A majority of Americans speak just one language – English. In contrast, AG (as he prefers to be called) speaks four.
He discovered a flair for debating as a young student, and continued to polish his story-telling skills over the years. Little did he know then, how this would help him later on, while applying to undergrad and grad schools.
He stumbled on the GMAT – the first crucial step in the insanely competitive MBA application process that can make or break a candidate’s confidence. But he relied on his ability to emphatically and convincingly present his profile to his target schools.
Impressed by his MBA essay writing and interviewing skills, three elite American business schools (including 2 ivy league universities) offered him a seat. Two of them also opened up their wallets as a not-so-nuanced incentive for him to join their bschool over their rivals’.
As an MBA student and as an alumnus, he has continued to work with his alma mater’s admissions team in different capacities. He’s equally passionate about mentoring ivy league MBA applicants, who hope to replicate his formula for success. If you’d like to be mentored by AG, we’ll share the contact details towards the end of the article.
Here’s AG’s inspiring story.
Admissions consultant shares Ivy League success story
How I got into Cornell (free ride), Duke (50% scholarship) and Tuck despite a low GMAT score
I had the privilege of growing up in El Paso, Texas, a very multicultural city on the US-Mexico border.
While I’m a U.S. citizen by birth, I spoke Spanish at home with my parents and English at school with my classmates.
This multilingual environment laid the groundwork for my deep appreciation of cross-culturalism and was part of the reason for which, in addition to fluent English and Spanish, I became conversant in German and Korean.
One of my fondest memories from grade school involves a time when I participated in a mock US presidential debate in front of the entire student body.
In the role of US Vice President Al Gore, I exchanged quips with a mock George Bush and the students were to vote for their favorite candidate.
Through this experience, I discovered that I had a passion for public speaking and debating, and I walked out of the event with a sense of purpose.
I then spent my high school days preparing to someday attend law school, believing that a legal profession would provide me with opportunities to nurture my passion for debate.
In addition to being a member of the tennis team, I enrolled in the school’s debate team to sharpen my discourse skills in anticipation of an eventual career as a lawyer.
College application season during this time turned out to be the busiest time in my educational career.
Most of my high school classmates and I aspired to attend the most renowned universities in the US, so I was both elated and surprised to be accepted with a merit scholarship to the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin.
My original plan was to study political science and apply to law school immediately after undergrad but extensive conversations with UT Austin alumni convinced me to take the scholarship offer and attend this selective business school instead.
In hindsight, this was one of the best decisions I’ve taken. I received a solid finance and management foundation from the business school and at the same time participated in a wide array of activities including tennis and intramural basketball.
A summer internship at IBM in New York led to a full-time job offer on their corporate finance team. Although I still wanted to study law, I figured that one or two years of work experience would only serve to strengthen my law school application.
To add some context, all of this happened in the middle of the Great Recession and I felt lucky to have a job offer in the first place!
To my surprise, I enjoyed working in corporate finance much more than I thought I would. I came to realize that all the qualities of debate that I enjoyed played a major part in my finance career.
A successful finance manager, for example, must be able to clearly explain their viewpoints, present their recommendations, and engage in professional debate with those that share different perspectives.
Over the course of the next three years, I made up my mind to build my career in business instead of law. I also decided that I needed exposure to other aspects of business to complement my expertise in finance.
An MBA, in my mind, would be the best way to obtain this exposure and to eventually position myself for a role in general management or as a well-rounded finance leader.
Road to the MBA
The process of applying to MBA programs was much more enjoyable than the time I spent applying to college.
I was able to connect with many like-minded individuals in New York that were also applying to MBA programs and exchange ideas with them.
I also spent a lot of time researching programs, figuring that the right choice of program would pay dividends for decades into my professional life.
The weakest point in my application package turned out to be my GMAT score. Early in the process, I had a lot of time to attend GMAT prep classes and take practice exams.
In the weeks leading up to my actual exam date I, like many other professionals aspiring to obtain an MBA, ran into unexpected deadlines at work. When exam day rolled up, I felt rusty and was I not surprised to see that I ended up scoring a 680.
Deciding if I should retake the GMAT added stress onto my hectic schedule. With limited time until the first-round application deadlines, I resolved to put all my efforts into crafting a strong story via my essays.
Besides, I had no guarantee that other unexpected work deadlines would not interfere with my GMAT studies again. I narrowed down my top choice of schools based on a few factors. I wanted to attend a program in a smaller town, preferably still on the East Coast.
I also looked for programs that were known to have very collaborative atmospheres. To overcome my low GMAT score, I placed a lot of emphasis on my essays.
In my storytelling, I highlighted specific qualities that I was convinced I’d contribute to each program, along with the reasons for which I picked each specific school.
I was originally reluctant to share my MBA plans with my colleagues at work, but once I did, I was amazed at the amount of support they offered. These alums became a source information which I included in my essays and which is not easily available online.
For example, I heard from one alum that there was a certain professor at Duke that memorized every student’s name prior to the first day of class.
I noted this specific detail in my application for Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and mentioned that I looked forward to learning accounting from this detail-oriented professor.
I genuinely believe that these are the types of details that can make a strong essay stand out.
My focused efforts on storytelling and customizing my applications paid off. I heard positive news from three of the four programs I applied to: Fuqua, Tuck, and Johnson. Moreover, my acceptance to Johnson came with news of a full scholarship while Fuqua awarded me a half scholarship.
Fuqua had not been my top-choice program at the beginning of application season, but this changed when I visited the campus for interviews.
Through a stroke of luck, my interview happened to be scheduled during a ‘Fuqua Friday’.
During Fuqua Fridays, the entire student body comes out to mingle, talk, laugh, and eat dinner or drink beer together.
To me, this exemplified the spirit of camaraderie that I sought in my MBA experience and was the reason for which I enthusiastically enrolled in Fuqua shortly after getting accepted.
The MBA Experience
I have yet to meet a full-time MBA program alum that regrets their MBA experience. Fuqua provided me with the opportunity to pursue a broad variety of activities that I was not able to do in college.
I was an officer of the Energy Club and a Teaching Assistant (TA) for the Management Communication course.
One position that I particularly enjoyed my second year was that of Career Fellow, where I worked with a group of first-year students in drafting their resumes, preparing applications, and holding mock interviews to assist them in securing internships.
Coming from a tech background, I was matched mainly with students that were pursuing tech roles, but I also had the opportunity to work with students pursuing roles in areas like fashion or sustainability.
Prior to attending Duke, I had worked with high school students on crafting their college application essays and my role as a Career Fellow allowed me to relive the joy and pride I felt seeing my mentees achieve the goals they set for themselves.
I also had the opportunity to meet many MBA applicants in my role as student interviewer, an experience that gave me immeasurable insight into the admissions process.
I learned to read the enthusiasm in candidates’ interview answers to determine if they were truly looking forward to being part of the program.
The countless rounds of interviews also honed my ability to see which applicants were pursuing an MBA with the intention of obtaining valuable skills while contributing their own experience, and which applicants merely sought the MBA credential.
Being a Career Fellow, a TA, and a student interviewer made my MBA days very hectic. Like every other student, recruiting also played a huge part in this overloaded schedule. The internship recruiting process began almost immediately after classes started the first year.
Although my post-MBA goal was to remain in tech, I received an internship offer from a major oil company. Since I saw the MBA as a chance to do things I would not otherwise do, I accepted the offer to spend a summer working in an industry that was very unfamiliar to me.
Recruiting for a full-time job during the second year is even more time-consuming because the stakes are higher.
From the moment everyone is back on campus after their internships, students begin spending every afternoon at a networking event or corporate dinner.
Taking part in ‘sip circles’ and asking recruiters insightful questions can be a great learning experience, but it can also become very tedious and repetitive.
Students can submit their resume for any job through the on-campus recruiting portal, but they typically only get invited to interviews if a recruiter remembers them from networking events.
For this reason, it is crucial for students to attend all the networking events hosted by their top-choice employers, make a positive impression, and build a personal relationship with at least one of the recruiters.
Since I was looking to land a role in the tech industry, I intentionally limited my networking attendance to events hosted by technology companies.
I was asked by a classmate to join him in attending an event hosted by a tech company that was hiring for a role on their internal strategy team outside the US.
With the same open mindset that I retained during my time at Fuqua, I attended the event thinking that learning more about this company and the industry in general would be helpful as I continued my tech recruiting with US companies.
Surprisingly, I found the role to be very compelling. Working abroad, rather than being a detour on my goal to land a leadership job at an American tech company, would be an asset in the long run and this role was a unique opportunity to gain that international exposure.
One challenge I faced when applying for this position was the fact that, since it was a strategy role, the application process would require case interviews.
I initially felt at a disadvantage compared with my peers that had targeted consulting jobs and had been practicing case interviews since the prior year.
Interestingly, it was these very same peers who took the time to sit down and practice case interviews with me when I brought up this concern.
The very same collaborative spirit that compelled me to select Fuqua would end up being a key reason I did well in my four interviews and was offered the position.
It’s been six years since I left Fuqua, and I have nothing but great memories of my time in Durham.
I’m now in a higher role within the same company I joined immediately after graduation, currently working as a senior manager for the first strategic planning team created within one of the company’s business units.
Although working abroad sometimes presents its own unique challenges and occasional cultural tensions, keeping the ‘open mind’ mentality I had during my MBA has served me well and I view everything as a learning experience.
I can say that the broader skills I acquired during those two years have been instrumental in my career success. These include things such as structured problem-solving, effective collaboration, and executive presentation skills.
I’ve also retained the Fuqua connection by being the School Champion for Duke at my company, recruiting MBA grads and assessing their applications when they apply to our strategy program.
In hindsight, there’s nothing I would change about my MBA experience. The application process felt daunting at first, but I now realize that this too was a key part of the growing experience that comes with an MBA.
Everything I did throughout the process, from researching schools to writing down my life story in essays, helped me learn more about myself and provided some clarity on my direction in life.
For this reason, I would advise applicants to truly learn about themselves and their motivation for obtaining an MBA as a first step.
This motivation, along with the enthusiasm for attending a specific program, should be evident to anyone who reads your essays.
As a final piece of advice, I would recommend applicants to be open to change on everything from their choice of schools, to the extracurricular activities they join, to the type of jobs they target.
The ability to keep an open mind is an amazing skill to take away from your MBA experience.
If you’re looking for the best consultant for ivy league admissions, and you’d like AG to mentor you on your ambitious MBA application journey, drop us an email: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com