Help with College & Grad School Applications/MBA application

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Question
Thank you taking time to help people like me! Since you help people to be competetive candidates for admission I think you are a good match for my question.

I decided to apply to several MBA programs in Round 2, which means my applications will be due in early January 2014. This decision came about because I am in a career rut. The industry I work in is insular and many of the skills I have learned in my current job are not transferable to other industries.

I have been wanting to go to business school for the last three years, but several significant aspects of my profile have held me back until now: I have been a grocery store cashier for the last four years, I have an abysmal undergraduate GPA and no formal leadership experience. I have talked with admissions reps from Darden, Ross, Duke, Stern, BGI and Fuqua during my search. Without exception they were all VERY optimistic and reassured me that the issues I just mentioned were surrmountable.

Earlier this week I had an experience that made me re-evaluate my decision. I told one of my customers in the checkout line that I was applying to business school. He told me he was also applying to business school! He is a professional snowboarder and VP of Marketing at his company. After our conversation I felt disheartened. How could I possibly get into a top program with my humble background if he is the type of competitor I'm up against? I have heaps of enthusiasm, but no proof of solid business skills. I also question whether the adcom would view me as someone who would make a significant contribution to the class.

Here is what I am doing to prepare and I am hoping you can comment on whether you feel it is sufficient:
1. Completing 200-level course in financial accounting. Is this rigorous enough? Does the delivery method (face-to-face, online, etc.) matter?
2. Sitting for GMAT. When is a prep course justified vs. self-study? Is there an unspoken minimum score in your opinion? Is the GRE worth considering for business school?
3. Volunteering one day a week. Specifics TBD, I am looking for an organization that will let me plan an event for them. Any thoughts on what sort of organization I should volunteer with? I completed a one year 350-hour Americorps volunteer program while I was an undergrad as well as three internships. My most recent volunteer experience ran from September 2009 - May 2010 and I took people on kayak tours.
4. Meeting one-on-one to chat with Directors from my company and attending networking events with them where possible (I've been invited to one tomorrow! Woohoo!).
5. Meeting with any acquaintance or connection who is more well-versed in business than I am and picking their brain.

I could mention more...

This question has gotten rather long so I will stop now. Thanks in advance for your help. If you know of any useful resources I would be thrilled if you shared them with me.

Also, what do you think is the maximum number of schools a person should apply to at the same time?

Looking forward to your response!

Answer
I think you need to hear the truth.

You are not a good candidate for and MBA.  I am disgusted with universities that would happily take your money, and then plop you out on to the street with a degree. I have no doubt that you could find a program to accept you (and your tuition checks), but there are thousands of unemployed MBAs with better credentials than you.  A degree is not the magical solution to your problems.

The solution to your problems is getting out from a job that doesn't have any upward mobility.  Take some Microsoft Office classes and get your foot in the door with a major organization and work your way up.  You can start by becoming a temp and if they like you, they may hire you full-time. Given the current limitations of your resume, even if you had a shiny new MBA, companies have their pick of MBAs with great job experience.  Now if you are a trust-fund baby and are just pursing the MBA for fun, by all means, go for it, but if you are looking at going into significant debt to obtain the degree, please reconsider.  

You are obviously intelligent and I agree that you need to boost your resume by additional skills and credentials.  Prove yourself in the workplace and volunteer with important non-profits so you can be seen and network.  Start meeting with successful people whom you admire and ask them how they got where they are today.  Keep in mind that times have changed and what may have worked 20 years ago may not still be applicable today.  Find mentors. Once you have spent a couple of years working a professional job, developing mentors, developing your resume, you may still wish to pursue the MBA, but you will do so with some skills to compliment the degree once you do graduate.  

I realize my advice is probably a shock to you.  I am sorry if I am taking the wind out of your sails, but that is not my intention.  I admire your desire to better your life and want to encourage you, but in a different, more productive direction.  Being a kayak volunteer doesn't have beans to do with the MBA, unless you are planning on opening a kayak business.  Volunteer with non-profits that have a corporate connection.  Start researching where the leaders you admire are volunteering and connect with those organizations.  You can easily find this information by reading their online bios.  If your internships were very business oriented, than wonderful. If they gave you an opportunity to distinguish yourself, they are important. You need to have experiences on your resume that set you apart from your competition.  I am curious about your taking an accounting course.  CPAs are far more employable than MBAs at the moment so if accounting is something you enjoy, perhaps you should explore that direction.

Again,it is clear that you are intelligent and you knew when you wrote to me that your application would be rather uncompetitive.  I am positive that there are MBA programs that will take you, but the truth of the matter is that many such universities are really businesses, who are far more interested in taking your money.  If you are hell bent on continuing on this course, please have lunch with at least ten people who are doing the job you one day want to do and ask their advice.  Contact ten graduates (been out a year or two) from the MBA program you are considering and ask them their advice.  Keep in mind that some people are very lucky and have their education paid for by parents or their company and may be employed because they had a company to go back to or work in a family business.

Stop being a cashier.  Learn Microsoft Office and get your foot in the door with a major employer. If you live in a rural area, seriously consider relocating to be around better job opportunities.  

All the best, Karen  

Help with College & Grad School Applications

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Karen Dechman

Expertise

As a Harvard graduate with almost 20 years of experience, I can accurately answer questions on how to be competitive in the admissions and scholarship process. I can also answer questions on achieving academic excellence in high school/college and how to obtain excellent internships for future employment success. You will need to visit the websites of the schools of your interest to learn the answers on specific questions, such as expected SAT scores or deadlines. I will not advise on athletic scholarships.

Experience

Since 1997, I have been helping students to reach their professional goals by helping them to understand how to successfully operate within high school and college environments. These environments have seen a dramatic change over the past twenty years, making them far more competitive. In turn, I have helped students learn how to shop their professors, create internships and identify extra-curricular activities that will distinguish them in both admissions and scholarship situations. I also work with military academy and graduate school applicants.

Organizations
Harvard Club of DC, Board of Directors Harvard Club of Virginia, President US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Director of Research John Tyler Community College, Department Head, Student & Community Activities White House, Volunteer

Education/Credentials
East Carolina University, 1992 Harvard University, 1998

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