harvard | Mr. Lieutenant To Consultant
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Duke Fuqua | Mr. IB Back Office To Front Office/Consulting
GMAT 640, GPA 2.8
Rice Business | Mr. Future Energy Consultant
GRE Received a GRE Waiver, GPA 3.3
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Campaigns To Business
GMAT 750, GPA 3.19
MIT Sloan | Mr. Special Forces
GMAT 720, GPA 3.82

A Stanford-Harvard-Wharton Admit Describes His Application Process

Ray Temnewo

P&Q: When did getting an MBA enter into your mind? Was it at McKinsey or even before you graduated from Emory? Did you already know you were going to go back to grad school?

Ray Temnewo: It’s really when you’re at McKinsey and you see everyone else. And I wish I knew at the time, I would encourage everyone who’s thinking about business at all to make the most of those undergrad programs, like the Harvard Summer Venture in Management Program, and I think Stanford has one, Wharton as well. Those are great feeders, and definitely keep you on the school’s radar. I didn’t know about any of those. I didn’t think I would need another degree, especially when I was in consulting. But when you see a ton of turnover and people not just looking for their jobs, people actually going to get their MBAs at some of these institutions, you start to look at it more. So I actually took the GMAT and handled a lot of the pre-reqs for the application, in between leaving McKinsey and joining Spotify, in that gap.

How long did you study for the GMAT?

The answer’s 120 hours. I honestly just looked up whatever the number was online, that people need to get 700-plus or whatever the prerequisite was for all these top business schools, and that was the number. So actually it was really close to that, I think it was 122 or something.

Back to the process. You’ve decided you’re going to go, so then what was your process, and how long did it take?

You get to Spotify and you recognize that 50/50 chance you’re going to go to business school. So I immersed myself in the experience, but realized pretty quickly I wanted to go to business school still, after this operations experience. The biggest thing was that the GMAT was done, and that allowed me to spend the next year and a half ahead of applications basically working on the three other components: essays, recommendations, and the actual application, which involved some other components. But still, it’s not just filling out data for some of them — at least for these other schools, for Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton.

I actually spent the next six months on my essay, on my core essays for those three schools, which I think was extremely advantageous in this process. I know tons of people who had it pretty tough, in that they had to study for the GMAT while working, which I can only imagine, and then cram essays in that summer before applying. For me, I think we had a ton of time to get feedback on my essays, revise them over and over again, have alumni — 20 years out of these schools, five years out of these schools — look at them. So I knew, if we can just assume everyone’s an equal writer, just by sheer hours, it would be my best output, I guess. Did six months with that.

I then actually joined Management Leadership of Tomorrow’s pre-MBA program. It’s a nonprofit that aims to facilitate under-represented minorities transitioning to the MBA world. And they were super helpful for just meeting people on the same path. They had a ton of programming around the schools and showcases and workshops, and also helping you with your essays. I think they were even tied to some GMAT prep tutors. I also was able to actually refine what schools I was going to apply to, because the students there are on similar paths. I was able to think about cost of MBAs by talking to alumni of this program, and think about how they paid for it, and how they thought about the ROI. Was it all just money, or how do you quantify the network? It actually made me comfortable with the whole process, so the people were the most important.

Thinking about that, that’s January until late spring. And then, in late spring, I actually got the recommendations process. For me, I also made sure that had probably three months or so. That’s actually before the actual recommendation form and even the essays for this most recent year come out, but they don’t really change much at some of these schools. So my recommenders were able to have conversations with me, one on one, about how we wanted to capture this. They spent actually a lot of the summer tweaking what they wanted to say. And again, these are short applications, but just having someone who’s invested in you spend time on it does make a big difference, even if they’re just refining a simple thought.

Last thing I’d add is the recommendation process took me a couple months. Not everyone I asked immediately was ready to do it, so I had to actually think about who would be the best fit — who’s the most excited to write me a good rec, is probably the simple way to phrase it. And that also took a couple of tries to make sure I had it right.

And by the end of it, I was super lucky that my manager, an alumni of GSB as well, and then an old manager of mine and a senior partner at McKinsey, were able to write the best representative story for myself.

A lot of people are going to parse everything that you’ve said, all of your experience, in looking for what they should focus on in their own journey. From what you’re saying, it sounds like taking the GMAT first was a huge relief, a huge weight off the rest of the process.

Yeah. I only know my process, and I know that it took a lot of energy to feel comfortable with it. I can only imagine adding another test to it, especially when it’s so black and white. You have a score threshold you need to achieve. I would say, if you can, take it early. And honestly, if you’re an undergrad, that senior year spring is actually when I would recommend taking it. I have some friends who do the same thing.

If you’re already in study mode, why not make the most of it?

What other advice do you have for current candidates? Anything else that leaps to mind as really important for how successful you were?

The first piece of advice would be, don’t get too many opinions on this stuff. To your point, you should choose a couple of people, maybe who have a similar mold as you, maybe who have been very thoughtful about this process, and maybe you’ve observed that through other conversations they’ve had with friends. Maybe they’re just managers of yours and you’re lucky. You’ve been placed around someone who’s had some experience. But you should choose a couple of people to get advice from more broadly about the same process. And after that, you can have different people, but they should serve a very specific purpose.

One example would be one of my most recent essays for GSB: I think I limited it to four people could read it. They read it a lot, but only four people. And they couldn’t just give their open-ended feedback. They had to either decide to give me feedback on the content or the style. Or we’d run a test sometimes where they would take the essay to a friend who’s not business-related, hide the title, get them to read the essay, and say, “What do you think their prompt is? What do you think the prompt of this essay is?” And the idea is, Is it answering the question? If you’re very specific, I think that’s quite helpful.

The second thing I’d say is, at least with interviews, it’s really hard to overkill interviews. I think people do say there’s a limit to how many hours you should prep. Going over your story, you can really do that for quite a while. I would say don’t underestimate or don’t under-prepare for the questions that may seem simple at first, that’s in these interviews. Spend as much time as you can, at least when it comes to schools like Harvard and Stanford.

And then I guess a subcomponent of that would be if the interview is not about yourself, and if it’s, let’s say, Wharton, which is a case study, think about what resources are actually available to you. And what I mean by that is, in this example, I think Wharton’s task for the group was basically creating a new component of the curriculum. We’ll leave it at that. And if you just left it at that and you took your own stab at it, you may have done pretty well. But there also was a free course online, in this realm that they’re talking about, that you could have taken. There was a podcast on this new topic when it came out. None of this is hidden information. And then talking to students.

That last one, people quite often do, but the first two really give you a leg up. When you get to the interview, I actually felt pretty confident about that one, because there were clear instructions. And the podcast went over this, and the course that you took online shows this. But people didn’t seem to do that off the bat. So I guess interviews, you can’t prep enough. I wouldn’t give general advice about how to dress or what to say or a level of demeanor, though.

After all this, where did you decide to go this fall?

Stanford GSB.

What put Stanford ahead?

A couple things. I’d say the first was simply not having exposure to the West Coast or that tech hub more broadly. Having gone to school in Atlanta, having worked in Atlanta, having worked here in New York, all my time’s been in the East Coast. That was a nice pull. Which may sound like small, geographical reasons, but when you’re cutting hairs like that, I think it’s important.

Another big thing with my post-MBA goal is pivoting into tech investing, specifically in growth equity. I think larger names like Harvard and maybe more finance-oriented schools like Wharton may be pretty good for that. When you combine my previous experiences in the tech world with the Silicon Valley area, I think it is the best mix.