Friday, November 26, 2010

Tools to ease the online application process


If you are sorting out the documents you need to scan and upload for the online application and need to manipulate the transcripts and other supplemental documents, here are some tools that would help. See the 'Resources' tab for actual links to the tools if you are interested.

I got all my documents scanned with a 200 dpi setting on the scanner and extracted JPEG files (I believe this ensures that file size is low). I felt it would be easier to crop and edit the pictures, since that is inevitable. For example while scanning the document was at a slight inclination and I needed to first straighten it before creating the final PDF to upload.

I used Picasa to complete all the picture edits. Then used doPDF tool to convert all the jpegs to pdfs. This tool is free and does not create any watermarks. You can also specify what paper size you would want it to fit in, e.g. A3 or A4.

Later I needed to assemble the various pages of my transcript (each a single pdf at this point) to a single pdf. I used PDF reDirect PRO which is a 90-day free tool. Again spyware free and no watermark additions, this tool can merge multiple PDFs into a single one. OR it can also extract different pages from a multi-page pdf to create the pdf you want.

Hope this helps anyone who's struggling with the Dec deadline. Ofcourse the R1 guys must have already gone through this!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Whatever you do, dont forget to ...

copyright mashable.com

Backup ! Backup ! Backup !

Boom ! My nephew just knocked over my laptop and while it came crashing down, my cousin carrying a tray of coffee mugs tripped over my nephew making a sticky situation even stickier. Distraught watching the horrible liquid all over my dumped laptop keyboard, I suddenly panicked! My essays! The number of hours I spent reviewing, revising my umpteenth draft. Was all of that gone ?

Press the Rewind button.

That did not happen. But what did happen was me waking up early morning at 3 am and rushing to get my external hard drive. Weeks of preparation and becoming the essay writing factory, you do not want to be in this situation EVER!

So however you need to backup your Bschool data (essays, resume, bookmarks, etc)
- Mail it to yourself
- Google docs
- External Hard drive, USB

... do it everyday !

I am still preparing for my Haas essays, although I think I will never stop revising the essays until the submit button presents itself on 2nd Dec. I've finally finished what I think is my near final draft for another school and sent it for another review.

I think I kinda keep improving each draft, but its a lot of hard work. And no. You really cant use an essay (even the common why MBA one) of one school application for another. However I am able to juggle snippets and stories around.

One learning from the week was that watching an actual case competition video helps a lot. Gave me a good visual of what is to come!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Great application essays for business school" Book review


Its been a while since I've been reading various books on Bschool applications and been attending various application editor led webinars. In the gamut of so many of them, I thought it was easy for any applicant to be lost in the need for precise direction and ideas when writing essays. I was as lost when I wanted to understand how to communicate leadership in the essays and the highlights of my career and personality that I'd like my recommenders to remember.

I picked up a book a few months ago called "Great Application Essays for Business School" by Paul Bodine from Accepted.com. I've really gained from this book and although I'm still in the process of writing my essays with no applications submitted yet, I believe a lot of people are now looking for urgent direction and thought this resource could be an option to consider.

I thought I'd breeze through the book just like I had read other books like Richard Montauk. The more I read it, the more I realised that the content was very concise and illustrated with specific examples. They broadened my ideas, explained what Adcoms really want to know and demonstrated the "show not tell" writing strategy that every Bschool essay editor blogs about. As I had not still given my GMAT retake then and didn't plan to start my essays until R2, I stopped reading it until I was really ready to tackle the essays.

What does this book not talk about ?
It is not aimed at someone researching their goals or schools. So if you need advise on how an MBA would help you, what are your career options and possible future MBA career track, this book is not going to help. If you are trying to understand how the entire application process works right from understanding 'why MBA' to researching schools and finding recommenders for your target schools to dealing with application rejection, then I would suggest the comprehensive book by Richard Montauk.

Who is this book for?
You have a list of your target schools and done a reasonable amount of research into your fit with them?
You have a application deadline you are working against?
You really dont have the time to trawl through lists of blogs and webinars to understand what and how to write?
You don't really know what specific answers the admissions committee are trying to provoke through their essay questions?

What does it tell you?
- The method to 'show not tell' by giving illustrative essay examples (Surprisingly the essays in this book are not as some other books publish i.e., extreme high achievers like doctors delivering babies mid-air, grandsons of holocaust victims leading non-profits, etc that threw me off the idea of applying for Bschools itself!)
- Data mine your life by answering specific writing prompt questions
- Structure your essays with suggestions for opening lines, developing the story, concluding the essays, etc.
- Advice on what not to do when answering specific essay questions
- Specific advise on non-goal essays like failure essays, leadership essays, passion and extracurricular essays,  and other unusual topics like the ethics essay
- How to use the optional essay and what not to use it for

Lastly, there is a short chapter on Letters of recommendations with dos and donts. There is also a sample recommendation letter to understand yet again 'show not tell'.

I keep going back to sections in the book when I'm having a second go at my essay drafts. Many times I remember I've not really put in a differentiating factor that I could have used. So if you need specific advise on different essay topics and have not already bought any books nor registered for application editing services, I would highly recommend getting a book and would rate this one highly. Ofcourse, the book is not the solution to the enormous personal effort that is required, it just is an useful aid to find a direction and a lot of inspiration to writing Bschool essays.

Hope this was useful!

PS : Kaneisha's webinar on word count weight loss program was a great show yesterday. And just at the right time when I was struggling to learn some techniques. Hope you were there!

Disclaimer : All thoughts are my own and I have no affiliations with any Bschool advisory organisation whatsoever. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Recommendation woes




It is difficult, however I'm a little appeased when people tell me it only gets easier. I finished my first draft for a school essay. The main one - why MBA, why here. My reviewer gave me some great feedback that included 20% praise and 80% criticism. The good guy that he was, he actually apologized for the censure in the same mail telling me he felt i needed it to get better. The thing is I dont need yes-men at this point, so all his points were welcome.

I thought I'd sit the next day and work on the essay. Come up with brilliant points, colourful writing style, structure. I sat with my fingers literally in knots, my thought process going in circles and (hello!) I consider I'm generally clear headed. So I let that day pass in complete frustration.

One of my recommenders informed me that she wont be available for the rest of the month because of a home move and other personal activities. I had 1 day to come up with the outlines for jogging her memory. Seriously this was a great event. I sat and faced all the questions... 3 strengths, 3 weaknesses, leadership examples, interpersonal skill examples. For some reason I was able to find so many things I had done under her supervision. So it turned out that I took this deadline opportunity and completed my resume (2nd and final draft) and recommender 1 outline. I have however found that there are more questions asked by other schools to recommenders and need to add a little more to the outline for recommender 1. So suddenly this outline exercise has added to my knowledge of myself. I remember multiple things I have done that hopefully adds dimension or atleast offers choice to my essay examples.

It has also raised doubts on my choice of recommenders, especially for one who I know is extremely enthusiastic about recommending me, but given the kind of examples the other recommenders can show I am doubtful if I should use my enthusiastic recommender or not. What complicates this situation is that its difficult to do away with this recommender so easily because (1) she's a international customer (2) she's enthusiastic and uses words like 'brave' to describe me - all this unsolicited. I am still crippled with this question, so maybe as I get through this day and complete more recommendation outlines, I will have a better answer to this question.

I also have to say I'm loving the Accepted.com essays book. Its concise and to the point. I think I have a half mind to do a review on it when I get the time.

Key takeaways from this post

  • Creating outlines for your recommenders really helps you remember your work and brings new insight to write essays.
  • Recommendations need fantastic examples and not broad bombastic statements like X is brilliant  or X has performed in challenging tasks and under extreme pressure.
  • Writing outlines confirms or raises questions in your head, about the wisdom of your choice of recommenders.
PS : If you have reached to the end of this post, I have a few free BTG practice questions premium accounts to offer. If you have not read my review on this fantastic product, here it is What is the Newly launched Beat the GMAT practice questions all about ?. If you are interested do post comments on this post with your mail id.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wishing everyone a illuminous Diwali



A wonderful long festive weekend here in India filled with bright diyas (lamps), home made sweets, rangolis (powdered decorative designs) and the arrival of Mr. Obama himself with an entourage of 3000 people (OMG!) calls for a very happening time here. Reports of the Obama trip costing 200 mil per day seems to suggest the US administration needs to take some lessons in economic austerity. Hopefully it translates to a win-win for all the countries he visits.

I've almost bordered on entirely losing the plot since the past couple of days, though I did manage to open my 'accounts' on several bschool application websites and list a barrage of documents that I need to scan. Reaching out to  my recommenders is not turning out to be an easy task for me. They all have their own schedules and work loads and I am almost apologetic to ask for their time inspite of them being gracious about it.

Essay factory has begun production. The scope and statement of work has been defined. The timelines are set. The work distribution is ongoing. The schedule tracking to start post Diwali. So the tempo is about to be set. Picked up the most common why MBA topic to write about. The Accepted.com book has been a great reference point for me. Hopefully it translates into some calls to interview. Fitting such a lot of content in 900 words (and I've seen a few other schools imposing even frugal word counts) is a real tough nut to crack. After my first draft, I re-read the Accepted.com book's chapter on the why MBA essay topic and picked up some more things to add. But where is the space to add! My first draft was already overboard by 150 words!God bless me....(sigh).


A Very happy Diwali to you all !

Monday, November 1, 2010

What is the Newly launched Beat the GMAT practice questions all about ?



Beat the Gmat is launching a new version of its 'Beat the GMAT practice questions' tomorrow, 2nd November. Since I've used a few other products online that also provide additional practice to GMAT test takers, I was very curious to learn more about it when Eric, the VP and founder of beatthegmat.com asked me to do a review of the new version. So here goes..

Overview
This product has over 700 quant and verbal questions to practice with. You can choose to (1) View the dashboard - your performance in terms of statistics e.g. time taken to answer questions, percentage of correctly answered quant and verbal questions, etc (2) Practice a custom session according to the type and difficulty level that you want to practice (3) Review your answered questions by understanding their difficulty level, your response time against the average, along with an option to flag the question you would like to review/practice.

Features 

Video explanations - Each question comes with a video explanation, which gives an in-depth explanation of the question itself and the reason why each option is right or wrong. Although these video explanations do not explain how to approach that particular type of question directly, one slowly gets the hang of what to look for and what constitutes the right answer. For example, while explaining the reading comprehension questions it aptly explains the need to understand the underlying meaning of certain sentences, rather than relying on only fact finding.

Personalized practice - A test taker can create a custom practice session by specifying the type of Math/Verbal question, difficulty level, number of questions, etc. One feature I liked about the customization options is the feature to set the difficulty level to 'Adaptive' mimicking the GMAT adaptive behaviour. Another striking feature is the option to practice questions that a user would have flagged in earlier sessions. So incase its a good question that catches you off guard or you take a lot of time to solve, you can practice to improve your performance by creating a session of these flagged questions. These are features I have not found in other online GMAT practice products such as Grockit and gmatclub.

Review progress - The review provides good insight into the strengths and weak areas as exhibited by the questions answered during various time periods, so you can gauge your improvements as you keep practicing . You can jump to any of the questions in the review table to view the full question, your answer and the video explanation. However, one additional feature which would be very useful would be to provide graphs providing the test taker's week-on-week and/or session-on-session progress in various sub-areas.

Quality - Neat interface that provides a healthy mix of quality Math and verbal questions. Although the videos do not provide tips and tricks directly, they provide clear, concise and coherent explanations that would help an average GMATer understand the approach to take while solving the question.
The quality of questions vs the real GMAT correlate for the most part. I did feel the real GMAT sentence correction questions were much harder than the few I practiced with in my review account (has only a sub-set of questions), but I would say that this is the case for most GMAT products (books and online products). The quality for Math correlates with the real GMAT and does not go overboard, like Manhattan CAT Math goes. The quality of the video explanations is excellent and explains how one can conclude on the correct option.

For anyone who has exhausted their OG practice and looking for a at-home product, the BTG practice questions is a useful adaptive and personalised product.

Disclaimer : I am to receive a few premium accounts of this product for my efforts to do this review. My aim was to review the basic features of the product and to give a view on the quality of the questions available, based on a healthy sample. Although I have given a comparison, regarding certain aspects, with other GMAT products, my intention has not been to directly compare any of the products comprehensively, but to help give readers a point of reference.