We’d like to introduce you to Sarah, an Irish b-school applicant (now living in London) applying to top b-schools in the U.S. and Europe. Sarah offers loads of advice on taking the GMAT, analyzing one’s b-school profile, and dealing with dyslexia here in our interview and on her blog, sarah’s mba journey. Thank you Sarah for sharing your story with us – we look forward to hearing great things from you!
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What’s your favorite movie?
Sarah: I’m originally from Scotland and now live in London working for the public sector. I studied at Dundee University for my undergrad and York for my Masters. My favourite movie is Inception.
Accepted: What is your current job? Do you plan on continuing in this industry after you receive your MBA or switching to something new?
Sarah: I currently work in the UK public sector and lead research projects on public policy. I’m hoping that an MBA will allow me to move from research to a more active general management role within the same sector.
Accepted: Where do you plan on applying to b-school?
Sarah: I have a three strand MBA strategy application just in case I don’t succeed in first strand. First strand was applying to Harvard and Duke in America. Second strand is applying for one or two European business schools, while the third strand is applying for a part time MBA in the UK. I haven’t finalised the schools for prong two and three, that’s my next task.
Accepted: You’ve already submitted applications to HBS and Duke — how did it go? Which application essay approach did you prefer? Why?
Sarah: I’m really pleased I was able to submit both my Duke and Harvard application on time as they were due the same day. I really liked the Harvard essay as it really allowed me to put across my best case, though having such an open ended question was really daunting at first. But the admissions director on his blog post on the 10th September 2013 gives some good advice; go with your gut.
Accepted: What would you say has been the most challenging aspect of the application process so far, and how did you work (or are you working) to overcome those challenges?
Sarah: Out of the whole application process, it was the GMAT I found most challenging for a couple of reasons. The main reasons is that this is the first time ever I’ve sat a standardised test and it’s a very different test format from what I’m use to. Secondly as someone who needs accommodations as I’m dyslexic, not sitting a similar test before puts me at a real disadvantage in being able to identify what accommodations are the right. Thirdly what I still find real difficult as my brain doesn’t think in the GMAT way and I’ve really struggled to get my good quantitative ability to be reflected in the GMAT score. So I’ve really struggled with my GMAT score and to be honest probably not really overcome the challenges.
Accepted: How many times did you take your GMAT? Can you share a few GMAT tips with us?
Sarah: I’ve sat the GMAT three times so far (I suspect I might need to take it a fourth time). I have no tips for the 700 plus crowd but I do have a couple of tips for those new to standardised testing.
1. Take the time to find out how the test works and the main three/four strategies needed to answer the different questions. This will be very beneficial later on when you are taking practice tests and trying to improve your score.
2. Work on the basics – adding, multiplication and handling percentages – until you can do these operations quickly and accurately. You don’t need to pay for expensive GMAT courses for the basics; get material suitable for young children it’s cheaper! There are also a couple of really good apps for your mobile phone that can help as well.
3. Figure out how you learn. Be honest with yourself. I would have saved a lot of time by ditching the books sooner and going onto an online GMAT course quicker as I’m an audio visual learner I don’t learn through just reading text books. Once you know how you learn find a GMAT course that suits.
4. Before you spend money on text books, do your research as not all GMAT text books are created equal and check out the second hand market to get them cheaper.
Accepted: Can you talk about your Fulbright experience?
Sarah: I submitted an application to Fulbright in November and will hear if I progress to an interview this month. The Fulbright process meant I had to identify early each schools I would apply for and why. It also forced me to think about why business school and put that down in a succinct way.
Sarah sent us an update here: I got an update on my Fulbright application yesterday. I haven’t progressed to the interview stage. Disappointed but I also know I put my best case forwards.
Accepted: I see on your blog you offer a nice, organized approach to analyzing your profile. Can you explain the steps you took and offer suggestions for our readers on how to break down the elements of their application profiles?
Sarah: For my post on the strength of my profile I considered the following elements: academics, GMAT, work, and community involvement, each on a five point scale from Excellent to Weak. Here are a couple of suggestions to help your readers come up with their own assessment.
1. On the academic side consider your country or universities scoring system. How do you compare? Did you go to a top university in your country, a good one, or your local one? Then use those to form a judgment. In the UK context I assumed a 1st from Oxbridge would be ranked Excellent. For the GMAT I considered the GMAT average and then the score ranges for the schools I applied to and then how I compared. I would say rank 700+ as excellent and go from there.
2. For the work criteria it really comes down to your knowledge of your industry and firm. I work for a fairly flat organisation and I don’t get bonuses so I have to measure success in other ways. So be honest with yourself, how good is your CV? Are head hunters knocking down your door?
3. Community involvement is tough; it is not how much you do, but your impact as well. I think the simple stuff can count as well like being involved in your church or sports club.
Accepted: Can you tell us more about your blog? Who is your target audience? What have you gained from the experience?
Sarah: My blog is about my MBA experience from applying to completing one. At first the blog was mainly a place where I could tell my story. Over time the remit has expanded a little to include my thoughts on the wider challenges I face in the work environment in relation to stress and dyslexia.
One aspect of the blogging experience I have really appreciated is the readers’ comments. I can safely say my applications to business school are better due to the comments that have been made on my blog.
My audience is anyone wanting to study for an MBA but I also hope there is some useful advice to those that are under pressure at work or have dyslexia and work in high performing organisations.
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