Monday, September 21, 2009

Campus On A Hill

Although progress has been slow on the GMAT front, I have been busy with other things. Not the least of which is that last week, I went on my first school visit! I spent Monday in Ithaca, New York at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, sitting in on classes, attending an info session and taking a tour.

I am still very early in the admissions process, so for me this visit was more about confirming that business school in general is the right direction for me to be taking, rather than confirming that the Johnson School in particular is the right choice for me. Because I know so few people that have gone through the MBA process, it was hugely helpful for me to actually see what the process is like, in person. I was already in the upstate New York area for a small music festival, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit, considering it's an area that I rarely (if ever) manage to visit.

I drove up to Ithaca late on Sunday night, leaving the music festival after the last band I wanted to see. By the time I exited the highway in the town of Whitney Point and made my way along the hilly two-lane back road towards Ithaca, dense fog had already descended upon the area, making for some slow-going. About an hour, two or three small towns, and many farm houses later, I arrived in Ithaca where I quickly checked into my motel and passed out on the bed, remnants of concert glitter and confetti still lodged in my hair.

The next morning, after a good scrubbing to make myself presentable, I made my way up the hill to Cornell for a full day of business school voyeurism. The school's friendly admissions representative Michael had informed me that classes are held at 8:30 and 10:00am, followed by an information session and tour at 11:40am. During the day of my particular visit, I had the choice of sitting in on three core courses with first-year students: Microeconomics for Management, Marketing Management, and Financial Accounting. These are the courses that all first year students take during the first half of their fall semester (unless they place out the requirement, as for example all CPAs do with Financial Accounting). During the second half of the fall semester, all first-years complete Statistics for Management, Managerial Finance, and Strategy. Both courses I opted to sit-in on, Microeconomics and Marketing, were lecture-based classes.

In Microeconomics, I was a little bit star-struck by Professor Robert Frank, a New York Times columnist and co-author of Principles of Economics (with none other than Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke). I'm guessing that Frank was at one point a radical or at least left-leaning hippie, judging from his numerous environmental issue-driven examples of economic concepts, from the problems with subsidies to small family farms (complete with a non sequitor about fertilizers poisoning the land) to airfoils atop cross-country commercial trucks and their relationship to changes in the cost of gas. However, it may also be that Frank simply knows his audience, and is playing to the fact that The Johnson School attracts many students who share this interest in environmental issues with its Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise. The Johnson School will also be hosting the 2009 Net Impact Conference, further playing to this strength.

I was grateful for the 20-minute break between classes, during which time what seemed like the entire school congregated in the central atrium for a hectic (but still courteous) cattle call of free coffee, tea and hot chocolate, sponsored by the Dean's Office. Macho men these Johnson students are not: hot chocolate with copious amounts of whipped cream seemed to be winning out over coffee two-to-one. I would imagine that as the seasons get darker and colder, and the work-load gets heavier, this coffee break would become even more appreciated.

Marketing had less star-power with Visiting Professor Manoj Agarwal, who focused on issues of product line growth and brand extension drawing examples of consumer goods from shampoo to Starbucks. Although Agarwal's lecture was informative, some students seemed less than interested and I noticed several students in the back rows checking things on their Blackberrys or completing unrelated Accounting homework instead of paying attention to the lecture. The lecture halls of The Johnson School are all located in the basement of Sage Hall, which means no sunlight, no view of the outside world, and theoretically no distractions; although these MBA students have seemed to successfully find a way around that last bit.

Marketing was followed by an informal information session-tour-lunch with two bubbly first-year students. Both were female, probably no coincidence considering the current Director of Admission's goal to increase gender diversity. "Next year he wants the incoming class to be 50% female!" extolled one of the student guides enthusiastically. Our group of seven prospective students, including myself, and one prospective spouse were lead to Sage Hall's cafeteria, where we were treated to salads and sandwiches courtesy of the Office of Admissions. One prospective student, a sharply-dressed hotel owner from Mexico, looked down at his oversized edible tortilla bowl filled with chicken ceasar salad in a combination of shock and embarrassment as it made its way across the counter from cook to customer.

We made our way to a vacant classroom and while munching on our lunches, the two students went over a PowerPoint presentation of facts about The Johnson School. Prospective students interjected with questions as specific points of issues arose: How many Johnson students actually pair with students from other Cornell schools to develop new business ventures? Maybe one or two per year. Is it difficult to get into the classes you want? Only the popular ones. Does every student get his or her first choice of Immersion? Yes, unless he or she tries to change Immersion after the decisions are finalized. Does everybody have a Blackberry? No, iPhones are actually the only smartphones officially supported by the Cornell IT system. How has recruiting been this year considering the economic climate? Not as bad as they were expecting.

After the information session and lunch, our group was lead on a tour of the school. I thought that I had been wise to not book my visit in the dead of winter to avoid trudging through mud and snow, but in fact it turned out to be a moot point, as the entirely of The Johnson School is all contained within Sage Hall. Lecture halls, a small campus store (which stocks all textbooks), student lockers and locker rooms (with showers!), and a small kitchen/lounge area are in the basement. The first floor contains the library, a central atrium, smaller classrooms, the cafeteria and assorted offices. The second floor has more offices, library study spaces, and a computer lab that was almost entirely vacant. At the end of the tour, our student guides encouraged us all to apply for school's Park Leadership Fellows Program ("Why not!") and to utilize friends and colleagues to help look over and edit our application essays.

Our student guides lead us back to the Admissions Office, and we were given the option to attend the third and final core course of the day. However, I knew not to push it considering my late night the prior evening, so I instead headed for my rental car and the long 5-hour drive down into New York City.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Math Bootcamp

For the past couple days, I've been working my way through The Ultimate Math Refresher for the GRE, GMAT and SAT. It's tedious, but I figure hopefully it's also a good way of easing me back into quantitative thinking before I tackle any of my straight GMAT prep books. I'm feeling a little shocked and embarrassed by how much I've actually forgotten since grade school. Like factoring to the find least common multiple, for example. I haven't used that skill since 7th grade!

I'd like to get into a groove for studying, including finding a dedicated workspace and blocking out some time in my schedule for force me to commit to a routine. Early morning before work is my gym time (or at least it's supposed to be -- with varying levels of success), so I think immediately after work is going to be my GMAT study time. I also went a little bit crazy at our local office supply store yesterday and bought myself a nice notebook and pens and highlighters in every color of the rainbow, to use for my studying. I'm a complete office supply geek, so the idea of cracking open the cover of a shiny new notebook and filling it up with practice problems is actually quite good incentive for me to get working. I'm of the do-whatever-works school of thought when it comes to getting things done, so if bribing myself with office supplies is effective, I'll take it!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Plan of Attack

In my last post, I outlined that I plan to spend this fall studying for the GMAT, the spring looking at schools, and the summer writing applications. I realize that I should try to break down my fall GMAT studying further, into more tangible blocks. So the following is a makeshift schedule I have organized for the purposes of my preliminary planning. Blame the fact that I used to teach for its uncanny resemblance to a class syllabus.


Books Currently On-Hand:
  • The Ultimate Math Refresher for the GRE, GMAT, and SAT
  • Kaplan GMAT: 2004 Edition (freebie, missing CD, probably will not use)
  • Kaplan GMAT Comprehensive Program: 2008 Edition (freebie, probably will not use)
  • Kaplan GMAT Premier Program: 2009 Edition, with CD
  • Barron's GMAT: 15th Edition
  • Princeton Review Cracking the GMAT: 2009 Edition
  • The Official Guide for GMAT Review: 11th Edition
  • The Official Guide for GMAT Quantitative Review
Potential Supplemental Materials:
  • The Official Guide for GMAT Review: 12th Edition
  • Manhattan GMAT Preparation Guides
  • Kaplan GMAT Advanced: 2009-2010 Edition
Computer Adaptive Tests (CATs) for Practice:


Week of August 17, 2009
MON: Off
TUE: Put together schedule
WED: The Ultimate Math Refresher, Arithmetic, p. 5-95
THU: The Ultimate Math Refresher, Algebra & Word Problems, p. 97-196
FRI: The Ultimate Math Refresher, Geometry, 197-255
SUN: Off

Week of August 24, 2009
MON: Princeton Review, Orientation, p. 1-48
TUE: Princeton Review, GMAT Math Basic Principles through Arithmetic, p. 49-117
WED: Princeton Review, Algebra & Applied Arithmetic, p. 120-158
THU: Princeton Review, Geometry & Advanced Data Sufficiency, p. 159-219
FRI: Princeton Review, Sentence Correction & Reading Comprehension, p. 221-282
SAT: Off
SUN: Off

Week of August 31, 2009
MON: Princeton Review, Analytical Writing Assessment, p. 283-347
TUE: Princeton Review Warm Up Test
WED: Princeton Review Paper Practice Test, verbal section
THU: Princeton Review Paper Practice Test, quantitative section
FRI: Princeton Review Paper Practice Test, review answers
SUN: Off

Week of September 7, 2009
MON: Barron's, Introduction, p. 1-48
TUE: Barron's, Diagnostic Test, p. 49-90
WED: Off (away on travel)
THU: Off
FRI: Off
SAT: Off
SUN: Off

Week of September 14, 2009
MON: Off
TUE: Off
WED: Barron's, Essay Writing & Reading Comprehension, p. 91-136
THU: Barron's, Sentence Correction & Critical Reasoning, p.137-172
FRI: Barron's, Arithmetic & Algebra, p. 173-237
SUN: Off

Week of September 21, 2009
MON: Barron's, Geometry & Tables and Graphs, 238-281
TUE: Barron's, Mathematics Exercises A & B, p. 282-295
WED: Barron's, Mathematics Exercises C & D, p. 296-322
THU: Barron's, Quantitative and Verbal Practice Sections, p. 323-362
FRI: Off
SAT: Barron's, Sample Test 1, p. 363-402
SUN: Off

Week of September 28, 2009
MON: Barron's, Sample Test 1, review answers
TUE: Kaplan Premier 2009, Introduction through Critical Reasoning, p. 1-46
WED: Kaplan, Critical Reasoning Practice Quiz, p. 47-94
THU:Kaplan, Sentence Correction, p. 95-114
FRI: Kaplan, Sentence Correction Practice Quiz, p. 115-154
SAT: Barron's, Sample Test 2, p. 403-444
SUN: Off

Week of October 5, 2009
MON: Barron's, Sample Test 2, review answers
TUE: Kaplan, Reading Comprehension, p. 155-218
WED: Kaplan, Arithmetic & Algebra, p. 219-275
THU: Off (away on work trip)
FRI: Off
SAT: Off
SUN: Off

Week of October 12, 2009
MON: Kaplan, Geometry, p. 276-350
TUE: Kaplan, Problem Solving, p. 351-402
WED: Kaplan, Data Sufficiency, p. 403-468
THU: Kaplan, Word Problems, p. 469-486
FRI: Kaplan, Analytical Writing Assessment & Take Control Of The Test, p. 487-520
SAT: Kaplan Full-Length Paper Practice Test
SUN: Kaplan Full-Length Paper Practice Test, review answers

Week of October 19, 2009
MON: Official Guide 11th Edition, What Is The GMAT & How To Prepare, p. 6-17
TUE: Official Guide, Diagnostic Test (Verbal Only), p. 18-105
WED: Official Guide, Diagnostic Test (Quantitative Only), p. 18-105
THU: Official Guide, Diagnostic Test, review answers
FRI: Official Guide, Math Review, p. 106-147
SAT: Official Guide, Problem Solving (Sample Questions 1-31 only), p. 148-156
SUN: Off

Week of October 26, 2009
MON: Official Guide, Problem Solving (Sample Questions 32-63 only), p. 156-160
TUE: Official Guide, Problem Solving (Sample Questions 64-95 only), p. 160-164
WED: Official Guide, Problem Solving (Sample Questions 96-127 only), p. 164-169
THU: Official Guide, Problem Solving (Sample Questions 128-159 only), p. 169-173
FRI: Official Guide, Problem Solving (Sample Questions 160-191 only), p. 173-178
SUN: Off

Week of November 2, 2009
MON: Official Guide, Problem Solving (Sample Questions 192-223 only), p. 178-182
TUE: Official Guide, Problem Solving (Sample Questions 224-249 only), p. 182-186
WED: Official Guide, Data Sufficiency (Sample Questions 1-31 only), p. 272-280
THU: Official Guide, Data Sufficiency (Sample Questions 32-63 only), p. 280-282
FRI: Official Guide, Data Sufficiency (Sample Questions 64-95 only), p. 282-286
SAT: Off
SUN: Off

Week of November 9, 2009
MON: Official Guide, Data Sufficiency (Sample Questions 96-127 only), p. 286-288
TUE: Official Guide, Data Sufficiency (Sample Questions 128-155 only), p. 288-290
WED: Official Guide, Reading Comprehension (Sample Questions 1-34 only), p. 340-358
THU: Official Guide, Reading Comprehension (Sample Questions 35-69 only), p. 359-371
FRI: Official Guide, Reading Comprehension (Sample Questions 70-104 only), p. 372-383
SUN: Off

Week of November 16, 2009
MON: Official Guide, Reading Comprehension (Sample Questions 105-141 only), p. 383-393
TUE: Official Guide, Critical Reasoning (Sample Questions 1-31 only), p. 464-476
WED: Off (away on travel)
THU: Off
FRI: Off
SAT: Off
SUN: Off

Week of November 23, 2009
MON: Off
TUE: Off
WED: Off
THU: Off
FRI: Off
SAT: Off
SUN: Off

Week of November 30, 2009
MON: Official Guide, Critical Reasoning (Sample Questions 32-63 only), p. 476-486
TUE: Official Guide, Critical Reasoning (Sample Questions 64-95 only), p. 486-495
WED: Official Guide, Critical Reasoning (Sample Questions 96-124 only), p. 495-504
THU: Official Guide, Sentence Correction (Sample Questions 1-35 only), p. 630-642
FRI: Official Guide, Sentence Correction (Sample Questions 36-71 only), p. 642-649
SUN: Off

Week of December 7, 2009
MON: Official Guide, Sentence Correction (Sample Questions 72-106 only), p. 649-654
TUE: Official Guide, Sentence Correction (Sample Questions 107-138 only), p. 655-660
WED: Official Guide, Analytical Writing Assessment, p. 728-797
THU: Review incorrectly answered questions
FRI: Review incorrectly answered questions
SUN: Off

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hello, My Name Is

It strikes me as somewhat odd that for the first time in my life, an admissions committee might consider me a diversity candidate. First of all, I'm female. From what I gather about business school, being female ranges from somewhat odd (NYU Stern is 39% women) to quite odd (Tepper at Carnegie Mellon is an astoundingly low 21% women). Pair my gender with the fact that I'm a non-profit arts worker with a M.A. in Art History and a secret life as a freelance art critic for a handful newspapers and magazines, living on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and my guess is that I won't be commiserating about GMAT prep or Kellogg application essays with any of my current friends and colleagues.

In fact, applying to business school is virtually unheard of in both my social and work circles. Considering it as a possibility is exciting, but it's also more than a little isolating. I'm hoping that's where this blog and the internet will come in, to give me a much-needed sounding board and community.

I should clarify that there are some more ordinary things about me too. I'm Caucasian. I'm currently 27 years old with two years of full-time work experience. I have a B.A. in Art History and Economics from a top-10 liberal arts college, from which I graduated with a 3.5 GPA. I haven't yet taken the GMAT, but I scored a 640 on my first practice test.

My plan is a lengthy one, but I have always been one for planning. My current goal is to matriculate in the fall of 2011. I recognize that I could consolidate this time line significantly by sending in my applications this winter and planning to start school in the fall of 2010, but I worry that my lack of work and leadership experience, and possibly weak letters of recommendation, would be my downfall.

So instead, I plan to spend the extra year bolstering my application. I'll take on additional projects and responsibilities at work to give me some meaty material to drawn upon in my application, and I'll also work on strengthening my relationships with two or three key supervisors and colleagues to develop as possible recommendation-writers.

This fall, I will prepare for the GMAT and take the test, in addition to doing some preliminary reading and research about schools and the application process. By the spring, I'll hopefully have a solid GMAT score, and I'll be able to start honing in on a final list of schools and do some more in-depth research including talking to current students and visiting campuses. That will give me the summer to work on applications, and I should be ready to submit applications by the fall of 2010.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Bit of Background

It all started last October, when 52% of the employees at my small, Honolulu-based non-profit arts organization were laid off. I would like to say I was one of the lucky minority, but I was not. I would like to say that the powers-that-be had made a huge mistake, but they did not.

The simple fact is, the layoffs had been a long time coming. Large-scale inefficiencies had dominated the operations of the organization for years. Although the factors that contributed to the layoffs were devastating (namely the drastic drop in the stock market and the subsequent devaluation of the organization's already small endowment, as well as the drying up of donations and grants), the layoffs themselves were one of the smarter things the organization could have done.

The layoffs were also one of the better things that could have happened to me. Through the networking tenacity of former supervisors coupled with sheer luck, I had dotted the i's and crossed the t's on a new offer of employment from another local non-profit arts organization within two weeks of leaving my former position.

The culture of my new workplace is astounding different. Transparency and innovation are core values that trickle down from the upper echelons of the organization into every aspect of its operations. Seeing these components of a successful, efficient organization in action has taught me the fundamental importance of strong leadership. In business, and especially in non-profit arts organizations, pure passion and good intentions alone are sadly inadequate. However, it is often just these sorts of passion-driven arts advocates, lacking in quantitative backgrounds and hard business experience, who end up at the helm of arts organizations.

I don't want to be one of those people. So it is with that driving motivation, to be the kind of leader who can support the arts with both passion and business savvy, that I embark upon this MBA journey.