AMA: Columbia MBA Admit

My background

This time last year I was studying for GMAT while putting very long hours at my Big4 job in NYC and luckily was able to pass the exam by the end of summer. I know some of you guys are currently in my shoes trying to pass the exam, determine which business schools you want to apply to, and evaluate your stats and fit at your dream schools.

I left my job last week and will leave the US in a few weeks to travel internationally before b-school starts. Since I have some free time now, I wanted to do this AMA to answer any questions you may have on any part of the application process to top MBA programs. Ask any questions in the comments and I should be able to respond on the same day or within a day.

Quick Stats About Me

Gender / Age / Race: White Male, 25 y.o.
Nationality: Tajikistan (tiny country in Central Asia)
Undergrad / GPA: University of Evansville (Accounting and Business Mgmt Major), 3.9
GMAT Score: 730 (q50, v38; awa 6; ir 8)
Work Experience: 4 years at PwC in NYC, Risk Assurance Practice
Target Career: Hedge Fund or Investment Banking

Since leaving my job last week I also created a business related YouTube channel, in which I have one MBA video on How I Got into Columbia (more MBA related videos in the works now).

Comments (44)

Jun 20, 2019

Was there any point when you considered giving up during the application process? If so, what kept you going?

Jun 21, 2019

GMAT was the most complicated part out of whole application process for me, but never thought about leaving my plan of pursuing an MBA.

What motivated me to push forward was the fact that I wanted to switch my career. I realized that the longer I stay at my current job, the more time I will waste. I will graduate at 27 and get a job I want, but if I didn't get accepted this year I would get the same job as a 28 or 29. That's why I wanted to make sure to give myself the best chance to get admitted this year since extra years of experience now wouldn't add any value in my future career.

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Jun 20, 2019

How important do you think recs are for admission?

Jun 21, 2019

If I had to guess, I would say they are important and admission officers look for the following few items in them:

1) Was a recommendation personalized (better) or generic (worse)?
2) Specific leadership examples from the point of few of supervisors.
3) Do the recs tell the same story about you as you did in your personal essays and application?
4) Who the recs come from?

None of the schools report how exactly they evaluate recommendation letters, but I made sure to discuss the above points with my recommenders for them to be aware of how to help me get admitted. Probably only having good recs won't help you get into a school, but a bad rec could get you dinged if other people had better recs.

Jun 20, 2019

What other schools did you consider? What led you to choose Columbia? Congrats as well!

Jun 21, 2019

Great question, applied to 4 schools but personalized my apps only for 2. Here are the schools I applied to and some details:

  1. Columbia - Admit.
  2. Wharton-Lauder Program - Dinged after interview. Spent a lot of time on this app and thought I had a good chance and interviews went well. Not sure what happened in the end.
  3. Harvard - Dinged without interview. Copied essays from Columbia and Wharton to complete this app, didn't personalize but applied just for a chance.
  4. Stanford - Dinged without interview. Completed my whole application within 3 hours, applied just in case if I don't get in any east coast schools. I want to stay in NYC so preferred to develop network in NYC, and Stanford was the only school I would've gone to in the US if I didn't get into any of the other 3 above.
Jun 21, 2019

Got it, thanks for the response. The Wharton-Lauder Program seems interesting, have not seen that before.

Jun 23, 2019

Sorry, don't want to seem like a jerk, but this "I want to stay in NYC/[or insert any city]" to "develop network in NYC/[or insert any city]" has been told time & time again, and this always sounds like a BS argument. After all, the M7 MBA Programs have national influence & reach, in terms of employment outcomes. This geography argument is irrelevant in this context; especially given the weigh given to the school's perceived prestige by some selective industries. If by that you meant that an MBA student would go to Columbia/Stern VS Wharton, for instance, "for NYC", then this is definitely bs. Sorry for the negativity, folks. And congrats on the Columbia admit, especially considering your underrepresented nationality; good job! (really!)

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Jun 20, 2019

Going off that, what was your selection process for choosing schools?

During the admissions process, what are the schools looking for in terms of work experience? Are there specific types of jobs/ industries that admissions liked that might have surprised you?

Jun 21, 2019

Thanks for the questions. Some criteria I had for schools was as following:

  1. Top brand name of business school and its parent university both in the US and internationally.
  2. East coast location preferred.
  3. Strong in Finance (IB, AM, HF).

Based on these, I got to 5 b-schools I was interested in: Columbia, Wharton, Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. I visited all 4 east coast schools and didn't see myself fitting in with MIT crowd, so decided not to apply. So ended up applying to 4.

In terms of work experience the schools look for, I believe it's 4-6 average but with some exceptions with fewer years or more. IBankers and consultants are probable more preferred, but you will encounter quite a diverse admit pool that it's really hard to tell if the admissions actually prefers any one industry. They try to build a classroom with people from different backgrounds, but the high number of consultants and ibankers could be due to high percentage of them applying for MBA (compared to folks from other industries).

Jun 20, 2019

If you don't mind me asking, did they give you a significant amount of scholarships? Are you taking on loans, and if so how much? The price tag for an MBA is insane these days, and I can rarely ever make sense of how people make the decision to take on six figure debt.

Jun 21, 2019

Totally cool to ask. I didn't get any scholarships so will be taking out a loan for a full tuition amount. I bought a house a few months back here so spent all my savings, so that's the only choice I got now lol.

MBA is definitely expensive but with my career choices I can triple and quadruple my current big4 salary when I graduate, so it is definitely worth it for me despite the heavy price tag.

Jun 21, 2019

damn, that's a huge bet. well good luck. hope it all works out for you.

Jun 23, 2019

How exactly do you predict compensation after your MBA? What are you making now compared to that? Thanks.

Most Controversial
Jun 20, 2019

Is Columbia still a top MBA program?

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Most Helpful
Jun 21, 2019

As of today, I can confirm that it still is. Will let you know if anything changes ;)

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Jun 20, 2019

Are there a lot of other applicants that you know of that worked in Assurance (especially PwC but the rest of the Big 4 too)? I understand your wanting to pivot out of assurance (as it is a complete hellhole and mindnumbingly boring), congratulations on sticking it out for so long.

Jun 21, 2019

Don't know many applicants from assurance, a lot of management consulting folks from Big4 apply and get admitted. For assurance and tax, I heard that people mostly get into lower ranked top 15 or top 20 schools, not too common to break into Top10 or M7.

And thanks for the congrats, 4 years in assurance were definitely long. In retrospect, it's such a short period of time when I think that I still have ~40 years of work and career ahead of me after MBA.

Jun 21, 2019

Thanks for the response. Much better than staying in assurance for another 40 years!

Jun 21, 2019

Hey Rob, first off. Congrats on your acceptance!

Just was curious if you tried to lateral from your Big 4 to any BB's, EB's, etc.. or you just went straight for the MBA to try and re-brand yourself?

Only reason I ask is because I know sometimes going from the BIG4 to IB has happened and if that was your thought process, could you enlighten us as to why you went for the MBA? Did you try lateraling, etc..


Jun 22, 2019

Thank you! I tried early in my career to switch into a Hedge Fund industry but found it to be impossible because I didn't go to the right school / didn't have strong enough connections.

Since I am living in NYC and went to a small school that only has a few alumni here, I always knew that I needed to get an MBA to build the network and improve my credentials for the future, so didn't push for IB jobs knowing I would go back to school shortly anyway. Hedge Fund jobs will be harder to get even after MBA but securing an IB job will be a seamless process.

From your username, it sounds like you went to a non-target and pursuing IB. Are you planning to do your MBA or thinking to stay in IB for as long as your get promoted?

Jun 22, 2019

Ah I see, so HF is the long-term goal for you it would appear. Makes sense now as to why you pursued your MBA.

I actually landed an offer at a BB in NYC so I won't need to get an MBA just yet however, if I wanted to get into PE down the road I might need to go back unless I target MM or LMM funds where it isn't a requirement to have such a degree.

All the best with Columbia and hope it pans out as you want it to!


Jun 21, 2019

Do you have any recommendations for GMAT study prep?

Jun 22, 2019

Here are some suggestions based on what worked for me:

  1. Plan to intensively spend 3 months on GMAT.
  2. Take a free practice test that comes with your GMAT registration and see where you stand in terms of your score. The exam questions are similar to the actual exam and the score you get is typically the same as you would get in your actual test. Learn your strengths and weaknesses from your practice test.
  3. Buy all ManhattanGMAT prep books and all Official GMAT guides. Study topics in ManhattanGMAT (great for learning strategy and formulas) and solve all questions in Official GMAT guides (similar questions to the actual exam).
  4. Take online tests that come with ManhattanGMAT or from the GMAT company itself once every week or two weeks to see your progress or your weak topics that you should address.
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Jun 25, 2019

I just took the GMAT and disagree with your advice on number 2. and 4.

  1. Unless you're already really good at solving GMAT math (which is very few people) then I wouldn't waste a full GMAT practice test without studying. What's the point of seeing your standing if you know you haven't studied at all.

4 . Similarly, I don't think it's a good idea to take practice tests once or twice every week unless you've completed your studying (or are very close to completing studying).

I found the best approach has 3 stages:
Part one: Study math only for a couple weeks since you actually need to learn things and there's a ton of topics
Part two: Slow down on math and add in verbal studying (especially sentence correction since you actually need to learn things here as well)
Part three: Practice Test Phase - After you've completed all of the math studying and most of your verbal studying, now it's reasonable to start taking practice tests. The point of the practice tests is to see how you might perform on the real GMAT under real exam conditions. Since you've already done most of your studying by now, these practice tests will be way more useful and will allow you to pin point areas of improvement.

Don't waste Official practice tests early on in your studying. They are used for simulating exams and if you haven't studied much then it's not a good simulation.

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Jun 22, 2019

Congratulations! What rank were you at PWC before you left?

** Just watched your video! Put your link up in the post so its banging.

I finished up my career in the big 4 as an experienced Manager in transactions. Do you think Manager+ level helps with b-school?

Jun 22, 2019

Thank you! I left as a first year senior (would've gotten promoted to Senior 2 in July). PwC promotes to a Senior in 3 years unlike other firms, that's why have 4 years experience.

Are you not working for a big4 anymore? I think many people say that you need to hit at least a Manager position to get into good MBA programs, which could be the case and may help even more with b-schools. As a manager, you get experience with managing teams, budgets, timelines, etc., which definitely sets you apart from other applicants who have not done that. But there is also a point when you could have too much experience for a regular MBA when it makes more sense to pursue an Executive MBA program.

Jun 23, 2019

You're not white.

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Jun 23, 2019

Thanks for pointing out lol

Jun 23, 2019

Central Asia = white? Just asking. I've been there and the only white people I've seen were expats crushing it in nat resources (O&G, minerals, even farmland).

What exactly they were crushing...I'll leave up to you to decide.

It was a ridiculous time.

Jun 24, 2019

Where in Central Asia have you been to? I have a mix of Russian in me so I don't look like a Central Asian at all and report myself as Caucasian. Can't report myself as Asian or anything else.

Jun 25, 2019

Hello Rob ! Firstly, a huge congrats for joining one of the M7 for your MBA !
Actually I wanted to know your perspective on my case. I would be finishing up my MBA from a Top 20-25 ranked IIM in India (which I joined straight out of undergrad as a fresher). I actually wanted to do a second MBA from an M7 in the US, not only to settle abroad (after 4-5 years of work ex in India, of course) but also to study from a ranked B- School that gives you those fresh perspectives and growth opportunities which my current college is not able to provide.

So what's your take on this ? Would it be possible for me to do a second MBA from the elite B-Schools ?

Jun 26, 2019

Hey, thanks for the congrats! And yes, after a few years of work experience you could get admitted to top MBA programs to re-brand yourself. I've met a few people who got admitted at Columbia and Wharton who've already had an MBA, but it wasn't from prestigious schools at all. Admission officers from top schools must definitely realize that their MBA offers completely different things than lower tier programs, so they accept qualified people who already have MBAs.

The only time it doesn't make sense to go for a second MBA is if you already have a reasonably good MBA degree. For example, if you have an MBA from Cornell or UT Austin, you most likely won't get into Harvard or Wharton for a second MBA regardless of how much you may want to have those names on your resume.

Jun 26, 2019

This is my next move. I'm approaching 30 and looking to jack up my earnings - also want to get married and start a family and simply cannot on my current package. Just left my job (Junior Corporate Finance) to focus on the GMAT and apply for an overseas stint in Europe (Denmark/Norway/Netherlands). Does anyone (including yourself Rob) have an idea about which course one could take to making the move to another country and doing the MBA from there?

Corp. Fin. Analyst currently working two finance jobs (and a teaching gig and trying to save my music production solo career). I love avocado's. And yes Cape Town is the most beautiful place in the world. Don't believe me, come thru and find out.

Jun 26, 2019

Hey, slightly confused by your question here. So you want to move to one of those 3 European countries for work, but you are also studying GMAT and you want to get into the business schools in those countries or somewhere else?

Jun 27, 2019

Hey Rob, yes I want to do my MBA there. I currently live in South Africa and want to go do my MBA in Europe. What is the process like in acheiveing that, do you have an idea?

Corp. Fin. Analyst currently working two finance jobs (and a teaching gig and trying to save my music production solo career). I love avocado's. And yes Cape Town is the most beautiful place in the world. Don't believe me, come thru and find out.

Jun 26, 2019


Jul 8, 2019

How have other international students without guarantors funded their programs?

Big hurdle for me is the huge costs involved - don't have too much saved up and seems like would require at least 200k loan in funding (with high interest rates too)

Jul 16, 2019
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Aug 5, 2019