Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Road Less Taken: Getting (and Staying) in Carnegie Mellon Business School

For the past ten months, I embarked on the frustrating and eventually fruitful application process for the Tepper School of Business (Carnegie Mellon). Although I tried to create some sort of theme for this post, I thought specific blurbs would best encompass my thoughts of the process and what I am up against in the future.


After studying for the GMAT for six months, I finally pulled the trigger on the online test. For someone used to “Old-school” tests on paper or filling out bubbles (which our kids will laugh at when we talk about Scantrons), it certainly was a new phenomenon. 

The entire GMAT test taking process felt like the twilight zone. I sat in the waiting room for forty minutes and played the anti-staring contest with my fellow waiters. The best comparison to this environment would be a liquor store. No patron at the liquor store makes eye contact with another patron unless they walked in with the person. Now imagine thirty testers, all in their twenties, acting the same way. 

Since everyone had to leave their cellphones in a locker, we all looked at a laminated sheet of test instructions like it had the United States nuclear codes on it. After this test before the test, I was given a sharpie, a laminated piece of paper, and head phones that air traffic controllers where. If 2 Chainz held a concert five feet behind me, I would have been blissfully unaware. 

The Courtship

When my application process started, the Carnegie Mellon program I ended up in (FlexMBA) did not even exist. For CMU, I went to two MBA fairs, two online information sessions, three campus visits, spoke on the phone to four different admissions members, and was in email correspondence with eight separate people.

Basically I was giving the admissions office the Johnson Treatment:

“Look at these wonderful GMAT scores, these extracurricular activities, and my wide range of professional experiences! Wait, what was my what? Are you saying grades? Was that GPS or GPA you were mentioning? I can’t hear you too well. Let’s just circle back around to those standardized test scores!”

I’m in? I’m in! I’m in.

I received the acceptance email at 4 pm on admission day. I literally hadn’t said a word to anyone about CMU that day, so quiet in fact that my parents assumed I was sulking because I just was denied. 

The acceptance email was actually pretty innovative. The email itself didn’t say anything other than congratulating (a happy buzzword) me that my application was processed and linking me to a video, which subsequently revealed my admission. 

I opened an actual letter a couple days later. The prose was standard college admission fare, though I analyzed every word like I was a 1500s peasant reading Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. 

It was enjoyable to read until I got to the bottom of the letter. It glumly stated:

“When reviewing your file, our Admissions Committee noted the limited amount of full-time professional experience that you have comparison to typical students in our MBA program. We want to advise you that your experience level may impact your ability to be considered for the full range of career opportunities that our MBA students generally have.”

It wasn’t a stomach punch, but it did feel like disappointing game show music briefly played. Good times!

This Won’t be that Difficult. . . . . 

It didn’t take long to realize the enormity of the next 32 months. I pulled more class schedule (all first-year students need to take the same courses in my program) and could not identify one class that I could coast in.

If my freshman year undergraduate schedule at Boston College was compared to my first year at CMU, it would be like comparing the WAC football schedule to SEC. Seven of my first eight courses are quantitative intensive (the lone exception is Managing People and Teams). Three of my first four courses are exceptionally juicy: Statistics and Probability, Optimization, and Statistical Decision Making. Oh and my wedding is smack in the middle of this 14 week period. (Quick Aside: CMU does not have semesters like most colleges; instead it has minis which last 7 weeks. For every mini, you must take 2 classes.)

Also for the first time in my increasingly long life, I will need to use office hours. If you replace the talking ant (big leap of logic) with CMU, the homeowner with myself, and the word “Couch” for “TA”, you will have my reaction to all of this.

I do have one thing going for me headed into the fall: No CMU sports to invest time in! This feigned indifference is not an act coming from someone who subscribed to three weekly sports magazines at the age of ten (late ‘90s Sporting News was the best by the way). Seriously, look at the Carnegie Mellon Tartans logo below. Even Raymond from the Rays (insert Irwin picture) looks fierce in comparison.

Ramping Up for Academia

There is two months until the ice breakers in Pittsburgh, so I am assimilating as much information as possible before spare time becomes non-existent.

One disturbing trend business school students relive is the return of the Pre-College Facebook All-Stars. Like Freddy Krueger, they have returned from freshman year with random friend requests in hand while filling out group message boards like they are paid per comment. 

In fact, it is even more frustrating as schools use these Facebook groups to push out relevant information, except you have to sift through a half a dozen “it’s almost here!” comments, other people taking pictures of any mail from CMU, and one person who actually wrote they are dreaming about school every night. The sad part was that it received ten excited comments. I just want to see what specs our school recommends for a computer or what textbook I should buy to warm up for Accounting. I’m all for enthusiasm, but I shouldn’t have to filter through metadata to get any worthwhile information.

Another new development for graduate school is the increasing incorporation of networking in daily life. Although I networked in college, it was coated in different language and was implicit in most activities. In business school, everyone just calls a spade a spade without even a pretense. Personally, I turn into Buster Bluth when it comes to explicitly networking, so this might be an area for improvement going forward.

So there are two weddings, two wedding planning trips, one holiday, and one bachelor party until the first day of class. I'm excited, I'm exhausted. As the philosopher Sun Tzu once said “Let’s do this, I am feeling this, let’s do this.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mid-May Book Reviews

It’s been awhile since my last book review, as I've read three books since The Education of Henry Adams. I thought I’d condense three reviews all into one post and give my quick hit thoughts on each.

Mind over Mind: The Surprising Power of Expectations

Chris Berdik
How I heard about it: Fiancee’s Mom

Why I read it: The concept over “mind over matter” is neither new nor sophisticated. I’m almost positive that even 1950s high school PE teachers knew this cliché. Berdik, though, presents this philosophy in an evidence-heavy read that convincingly argues the benefit of controlling one’s thoughts. Although the book is not intended as a sermon, a reader gets the sense that the content of the book needs to be acted on.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

My Top Two Non-Sleepers of the 2013 NFL Draft

For four years in high school, I ran a college football blog which was both innovative (Hyperlinks! Yellow Backdrop!) and clumsy (squeezing pre-season rankings, week-by-week game reactions, the All-Name team, and everything else onto one massive web page). The audience consisted of a few high school friends (I’m using friends liberally) but it was a relatively harmless use of my time. This cannot be said of my 6th grade foray of posting teacher critiques. 

The point of this short aside is that I once wrote about college football a good amount and I thought I’d dust off some of the old material for the upcoming NFL Draft. I probably enjoy the draft more than any other NFL event with the exception of AFC/NFC Championship Sunday. 

I couldn’t resist putting my opinions down of my two least favorite prospects in the draft who both happen to be ACC quarterbacks. I’ve seen a lot of both over the course of these past two years and I highly doubt there is much future success based on the past.

Monday, April 1, 2013

"Education of Henry Adams" Review

This is part one of the Ivy Tower Snooze Hour Project, or my quest to read 20 of the top 100 books as rated by Modern Library.

I recently finished “The Education of Henry Adams”, an autobiographical reflection by a 19th century American. Modern Library recently rated it the best book written in the 20th century. Since I am a complete sucker for lists as well as an ill-informed reading snob, I felt compelled to read an “Education” almost immediately.

Before I begin it’s worth noting that this was by far the longest, most arduous book I’ve read since I started to recreationally read (i.e. graduated college). This wasn’t due to its 318 pages (I read the latest 1,200 page Game of Thrones book in a week), but to the language/context/writing quality. Also, you can credit me with a #humblebrag for that last parenthesis.

Before we get into anything in the "Education", I need to set the context of the book.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gulf Coast vs. Florida: A Story Told through Facebook

After most of the country watched their bracket spontaneously implode this weekend, it was a silver lining for people to see a remote school called Florida Gulf Coast be the first 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16. Being a western Florida native myself, I knew a decent amount of individuals who went to the nationally obscure school, so I felt particularly proud of the green and blue Eagles.

When I quickly went on Facebook Monday morning, a stunning revelation was unfolding. Improbably, FGCU was playing Florida. Not only were these two Florida schools playing each other, but this seemingly innocuous game has turned into the snarkiest Facebook war of words I've seen in awhile.

Although FGCU is not without fault, the really surprising part of this budding rivalry is the UF alumni, who have improbably become the low-brow ones in this war of words. Instead of a simple acknowledgement that FGCU has played extraordinarily well for two straight games, the "Harvard of the South" contingent has come out of the woodwork en masse proclaiming their superiority over their feeble minded counterparts. In full disclosure, I like UF, and I would have attended Florida if I didn't go to Boston College. But this enormous Gator ego deserves to get stomped Friday at 9:45 in Cowboys Stadium.

I do not condone anything written below. With no further adieu, I'd like to present the levels of snarky Facebook posts (in order from least snarky to most snarky):

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