An Analytical Approach: Advice for the MBA Application Process

Solomon D., an expert Leland coach, Harvard MBA, and Facebook PM, outlines his top advice for the business school application process, including the pros and cons of pursuing an MBA.

Solomon D.

By Solomon D.

Posted February 3, 2023

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Hi, I’m Solomon D., an MBA, Undergrad, GMAT, and Product Management coach on Leland. Business school was not on my mind during college. During my senior year at the University of Michigan, I thought that I would never go to school again. I was wrapping up my Computer Science degree and was burnt out from coursework. I also had a cushy full-time job offer waiting for me upon graduation. I was set to move from the midwest to work in San Francisco at Facebook (now Meta).

There are many reasons why I never considered business school. For one, I’m the first in my immediate family to work in corporate America. I had no idea how the business world worked or which academic programs translated to better outcomes in the corporate world. Second, I was in an area where business school was not particularly valued. My college experience was spent alongside engineers and my work experience was at technology companies that valued technical expertise far more than “management,” whatever that meant. Lastly, the alumni networks were not particularly visible to me. I didn’t grow up around many people with MBAs, so I had no subjective insight into the ROI of the degree itself.

You may currently find yourself in a similar position. Maybe you graduated in a non-business area or are working in a field without many MBAs. Maybe you feel stagnated in your current role and are looking for a change in perspective or industry. This is how I ended up going to business school, and perhaps my journey is not so different from yours. If you’d like to work with me, go to my profile and book an intro call!

Why Business School?

So, how exactly did I end up at business school? If there’s one thing I learned in the application process, it’s that you are responsible for estimating your own return on investment. My perspective is unique to me and b-school may not be right for everyone. When I was considering whether or not to make the leap, these are the main pros and cons that I considered.

Pros

1. Upward mobility outside of your company

I watched so many employees leave their respective jobs for better opportunities elsewhere during my time at Facebook/Meta. Every time this happened, I was reminded of the importance of having a strong network outside of your current company. This network can act as a bargaining chip and reduce the amount of time you feel “stuck” in a given role. I began to see an MBA as a program that transformed specialized networks into “index funds”. 90+% of my network was from Facebook. Perhaps it was time that I expanded my network beyond Facebook, tech, and Silicon Valley.

2. High floor for elite MBAs

At my company, graduates from elite MBA programs seemed to be placed at higher levels within the company. They were overrepresented in executive leadership, and they were underrepresented at the lower IC levels (of which I was a part). In fact, from the VP level all the way up to Mark Zuckerberg, my chain of command all had M7 MBAs.

Cons

1. Debt, Debt, Debt

I understood that an MBA program would be financially expensive and take two years out of my career. I had to seriously consider how much debt I would be willing to take on for each MBA program I was applying to. I would have to factor in not only tuition, but also the time spent not receiving a full-time salary.

2. Time

I knew that I wanted to give serious consideration to entrepreneurship. I dreamed (and am still dreaming) of starting a virtual reality company. I had to be honest with myself in that an MBA is not the wisest investment for someone certain that they want to be an entrepreneur. While the network and classes can be beneficial, it takes time away from actually going out and starting to work.

In the end, the pros outweigh the cons for me. I’m in a position to benefit from “diversifying” my network beyond one locale, company, and sector. I have a technical undergraduate education and am interested in learning about the other elements of business (accounting, finance, operations, etc..). Finally, the “cons” seemed to be primarily short-term concerns, whereas the “pros” seemed to be longer-term payoffs, which appealed to me.

The Application Process

Once I decided to apply, the real work began. At a high level my application process looked like this:

1. 100+ hours of studying for the GMAT

2. 10-30 hours per application

3. Getting a consultant, which I recommend to everyone who can afford it. I worked with one and it was a 10/10 experience. If you’d like to work with me, you can view my profile here.

More important than the application process itself, however, was the emotional/motivational aspect. Applying to business school can feel like applying to college all over again; it’s exhausting, especially when you have a full-time job. There were a couple of pieces of wisdom that helped me stay calm during the anxiety-inducing parts of the process, and maybe they will help you as well.

  • Your chances of admission into your dream school(s) have mostly been determined already.
    Where you work, what you’ve done, your undergraduate experience, your recommenders - these factors compose most of your application’s weight. Give the process your best shot, but don’t feel as though every sentence you write is a make-or-break piece of your application.
  • B-School provides a floor more so than a ceiling. Don’t get too tied to one specific school.
    Many schools have nearly-identical outcomes after graduation. That’s because an MBA is a small step on the path that is your career. Your sense of direction and drive matter far more than where you go to school if you go at all. It’s okay to have a target school, but it’s not a life or death matter.

Post-Application Process

After hundreds of hours of GMAT studying and application preparation, I got the news from HBS - I was in! I let out a sigh of relief, but it dawned on me that I was beginning a journey just as much as I was ending one. I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes on long-term thinking, from Jeff Bezos in 2017:

"When somebody… congratulates Amazon on a good quarter… I say thank you. But what I’m thinking to myself is… those quarterly results were actually pretty much fully baked about three years ago… Today, I’m working on a quarter that is going to happen in 2020, not next quarter. Next quarter, for all practical purposes, is done already and it has probably been done for a couple of years. And so if you start to think that way, it changes how you spend your time, how you plan, and where you put your energy. And your ability to look around corners gets better. So, many things improve if you can take a long-term view. By the way, it’s not natural for humans. It’s a discipline that you have to build."

Jeff Bezos

What impresses me about the above quote is the idea that there is no visible endpoint early in your career. Where (and if) you go to school may as well be a metaphorical quarterly earnings call in your life. It matters far less than having a clear vision of where you want to be in two to three years. I found my match in a business school, but I know that it’s only the beginning.

Final Note

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