Sunday, October 19, 2008

MBA Advice

Here's my past MBA post, collected in one place. Please feel free to email me or comment if you have any questions about GMATs, the Oxford MBA, or anything else.


GMAT and MBA admissions

I've been corresponding with a student who asked for GMAT and MBA admissions advice. Here's my reply:

I took the GMAT in October of 2005 and applied to Oxford, Cambridge, Emory, and Northwestern by January 2006. I interviewed in February and March and was accepted to Oxford in early April. Thus, if you're just starting the GMAT, I would suggest that you shoot for the 2008/2009 school year, as it's too late to complete the GMATs and put together a well crafted application for the 2007/2008 year (I spent about 4 months on my essays and applications).

My GMAT score was 720 (96th percentile); 45 verbal (99th percentile), 44 quant (73rd percentile), and 5.5 essay (88th percentile). I used the Princeton Review book 'Cracking the GMAT'. I highly recommend this book, as it goes into great detail on the structure of the exam. This is a crucial aspect which is not covered well in most other books. I studied for two weeks, took lots of practice exams, then took the test.

If English is your second language, I would recommend improving your language skills and taking the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) prior to taking the GMAT. The TOEFL is virtually always required of non-native English speakers and the practice will greatly improve your GMAT performance.

In selecting a school, it'll be up to you to decide what fits your life best; full-time or part-time, day or evening, distance or class taught, one year or two. For me, the Oxford one-year full-time MBA fit best. I only lost one year of wages versus the standard two year US program, the reputation of the school is excellent throughout the world, and the tuition is relatively low. All in all, it was a great value for the money. Again, though, you must weigh all the factors and decide what fits best for your life.

As for admissions, keep in mind that the admissions process is the method by which schools maintain their quality (once admitted, schools will do everything in their power to ensure that a student does not fail). Three things are critical; GPA, GMAT score, and work experience. If you're weak in one of these areas, then you need to convincingly explain why in your admissions essays. My advise would be to take the GMAT and look at MBA rankings such at the Financial Times and The Economist Which MBA? to get a feel for the average GPAs and GMATs of accepted students before applying.

Good luck!

Oxford College Selection

Congratulations on your admission to the Oxford MBA! I'm sure you'll find your year here to be both challenging and immensely rewarding.

I know how stressful it can be to select a college and to make arrangements for life in Oxford, and I hope that I can be of some use in easing your transition. As for selecting a college, I understand how frustrating the apparent lack of clear information can be. Fortunately, I can provide some guidance on the most important facets of the selection criteria.

Surprisingly, there isn't a significant difference between the various college. All of them have long and prestigious histories, grand and inspiring buildings, and a wonderfully diverse student body. So, how to choose? The factors that seem to matter most to MBAs are the size of the college, location, and the accommodations they offer.

My college is Keble, one of the largest college in Oxford. We have 435 undergrads and 226 grad students. Amongst the grad students, we have 14 MBAs. Thus, our MCR tends to be fairly lively, with lots of pub crawls, movie nights, and other activities.

The college is located fairly close to the center of Oxford. The city is small enough where you can reasonably walk from one end to the other, but some colleges, such as Templeton, are far away from the city center. This map offers some good guidance: The business school is right next to the train station on the far left, and it's about a 15 minute walk from Keble to the business school.

As for MBA accommodation, I think Keble has a distinct advantage. MBAs are housed at Acland, a former hospital converted to graduate dorms. On the map, we're right across the street from Green College. The dorms and clean and well appointed. Each room has an ensuite bath, a bed, desk, bookshelf, and wardrobe closet. There are several large, communal kitchens and regular housekeeping service.

Realistically, most MBAs spend the majority of their time at the business school as the intensity of the MBA program often prevents MBAs from becoming deeply involved in their college life. I rowed for Keble the first term and some row throughout the year, but MBAs often run into serious time constraints, especially during Hillary term. The common refrain at Keble is that the grads see the MBAs for the first few weeks, then we disappear for the rest of the year. Thus, the choice of college is a lot less important than many admits realize.

I hope this is useful in your college decision. Once again, congratulations on your admission to the Said Business School!

LBS vs Oxford

Just got a question about how LBS stacks up against Oxford. Here's my reply:

LBS and Said both have their strengths and weaknesses. I tend to see them as two very distinct programs. LBS is a lot closer to the American model of MBAs; a two-year program with an internship in the middle. While the pace may be a bit less hectic, the value equation is changed by two years of tuition, missed wages, and living expenses. As for Oxford, it's one calendar year and very intense. There are about 20 hours of lectures per week, on top of a career search and social activities. Being in the City, LBS is likely stronger in finance while Oxford is more of a general management program (one calendar year allows less time for electives), but many MBAs still make successful career changes.

As for the Oxford brand, it's highly valued throughout the world, and particularly strong in the US. Within the UK, both Oxford and Cambridge have first rate reputations with LBS in a close third.

Naturally, Oxford is tough to get into. A business school is only as good as the students, so high admissions standards = a better program and strong alumni base. My general thoughts are that admissions are predicated upon your undergraduate performance, GMAT, and work experience. You'll need to be strong in two out of three and make a good case in your essays as to how an MBA will fit with your life.

The financial aid department can help you put together the necessary loans for international students. Focus on getting admitted, the rest will take care of itself.

One final word of advice; go to an information session and meet the MBAs. What's really unique about Said is the cooperative spirit of the class and these sessions will give you a good sense the class.

Good luck with your applications. Please feel free to email me with any questions you may have.

More LBS questions

Dear Richard,

I was reading your blog about your MBA and also your latest post about LBS vs Oxford, and I would like to ask you a few questions, if you don't mind.

1) How do you think Oxford and LBS compare as far as recruiting? It's hard to say, since I don't have any direct knowledge of LBS's recruiting or career services. What I can say is that the Said Business School offers several recruitment paths. First, the career service offers counseling, career workshops, and mock interviews. They also compile MBA CVs for distribution to recruiters and organize several recruiting and networking events throughout the year. Second, the Oxford University career service organizes multiple events, such as consulting and banking fairs. Though these are primarily aimed at undergrads, it still offers a chance to get some face time with recruiters. Third, the MBA class organizes several clubs, called Oxford Business Networks. These include consulting, banking, non-profit, diversified industry, women in business, etc. The OBNs are student directed, but have been really effective at attracting recruiters and organizing career events. They are also a great opportunity to connect with alumni and actively contact corporations that would be less responsive to individual efforts. Lastly, events like Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford, the Oxford Media Summit, and the Private Equity Forum offer an opportunity to connect with the wider Oxford community and to network with high profile guests. At the end of the day, the more you take advantage of these opportunities, the more you will get out of the Oxford experience.

2) Would Oxford help to get a career in finance in investment banking and/or private equity and/or hedge funds? Yes, but a lot of that will depend on your background and how hard you work. If you are changing roles, industries, and geography, then the hurdles will be high, but this is true of any program.

3) How would you see Oxford compared to a MSc in Finance at LBS? I think a better comparison than the MBA would be the Oxford MSc in Financial Economics. I don't have much knowledge of these program structures, but I know that the MSc at SBS is extremely rigorous and admits only the best of the best (710 average GMAT, very quant heavy).

4) How is life at Oxford, how is the weather, how is the people around and the cost of living overall? Life is good, it's an amazing place to study and an experience I will never forget. I've met some truly incredible people and look forward to maintaining close contact with my classmates for many, many years. The weather is the weather. I've lived in Los Angeles for the past six years, so the gloom of winter gets me down a bit. However, the spring and summer are heaven on Earth. The cost of living is a bit high, but probably a bit less than London. The biggest factor for me has been the decline of the dollar, but exchanging my student loans to pounds at the start of the program locked in a reasonable exchange rate. If you think the pound will drop over time, just take out a Barclays loan denominated in pounds.

4) How is the faculty in Oxford, the Staff, and the atmosphere between students? Every student has professors they like and don't like. However, I've been happy with the vast majority of my professors. They are knowledgably, friendly, and available to assist students in both academic and career development. The staff at the school is great; friendly, competent professionals. The facilities themselves are fairly new with all the usual technologies (multi-screen projectors, amphitheatre seating, etc.). As for the students, I believe that the small class size greatly enhances the learning experience and create a cohesive class. You can get to know everyone in a class of 200, but at an MBA mill with 700+ students, you simply won't meet many of your classmates.

5) How strong do you believe that the Oxford brand is in London as far as the MBA? Very, very strong. Many City professionals went to Oxford as undergrads and have a strong affinity for alumni. How about in Continental Europe and in the US? I can't really say about Europe, but I assume it's very strong. In the US, the Oxford brand is extremely valued and held in the same regard as the Ivy League schools. Would you rate it anyplace close to Harvard, Wharton, Stanford? Definitely. After meeting several dozen MBAs from Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford while working at Google, I have to say that I'm really glad I chose Oxford. It's easy to get lost in the crowd and many MBAs come off as one-dimensional; even pretentious. Oxford MBAs are simply different. They are bright, knowledgeable, and accomplished, but they are also people you can have a great conversation with. In short, they are interesting and well rounded people, and that makes for a great program.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Denver, houses, and a new job

For the past couple of years I've been thinking about going to Denver to see if it might be a good place to settle in five or ten years, so this weekend I finally made the trip. The city itself is shockingly similar to Portland; both have active downtowns, large urban parks, and light rail systems. They've also undergone a period of urban redevelopment that has transformed large swaths of industrial buildings into a livable mix of shops, restaurants, and lofts. Between the two though, I have to give it to Portland. Denver has some good parks, but it's on a flat, dry plain 30 miles from the mountains. In fact, it seems closer to a midwestern town than to a mountain town. Perhaps due to the geographical limitations of being wedged between a river and the hills, Portland has had greater success in creating a dense, vibrant downtown. Plus, there's no ocean in Colorado.

After checking out the city, I headed for the Rockies. It was a great time to go. The leaves were turning and the mountains had a bit of snow, but it wasn't too cold. On Sunday I checked out the Wild Animal Sanctuary, which cares for abused and abandoned exotic animals. They have a ton of tigers, a leopard or two, grizzly bears, black bears, lions and more. You couldn't get too close, but it was worth it to see the tigers and support a good cause. All in all, it was a great weekend.

When I got back to LA, I managed to do a bit of house hunting and finally got pre-approved on a mortgage. Hopefully I'll be in my first house before the new year. I also started a new job at Experian Interactive Media. The people are great! I really like the team and think I'll learn a lot in this new role.