We thought that many people out there battling through the business school application process might benefit from the thoughts and insights of others who went through the experience. To that end, we started On the Record: Q&A with BC Alums. We’ve heard from Radina Russell and Rhomaro Powell. Let’s get the low-down from Gabriel Perez.
Why did you go to business school?
A career change was the real impetus for me to apply to business school. I saw business school as an attractive proposition for several reasons. First, I knew I wanted a career change, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to change it to. I felt business school could act as a sort of looking glass, giving me unique insights into a number of different industries and career tracks. Secondly, I felt that by going to business school I could manage to make a career change that wouldn’t necessarily force me to take a step down, but allow me to make a lateral move in terms of responsibility and compensation. Perhaps most important though, I saw business school as the best way to develop many of the “hard skills” I would need for long term success in the business world, especially coming from a non-traditional background (i.e. not I-Banking or Consulting)
How has business school impacted your career?
Business school allowed me to make the career change I desired. Summer internships at b-school can be incredible learning opportunities. During my summer internship I was given the freedom to analyze several high-level, critical issues facing the senior leadership of the organization. The summer finished with a presentation of my findings and recommendations to corporate leadership. In just one year, I went from feeling like just another cog in the wheel, to feeling like I was playing a hand in the strategic direction of an organization. My school also provided me the opportunity to join other students on a consulting project based in China. So my summer ended up exposing me to another industry (consulting) and another geography. In today’s global economy it’s important to have experiences working in markets outside of the US, so it was a great experience and proved to be a great resume builder. In short, yes, business school exposed me to a higher level of responsibility, and new industries and locales, vastly expanding my business acumen and experiences.
What do you want business school applicants to know?
You are competing against an impressive set. Really make sure you put the time into understanding what your story is. Be able to tell where you’ve been, where you want to go, and why b-school is a necessary part of that process. Take the time to really think this through! If you can find the meaning, flow, and passion in your story, it will come through on your application. Also, don’t be bashful: make sure you have people looking at your work throughout the process. If you submit your essays after one draft, good luck getting in. Understand, you are competing against many folks who employ tremendous resources in helping prepare their application (i.e. consultants, affinity groups/professional development programs, etc.).
How many schools did you apply to and get accepted to?
I applied to 4 schools (HBS, Tuck, Duke, Booth) and was accepted at 3 (Tuck, Duke, Booth)
What specific advice would you give those prepping for the GMAT now?
Bell Curves will tell you this, and in my experience it proved to be very true: the GMAT is simply a threshold requirement to get into b-school. It’s one of many criteria that are used to evaluate your candidacy, but I think it’s one of the only ones that can actually prevent you from even being considered at the top programs. So in my opinion, if your goal is to get into a top program, you shouldn’t walk away from the GMAT until you personally feel you’ve given it 115% of your effort and focus. The pay-off is worth it. If it means sequestering yourself for a month, do it. If it means telling your significant other that they’re going to have to be supportive of you being absent for a month, do it. Just remember that there are other people just as smart as you, with the same grades, and similar leadership/business experience that are going to put the time and effort in if you don’t! Don’t let the GMAT be the barrier between you and your dreams. Obviously, not everyone is going to score a 700, but you owe it to yourself to try as hard as you can to squeeze as much out of the test as you possibly can.
I personally took three uninterrupted hours every other day to study (I found one day of rest helpful). I would always suggest studying in uninterrupted sessions like that to condition your mind to work for that long. Fight test fatigue, it will kill you. It’s like running, you wouldn’t expect yourself to run a marathon if you haven’t trained and conditioned your body to run one. You would not make it or destroy your body in the process.
Also, focus on your strengths. I knew I had a strong verbal, so I made sure I had that down pat. My performance on the verbal section actually ended up carrying my GMAT score. Verbal is a powerful thing…DON’T UNDERESTIMATE IT!
Is there anything about your experience with the GMAT/application process that was unique or surprising (did you take the test more “too many times”, was your score “too low”, was your quant score “bad”? did you get rejected from your “safety” but admitted to your “dream”, or i spent a year prepping and didn’t think it would take that long)?
I guess the one thing that surprised me most was the fact that my math score wasn’t more scrutinized. I suppose it depends on the school, but it never came up, only the total score. I ended up scoring in the 50-60th percentile on math, but scored well enough on verbal to get a 690 (don’t underestimate verbal!). I was worried about it, not knowing how school would interpret the score. It turns out it didn’t matter much. It may have been what kept me out of HBS, but I ended up getting into some great, well-respected programs nonetheless. Another surprise was how long it actually took me to be ready to apply to business school. The first time I took the test, I did not score well. I also did not have strong enough leadership experience to be a solid candidate. It turns out that two years had passed between my first test and my attended my first class at b-school. The truth is, I wasn’t ready in year one. Another good point. You need to have an honest dialogue with yourself. You need to evaluate yourself and determine if you have the resume and experience necessary to be considered a strong candidate. If you don’t think you are ready, it’s okay. Take a year, get involved at work (get promoted!) and in your community, and work on your story.