I'm out my hometown today. I have come over to visit some of the friends I shared my life with for nearly four years, from 2002 until 2006. Those years have been the best in my life to date. During my life in this city I had to work pretty hard but I also had the chance to party a lot and have great times. And looking back now, I am quite sure that the main reason for such a great experience was the people I met. It's important to live in a place where one may have many opportunities at all levels but if one doesn't find the right people the place itself means nothing.
This city is a great place. And I am sure that NY is amazing too. As the departure date for NY comes closer (less than 3 weeks now!), I feel a little bit in the same way that I felt in 2002 when I was about to arrive in here: new city, some references about some people, great expectations....but a certain doubt about whether the choice made was the right one. One cannot say ''got it'' until some personal evidence proves it.
When I decided to quit my job and start the application process for a top-tier MBA I had not a very clear idea about the specific school I wanted to join. There is a pretty big bunch of top schools and making a decision is not easy at all. Let's say, why Stern and not Kellogg? Is Wharton a "better" option than Harvard? I guess you understand what I mean. I think that unless you have very particular motivations to choose one school, most of them (I refer to top-tier ones) offer pretty much the same things: great faculty, international drive, broad alumni network, career services and so on... I went through websites, I requested brochures, I attended some informative sessions...but in the end I made my first choices basically based on sensations and feelings.
I ended up choosing seven schools. I had quitted my job and, although I was quite confident about the strength of my future applications, I did not want to take the risk of being dinged and waste an entire year. Therefore, following the advise of some friends who had study MBAs (and after applying some basic statistical reasoning) I decided to apply to seven business schools, four in the US and three in Europe. This may be a little weird (in fact an officer told me at the admission interview at one of the schools that he had never come across a guy who had applied to so many schools!) but I think that it is also reasonable.
Due to the fact that I started the application process pretty late (i.e. January) and that I was applying to a relevant number of foreign schools, I didn't have the opportunity to visit the schools in advance, I mean, prior to choosing them. I read many comments on websites and blogs about the importance of visiting the schools or meeting people from them. And I must say that it is true. I only discovered it through the application processes but it was definitive for me. So, if you can afford it - basically in terms of time and money - arrange for a visit to the schools in which you are more interested; it will shed light on your doubts.
And this is the point where my decision about Stern was made. Once my Stern application was processed and I made it through the interview phase, I was quite shocked when I realized that it wasn't possible for me to be interviewed in my country by a Stern alum or so and that I had to go to NY for a half an hour interview. At that time, I thought that such a trip was an unexpected cost rather than an investment, it made no sense to me. Looking back now, I may say that it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
I organized myself to spend four days in NY visiting both Columbia and Stern, meeting the people, attending lectures and so on. I had almost decided at that time that if I was to leave for an MBA in the US, NY was the place for me. But both Columbia and Stern are great places and I wanted to be in a position to decide properly if I was finally offered a place at both schools.
Once in NY I definitely realized that both schools offered very similar things and their main gimmicks to attract students were kind of similar. At each school I remember myself asking "and what's wrong about (the other school)? And nobody told me a single bad thing. In fact, several people told me that nothing wrong could be said, that it was up to me to decide....and that such a decision would probably made based on personal perceptions and sensations.
And that's why I chose Stern. Since the very beginning I was (positively) shocked about how people treated me. First, some days prior to my visit to Stern I was contacted by a second year student who acted as my host there. It was not anything official, I mean, such contact wasn't within the context of a school's program for visitors. He contacted me by himself, just to help a potential future student. Once I was in NY he took me around the school, he introduced me to a lot of his friends, he took me to a couple of lectures and he even invited me to go to the beer blast that takes place every Thursday at the school's cafeteria. Everybody was laid back, they all were really nice to me, showed interest about my application and made me feel like I was at home. Secondly, I also had an "official" informal lunch with a student and such lunch did nothing but confirming what I have told before. Finally, the admissions interview was a relaxed and friendly one (although I was not pretty sure about the "right" answers to some questions) and it gave the impression that the purpose of the interview is mainly acknowledging if the candidate may be a nice "Stern guy". The strictly academic/professional selection is made based on the application. The interview's goal is knowing the person.
This is not any kind of advertising. It's up to you to decide. I'm just telling how comfortable I felt at Stern.I was just a foreigner coming to Stern for a short interview but I felt like I was already a student. When I came back to my country I was sure that Stern was the ideal place for me. And what made me feel that way? It's clear: Stern's people.
I have started this post talking about people and how people may determine one's happiness. It happened to me 4 years ago and it seems to me like it's gonna be pretty much the same thing in NY, at Stern. Everything I have come across concerning Stern to date points in such direction. In any case, what may have been suitable for me may not be so for some of you. Every single person has her own personality, values, etc and, in my case, I think that the Stern community and myself will match in a perfect way. And this is not just a matter of sensations but rather my own experienced evidence. Thus, it's my advice that you look for it when choosing your future school. Academic excellence may be given for granted at top schools. However, finding the right atmosphere and idiosyncrasy is up to to every applicant.
I thought that this personal insight could be interesting at the very beginning of the application process, which is nothing but choosing where to apply. I will tell you some other day about essays, GMAT and so on.