This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with current MBA students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top MBA programs. And now for a follow up interview with Debra Yoo, who was recently accepted to Cornell Johnson. (We first met Debra last year – you can read our first interview with her here.)
Accepted: Welcome back! Can you just remind our readers — where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? Do you hold any other degrees?
Debra: I grew up in the Chicagoland area and attended Columbia University for undergrad where I majored in English and Asian American Studies along with completing Columbia’s Creative Writing Program (as you can see, I did not have a very business-oriented background!). After spending a few more years in NYC, I moved to Los Angeles with my husband. We were there for about four years before we relocated to Ithaca last month.
Accepted: Congrats on gaining accepted to Johnson! What are the 3 main traits of the Johnson school that attracted you to it?
1) The people. Of all the students and alumni that I contacted at the various schools I applied to, those who attended Johnson had the highest response rate–by far. And not only did they respond promptly, they answered my questions very thoroughly and honestly. I was so impressed. It really speaks to the quality of Johnson’s smaller, tight-knit community.
2) The location. I know, I know–many folks out there don’t apply to Johnson because of its location, but Ithaca really appealed to me. Aside from its natural beauty, I wanted to be in a small town where I could get to know my fellow students without the distractions of a big city. I’m finding that many others here also had the same mindset when they chose Johnson, which once again shows that community is a high priority for most everyone here.
3) Johnson’s immersion program. I didn’t want my schooling to be completely academic and theoretical–I wanted as much hands-on experience as I could possibly get. At Johnson, most of the core coursework (accounting, finance, marketing, etc.) is completed during the first semester of the first year, leaving time during the second semester to complete an in-depth consulting project for a real-life company. For the marketing immersion, students in the past have completed projects for companies including Microsoft, Bayer and HP.
Accepted: How did you go about researching schools? Did you participate in any MBA fairs or events?
Debra: I attended a Forte Forum in Los Angeles in August 2013, which was unbelievably helpful. The Forum really helped me finalize my choices of schools; at that point, I had pored over a ton of websites but hadn’t made any connections with the schools in person. I looked into other MBA fairs, but none of them had all the schools I wanted to apply to–maybe two or three at most. The Forte Forum was the only event that had almost all the top schools present. If you are a woman planning on applying to top 20 b-schools, the forum is a great way to speak to recruiters from them in one room. And you get to do it in a smaller, female crowd. It’s wonderful all around.
Aside from the forum, I also emailed/spoke with ambassadors and alumni at all the schools I was interested in. I was originally planning on staying in the nonprofit space after graduating, so I had many questions about nontraditional paths that I wanted answers to. Speaking with the right alumni whose careers post-b-school resonated with me played a lot into my final decision making.
I was told that it was really important to visit campuses in person before applying, but I did not have the resources or time to do so. For a long time I agonized over whether I was decreasing my chances of admission by not doing campus visits, but I believe the impact was minimal (if it impacted me at all). But if you’re able to visit campuses, you really should! They can give you great fodder for your essays and help you make sure that the school is the right place for you.
Accepted: Can you talk about your experience with the Forte Foundation? What do they do and how have they helped you?
Debra: I love the Forte Foundation, and I owe much of my success so far to their support!
The Forte Foundation is a consortium of top b-schools and leading companies who support women in business. Women still have a ways to go when it comes to equal representation in business, especially in senior management. It’s an issue we all need to remain aware of and take thoughtful and deliberate actions to address.
I first discovered Forte when I started my MBA application process, and I’m so glad I did. I never thought that I would one day attend business school, so I was really starting my learning from scratch. I listened to several of Forte’s free webinars about the application process and read through their entire website for guidance.
I am also very thankful to have been selected a Forte Fellow by the Johnson admissions team. In addition to receiving a scholarship (that I am very, very grateful to have!), being a Fellow comes with many other benefits including networking opportunities and support for your job search.
I also attended the 2014 Forte MBA Women’s Leadership Conference that was held in Los Angeles earlier this year. It was an amazing feeling to be surrounded by hundreds of other talented, ambitious women who were all about to begin their MBA journeys. And it was also a great way to kick off our new lives as students and remind us that we are all working together toward closing the gender gap in business.
Accepted: Have you taken any classes or prepared in any other way to your smooth transition to business school?
Debra: I have never taken a single economics or statistics course in my entire life, much less accounting or finance. I was really concerned about my lack of experience in the area, so I completed an online pre-MBA mathematics course at a nearby university earlier this year. It exposed me to some of the common terms and calculations I’ll come across in school.
Johnson also provided us access to mbamath.com (I believe several other business schools do this, also) over the summer. I’ve been working my way through the units on finance, economics and statistics to prepare myself.
In addition to all the math, I switched my leisure reading time to business-related books, including authors like Malcolm Gladwell, Dale Carnegie and Sheryl Sandberg.
Accepted: What sort of career do you plan on pursuing post-MBA?
Debra: My background so far is in marketing/communications in the nonprofit sector. After school, I plan on doing marketing in the corporate world in the consumer packaged goods industry. I am hoping to return to the nonprofit sector later on down the line at a senior management level.
Accepted: B-school’s not cheap! Do you have tips for financing an MBA?
Debra: It’s tough; really, really tough. The (very) few third-party scholarships I’ve found out there are for very specific populations and are for smaller amounts. All I can say is to really take your future career path into account when considering the cost of your program. If you are planning on entering the nonprofit space, look for schools with loan forgiveness programs like Yale or Stanford. And if you get scholarship offers, try negotiating the amount. When budgeting, keep a large buffer for travel expenses. Also check out loan alternatives like Common Bond. There’s some interesting stuff out there if you look for it!
Accepted: Do you have any advice for applicants about the start the MBA admissions journey?
Debra: Go beyond rankings, career placement stats and average starting salaries when narrowing down your options. Try to get as good a feel as you can for the community and the types of people at the schools you’re interested in. I think a good way to measure this is whether you feel a desire to contribute to and help develop and grow that community. You’ll be spending the next two years with those people and they will be your professional network for the rest of your life, so find a good match!
For one-on-one guidance on your b-school applications, please see our MBA Application Packages.
Thank you Debra for sharing your story with us!
In general, all the cliche tips you’ve heard are true: get good grades, you need an ‘acceptable’ MCAT, definitely get patient experience, and you’ll likely need some extracurriculars. All of these things about this pseudo check-list are true, it’s just a matter of figuring out a strategy to execute it. It’s also important to take a 10,000 feet look at the process of trying to get into medical school: you just want to get in, but medical schools are looking for people who can add to their program.
1. Find a mentor as soon as possible, it’s never too late.
2. Go at your own pace (grades, scheduling and taking the MCAT, and extracurricular activity).
3. Gain marketable skills during your undergrad.
4. Have the right attitude.
5. Understand how the admissions process works overall and for the specific programs you’re applying to.
Finding a Mentor
Finding a mentor is easier for some more than others. If you already have connections, then it’s a rather straight forward process since all you need to do is reach out to who you already know. This mentor doesn’t have necessarily have to be a medical doctor, they should just know or be willing to get to know the difficulties you’ll face. Statistically speaking, since you’re in college you’ll probably have more access to a PhD professor than a MD or DO, it’s okay to start there. My mentor was my old physiology professor, I later worked on several projects with this individual. Because my mentor was an active researcher in electrophysiology it allowed for me to gain marketable skills and later find a job after graduation in the office of research at my old university. This made it easier for me to develop a set of traits and experience that may come of value to my matriculating class. I think people put too much emphasis on finding a physician mentor, while it’s great to have a physician as one, it’s important not to neglect your other resources. If you don’t know where to start, try checking out your universities “Office of Undergraduate Research” (or something analogous to it) as they typically specialize in aligning undergraduates with research mentors. I highly suggest research mentors because of the amount of depth and involvement that will be required for both you and your mentor — the deeper your involvement the easier it is to argue to medical schools just how you’d add to their program. Research certainly isn’t required (for most programs), but it’s a lot easier to explain what you did if you were part of a research team than say passively shadowing a physician. A good mentor will know your personality traits (the good and the bad) and will be able to work with you, helping you to become your own person and not necessarily a miniature version of them. Another trait of a good mentor is that they’ll often push you further when you’re all but ready to give up, not to torture you but because they know you’re capable of it.
Go at your own pace, don’t rush into failure
It’s easy to get sucked up into following another’s pace. Don’t be afraid to slow down, and be sure to get help when you need it — rushing to apply when you’re not ready, or trying to plow through the organic chemistry series isn’t the best strategy if things aren’t going your way (unless you’re applying for DO remember that your retakes at best are averaged together with the old scores). You have to be flexible about your abilities at the moment and pragmatic about what you can accomplish. That’s not to say you can’t get past the MCAT, but maybe trying to rush to take it so you can apply isn’t the best strategy. I’ve seen a lot of friends lose their chance to apply to medical school because they tried to sprint through the requirements or stack up too many extracurriculars concurrently. Take your time, this is your life, one or two years won’t really make a big difference in the long-run; take on challenges at a pace you can handle, you need not emulate anyone else or follow other premeds “suggested timeline.” Really, the only timeline you need to worry about is applying early during your application season, everything before that should be a personal journey. For myself, I didn’t go straight into the university I actually found myself working for years and considered dropping out of college completely because I had a career going at a young age. I later decided to go back, and went to a university and graduated in 5 years with a major, minor, and research under my belt. I took my time, and found my own path, with the help from mentors and several friends, and I ignored people whenever they questioned my timeline. Realize that a lot of people who you think are “rocking it” and will “surely get in” won’t, part of this is probably because of rushing and doing badly or burning out while doing well.
This also means that it’s better to do several things exceptionally than to do 100-mediocre things. In my old lab we used to host premeds who were ‘interested’ in research, but it soon became obvious where their heart was when they’d stop showing up once they got what they wanted, wouldn’t finish their assignments, or would put minimal effort into what they considered to be “scut work”. At that point, for example in lab, you’re probably unnoticeably sabotaging the lab. So, keep in mind that if you’re involved in activities you may be hurting more than helping by participating. If you hurt the organization more than help then don’t expect either a transformative experience or a letter of recommendation. So, if you can’t commit, and things are going too fast for your pace, slow down and figure out your priorities and only commit to things that you can help.
Gain some marketable skills
I wasn’t sure if I’d get into medical school, so I was terrified to graduate without any marketable skills. In other words, try to “specialize” in college. Unfortunately, not everyone will have an appreciation for your pipetting prowess or that you took labs like the thousands of others — so don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you’re a premed you’re automatically skilled because you’ve titrated a few times (some people get their PhD on titrations). If you get into research, it’s rather straightforward, you’d likely gain skills because you’d have to grow more proficient than the average premed because the success of your lab is riding on it. If you’re not a research orientated person, learning how to start service orientated clubs for example is an excellent skill, as is learning how to fundraise. What helped me in this process was to keep a resume and a CV, this way I was always objective when it came to “why” I was doing something. This also makes writing your applications for medical school dramatically easier, as you already understand your motivation and your objectives. Most premeds have a problem filling out the AMCAS application, though if you’re used to applying for jobs (jobs that require a degree) then it’s not an extraordinary process.
Have the right attitude — once you think of it as “scut work” all is lost
“Scut work” is a amorphous phrase, one person’s ‘scut work’ is another’s dedicated career. You may feel wiping out vomit and feces is below you, but besides the lessons in humility it’s also a lesson in relativity and often a lesson in team work. You may wonder what mopping the floor with disinfectant has to do with you becoming a physician. Well, in that case a lot, because you’re helping to prevent MRSA infections in the hospital, lessening the load of the staff etc. You may feel washing lab ware is beneath you, after all you just shadowed a neurosurgeon on Friday, but I’ve seen months of data lost (plus the lives of mice wasted) because premeds thought rinsing out the soap at the bottom of our glassware wasn’t important enough of a task for them. Yes, shadowing the surgeon was probably conceptually cooler, but how much did you really do besides observe? Often, it’s really the “scut work” that is where you can have the most impact. Besides, if you can’t wash glassware, or pipette properly, why would you be given harder tasks that you seem to not able to handle?
Once you start seeing things as “scut work” you’ve probably already missed the lesson, and the lesson is typically team work. Yes, I’ve gotten coffee for my lab mates and professor, but at the same time my lab mates and professor have brought me food and coffee because they knew I couldn’t leave my work space until dusk.
At the end of the day, hypothetically if you didn’t get into medical school and you abhorred your extracurriculars, than you probably weren’t doing it for the right reasons.
Know how the admissions process works
There’s a ton of advice floating around, some of it is legit, most of it is garbage. There’s a certain website, who’s name I won’t mention, that is ripe full of useless or misleading advice. Some advice you’ll get will be bad because people are ignorant of the process because they’ve personally have never went through it, but they’ll consider themselves self appointed experts because they’ve read enough anecdotes. Instead, go with people with admission experience and keep up with the latest AAMC news, and of course your specific programs’ guidelines and advice. The AAMC isn’t an evil agency as some would make it out to be; they’re rather invested in making sure you have the best shot possible at getting in — though, you wouldn’t know it by how some people act about the process of applying to medical school. Applying to medical school isn’t necessarily a mysterious process, but it sure will be if you didn’t do your own homework. Make sure not to be pulled into 20 different directions, stick to a few good sources (including the crown jewel aka the AAMC website), and don’t dilute your efforts too much by taking disparate advice from others. — even those who’ve applied many years ago are likely out of touch with what is required or expected of you currently, so it’s very important that you secure your future by doing your own background research. In the end, if you don’t get in no one will be accountable or more affected than you.
And lastly, it’s okay to be pragmatic, but don’t give up hope because of a bad grade or MCAT score. For the most part, courses and the MCAT can be retaken. Sure, it’s ideal to get past them with flying colors, but life doesn’t work that way usually. A test of your commitment is not only getting past these things, but learning how to do what it takes to get past them. This may mean you can’t apply to all Ivy Leagues, or that you’ll have to make a few detours. But, one C (or even D) won’t exile you from medicine, nor will a bad MCAT score — nor does it imply that you couldn’t survive medical school. You might find yourself taking a few detours, but in the end if you’re satisfied than that’s all that matters. Getting into medical school isn’t that transformative, but the journey to get there is, and if your endgame is just to get in without trying to better yourself then it’ll make applying just that much harder.
About the Author: I’m a non traditional first year medical student at BUSM who was originally planning to obtain a PhD. Growing up, I often struggled in school because I was usually absent because of constant hospitalizations, and I never expected to go into college never mind medicine. Though, later in college I learned how to excel in the sciences and became a department recommended organic chemistry, biochemistry, general chemistry, and human physiology tutor. During college I was also involved in numerous electrophysiology projects where I studied principally muscle chloride channels under my research mentor. Towards the end of my college career volunteering at a children’s impatient oncology center as a science instructor helped to solidify my decision to apply to medical school. To better serve my community I later served the underserved as a academic advisor and tutor within correctional institutions in hopes to reduce inmate recidivism in my local community. Around the same time, I became a contributing writer where I wrote health and fitness. While applying to medical school I became a member and Ethical Compliance Associate for both the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and Animal Care and Use Committee. Currently, as medical student I write as a hobby and will never turn down a beer or wine tasting opportunity (maybe except around exams), play guitar, socialize, and dabble in art.
Listen to the recording of our conversation with Dr. Shaefer, Kendall D. Garff Chair in Business Administration and Professor of Finance at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business, for some great insights into small business, business school, and the place where the two meet.
00:02:03 – How a trip to the shoe store inspired Roadside MBA.
00:06:35 – The Roadside MBA Manifesto.
00:12:54 – Want to hear some great stories?
00:17:43 – The story Scott wishes he had included in the book (and so does Linda).
00:24:57 – Surprising takeaways from Roadside MBA project.
00:28:53 – How the Roadside MBA changed the way Scott teaches.
00:33:45 – If only MBA students came to campus knowing…
*Theme music is courtesy of podcastthemes.com.
• Roadside MBA: Backroad Wisdom for Entrepreneurs, Executives and Small Business Owners (Linda highly recommends it.)
• Roadside MBA
• Roadside MBA on Twitter
• Entrepreneurship & the MBA
• MBAs Across America: Entrepreneurs with a Heart
• MBAs Across America: The Coolest HBS Internship (original interview)
• Dr. Douglas Stayman Shares the Scoop on Cornell Tech NYC
• Introducing the Master in Entrepreneurship Program at the Univ. of Michigan
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It’s risky to apply to med school before taking or retaking the MCAT for a few reasons:
1. Applying to med school is expensive and time intensive. It would be a shame to put in all that effort and then bomb the test and risk rejection. When you submit your application without an MCAT score, your application remains pending until your scores are submitted. There’s no taking back your application if your scores aren’t what you’d like them to be.
2. Not only does it make the application process more stressful – knowing that you’ve submitted but that your application is still incomplete – but it makes the MCAT exam itself more stressful as well, and for some applicants, this stress could negatively impact their score.
3. Finally, it may not be the best idea to go this route because some schools won’t look at an application until the MCAT score has been submitted. So if they see “MCAT score pending” on an application, it’ll go to the bottom of the stack until it’s ready to be reviewed in full.
A better option…
I recommend taking the MCAT, getting your score, and then applying early in the next cycle, rather than going through the stress of submitting an application with an unknown MCAT score and then taking the test under pressure, knowing that the results will be used and weighed heavily, regardless of how you performed.
If, however, you do decide to apply to med school before you’ve taken the exam, then I recommend the following: Apply only to schools with less competitive programs, those that you think you have a good chance of getting into with, say, the lowest score you think you may get. You can always go back and add more schools later. This way, at least you’ve gotten your application verified on the AMCAS side. Worst case scenario – you don’t score well and have to wait and apply again next year. Not the end of the world.
You know yourself best…
The final word on this is that you know yourself best. If you think you can apply before taking the MCAT without the stress killing you and knowing that if you bomb the exam, you’ll bomb your chances of admission – then go for it. There’s always next year. And some people are fine embracing that attitude.
The advice in this post is based on a conversation we had in our recent webinar, Ask The Experts: Medical School Admissions Q&A with Cydney Foote and Alicia McNease Nimonkar. Check out the full transcript for more tips on applying to med school successfully!