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
The act of giving notice has driven home how close I am to the start of school. I've got six weeks to network, network, network, and then it's off. Amazing. I feel like I've been hunkered down in the b-school application bunker for twelve years, not twelve months.
I figure now that I'll be wrapping up this website with my final feedback comments, some parting words of advice, and a few other odds and ends in the next few weeks.
Phew It's done, it's over, it's out. I finally got a hold of my boss at 4:30 and spoke to him privately for about ten minutes about it. He took it much more calmly than I expected (or than I would have, had I been in his shoes). But, he was appreciative of the six weeks of notice I was giving, and assured me that there was no chance I'd be escorted out.
I can't put into words how relieved I am to get this out. Paranoia isn't fun.
Incidentally, my boss did validate my decision to tell him now. The firm was starting to make long-term plans that I was going to fit into, so he was glad to get the news before then. Honestly, I hope I didn't add a sour note to the beginning of his vacation. But that's his problem. No, seriously, even if I did, I suspect that it is better than him coming back, finding the rumor of my leaving everywhere, and looking clueless in front of his boss.
The Day Developments have ocurred...that make it best that I tell my manager about my decision today, before he goes on vacation. Basically, I heard from the fellow (I'll call him Tim) who figured out I was going to b-school that, because he knew, he was put in awkward situations in meetings. Basically, my current boss was asking for more project work with the expectation that Tim and I would work together on. This both put my current boss in a dangerous position (once I left) and Tim in an awkward situation (since he knew I wouldn't be around). The politics get murkier from there, but in the end, I feel comfortable that I've reached a point where the benefits of telling my boss today (namely, that he won't get back from vacation and be surprised by rumors that sprung up in his absence) outweigh the small chance that I'll be fired or let go in the subsequent six weeks.
This issue has always been an awkward one for me, because I do respect my boss and don't enjoy playing poker face. I know that, were I a manager, I'd want my employees to tell me as soon as possible. At the same time, I've seen enough firings in the industry to know you're always taking a risk in trusting anyone. That, and I think my boss will be disappointed/pissed about me applying behind his back, whether I tell him six weeks before quitting or twelve.
Anyway, the balance has now tipped in his favor, so here goes...
A reader brings up a good point about the advice I dished out below: it does come from my perspective. The more your profile diverges from mine, the less applicable it is. If you come from a really non-traditional career* or you have a very low GMAT/GPA or you have tons of glorious extracurricular activities, my advice is much less applicable.
* Here are my personal career classifications:
"Feeder" careers - Banking, finance, management consulting
"Non-feeder" careers - Engineering, accounting, general management, corporate law, marketing/brand management
"Non-traditional" careers - Everything else, but especially public service, non-profits, anything artistic, etc.
I just had the final weekly meeting with my manager before I tell him about UMBS (he's off next week, and I'll give notice the following). Thank goodness these surreal chats will be over.
There are two uncomfortable aspects of these meetings. First, I have to always be on guard not to let something slip--I almost mentioned that I have to be away from my place during weekends due to realtor visits, when I caught myself and realized he doesn't even know I'm selling. Second, it's just awkward to here him talk about deadlines in July and long-term projects.
Thankfully, I've worked pretty hard to subtly sidestep any major assignments (that would last past July), and have been largely successful at it.
In these meetings, I sit there picturing what it will be like telling him the news. I like my manager and he does a good job, so I'm not out to be an asshole or anything--I'd like to break it to him in as positive, as "I'd like to help the transition/handoff as much as possible" spirit.
Six more workdays until I get that chance. Phew.
The Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC--the fine fellows bringing you the GMAT) has published its Global MBA Graduate Survey (pdf) of 2003 graduates (thanks to Linda for pointing it out). It covers 96 schools and 4,000+ students (although I couldn't find any mention of which schools were involved, to my chagrin).
Some of the findings:
* The three most important criteria for the class of '03 in choosing their schools were prestige of the school, location, and career options available to graduates (not surprisingly, the importance of career options jumped greatly between 2002 and 2003 graduates).
* Published rankings were the most influential media source, cited by 73% of the students as weighing on their decision.
* There are some interesting charts on which pre-MBA professions have more career-switchers (versus career-enhancers).
"again I go unnoticed Another day, another dollar. Walked by the river during lunch today.Watched some kids play in the fountain, it was hot. My grandma's bday was today, 69 years old, took her to Izzy's. Thats where she wanted to go. good times. burned out the shredder at work today. opps. That's about all. Seems like there's no time anymore to do anything. Called an old friend to hang out, but he's busy till next week. is this what the "real world" is going to be like? I'm not sure its what I am looking for. hopefully they'll start giving me more interesting things to do. haven't had to get anyone coffee yet, when that happens, i think i'll quit. tomorrow's another day, another dollar."
Red Herrings After reflecting on the application process, I've produced a list of red herrings--topics or areas that I think first-time applicants can get hung-up on, but ultimately matter very little to the outcome. These come from my observation of other applicants and (sometimes) myself.
1. Essay Formatting - See the Business Week Forum for numerous examples of people stressing out about this. At the basic level, all that matters is whether or not the AdComm can read your application. If you stick with sensible fonts (Arial, Times, Tahoma, etc.) in sensible sizes (10-12 pt) and follow the spacing they ask for (most apps are double, a few were single), you'll be fine. I.e. follow the guidelines for good business writing.
2. Timing the Rounds - Personally, I still believe that the whole Round 1 versus Round 2 is a red herring, and I still believe you should apply when you feel the time is right. I pushed hard to apply to many schools in Round 1, mainly because I felt pressure to know the outcomes soon enough to sell my property (if accepted). As it turns out, I've had enough time after the R2 decision to sell the property (albeit under a bit of pressure), so this was a slight miscalculation on my part. Still, if I had it all to do over again, I would have submitted several apps in R1 because [I felt] they were ready to be submitted.
The reason I think this is a red herring is that your applications are not judged in isolation, and I think it's impossible to "time the market"--to know how strong the other applicants will be for each round, for any particular school. Save yourself the mental gymnastics, focus on your essays, and submit the application when it's ready.
3. School Visit This is a half red herring. In retrospect, I do think it is useful to visit as many schools as possible prior to applying. Let's be honest: all schools look pretty much the same, if you're only going by their websites and online brochures. Sure, Wharton is "strong in finance" and Chicago gives students "acadmic freedom" and Kellogg "focuses on teamwork", but those are just very general marketing slogans. Visiting a school helps you personalize (remember that word: personalize; I think it's one of the keys to successful apps) why you want to attend a program, which is good.
On the other hand, the issue of whether or not to visit a school can be a red herring in the sense that it isn't a decision point for AdComms. I think very few schools track whether you have visited or use that information in a final decision, except in all but the most borderline cases. So if you're stressing about whether you "have" to visit a school, you don't. In my opinion.
4. GMAT 700+ - If you get around the school's average GMAT (about 700 for most top programs), you're fine. I absolutely believe that spending time to push a 690 to a 720+ is a huge waste. I believe that spending time to push a 690 to a 790 will result in very, very little difference in admissions outcome (unless you're trying to compensate for a very low GPA). I am certain that schools will take an interesting candidate with great essays and a 690 over an interesting candidate with okay essays and an 800, any day of the week.
Of course, the lower the GMAT, the more serious an issue it becomes, but I think that most applicants need to remember that the GMAT is not used to judge the quality of the applicant, but only whether or not they can handle the academic rigor. That's it.
5. Optional Essays - Look it up in the dictionary. Optional means optional. If you don't have a good answer to give, don't waste space (and reader time) with an essay.
6. Recs from Current Bosses - Based on my experiences, talking to others, and the feedback I received, there is no problem getting recommendations from former colleagues and managers rather than your current manager. Especially in the current economic climate, schools don't penalize you for not jeopardizing your job. All the schools want is to get a personal view of what it is to work with you. Plus, the recs don't matter that much, anyway.
7. Career Success - This is an odd thing to put for a red herring, but since I feel it tripped me up, I included it. From my perspective, schools undervalue career success (and overvalue introspection--but that's another post). That is, in retrospect I think that they would choose an essaist who's had a failing career so far, reflected on his failures a lot, and decided to jump ship to a different career, over an applicant who's put together a string of successes and not had to change much to do it. In one sense, the former is preferrable--it demonstrates that the candidate is flexible and can learn from their experiences. But on the other hand, what if they're just learning the things that the second candidate already knew (i.e. how to be successful, how to deliver results, etc.).
I don't want to go off on a screed here, because obviously I would much lean towards the latter candidate, but anyway, I've made my point.
8. Extracurricular Activities - I think applicants stress out waaay too much about these. If you have many of them, great, that's a moderate plus in your direction. If you've only done a few, don't sweat it, they're really not that big a deal.
Let me put it this way: I did two minor extracurricular activities during college, and one or two since graduating. From the feedback I got (and my gut sense) that was not considered a negative in my app. I think substantial extracurriculars are only critical if you do not have any management experience on your job (in which case, they're an acceptable avenue for demonstrating leadership).
Don't stress about not having fed the homeless, sheltered the poor, or whatever. If you have done those things, first, pat yourself on the back, and second, understand they don't count for a lot by themselves.
That's about it. If you find yourself stressing about any of the above points, take a step back and ask yourself "will this really affect the outcome of my app?"
Sometimes I feel weird about having chronicled my entire admissions process on a public website. But then I stumble across a website dedicated to digitally erasing the people from famous movie scenes, and I realize I'm an island of sanity in the churning maelstrom that is the internet.
Busted Sort of. One of my teammates figured out that I was going to business school.
We were chatting about things, and happened upon the topic of my age (I look a good 6 or 7 years old than I am). When he found out my age, he asked if I had a graduate degree, to which I replied "no". He asked if I thought about going for one, and I said if I did, I would do an MBA. He then said (paraphrasing here), "That's it...you have applied to school, haven't you?" Apparently my face gave it away (he's a very sharp fellow) and he persisted in asking me "where did you apply?", etc., etc., etc.
By that point I figured he knew that I was going anyway, and since he's a nice enough fellow, I spilled the beans. I mean, I could have either walked away from his desk (which would have confirmed it anyway), continued to deny it (which would have rung false), or fessed up. After keeping this a secret for almost a year, I don't really have the energy to put up the false facade anymore.
As we talked about my plans (he was very envious--he's even less interested in his current job than I am, believe it or not), I asked how he figured it out. He said that a long while ago (it must have been at least six months, by my calculations) he saw the Stanford GSB homepage up on my computer screen, and as we talked about graduate school he put two and two together (yes, he is sharp).
I don't think he's a malicious guy, and he respects our management much less than I do, so I don't foresee him telling anyone directly. Still, he is also very talkative. And as all of you probably know, once word starts to leak out about something in a corporate environment, it'll eventually make its way to everyone's desk. I'd very much prefer that my management find out the news directly from me, than by rumors. I don't want to burn any bridges; who knows, I might end up back here next summer...
Thankfully, my manager is out on vacation next week. Thus, I'll probably meet with him to announce my departure on June 30th, effectively giving five weeks notice (an eternity in this industry).
B-Week Journal Writers Business Week has extended the deadline for applying to be a journal writer to July 2nd. I know that many of you were sweating over tomorrows application deadline for that, so there's the good news.
I dropped by the Business Week Forum for the first time in a couple weeks, and lo and behold, there wasn't a "America sucks" or "Bush is a Nazi" post in sight! Apparently Business Week wised up and has started enforcing the rules, in an effort to keep the forum focused on MBA-related matters. Good for them.
More Thoughts on Feedback Over the weekend, I realized that the best way to check the validity of the initial feedback I received was checking out whether I addressed their points in my more successful applications. That is, does my Michigan application (and, to a lesser extent, the Kellogg app) do a better job of conveying my teamwork skills?
Well, lo and behold, it does. I think that it's a combination of the questions the app asks, as well as my experience in doing applications (by mid-December), but a couple of my essays gave much more personal accounts of my team experiences than my those in my earlier apps.
The key essays to achieve this were 3 and 4.
The topic for essay 3 clearly wants introspection: "Describe a failure or setback in your life...What, if anything, would you do differently if confronted with this situation again?" I talked about a work experience failure, and the resulting lesson, which was pretty much "do more internal networking on the job".
For essay 4, I chose to answer, "What makes work fulfilling? Describe a situation where, as a team member or project leader, you have made work more interesting or enjoyable for your group." I went on to describe a work situation in which a project had ended up (at least temporarily) in disappointment, and how I used some creativity and humor to boost team morale. Honestly, this was one of my best work "stories", which I probably should have used in the earlier applications (I did use in Kellogg's, but not any other school's). It didn't highlight any particularly noteworthy accomplishment (which is probably why I didn't use it more), but it did give a personal and amusing anecdote on what it's like to work with me.
Food for thought. In a few weeks, we'll see whether the third school's feedback provides confirmation or refutation of this argument.
Liar's Poker I finished up Liar's Poker over lunch. I read it at the recommendation of many, many people, as it's one of the few books to give an inside look at the trading department of a large IB. I don't read many books (from start to finish) these days, so the fact that I completed this one in less than a week is a testament to how well written it was.
The nice thing about Liar's Poker is that it covers three aspects of bond trading in the mid-80s: the author's experiences as a new hire to Salomon Brother's fixed income department, the environment and corporate politics within Salomon (from the late 70s to the late 80s), and the economic and social forces that revolutionized the bond markets. None of these would have made interesting enough reading on its own, but switching between each thread makes the book both lively and informative.
Readers that are unfamiliar with an IB trading floor might come away from this book with an unduly harsh impression. They should remember two things: first, that authors, by nature, choose the most vivid incidents to relate, which skews the everyday work experience to the exciting. Picking the most exciting moments from my job over the past four years--seeing a colleague bitten by a horse, or seeing a director get fired for his extracurricular activities with an underling, or expense account hi-jinks--would make my job much more exciting than it really was. The same is true for anyone.
The second caution is that it's now been fifteen years or so since the events in Liar's Poker took place. There has been a huge consolidation in the IB field; banks have become more and more corporate; more and more women have made it to trading desks; and financial securities have become more and more complex. All of these forces have, over time, somewhat diminished the trading floor's frat-house zoo atmosphere.
All in all, a very entertaining book to read for anyone interested in Wall Street or trading.
Odds and Ends * I'm almost finished with Michael Lewis' "Liars Poker". It's a great read--I'll post more about it in a day or two.
* Had breakfast on Saturday with the friend of a friend who's a director of fixed income derivatives trading at a IB in New York. At his repeated assistance, I promised to send him my resume before I head to AA.
* Bizarre work moment: our company has an internal, two-day "expo" of projects in our department. I've been asked to give the presentations for our project (being that I like public speaking and can be...theatrical?) By my estimates, I'll give that presentation about five days before I give notice.
* The Boston trip has been moved back to July, which has made also made it more unlikely (simply because I'll have given notice by then, so their enthusiasm for putting me up in Four Seasons will have understandibly waned). But I'm hoping I'll get this one last expense account trip...