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Chen shares his journey from military intelligence service-member to international MBA student to Accepted admissions consultant [Show summary]
Chen Chadash, Accepted consultant and UCLA Anderson MBA grad, had a unique path to business school as an international student with a background in military service. He shares his insights on life at UCLA Anderson, working as an admissions ambassador, and navigating the MBA application process.
How can an admissions consultant help international applicants understand the MBA application process and submit essays and supporting materials that highlight what adcoms value the most? [Show notes]
Chen Chadash has a fascinating background: He earned his bachelor’s in physics and electrical engineering from the Technion in Israel and served in an elite unit in the Israeli military for seven years in intelligence and cybersecurity. He then joined UCLA Anderson in 2016. After interning at Ernst and Young for the summer, he joined full-time in July of 2018. While at UCLA, he was a student admissions ambassador and has leveraged that experience to guide applicants to top MBA programs, including MIT Sloan, Kellogg, Booth, Columbia, INSEAD, London Business School, and UCLA Anderson.
Can you tell us a little bit about where you grew up and what you like to do for fun? [1:51]
I grew up in Israel, far from here, in Tel Aviv. I recommend everyone who hasn’t been there to visit. Obviously, during the COVID pandemic, it’s a bit difficult, but once that’s over, I highly recommend it. I really like cooking a lot. Even more, eating what I cook. I really enjoy sports. I used to play basketball for many years in high school. And then other than that, I really like extreme sports. I like to try new things here and there like kite surfing, like climbing Mount Everest, scuba diving, stuff like that. I stick with some of them. Some I don’t really enjoy, but I do enjoy trying them.
Did you get to the top of Everest? [2:50]
I got to the base camp. It’s about 18,000 feet high. Base camp is what basically everyone can do without any special equipment. Beyond that point, it really gets dangerous. You have to get training, oxygen, etc. But base camp is what everyone can do if you don’t mind the two weeks of hiking in very difficult conditions.
And then just a couple months ago, I had my first baby. I would call that another extreme experience! But this one caused me to stop everything else that I was doing and focus on that.
Why did you decide to earn an MBA? [3:37]
I was in the military for a long time. After a long military service, which was great and a very fulfilling experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world, I felt I had a huge gap in understanding business and how the “real world” works. It was a very different environment. I was looking for a way to bridge that gap as fast as possible and in a way that would be both beneficial career-wise and in a way that I would enjoy. Then living and studying abroad was something that was a dream for me for a long time. Both those things came together. An MBA abroad basically checked all those boxes.
What was the hardest part of the application process for you as an applicant? [4:31]
2015 was when I started thinking about that process. 2016 was when I really started working on my application. First of all, it actually took me some time to really understand what an MBA abroad in the U.S. meant in terms of the application. It’s really a funny story. I realized I had to take the GMAT first, so I signed up for the GMAT course, for the English part and engineering and physics. I figured with the quant part, I was going to be okay. But I felt I had some polishing to do on my English skills. So I signed up for this class. On the first day, it was me and some other folks, and the teacher asks, “Have you started working on your application?” I had no idea what she was talking about. There was nothing in my head. Everyone was like, “Oh yeah, we started. We are working with someone.” I literally had no idea what she was talking about. I was like, “Yeah, I’m in the process of working on it.” I came back home that day, started researching what MBA application was and realized I had way more work to do. That was the first challenge.
Once I actually understood what it was, I realized that, going back to my background, and not coming from a business background, I realized that I couldn’t talk about how I helped my company grow revenue or improve its margins, stuff like that. But since I was in intelligence in the military, there were a lot of things I really couldn’t talk about, right? Classified. Those were challenges.
How did you deal with those challenges? [6:23]
I was a bit frustrated at first, like I mentioned, but then I started really diving deep into understanding how the MBA application process works and what admissions teams are really looking for, and I learned that they don’t really care if you move your company’s revenue by 300%, even though it’s great. They don’t really care about that. What they really care about are the underlying qualities, traits, and behaviors that you demonstrated that actually made that possible, right? If your company’s or organization’s goals at the end of the day is not making money – by the way, it’s the same for any nonprofit – but there is still a goal, right? So once you frame all your passions and achievements around that goal, and you show how you helped achieve those goals, or the underlying behavior that enabled you to do that, that’s what you’re willing to do.
Then, I realized that, hey, I actually did have a lot of those fundamental ingredients that admissions committees were looking for, like demonstrated leadership, ability to work in teams, lead teams, being an innovator or instructor in a good way, within your organization leading change. I realized that’s the stuff I did throughout my entire career in the military. Once I realized that, and it was much, much easier for me to convey my story. Frame all your achievements around that mission, and clearly show what you did to get closer to achieving that goal, that mission.
What were the best parts of your experience as a UCLA Anderson MBA student? [9:31]
First and foremost, I would say the people. Sounds like cliché, and probably everyone has felt that and would say that about the school they went to. It may be true, but that’s my experience at UCLA. The people, and especially the student body. UCLA Anderson has this motto of “share success.” It really resonates when you walk in; you can really feel that. When you talk to people, you really feel that. I felt that as a candidate, and then even more so when I actually got accepted.
Just to give you an example, there’s a very robust system of second-year students helping first years prep for interviews, and you’d be amazed to see those second years, completely on a voluntary basis, dedicating hours and hours to coach and guide first years during the recruiting process, which is very stressful as you probably know. It’s really amazing. I had friends from other schools say that’s really not the case everywhere. It’s in the Anderson culture.
The second thing I would say is being such a key institution within the LA Metro area. It’s the biggest school in this area, in the city. This attracts so many things, so many events, and so many things are happening. It’s really exciting to see, to have those key speakers, like a CEO from a great company. Maybe you didn’t even hear about it, but then you find out that next door in a classroom next to where you’re sitting, there is the CEO of Disney just giving a talk about something, right? This happens on a daily basis. That was really great.
The third thing I would give to the staff and faculty for being super attentive and supportive of the students, all the students. I can give you two quick examples from my time. When you come in with new students, especially in your first quarter of school, there’s a quarter system. The first quarter is very, very busy. So much going on, and it’s really just drinking from a fire hose. The students the year before me had a suggestion for the faculty to start with what they call now a short summer quarter, which lasts for a couple of weeks. Just a bit earlier to get adjusted to the environment, even take a few accelerated courses to get some of the workload off the first quarter. It was a student initiative. Anderson implemented that when I started. I was in the first year that started this early summer quarter, and it’s still going on today. It was born from the students, and the faculty adopted that.
Another thing that UCLA Anderson just recently did: The school was recognized as a STEM program, which is very beneficial for international students who are coming in on a visa. It also came from the students. We’ve been asking for that for a long time. The faculty really made tremendous efforts, and the school got that.
Did you have any trouble in terms of handling the language? Was being suddenly immersed in an English-speaking environment a challenge? [13:38]
It was definitely a challenge. It still is a challenge for me, I would say even today. There’s the technical aspect of language and learning new words or grammar. That’s the easiest, or the easier part, I’d say. Then there is this other aspect, which is what you read or say between the lines, which comes with the language but is maybe more of a cultural difference aspect, which again, I think I’m still getting adjusted to. Things that I would say in my home country will be perceived in one way, but when I try to translate it, it just doesn’t come through the same way. That’s definitely a challenge. I think it’s one of the challenges that international students face in general coming to the U.S., for an MBA or even just working here. It’s definitely a big challenge that is still with me until this very day.
It’s getting better, obviously. But it’s funny because I think the more I learn, the more I understand how much I actually don’t know. When I came here, I felt, this is so great. I had an English GMAT class. It’s only when you come here that you realize the more you know, the more you understand how much you actually don’t know.
What could have been improved at UCLA Anderson? [15:24]
UCLA is like many others that have a few different MBA programs on top of the full-time. There’s the part-time, the executive MBA program, and then there’s multiple others that are more focused on a functional perspective. I think what UCLA can do better is combining those or encouraging collaboration between those programs. At least when I was there, I felt each program was a silo, a separated silo. There was not a lot of interaction between the groups. And I think there’s a lot of potential in those programs. There could be better collaboration and interaction between them.
For example, for a full-time MBA student, one of your main focuses is getting a job when you graduate. You invest so much time and effort trying to network with people from those companies you’re targeting, through LinkedIn, email, and stuff like that. And then it’s very likely that next to you in the other room, there’s at least one guy, maybe a few guys, from that very company that you are targeting. They’re so easy to reach. You just don’t know them that well. This is just one example.
Were there other challenges that you faced as an international applicant and student? Did you have any visa challenges when it came to getting your job post-MBA? How did you deal with them? [17:24]
Visa-wise, especially in today’s environment, it’s getting harder and harder for international students, especially from Pacific countries. I went through that process. You start with the student visa, either an F visa or a J visa. That’s what most international students get. You want an H1B visa post-graduation, and hopefully a green card. I had quite a difficult time getting the H1B. Obviously, those were stressful times. I was fortunate to be at a company that was very supportive of me throughout the process. Eventually it did work out, but unfortunately, I do have friends for whom it didn’t work out, even at my old company. And they just had to leave. Their visa expired. Unfortunately, it is one of the risks, and I think international students should take this into account. Hopefully it gets better. I think we’re past the worst point. That’s just my opinion. Maybe I’m wrong. I know with everything going on, I felt it was my most difficult time. I felt like it was rock bottom, and maybe that’s just my individual feeling. But it is something that every international student is facing, but it’s part of growing. It’s part of developing. I always like to think of it as riding a bicycle. If you feel it’s hard, you’re probably on your way up. It also works the other way. If you feel it’s easy, you’re probably on your way down.
How did you decide to become an admissions ambassador? [19:16]
Let me explain what an Anderson admissions ambassador is for those who don’t know. Basically, it’s the first point of contact that the prospective student can have with the school. The ambassador is there to give information about the school and answer any questions the candidate may have. If a candidate chooses to come to a campus visit (not during COVID-19 times, but in normal times), which is like a half-day tour, then the ambassador is the one hosting, welcoming, and also available and stays available as a resource after the tour is over to advise by the candidates on the application process.
For me, coaching, guiding, and helping people develop are things that I always liked. Volunteering, helping disadvantaged kids to successfully graduate high school and getting to college. And even in my workplace, in the military, as a commander, my top priority was always developing and taking care of the professional progression and personal progression of my soldiers. So when I arrived at Anderson, I looked for opportunities and ways to continue doing that, helping people progress and advance their careers. Being an Anderson admissions ambassador was checking all those boxes.
How has advising applicants changed your perspective on the MBA application process? [20:47]
Those who took the time to self-reflect, understand where they’re coming from, where they are trying to get to, and were successful in bringing that into their application, those were the most successful candidates. Also those that did proper research on the schools that they were targeting beyond just looking at rankings, which is what most people do. I did in the beginning. I’m not saying that the rankings are not important, but it’s not the only thing you should be looking at.
On the other hand, I’ve seen those who try to take shortcuts. Write cookie cutter essays. Have template answers that they think the admissions committee wants to hear. Those are not successful. That really showed me that what you put in is what you get. Your efforts are truly reflected to and picked up by the admissions committee. If you want to be successful, you should really invest and immerse yourself in the process.
What I also noticed is that a lot of folks do have the basic ingredients required to be a successful candidate, but they don’t always know that. I found a lot of people often struggle finding that stuff, and even when they do, they don’t know how to tell their stories in the most compelling way. That’s actually when I think seeking professional advice comes very handy and can really make a difference, which is what Accepted does.
If you were advising an applicant starting out right now, and they know they want an MBA and are an international applicant also, how would you advise them to approach the process? What would you tell them to look at? [22:58]
If it’s someone who’s at the very beginning of the process, my first and foremost recommendation would be to try to understand why you want to get an MBA. What do you want to get out of it? There is such a vast selection of schools. Narrow down the list of schools that are relevant for you. That’s going to save you a lot of time and money applying to schools that are not relevant for you. Also, it will really be a crucial part of your essays. Some schools even ask those very questions: “Why do you want to get an MBA? What are your future goals? Why here? What are you trying to get out of it?” Taking the time, investing the time in advance, I think, really goes a long way.
I also touched on this a little bit on it before, but you really want to show each school that you made an effort to get to know that school you’re applying to and what makes it unique. You really want to get personal with the school, right? Think about the difference between a template email and a personalized one. People are smart. People can tell when they get a template email, if you just change the name at the top, versus a personalized email. Admissions officers are very smart, experienced people. They can pick up on those things. Make an effort to research schools that you’re targeting, not just to wing it. From my experience, that just doesn’t work.
What advice do you have for interviews? [25:58]
First of all, for most schools, if you get an interview, that’s already a very good sign. That shows the school likes you and wants you to take that final step to make it a home run. My best advice would be to know your story. It sounds funny, like, yeah, of course I know my story, but it’s not that obvious. Sometimes there’s so much in a person’s application, and then they come into the interview and forget everything. That’s not good. You really need to know your story and be able to convey it both on paper, which we do in the application, but also in person when you’re talking to someone.
My advice would be, the night before your interview, go over all your application materials. It’s not always the case that the interview actually gets all of those materials. Sometimes they only get the resume. It depends who the interviewer is. Sometimes it’s alumni, sometimes it’s admissions officers. They always have everything that you’ve submitted, but you should know your story. So the night before, go over all your application materials. Everything, not just essays. Your resume. Even all those little boxes and fields that you filled in, so you are more comfortable thinking freely about everything.
On top of that, also try to come up with something new that did not appear in your application. Because even if someone read through your whole application, they also want to see something new, something that’s kind of a spicy detail, in a good way. You have to be careful what you share and what you don’t, but it has to be something new, something interesting that they don’t know about you yet. That always helps spice up the conversation.
Last thing: Have the general bullet points in your head, but don’t try to memorize sentences. That’s always a recipe for disaster. If you forget a word here, forget a word there, then the entire idea disappears. So just have those broad bullet points, high-level bullet points and stories and themes in your mind, but don’t try to memorize.
What do you wish I would’ve asked you? [28:45]
I wish you would have asked me, what’s the most common question I get asked by my clients? The first question that comes up is basically a combination of three questions: “What are my chances? Can I get into this school? Can you get me there?” And my answer is always, “I can’t give you a percent chance, unfortunately.” Honestly, no one can. And if someone tells you otherwise, I would suggest you stay away from them because that only shows you that they have no idea what business they’re in. It’s kind of like asking, am I going to be successful in life? No one can tell you that, right? But I can tell you this: Every successful person will tell you that they had great people helping them and advising them along the way. What I can do is be that person for you and help you get where you want using all the experience and knowledge that I have, just like I’ve done with a lot of my past clients.
- UCLA Anderson MBA admissions
- UCLA Anderson MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines [2019-2020]
- How Will COVID-19 Impact Your Admissions Journey, a Q&A session
- Work with Chen Chadash
- Accepted MBA Admissions Services
- What MBA Students Can Expect at UCLA Anderson
- Why Does an MD Need an MBA? This UCLA MD/MBA Student Tells All
- An Admissions Expert’s Top Tips for Business School Applicants
- Is an MBA Worth It, or Is the Sky Falling Down on the MBA Degree?
- A Conversation About Today’s MBA Marketplace