Sunday, November 14, 2010

How'd I Miss That?

You know what's funny?  I just discovered today that I don't have a copy of my final undergraduate transcript.  The one I've had tucked away in my files all these years is from when my last semester was still in progress.  I may have been reporting the wrong GPA on my resumes and everything.  I tried to see if I could log on to the school's database/profile system to confirm what my final average ended up being, but of course it's down for maintenance for the next half hour at least.  And even then, my log-on may have been purged from the system since I'm about 5 years removed from using it actively.  I'll need to request copies of my transcript regardless, but I just thought that it was amusing that I made this discovery only now...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Shopping Roulette

Last night I stopped by a Borders after work because that particular location is going out of business, so "Everything Must Go!"  Bad for them, but great for me because I'm ready to start working on my applications now and I wanted to pick up some MBA guide books at 30% off.

I love books; you can find anything you need between the pages of one.  Comfort, advice, wisdom, solace, humor, admissions secrets from the best business schools...  I scoped out some titles ahead of time on Amazon.  (By the way, what did we do before we could go check out the ratings on any given product, anywhere, at any time?)  I was pleased to find a copy of two of the ones on my list: Your MBA Game Plan and The Best Business Schools' Admissiosn Secrets.  Perhaps later when all is said and done, I'll do some sort of review on each.  I've read a few chapters of both of them and so far I've found them to be enlightening.

After I left Borders I wandered over to some of the other stores in the plaza: Anthropologie and White House/Black Market.  (This should tell you right now what caliber of shopping plaza we're dealing with.)  Oh, are my fantasy and my anguish.  You should just be renamed the Things You Can't Afford or Fit Into Store.  With many places it's one or the other, but that establishment is decidedly both.  I guess I could've gotten one of the candles, which is the only thing I've ever bought from there anyway.  White Market was a lesser exercise in masochism, although only just.  I still couldn't afford the clothes, but at least I fit into them.  I felt bad picking piece after piece and letting the friendly attendant shuffle them away to a room for me to try them on, knowing full well that I wasn't going to buy anything.

And as if that wasn't enough, I stopped by the Premium Outlet mall and wound up wandering through the Coach Factory Outlet, something I've actually never done before in the four and a half years I've lived here.  I suppose I always passed it and thought to myself, "Why is it always so busy?  Who wants to buy a bunch of overpriced bags?".  I heave a sigh and slowly raise my hand here--as soon as I stepped in, I got it.  I was greeted by no fewer than three people and I wanted, mmm, pretty much everything within arm's reach.  It may be overpriced and some of it is clearly not going to stand the test of time, but mostly it is quite at my taste level.  I have a sad, dirty canvas purse that I bought at Target several months back that I have grown to loathe, but somehow I managed to escape the Coach store without giving in and splurging on $125 worth of leather, suede, tweed, or any other manner of fine fabric.  Truthfully, I don't think that spending that much on a purse is ridiculous if the purse is well made, durable, and likely to last several seasons.  It's like a pair of good shoes: spend a little more and get what you want, and if the quality is up to snuff, it's going to last you forever.  However, I just couldn't justify that purchase when I have both holiday travel and MBA-related expenses hitting me right now.  It came really close, though.  That's why I call it shopping roulette.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The MBA Project: Baby Steps

This is going to be a short one--I just wanted to say that I started my first application tonight.  I sat down to the laptop to look for Curriculum Vitae examples and I ended up looking at student blogs for LBS and St. Gallen, and next thing I know I'm creating a profile to start my St. Gallen application.

I must say, one thing that St. Gallen really has in its favor in my eyes is that they don't charge you an application fee.  So, once I've completed everything, all I have to do is hit "submit" and not wince as the school demands anywhere from 50 € to £160 just for the privilege.

It just seems so surreal to actually start putting my name to these things, like it's actually happening or something!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The MBA Project: I get by with a little help...

...from my friends.  And my family. And my work colleagues!

I kept this whole MBA project close to the vest for a long time, divulging in just a few people at a time over several months. That's how I go about announcing big, life-changing decisions. I'm glad that I am finally at the point where I feel comfortable talking about it with everyone, because a golden opportunity fell into my lap this morning thanks to a conversation I had over the weekend.

One of my co-workers held a housewarming party on Saturday, and one of the other people from work who stopped by is an acquaintance of mine from another department. Let's call her Jane. (I don't think she would mind if I used her real name, but since she doesn't know I have a blog or that she's subject to be in it, I'd rather just use a pseudonym for courtesy.) At some point several of us were sitting out on the back patio chatting when I heard Jane tell another engineer who works at our company, "...yeah, and I'm taking the GMAT soon. I'm looking to go back to school." Naturally my ears perked up. (Barooo?) I put down the chips and salsa, sprang out of my chair, and went over to her side.

"ME TOO!", I cried like an overexcited 5 year old. Maybe that was a little exaggerrated--but I was enthusiastic about joining this conversation. As we got to talking and comparing notes, she told me that she's been taking a prep course. I am all for that sort of thing, but I am trying to go about this process as frugally as I can get away with. So, for now, I've just been studying with used books that I ordered online. Jane offered to lend me some of her study material when she's done since she is going to test very, very soon. (As in next week.) Who am I to turn that down? She followed through this morning by showing me her prep materials and saying that I am welcome to use them, especially after next Wednesday because that's when she sits for the exam.

Hot DOG! Do you see what opening up and having a little conversation can do? And now I gotta get her a fruit basket or something because this is above and beyond just the normal friendliness and helpfullness that I've come to expect from Jane. I'll put something on my calendar to give her an inter-departmental thank-you certificate, which is usually good for a nice gift card. :)

I'm so grateful for all of the help, advice, and words of encouragement that I've received from everyone thus far. I'm really lucky to have the support network that I do because there's no way I can do it all alone.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The MBA Project: Choosing the Schools

One of the first questions anyone asks me when I talk to them about my ambition to go for an MBA is, "What schools are you looking to go to?"  Excellent question!  Right off the bat, I can tell you that they all have one major thing in common: nary a one of them are in the United States.  As an American citizen, the world is my oyster when it comes to choosing an MBA program on my home soil.  Most of the top ranked programs in any MBA track or specialization can be found here, and there are people overseas dying to get in.   However, there is one thing that they cannot give me: immersion in another culture.  My overwhelming specialized interest when it comes to business is sustainability, and I believe that it is crucial to the world economy that we stop trying to work at it within the four walls of our respective countries.  As proud as I am to be an American, I don't think it should limit me to a prescribed set of ways of thinking and living.  Living in a culture different from my own and studying and working alongside dozens of others would give me that kind of perspective.

Of course, I've had suggestions that I go go an American school and take an opportunity to participate in a foreign exchange program that many of them offer.  I consider that to be Plan Z.  I simply have no interest in studying in my home country.  To me it feels like, "Been there, done that".  I've lived in literally all 4 corners of the continental US plus a stint in the middle.  I haven't been to every state, sure, but I've had an itch to go live in Europe that I have been dying to scratch for the last 7 years at least.  When I returned from a brief visit to Germany last spring, I decided that Europe was the only place I could ever leave California for.  I include the United Kingdom and Continental Europe in this statement.

Without further ado, and roughly in order in which I discovered them...

London Business School
London, UK

One of my co-workers happens to be a graduate of LBS, although that's not how I came by the school name.  Like many people, I went straight to the Internet and started looking at school rankings, and London Business School overwhelmingly appears in the Top 10, and in some cases, #1 ranked for non-US schools.

  • Highly renowned program with a strong alumni network in the UK & Europe.
  • Club listings include a Responsible Business Club and Consulting Club, both of which appear to be active, and the latter of which hosts regular speaker series with top consulting firms, such as McKinsey & Company.
  • Flexible program that allows you to finish in 15, 18, or 21 months.
  • almost goes without saying and sometimes it's the first thing that springs to mind, but it's in London.  LONDON.  It sends shivers down my spine just thinking about it--in a good way.

Imperial College
London, UK

Arguably a second tier alternative to LBS with about a 25% lower price tag.  I met one of the recruiters at the MBA fair I attended in September and got a good, friendly vibe that I hope is representative of the Imperial College reputation at large

  • Solid program with electives that I like.
  • Also has a Net Impact chapter, which relates to sustainable business.
  • Less expensive than LBS and still makes respectible appearances in rankings
  • Still in London. :-)

Vlerick Leuven Gent Business School
Leuven, Belgium

In addition to finding schools by the more traditional rankings (e.g. Bloomberg, Financial Times, etc.), I found this site called Beyond Grey Pinstripes, which looks at business schools in the context of corporate social responsibility and sustainability, two of my favorite topics.  Neat, huh?  Out of all the schools in my list, Vlerick placed the highest.  Actually, there was only one other that did--London Business School, and it was ranked near the bottom!

  • The aforementioned sustainability recognition goes a long way with me.
  • The least expensive school on my list at € 28,500 for the 12 month program, which is around $39,000 USD.
  • Very well located in Europe in terms of relative distance to major metropolitan areas.  For instance, it's only half an hour from Brussels, home to the UN.  How cool is that?  Also close to the Netherlands--one of those obsessions with places I've never seen--as well as to France and Germany, and a stone's throw from England by air.  I wouldn't mind learning Dutch either, as Leuven sits in the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium.  (As opposed to the French-speaking south.)

University of St. Gallen
St. Gallen, Switzerland

I only really stumbled on this a couple weeks ago, but I was immediately intrigued when I heard it has one of the best reputations of MBA programs in the German-speaking countries.

  • Well, first of all, I see Switzerland as this cool guy at school that everybody seems to get along with and wants to be around because he's a pretty successful guy, but he definitely does his own thing.  Switzerland is famously neutral in world conflicts and it's not part of the EU.  Switzerland, like Belgium, is a small country that has a few distinct language-regions.  St. Gallen happens to be in the German part.
  • Wonderful school to be an alumni of if you want to stand a chance at getting a job in Switzerland post-graduation.  And, I gotta say, for as famously expensive as the country is, you also stand to make good money and enjoy a host of benefits if you live/work there, and that's very appealing.

Mannheim Business School
Mannheim, Germany

When this whole revelation came upon me back in April, the friend that I had the good and long talk with suggested schools in Germany.  Not a surprise--he's German!  And why not?  They have a great university system that is pretty affordable. At first when I was just looking at Master's degrees in subjects like Information Systems, I had a few options in Germany noted.  But when I realizeed it was an MBA I wanted, I was disappointed to discover that business schools in Germany were a fairly new concept and that the programs on the whole haven't quite gained the footing that schools in the UK, France, and Spain have.  For most of this year I didn't challenge that assumption much until I re-considered and found Mannheim Business School mentioned in a few publications.  Then I found out that it's actually considered one of the best--if not the best MBA program in Germany, and is quickly gaining recognition in the rest of Europe.

  • Great school with a sterling reputation in Germany!
  • I happen to speak some German, and this, as with St. Gallen, would be an opportunity to learn it fluently outside of the business classes, which are all in English.  (Note: Most MBA programs are in English.)
  • Well-situated between Frankfurt and Stuttgart, and very close to Heidelberg, a city I visited last spring that I adore.
  • Very reasonable tuition at € 29,000, or $40k USD.  Mannheim also has the lowest cost of living of all the schools I've chosen, which can only be a good thing as I start to scrounge up sources for money.
This came to me as very good news indeed, for I have been a self-professed Germanophile ever since I sat and watched Europe Through the Back Door with Rick Steves in German class as a high school junior.  I had actually been taking German classes since the 7th grade, but when I was introduced to the affable tour guide, I really got bitten by the bug.  I have a long-standing history with the country that began before the classes, in fact.  In 1995 my Mom, who was at the time active-duty military, received orders to go there.  The whole family picked up and went across the pond, and we lived in an old Gasthaus in the tiny village of Kottweiler-Schwanden.  Now, I'm not going to lie: at the time I was devastated.  I was miserable about moving away from my tight-knit group of friends in Virginia and being so far from my father back in Pittsburgh.  It was not an easy transition for me in the least bit, and with the exception of fun trips to a few nearby castles and to the local Schwimmbad (swimming pool), I did not appreciate the fact that I was living in a foreign country.  I moved back to the States within a few months and made visits back every summer while my family was still there.

I didn't have the burning-hot desire to go back to Europe until a few years after Mom & Co. returned Stateside when hordes of my friends in college started studying abroad and coming back with amazing stories to tell.  I didn't have the confidence to consider actually living there until just last year when I visited my sister-in-law and newborn nephew for a week in Germany, and I spoke as much German as I could muster to anyone who would speak it with me!   Visiting with the appreciation of an adult as opposed to the petulance of an adolescent was a completely different experience.  I wanted more.


There were a few other schools that I heavily considered throughout this process, but didn't quite make the cut.

HEC Paris - Incredible school and I was in love with the idea of living with Paris...until I learned that not only is the school not really in Paris, but is a pretty self-contained campus separate unto itself.  That was exactly the type of school I was looking for as an undergrad, but it doesn't appeal to me now.  I want to live in the city among ordinary people--not in a dorm.  I didn't find any French schools that were actually in Paris.  And if it's not in Paris, enh, there are other places I'd rather live.  (Sorry, Ma, I know you'd love for me to go there.  Perhaps we shall when you come overseas to visit!)

ERASMUS Rotterdam - Now this one was a toughie to cut, because it was one of the first schools I looked into and I loved everything about it.  The school was into sustainability before it became so cool and popular.  I am obsessed with getting to the Netherlands as well.  However, they don't start their intake until January of each year, which for me would be January 2012.  Also, I've heard that attaining funding for this school can be more difficult than other European schools, and Rotterdam is an expensive city.

ESADE & SDA Bocconi - ESADE is in Barcelona, Spain and Bocconi is in Milan, Italy.  They are excellent schools, but I'd rather go to school in a country that I am more likely to want to stay and work in after graduation, and neither Spain nor Italy quite grab me in that way.

The Cons of Going to School Abroad

Now, with all of these options, there are of course drawbacks.  For one, working is more than likely not an option.  I'll likely be too busy managing the concentrated courseload of the 12 month European MBA programs, and as a foreigner I will probably only have a permit to study and not to work.

And, as an American, staying on to work post-graduation would certainly require some deft hoop-jumping that other EU-nationals probably wouldn't have to go to.  So, if I was to stay, I would probably have to work a lot harder than my classmates to secure the job with a company that would sponsor a work permit.

Going to London would be cool and in some ways a lot easier on me in light of the fact that it's in another English-speaking country.  Yet at the same time, I see that as a downside.  I'd love to become fluent in another language, and it would make me a heckuva lot more marketable.  I've already got a 15 year head-start in German...

Not all of these programs really grab me to the same level, but at the same time, I would be thrilled to be accepted to any one of them.  At the aforementioned MBA fair, I had a long and candid chat with the recruiter from SDA Bocconi in Italy (who happens to be American), and he gave me this advice: make sure that of the schools you choose, you like them all equally and that you would be just as happy to get into any one of them.

When I told my boss about my plans--she herself being a huge proponent of MBAs--she advised me to work backwards.  That is to say, first figure out exactly what I want to be doing and who I would want to work for, then find out what schools they recruit from.  Excellent advice that definitely helped me sort this out!

My gut instinct is that Mannheim is my best shot and my best fit all-around for its location, the cost, and my familiarity with the country and its language.  St. Gallen is a close second for the same reasons--it just costs almost twice as much.  Then I would say LBS, Vlerick, and Imperial.  I am such a nerd that I have this spreadsheet I keep with stats on each one, as well as my drop-dead application dates.

As I said in my previous post, I'm still studying for the GMAT.  I've never been very good at sitting down and studying, so this has been an interesting challenge for me.  I intend to test in mid-December, and in the meantime it's time to start approaching potential referees and giving my resume--ahem--Curriculum Vitae-- an MBA-appropriate makeover.  Oh, and getting transcripts and writing essays.  Not to mention figuring out how to accomplish a move of epic proportions with a cat who needs insulin every 12 hours.  Whew, this is a lot of work before you even start applying for the loans and, you know, actually being in school...

One step at a time!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The MBA Project

Within a few months of earning my Bachelor of Arts in English in 2005, I decided that I would go on to grad school.  I remember quite vividly sitting at the assistant learning coordinator's desk in the Disney College Program Education Office, where I was serving a post-graduate internship that fall, and brainstorming to myself what I could parlay my BA into.  I quite enjoyed my minor concentration, New Media Journalism Communication (say that 10x fast), so something in communications seemed to be the natural choice.  I could explore more of the journalistic side to that, but I didn't feel quite passionate enough about it.  Besides, writing articles usually started out to be fun for me, but quickly turned into a laborious task.  I shifted my thoughts towards general communication, and that quiet afternoon at the desk I started browsing some college search sites.

The more I looked into it, the more excited I became.  I searched this way and that, tapping into programs in human communications, which gave way to speech and language pathology.  What's more is that I didn't limit myself to local schools by area, state, or even country.  I looked at the programs in Ireland, Britain, Canada, and Australia--all English speaking countries who often had reciprocal agreements with each other whereby if you attained your certification in SLP (speech language pathology) in one country, you could practice in another.  By the time I returned home to Pittsburgh in January 2006, I decided to apply for the University of Pittsburgh's SLP program and hope that they would allow me to complete prerequisites as part of the program.  So, I solicited professors for recommendations, gathered transcripts, and wrote an essay on how I wanted to help people communicate, especially after seeing my late Uncle Norman struggle to speak and remember names following a stroke.

I was rejected.

They cited my academic background as the reason, which was resoundingly a liberal arts one that had almost none of the math and science foundations essential to their program.  I was disappointed, naturally, but I don't blame them.  It was a long shot at best.

I didn't dwell on it for long, however.  Within weeks of receiving the rejection letter, an opportunity to move to San Diego, California presented itself.  The dream of going to grad school for SLP gave way to the excitement of living in a new city.  The lingering desire to further myself with graduate study never completely vanished, however, and I did make overtures to going into nursing.  In 2007 I researched programs from Los Angeles to San Diego, began volunteering at a local hospital's maternity wing, and I even took a biology class at a community college to get a leg up on the prerequisites that I needed.

Even though I earned an "A" in the biology class, my interest faded as I realized that perhaps I wasn't really cut out for the rigors of nursing.  It's a difficult job that I highly respect for the skill, knowledge and sheer stamina it takes to be good at it.  Although I am fascinated by medicine and unfazed by the sight of blood and guts, I think the stakes of being either partly or solely responsible for the outcome of a life-or-death situation to be too high for my natural temperament.  What's more is that I found myself bored to tears in the volunteer position, which consisted mostly of clearing up meal trays and changing linens, so I eventually gave that up too.

By the summer of 2008, I was content to go about my business taking dance lessons and pursuing a new job that my good friend Tim was helping me to secure.  We worked together for a year and a half before he was let go by our company, and he quickly took up with the supply chain department at ViaSat, a local satellite telecommunications company.  A few months into it, he was working on transitioning out of his role, and he recommended me as his replacement, given that I had some limited experience in purchasing and work with Excel quite readily.  I got the position and started working there that December.  It was, and still is, the best job I've ever had to date.

For the first year, I worked happily alongside supply chain agents, learning the ins and outs of the business, the operations department, and a bit about the industry at large.  I was given the freedom to make changes that allowed me to perform my job more efficiently and effectively, and I took my role into a new direction--the people who held it usually went on to become buyers--but I was more enamored with crunching numbers and summarizing data.  Over time, I found that the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.  Not just about how to make a better chart or how to build an Access database, but about how the results of my calculations related to the health of the organization, and how to use that to make intelligent business decisions.

Working at ViaSat has been the flint to my steel, creating a spark that finally lit a fire up under me this spring.  After a long conversation with a close friend who was working on his master's thesis, I realized that I was finally ready.  I knew what it was I wanted to study because I had already been studying it, in one way or another, for the last 5 years: Business.  I've worked for every type of business from small family-owned operations to one of the world's most widely-recognized fortune 500 companies.  I've intereacted with customers, liasoned with other departments, supported high level executives, and carried a little bit of each experience with me until I became a person with a genuine interest.

I realize now that my desire to go into speech language pathology and nursing were expressions of my natural gravitation towards being consulted.  Indeed, when I was a custodial hostess at Walt Disney World's Epcot park, the hands-down favorite part of my job was talking to guests about the best place to get a cup of coffee, to take a break, to entertain their four year old, or to watch the parade.  It was something beyond provinding basic needs, like directions to the nearest bathroom.  It was taking the breadth of my knowlege and experience and using it to tailor a solution for someone in need.  I find myself doing it nearly every day, though mostly for writing reports and providing charts who need to use the information to make decisions.  For this reason, I think I would be suited to a consultancy position post-graduation.

Meet my new best friend.

This has led me to where I am today: a woman in pursuit of a Masters in Business Administration.  I'm in what you would probably call stage one of three: the before.  The during is when you're actually in school, and the after is when you're hopefully making more than enough bank to repay the loans you probably took out to finance the whole gig.  I have been using books as study aides since July, and I will be sitting for the GMAT exam next month, probably just before I go back home for Christmas.  As to what programs I'm looking into, I do have my Top 5 and reasons specific to each.  I will explore that in my next post.

Until next time!