Who is "Tad Holbie"?
Tad Holbie is a pseudonym I created
to protect my privacy and identity as I apply to business school (don't believe me?
Google it for yourself).
I am a young, American, first-time applicant to some of the elite business schools in the fall of 2002. My e-mail is
If I am accepted to one of the business schools I've applied to, I will be more revealing about my identity and personal details.
When did I start all this?
I started this Weblog a couple months after I got serious about applying to business school. The
first post was on August 28th, 2002. When do I have time to write this site? In between my
full-time job and writing essays, time is limited. But I am a fast typist and am quick to jot down
my thoughts during spare moments.
Why MBA Admissions Wire?
I started this website to record and share my experiences applying to business school (a long
and stressful process). As time has gone by and greater numbers of readers e-mailed me to
ask for advice, encourage me, and share their experiences, I have turned this site into a
resource for all MBA applicants, in effect creating an online community.
How do I do MBA Admissions Wire?
It's very easy, and (best of all) free. Just go to Blogger.com
and after a free registration you can have your own Weblog too! Even better, they offer free hosting on their
Disclaimer:I am not an admissions officer, nor am I affiliated with any of the schools, organizations, or sites listed on this page (i.e. I haven't even been accepted to any B-School--this is my first time applying!).
The events described on this web page are real events, though certain names, genders, locations, and dates (i.e. interview dates, submission dates, etc.) may be changed to protect my identity.
If you are applying to any of the schools listed on this page, please refer to their official web sites for the definitive deadline dates, application procedures, etc.
(i.e. It's not a smart move to rely on this page while applying). The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author.
I am also neither a lawyer nor an accountant. All information and events describing or related to financial aid, tuition, scholarships, loans, and other monetary matters is strictly meant to only describe "Tad Holbie's" situation, and should not be
considered instructions, financial advice, or in any way pertaining to the [reader's] financial situation. Consult your own accountant/lawyer when making important financial decisions.
Any questions, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org (and no, that isn't my real name).
I may or may not disclose if/when/with whom I have been invited to interviews. At present, I'm leaning towards discussing my interview
experiences a few days/weeks after they happen. Mark me "undecided".
If you choose to e-mail me, I promise not to publish your name, e-mail address, or contact information on my website without first getting your permission.
I may excerpt part or all of your e-mail on my site, but will take care to edit out any information that might identify the source.
If you don't want any or your e-mail posted on my site, just put "Please keep private" at the bottom of your e-mail.
Any questions, e-mail me at email@example.com.
Basically, anything you post can be reviewed by me. If I find a post to the message board or comment system
that is sufficiently rude, offensive, moronic, I'll feel free to a) delete it, and/or b) ban you from posting ever again.
In conclusion: You don't have free speech on my site, so don't be a jerk.
Welcome! First time visitors are encouraged to
Friday, June 13, 2003
Posted 7:35 AM EST by Tad Holbie, Post #200409118:
Initial Feedback As promised, I'm posting my summary of the two feedback sessions I've had so far (schools to go unnamed). I waited until I had more than one feedback session before posting in order to be able to compare the two criticisms, and weigh their validity. Both sessions lasted roughly fifteen minutes, and were very productive. First, two quick advisories: if you're looking to get precise reasons why you were dinged, or if you're looking for a lot of advice for reapplying, you'll be disappointed by the feedback sessions. But if you're open to hearing the good and bad points of your application, they're very worthwhile.
The Basics To get the basics out of the way, both schools described my academic background--GPA, college record, and GMAT--as very strong. This took about twelve seconds of the feedback session--showing truly how little the GMAT plays a role, once you get above the student body average.
Both schools described my work experience as strong. Both schools were highly complimentary of my recommendations, which were "strongly supportive" and reflected my recommenders "affection for me". I take this as a validation of my choice to not write my own recs. Although, again, the feedback reflected how little influence recommendations play in the decision process.
The Essays - Good Parts Essays are, by far, the single most part of your application. I wanted to emphasize that, for those future applicants out there.
Overall, the feedback was very positive on the style of my essays. They were generally described as very well written, personable, and one school commented that I came across as "likable" in them (very important). Where applicable, I was very much able to convey my creativity, job accomplishments, career vision, and where an MBA fit into my goals. Each school cited one or two essays that were "outstanding".
The Essays - Bad Parts There were two weak points raised in the feedback, one that was (in my opinion) critical and one that was of moderate importance.
The moderately important point, raised by one of the schools, was my explanation for "why now?" In looking back over that particular essay, I can see their point. I spent a few paragraphs describing my career-to-date, then did a complete pivot into my career goals and why an MBA from that school would help. Though I conveyed how an MBA fit into my path, I can see (now) that I didn't spend enough time explaining what had caused my change of paths.
In fact, the one paragraph in question is breaks the rules of writing in many ways--it's like a conjunction of three or four topic sentences, which should have set off warning flags. I go from "I got promoted" to "I used my promotion to explore new areas" to "I continued research outside of work in these areas" to "I decided to pursue a new career" to "I decided an MBA was the best way to achieve that career". That's way too much information for one paragraph, and I should have 1) took out some of the paragraphs about my career-to-date and 2) expanded expanded that one paragraph to two or three, explaining my thought process.
Both schools raised a much more important point, and that was teamwork. I didn't do a good enough job defining how I worked in teams, and (they didn't say this directly, but it's what I infer) that was the probably the straw that broke the camel's back. Drilling down a bit, I was able to convey some of my leadership abilities, but not enough leadership/teamwork skills on a person-to-person level.
Frankly, this point took me aback at first, because all of my work projects have taken place in team settings. Indeed, I felt fairly confident that I could use my project management experiences to cover both the leadership and teamwork questions. So where did I go wrong?
I've re-read the essays in question, and think I have the answer. In general, I'm a very goal-oriented guy. It was this inclination, and how it translated into my essays, that was my achilles heal. When I talked about managing a project or leading a team, I focused too much on "successfully delivering results" and not enough on "how I interacted with the team to deliver them." In hindsight, this made my essays conveyed the sense that I was an...impersonal, or technocratic, manager/leader, which left the admissions officers wondering how I would interact with students on groupwork.
For example, in describing how I managed a particular team project, I wrote things like,
* "The first step I took was to clarify the [team] roles and procedures...With a single diagram, I created a structure that addressed the [project] needs and clarified the [team] roles."
* "Having resolved the organizational confusion, I focused next on the process..."
* "I dealt with this by speaking with the [a subordinate] at the end of each day and making sure they followed up on any lingering issues. I maintained a list of [important issues] and coordinated [the team] to see that they got resolved."
Obviously, these are all true statements and describe how I acted in a team situation. But they don't, in any way, convey on a person-to-person level, what I'm like to work with. I convinced the schools that I had led projects to successful conclusions, but I didn't convince them that I'd be a great student to work with.
Interviews I did interview with (at least) one of the schools that I got feedback from. My interview(s) was described as generall positive, but just not enough to push me over the cusp. I didn't have any glaring problems in the interview, and did convey some of my points, but didn't cover the weak points of my essays.
Initial Conclusions Taking the glass-half-full view, as I am apt to do, the feedback confirmed that I had all the pieces there to get accepted to any of the schools I applied to. It's a bit bittersweet to learn this; to put it in a sarcastic way, it sucks to find out that the only reason you got dinged at schools was that you didn't write enough Oprah-ish, touchy-feely, how I relate to my teammates type stuff. But being serious, that's a fair enough critique, and after going back through my essays I can see where I lagged in that regard. It's a very minor point, in my opinion, to be dinged on, but fair's fair, and if others did a better job covering that topic, more power to them.
For future applicants, I can just say: if you have a goal-oriented personality, watch yourself--always push yourself to explain why you did things, who you did them with, rather than how you did them and what you achieved.
I confess, getting feedback on these apps is a bit like picking at scabs--I'm headed for Michigan, so why bother with old failures? Well, for one, I'm interested in where I failed, if for no other reason than to avoid the same mistakes in the future (who knows; I never expected to go for an MBA, so who's to say a PhD isn't in my future?) In addition, it sort of closes the chapter on my applications; it completes the circle. Lastly, by writing about them, I hope that future applicants can avoid some of the same mistakes I made. If only someone else had blogged the 2002 admissions cycle, maybe my turn would have turned out different.
I have one more feedback session to go, so I'll have a big wrap-up post in early July on this subject.
After some thinking about it, I don't think I'm going to apply to this. I feel like I've written my story, and am a bit tired of [writing about myself]. It would be fun to be published on such a larger soapbox, but, in the end, I don't think I'm up to it now. I'd rather spend my MBA time trying out new things, telling new stories, and focusing more on "the now" than on describing the now.
Posted 10:05 AM EST by Tad Holbie, Post #200402554:
The Circle Has Turned My impending business school experience has apparently inspired my work-horse recommender to go back to school. Since he's a good 15 years older than me, he's aiming for an executive program (an MPA). The funny thing is that, as accomplished as he is, he still wanted to ask me about all that formatting crap that B-Weekers sweat over in October--whether or not to double space, what header to use, etc. It's funny that, regardless the age and degree, we all get tripped up by those small, but controllable, details.