Friday, March 29, 2013

Decisions, decisions. . .

So, I decided to put my visit reviews on hold momentarily to write down/think out my decision. In the beginning (well, when I started this blog), I thought going to an MBA program in 2013 was out of reach. I guess it still may be as i havent yet been accepted to any of these schools that i am about to mention. However, I feel good enough about my odds of admission that I am starting to weigh them against one another.

New Orleans!!!!!
Student managed fund AND equity research program
Able to do a regular corporate finance track and an energy finance track in 1 degree
Multiple international trips as part of curriculum

Most expensive school with smallest median salary & bonus
Farthest away from family and friends

Highest ranked program of the 3
Best on campus recruiting
Best salary numbers
Seemingly large amount of financial aid available, even in second year if I didn't get it at first
Closest to family & friends
Cheap cost of living

Very high percentage of foreign students (over 50%)
Not a great location
Without any type of aid, could still be over 100k in debt

Least expensive of the 3
Salary numbers comparable to Purdue & better than Tulane
Very highly ranked accounting program with opportunity to double focus accounting & finance
Cheap cost of living
Also close to family & friends

Location: least appealing of places I've visited. Not as far away as Iowa but not as much going on
Less financial aid available

Saturday, March 9, 2013

My visit to Ilinois. . .

University of Illinois: Urbana-Champaign
Poets & Quants rank: 43
Mean GMAT: 650
Tuition & fees: $34,482

I had not originally considered Illinois when i went through my first selection process, I probably should have. I actually found the program at an online MBA fair held by the economist. I wasn't sure ahead of time which schools would be there, it turns out Illinois and Purdue were both there, I talked to the admissions people there and set up visits to both schools. Illinois is actually a lot closer to me than I had originally thought, only about 4 hours away. The visit was on a friday 10am CT, so I woke up early, drove there, did the visit and drove back.

Campus was very nice although totally in the middle of nowhere. of campuses I've been to, I think it reminded me most of Indiana. There isn't much city around it at all, some residential stuff and then BAM! you're on campus. With that being said, the college of business is in, from the schools I've been to so far, the most impressive building I've seen. From the entrance, it looks like the rest of the buildings on campus, but its an open atrium design from the inside. All of the schools I've been to have impressive buildings, that one is just the most impressive so far. During the visit we talked with current students, had a mock lecture from one of their marketing professors and learned about their in depth consulting program for students.

From a program standpoint, they have a very large option as far as finance classes go. They are very well known in both accounting and finance and MBA's take classes with the other masters programs. Another strong point would be their consulting program. You can actually start consulting in your first semester in school and do it all 4 semesters of the program. That is going to be a huge advantage in looking for internships and work. Another huge pro is that they actually have some on campus recruiting. Most schools I'm looking at have little or none (with the exception of Wisconsin and maybe Ohio State).

The most obvious one is a comparative lack of financial aid. It seems, from the discussion I had, like they spread it around so a lot of people get something, but its less than some others. Also, although they have a pretty large consulting program, the students doing the consulting don't get paid.

I liked Illinois. I am definitely going to be applying there in the fall (assuming I don't go to one of my 'last minute' options). I feel like they are super focused on the most important part of an MBA: getting a job afterwards. I think that if I went there, I would definitely get a good job and at the end of the day, that is what is most important. . .

Thursday, March 7, 2013

My visit to Wisconsin

Wisconsin school of business
Poets & Quants rank: 26
Average GMAT: 675
Tuition & fees: $31,221

Wisconsin was my first out of state MBA visit. I visited on a designated "preview day" with a lot of other people. We started with a breakfast and met a LOT of current students. One of the things that really impressed me were the number of current students who attended the event. I would estimate the number around 15-20 over the course of the day. Wisconsin being also an 8 hour drive away, I had every intention of leaving after the tour and heading back home. I ended up staying quite a bit later for the meet & greet session, it was a blast.

One of the things that impressed me the most about Wisconsin was how sharp everyone there is. Not just the staff, but students. In visiting schools, I can usually get a gauge of how smart I am in relation to the people there. Hands down Wisconsin is the top program I will visit from an overall intelligence perspective.

As I stated above, this is a smart group of people. Depending on the school, I have felt about average or above average intelligence-wise. Here I definitely wouldn't be the smartest guy in the room, and I think that would allow me to really grow. Madison is a great city for young professionals. It houses the college but is also the state capitol and it has a lot going on. It definitely isn't just a college town. Recruiting is a huge pro as well. Wisconsin probably has the best recruiting of anyplace I visited. Their placement stats reflect this in that they have the highest reported median salary of anyplace I have looked at. Financially, in a vacuum, they have the best combination of cost and future salary of anyplace I am looking at (not taking into account scholarships).

Well if you've read this far, you know I'm rather bullish on Wisconsin, but there are a few cons. The biggest con for me is that it is super competitive and I very well might not get in. Wisconsin is definitely a stretch school for me and even with a 700 GMAT (which I haven't even gotten yet), I am not 100% sure I'd get admitted. And a minor gripe, it is cold in Wisconsin.

I am really enamored with Wisconsin. I can probably say they are the best school I am applying to. I really liked Madison and felt really comfortable with the students. I can probably say they are the one school that I might pass up a scholarship to the others to go to. They are about as close to a "dream school" as I have (yes more so than Ohio State).

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Crunching the numbers

     As someone who intends to pursue a career in finance, I am very numbers oriented. One of the things I like about looking into MBA programs is the ability to quantify almost everything about a program. Everything has been ranked multiple times by multiple sources. In deciding where to apply, it is then necessary to take a look at where a person feels competitive with the applicant pool & where there is good overall value (at least for me). In compiling a list of schools, I had a few criteria: Overall ranking, Geographic location, Finance concentration (I require one), Top 50 in Poets & Quants' overall rankings (one school I'm considering dropped out), and low relative cost. The data is as follows:

School P&Q Salary Tuition + CoL Avg GMAT
Wisconsin 26 53 98,662 675
Ohio State 28 46 92890 673
Penn State 34 48 114536 643
Purdue 39 29 115316 635
Iowa 42 NR 108176 660
Illinois 43 39 103542 657
Georgia 49 38 96664 637
Tulane 61 51 145386 630

I got the overall ranking from Poets & Quants', the salary rankings here, and financial data & GMAT scores mostly from the schools' own web sites. This data is based on out of state tuition for every school except OSU as I'm an Ohio resident. It doesnt take into account any sort of scholarship or award as I wanted to look at just raw numbers.

I have visited or will visit most of the schools on the list, and I will post reviews similar to the Iowa post on all of them, but I want to make this just about the data. . .

Looking at the numbers, a few things pop out. UGA is an excellent value for the low tuition & cost of living. Their ranking in salary surprised me since they were higher than all but Purdue. Wisconsin also surprised me as their publicized average salary is the highest of all the schools I have visited so far. I don't know how the payscale data works, it obviously isnt in a vacuum and every case is unique. Another thing that pops out is Tulane. I recently visited there and had a great visit. Given their relatively lower GMAT, I feel competitive for the program and they did make the top 57 in salary. They were in Poets & Quants' top 50, I believe this had something to do with them slipping to 61. However, 145k is 30k more than the next highest school (Purdue). Another note, Iowa didnt make the list of top 57 schools by salary. I know they are ranked relatively highly on the Poets & Quants rankings due to their high return on investment. I know this is due to the large percentage of scholarships they give out, which could make them the least expensive school in the group. However, I wanted to look at things "all things equal". Of course, the 680 GMAT required to get into OSU or Wisconsin would probably get you a scholarship on every other school on the list.

Another thing to note, I am fully considering all 8 schools. I think all of them could get me where I want to be career wise. I just think an MBA is the biggest decision I have made in my life, I should do all the examining I can. I wanted to put this out there in the hopes that it might help someone else as well. . .

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

my visit to Iowa...

I thought it would be useful to post accounts from my visits. I figured I'd do them in reverse chronological order so I'd start with Iowa.

Iowa Tippie school of management:
Poets & Quants rank: 48
Median GMAT: 660
Tuition & fees: $36,045

Coming from Ohio, it took me about 8 hours to drive to Iowa. They covered my hotel stay in downtown Iowa city. On arriving in Iowa city, after stowing my overnight bag & suit I had a few drinks at the sanctuary. I highly recommend that place. Great selection, friendly staff.

My visit was very individualized. I was the only one visiting, there were no name tags. I got to talk to career services, sit in on a class, talk to the director of the finance academy and of course have my interview. After I wrapped up, I drove back to Ohio.

Great people, great program great academics. I did a lot of looking at curriculums and Iowa has a very in depth corporate finance curriculum. They also give finance students the opportunity to work on the Henry fund, the schools student managed hedge fund. All of the faculty and students I met with and talked to were great. Financial aid is a huge one, over 75% of incoming students get in state tuition, a stipend and a scholarship.

We'll start with the obvious: its in Iowa. Now, I have to qualify that statement by saying its still a college town so there is plenty to do there but its not NY or Chicago or even Cincinnati. Another aspect that ties to that is they don't really have on campus recruiting. It doesn't seem to hinder them from a placement standpoint, but it will be a little bit more work vs a program that has employers on campus.

I had a very positive experience in Iowa. I thought I had a good shot at being admitted with a graduate assistanceship which made them my top choice, but I ended up not getting in. They will still be a strong choice when I apply again in the fall.

Monday, January 21, 2013

1 year self improvement plan. . .

I came to the conclusion that the biggest mistake I had made in the MBA application process was rushing things. I would assume it is impossible to think you fit in at a top MBA program and not have confidence in your abilities. Towards the end of the summer I thought that 3 months was plenty of time to take the GMAT, apply to schools, visit and take 16 credit hours of mostly upper level accounting classes. I was wrong.

I think that rushing things and over-taxing myself was the primary reason I ended up not as successful with everything as I would like. With that in mind, I have "budgeted" myself 10 months to a year for my second try and decided to improve myself in a few key areas.

- Finish my accounting certificate: 9 credit hours, intermediate accounting, financial statement analysis and auditing.

- Teach myself valuation and financial modeling: I got a couple of books on amazon. Reviews to come once I have finished them but both seem awesome.

- Get a job as a financial analyst: I could probably make more money short term doing other things, but I think it will show adcoms that I am moving towards my goal.

- Take consulting jobs: I have been taking finance and accounting consulting jobs here and there, mostly to beef up my resume and stay sharp, but I think it will look good.

- Re-take the GMAT: I felt like taking it 3 times in 3 months was like jumping into a wall. I wasn't getting adequate preparation and it showed. My scores didn't improve to where i wanted them to be. I feel like I can get into the 680-720 range which should get me into my target schools, hopefully with a scholarship.

I think giving myself the proper amount of time and preparation will make this second attempt successful where the first one wasnt.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

If at first you don't succeed. . .

All good blogs should begin with an "about me" section that tells why you're writing a blog in the first place right? Well, I came into this world just after Xmas 1979, we will skip some time & get to the good (well pertinent) part. . . I graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2005 with my degree in criminal justice "ready" (I say this very tongue in cheek) to tackle the world. I got my first job and before you know it, I had taken the Series 7 exam (yes with no prior training or experience, you too can be qualified to sell people stocks, bonds & mutual funds!) and started a career in financial services. I was promoted, changed firms, promoted again and then I came to a realization that I think eventually strikes everyone in that industry. In financial services, you have three options: Sales, Management or find a new career. Well, I have no desire at all to do sales, and management at my former employer had nothing to do with any objective measure of intelligence, so it seemed like the third option was best.

This started my journey of going back to school. The department I ended up in was very tax oriented and I had been working in business, so I thought "hey, I could be a CPA". So I enrolled in the accounting certificate program at Cincinnati State in the spring of 2011. All was well until I was laid off from my employer in Feb of 2012. Taking things in stride, armed with unemployment, I focused on school and started taking classes full time with an eye on finishing the program after spring semester 2013. However, while in school I realized that although I am decent in accounting, what I find incredibly interesting is finance. This got me into looking at MBA programs.

I had initially thought about MBA programs in 2006, right after obtaining my series 7. I took the GMAT, barely studied, ended up with a 690. However, instead of trying to go to business school then, I got engaged (didn't get married) and basically wasted a bunch of time and let my score expire. Brilliant move on my part (the first of many). Initially I was looking into local and online MBA programs (I didn't know any better), but my aunt (who is well educated and brilliant), suggested I look into higher quality MBA programs. What I found was that A) my GMAT score wasn't good anymore, I'd have to retake it, B) my score actually profiled pretty well with schools in the lower end of the top 25 to top 50 and C) if you're switching careers, you really need to go to a top 50 school.

I started looking around at schools that I thought would be a good fit academically, geographically and financially (Why pay a dollar when you can get a similar product for 50 cents?). I used Poets & Quants' rankings of schools because it compiles all the rankings into one and is a great consolidated source of information (I really love the site, although it is a little too focused on top programs to be of 100% use to me personally). I basically found 3 schools that fit my requirements exactly: Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa. Ohio State because I'm from Ohio, they are the best school in the area and in state tuition makes them very affordable for me. Wisconsin was a surprise to me: higher ranked than Ohio State, great median salary and not that much more expensive than OSU (even with out of state tuition). Iowa was another surprise: still top 50, really high percentage of students get financial aid, GMAT requirement not that crazy, pretty highly rated in finance.

Brilliant thought number two; at this point, it was late summer 2012. I thought to myself "I have plenty of time to take the GMAT again, improve my score a little bit to 700+, apply to schools and start in the fall of 2013". Sometimes things that sound logical in my head don't end up working so well in application. This is one of those times. I studied and it became obvious I was not going to get a 700. I got a 620, tried again a month later, got a 640 and a month after that another 640. While I'm throwing myself at the GMAT, I'm also visiting/interviewing with schools, and taking 16 credit hours at Cincinnati State. While I managed to do everything, I didn't quite do anything well. In my accounting & finance classes I ended up with an A, a B and 2 C's. Previously I had made deans list, obviously I had tried to do too much.

In light of my relatively poor GMAT, I only applied to to Iowa who, after they saw my fall grades, denied me admission. I am a realist and I can understand how that doesn't look especially impressive in an applicant pool of impressive people. I moped for a couple days and decided that if 33 isn't too old to start an MBA program, than 34 isn't too old either. So I would finish my classes, take the GMAT one more time (this time with 6 months of prep work) and try to make myself as attractive a prospect as possible. I still like those three schools and I will probably apply to a few more to give myself options.

If at first you don't succeed. . . give up! Wait, that's not right at all. . .