I just submitted my early decision application to Columbia Business School. Since Columbia was the first b-school I’ve applied to, it was a big learning experience. Whether or not I get admitted, I found the whole application process to be rewarding. Here are five things I learned along the way:
1. MBA students are really nice. At least at Columbia they are. I had the chance to speak with several Columbia students and I was blown away by how helpful they were. Going into this process, I had kind of pictured MBA students to be like mini-Gordon Gekko’s: power-hungry, suit-wearing fiends whose path you had better not disturb. That wasn’t the case at all. In fact, the total opposite was true. Every student I had the chance to encounter was warm, helpful, and extremely generous with their time despite the rigorous scheduling demands of an MBA program. I have to say, it really restored my faith in humanity.
2. Visiting the school you’re applying to is highly valuable. I cannot emphasize this enough, especially for people applying to a program that is their top choice, you must visit the school while working on your application package. Schedule meetings with current students (if the school you’re applying to isn’t as awesome as Columbia in that they don’t have a contact a student interface, then find some on LinkedIn), ask them questions to gain a better understanding of their experience and why they chose the school you’re interested in, sit in on some classes, attend some informational sessions held by the admissions office, pay a visit to the admissions office to ask them questions you have which are not addressed on the school’s website. Doing these things will make the process of applying infinitely easier and also help to demonstrate to the school that you are serious about wanting to be there.
3. Man… you really gotta sell yourself! I tend to think I’m a pretty humble guy. I mean, I’ve done some cool things in my life but I’m not really one to go around gloating about it (despite the somewhat self-promotional nature inherent to having your own blog!) That’s why when I had to really get serious about filling out a business school application, I found it really challenging! You’re competing with thousands of other people all of whom have some really cool backgrounds and experiences. And you’d better believe that they’re all putting a positive spin on the work experience and achievements they’ve made. It’s not the time for modesty. You’ve got to be a little self-indulgent in giving the admissions committee a reason why they should admit you even if it makes you a little nauseated to focus on why you’re so great.
4. Application essays are brutal. Speaking of selling yourself to an adcom, you are awarded a fairly narrow window for how to go about doing that. In the case of Columbia (and this is fairly standard for other schools), there are three application essays with an optional fourth essay you can use to address any weaknesses in your application. Three of these have a 500 word limit while one has a limit of just 250 words. If that seems like a lot, believe me, it’s not.
You know why they should admit you. You’re awesome, right? But good luck packaging that awesomeness into three or four very concise essay responses; it’s the best chance you get to sell yourself to adcom before they set your application aside and move on to the next one. No pressure or anything! I felt like a political speechwriter trying to optimally craft every last word and phrase to my advantage. It was an arduous process. My advice: get started early.
5. Good contacts are priceless. It’s tough to make your way through this world on your own. As Tim Ferriss says, “you are the average of the five people you associate with most.” When applying to business school, it’s crucially important to have valuable contacts in your back pocket. I was lucky to have some great business associates to write recommendations and friends who are Columbia MBA grads to help guide me through the process. I was also extremely lucky to have a very patient girlfriend who helped me refine my essays and tolerated my neurosis as I combed over the impact every last word would have on the impression I made on adcom. I can’t imagine trying to submit a worthy application without the help of these folks. I owe them big-time when I catapult my way to Gordon Gekko riches via an MBA degree.
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately focusing on getting into business school, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to start passing along some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
The first step towards being admitted to an MBA program is to take the Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT). Business schools use this test to evaluate if candidates can handle the academic rigor of an MBA program. Here is a lean-guide (read: need-to-know info only) about how to prepare for the GMAT:
Understanding the GMAT
Here are some very brief facts to help you understand the GMAT.
The test is broken down into four sections:
- Quantitative (Math)
- Analytical Writing Assessment (Essay)
- Integrated Reasoning
Only the Verbal (41 questions) and Quantitative (37 questions) sections are used to compile your composite score that will range between 200 and 800 in ten-point increments. For that reason, those are by far the two most important sections. I spent very little time preparing for the other two sections since I ascertained that I could score well-enough on them to appease any business school I wanted to get into without needing to spend any time worrying about them.
The GMAT is a computer adaptive test. That means that the computer starts feeding you questions of higher difficulty as you answer questions correctly. Contrary to popular opinion, this does not make the first few questions of each section more important. Some people simply refuse to believe this is not the case. Let them live in their fantasy worlds and prepare for the GMAT incorrectly, but it’s a myth that the earlier questions are worth more.
The average score on the GMAT is about a 550. The average score for students admitted to the top-ranked program at Harvard is about a 720. I scored a 710 which was a nice improvement on my first cold practice exam score of 650 (though not as good as a subsequent practice exam score of 730; there’s a fair amount of variance to be expected with your final score).
Formulating Your GMAT Study Strategy
There is an entire industry dedicated to helping people prepare for the GMAT. When I was first beginning to take seriously the idea of taking the test, I was overwhelmed with where to begin. Here is what I recommend:
First, go to the GMAT website and download their Free Test Prep Software. This software includes two full-practice exams as well as a bunch of practice questions and other stuff you probably don’t really need.
Next, take just a small handful of practice questions from each of the five different question types: Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning and Sentence Correction (Verbal) and Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency (Quant). The goal here is simply to familiarize yourself with the format of the questions you’ll be seeing before the next step which is…
Take a full practice test.
It’s important to give yourself a baseline measurement for how you would perform on the test before you start studying. It takes about 3.5 hours to complete the GMAT. Free up some time and do it; it’s not as pain-staking as it sounds.
You get 30 minutes to do an AWA essay, 30 minutes to do the Integrated Reasoning section, an optional break of up to 8 minutes (use it), 75 minutes to do the Quant section, another optional break of up to 8 minutes (again, use it), and 75 minutes to do the Verbal section.
Simulate the testing environment as accurately as possible by blocking out distractions and preparing for the test just like you would the real-thing.
Don’t worry too much about how you do on the Essay and Integrated Reasoning sections. Take them anyway to familiarize yourself with them in preparation of the actual exam, but what you should be most concerned with is your Verbal and Quant composite scores. These scores will help you formulate your study strategy.
In my cold practice exam I scored in the 90th percentile on Verbal and in the 53rd percentile on Quant. So my strategy thus became to spend all of my study time trying to improve on the Quant. I banked on the fact that I was already proficient enough with the Verbal section that it wouldn’t really be a wise use of my time to study for it.
Buy the official test-prep book and work the questions. There are a ton of GMAT prep guides out there but this is the only one created by the creators of the test. It contains hundreds of practice questions so you can spend a few hours each week for a few months and still not run out of fresh questions.
Do the following things as you study problems from the book:
- Circle questions that give you problems so you can come back and review them later.
- Review the answer explanations of all circled questions and questions you answer incorrectly.
- In a notebook, take notes of new concepts you are picking up along the way. Reviewing these notes will become crucial in the days leading up to the test.
I recommend taking one full practice exam each month during your studying period. This will help you gauge the progress you are making as well as keep your mind trained for test mode (there’s a big difference between taking your time answering problems from a book and doing timed problems on a computer).
Almost every GMAT question has a forum thread dedicated to it somewhere where nerds like me spend time analyzing the solution. If there’s a question that is really giving you fits, Google the language from the question to find a discussion which will help you better understand the answer explanation.
Preparing for G-Day
G-Day is the ultra dorky term for the day you actually are to take the GMAT. Here is how to prepare:
1. Register at least two weeks in advance. Spots fill up fast at testing centers so don’t assume you can get your preferred date and time at the last minute. Also worth noting: it costs $250 to register for the GMAT.
2. Review notes in the final week. Spend the week leading up to the test focusing on the problems and concepts that have presented you with the most difficulty along the way. The goal is to feel extra comfortable with concepts that only weeks ago brought you to your knees.
3. Familiarize yourself with what to expect at the testing center. One of the many great resources on the GMAT website is info on what to expect on the day of the test. Read this so you don’t spend brain power on test day getting sidetracked with unexpected info and demands.
4. Stay comfortable and refreshed. Wear the clothes you feel most comfortable and confident in to the testing center. Eat a nutritious (but not glutinous) meal a few hours before the test and bring some snacks and water to the testing center to consume during breaks. Just relax and enjoy the process. There’s no reason to be anxious or nervous. As soon as the questions start popping up on the screen your brain is going to remember what it’s doing and you’re going to be fine.
5. Keep track of time. It’s very important not to run past your time limit in any of the sections. You should have a familiarity with the timing of each section from the practice exams. Here is a good rule of thumb: with 55-35-15 minutes remaining on the clock, you should have answered 10-20-30 questions in the Quant section and 11-22-33 questions in the Verbal section. If you’re behind pace, speed things up because it’s important not to leave any questions blank.
You’ll receive your composite score for the Quant and Verbal sections immediately upon completion of the test. That’s a nice feature of computer adaptive testing: no agonizing wait for your score to be mailed to you (you do, however, have to wait a couple weeks to receive your Essay and Integrated Reasoning scores).
If you scored poorly on the GMAT, don’t sweat it! The beauty of the GMAT is that you can take it every 30 days and most business schools only take into consideration your highest score. The only penalty to retaking it is the $250 registration fee and the time you spend preparing for and taking the exam. Some people take the GMAT on a monthly basis like clockwork just to try to “bink” a score a couple standard deviations above their expected score range.
Have any questions or GMAT study tips of your own? Please share in the comments section below.
I’ve done a poor job of focusing on getting an entry on this blog the past couple of months. It’s been hard to focus much on poker since the WSOP and since I feel like this blog’s identity is entrenched as that of a “poker blog” it’s been pretty easy to neglect maintaining it.
It’s going to become necessary for me to change somewhat the identity behind this blog (if I am to maintain it at all) because I’m not sure if poker is any longer a significant-enough part of my life for there to be anything I have to write about it. In two days, I’m leaving Mexico one year after deciding to spend some time here and have no plans to return.
After the WSOP, I remained in the U.S. for several weeks spending time with various family and friends. It was a great experience. While I’ve met quite a few bright and entertaining young online poker players here in Mexico and have made other non-poker friends, my time here overall has been quite lonely. I think the biggest lesson I’ll take away from being here is the importance of family and friends. Spending as much time as I have in this transient location has taught me a lot about the importance of being surrounded by people you love.
I reached a point during my travels in the U.S. where I realized that I probably wouldn’t have even come back to Playa del Carmen had it not been for my dog (he was being watched by a great dog whisperer type guy while I was traveling). I’m just not serious enough about online poker for it alone to substantiate my presence here. I think if I put my mind to it and became really dedicated about being a tremendously successful player, I probably could do it. But I think to reach that level it requires complete dedication and an absolute ton of work. It was a mistake on my part to think I could have any tangible success at online poker without being completely dedicated to it full-time which I’m just not willing to do. There are other things I want to focus on.
One such thing for me right now is applying to business school. A few months ago, I decided to study for and take the GMAT (the business school standardized entrance exam) as sort of a “feeler” just to see where it would take me. The results ended up being life changing to be quite honest about it. I scored much, much higher than would have realistically thought I could have prior to beginning my studies (see: Dunning-Kruger effect).
My performance on the GMAT has made the notion of gaining entrance to one of the top MBA programs not unrealistic. Currently, I am focusing on submitting an application to Columbia which I have concluded to be my top choice. It’s a super-competitive program to gain admittance to, but it would be life-changing to get the chance to study and make connections at such a world-class institution so I have to at least try.
My plan in any event is to relocate to New York with my girlfriend in the coming months. Before that materializes, I’ll be spending time at my parents’ home in Indiana to continue focusing on the Internet marketing projects I’m working on as well as finalizing business school applications. I’m looking forward to the chance to spend some quality time with them.
I expect to be traveling a reasonable amount when I’m not staying at my parents’. In ten days, I’ll be in New York for a couple weeks to visit Columbia and meet with some current students to help gain a better understanding about the program and what I can expect to accomplish in my time there if I am fortunate enough to be admitted.
It’s both an exciting and scary time for me right now but I’m trying my best to enjoy the process and the uncertainty. There’s a Tony Robbins quote I like that says, “The quality of your life is directly related to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably live with.”
By de facto, I suppose this move signals what is more or less the end of my semi-professional poker career. In a perfect world with more sane regulations in the U.S., I would still certainly enjoy playing from time to time. I love the challenge behind the analytical and math skills needed to survive at poker. And having the chance to make some money playing a game you enjoy is never bad either. But having the ability to access online poker games isn’t worth living outside of the U.S. to me right now. The U.S. clearly has its fair share of problems but ultimately it’s my home and there’s no other place in the world I’d rather be.
I feel like I’ll probably always enjoy playing poker as a serious hobby when I have the time to dedicate to it. I still hope to make it out to the WSOP each summer and will welcome the opportunity to fire up a few online tables once again when regulation comes to the U.S. But in all likelihood my best days in poker are behind me. There will be no appearing on PartyPoker TV or popping up at final tables in various corners of the world. It’s hard to turn away from an activity I’ve invested a lot of time in trying to get good at, but “that’s life”. It has a way of going on.
This blog originally appeared on PokerTips.org.
I’m heading out of Vegas soon on a red eye flight after an 11-night stay for the 2012 WSOP. The timing on the departure feels right; I think if I stayed any longer I’d start to wish I wasn’t here.
In my experience in Vegas, it’s always extra-hard to remain focused. On this trip, I tried really hard to emphasize staying focused on fitness, getting work done, playing my best at the poker table, and avoiding pitfalls like pit games and alcohol. For the most part, I did okay. I’d give myself a B. But I didn’t work out quite as hard or quite as often as I had hoped I would, I didn’t eat particularly well at all, I didn’t get as much non-poker work done as I wish I had, and I wasn’t quite as focused at the table as I promised myself I would be (so easy to get distracted by Twitter/etc while playing live poker).
That’s the thing about Vegas, it’s a very distracting city. And unless you have a home here to make things feel “normal”, there’s a constant struggle to stay focused. There’s only so normal and balanced you can keep your life when you’re living in hotels on the Vegas Strip. I’m enough of a Vegas veteran to handle things decently but I still get distracted pretty easily here.
I had only planned on playing two live tournaments here but since I busted out of the WSOP Main Event on day one, I decided to play a $1k buy-in event at Caesars Palace on Wednesday. It was a really good tournament. There were quite a few fishy players and mistakes being made. The most common mistake I saw was people playing too aggressively before the antes kicked in. It’s so easy to just play tight before you’re paying antes and wait for a good hand but a lot of people had a problem with that and spewed chips in marginal situations.
My bustout hand was fairly interesting, so I’ll share the details.
During 800/1600/200, I opened in mid-position to 3,200 with pocket 4s and a stack of 38,000. A fishy Vegas-degen called on the button. We went heads-up to a flop of 832 with two spades. This was one of the best flops I could hope for in which I didn’t hit a set. I decided to check with the plan to raise. My opponent didn’t comply and checked behind. The turn was another 3. I felt certain that if I checked again he would bet 100% of his range which seemed exploitable to me, so I checked again. As expected, he bet 6,200 and I re-raised all-in.
I talked with some people about this hand and the consensus seems to be that I made a mistake by not betting the flop. Someone made the point that he’s not going to raise me on the flop as a bluff very often, so I don’t have to worry about being pushed off my hand. The reason I played the hand a bit unorthodox is that I really did not want to be put in a position to fold since I didn’t have a ton of chips and felt like my hand was pretty strong in this spot. By attempting to check-raise rather than leading out, I got to guarantee I would be the aggressor putting all of my chips in the pot rather than being put in a situation where I might bet and fold a hand I liked.
It turned out my opponent had Queen-Eight (like I said, fishy) and busted me.
Overall I’m pretty happy with how I played on the whole trip. I was definitely a lot more aggressive than usual. I tried to guard against following my initial urge to just check or call in certain situations where it’s better to make a bet (or a raise). I think if you slow down and really think about a lot of situations you’ll find spots where you realize it’s better to be aggressive than passive. I’m not advocating being a maniac, just to guard against playing too ABC/passive by making sure you mix in aggression when appropriate. You can buy a lot of free cards or even induce your opponents to fold just by being more aggressive in certain spots. I think the way to combat against someone playing aggressive is to go for a lot more check-raises for value and try to take advantage of their tendency to put chips in the pot.
I’m flying to Cincinnati to visit my sister for a week and then will be in Indianapolis for a week or two visiting friends. Then I’ll be in the northeast for a couple of weeks visiting my girlfriend and possibly playing some poker tournaments in Connecticut and/or Philadelphia. I decided to travel for a few weeks around the U.S. visiting friends and family rather than going straight back to Mexico since a.) it’s really hot in Mexico right now and b.) I’m not paying rent there at the moment so I don’t feel priced into being there for any reason.
This is probably the longest stretch of living out of a suitcase I’ve ever attempted but hopefully it’ll be fun and productive. It’s fun to come out to Vegas and take a shot in the WSOP but it definitely starts to take its toll on you. I’m looking forward to getting back into a more normal routine and recharging my batteries. Hopefully I’ll make it back out next year and will get all the money.