Yale SOM 2008, with a touch of trepidation.

01 December 2006

Why The Hater Hates

Jerry Blank has a funny post this week in which he designs electives as a not-subtle way of mocking the annoying tendencies of first-years. I don't remember anybody talking about black cards or $1000 dinners - maybe this wasn't in the Green cohort - and though in general I like most 08ers, JB isn't far off.

Along the same lines, here are some ideas for other electives in JB's catalogue:

Communication Strategies 504: Is It Time To Shut The Hell Up? In this course, we'll examine whether you are talking too much in class by observing and interpreting the physical reactions from your classmates that you've been missing (the groaning, the head-in-hands, the eye-roll). Prerequisite: Managing the Annoying Factor: Why It's Obnoxious To Go To Other Cohorts and Then Talk Even Though You Know the Cohorts are Already Too Big and Even The People Who Belong There Don't Have Enough Chances To Participate.

Competitor 312: Can We Drive Dr. Good Out of Business? Together, we'll plot to stop the Kindness Bandits before we vomit (joint offering with the School of Public Health).

Interpersonal Dynamics 844: Why The Hater Hates. Why is inSOMnia's Hater so angry?

Linguistics 812: The Language of Business. In this 3-day workshop, you'll learn to abandon plain English. We'll use words that are actually nouns as verbs instead! We'll transform simple ideas into complex ones by giving them fancier names. We'll level-set, deep-dive, drill-down, get into the deal flow, and more.

06 July 2006

Friday Mailbag

It would be more alliterative to have Monday Mailbag, but at least for now, we're taking your questions and comments, right here on the air on Fridays.

Speaking of advice column disasters (and yes, this post will prompt a national discussion on that topic, I'm guessing) check out the resignation of the staffer behind Wonkette's Ask An Anonymous Hill Staffer. Apparently, Anonymous accidentally printed out his - or her - latest column for Wonkette. The office chief of staff found it. Now Anonymous is unemployed and claims to be on the run in Central America.

Anyway, this week, Steven B. of Sacramento, CA. queries:
My boss, Arnold, wants me to go to business school. Every single year his operation runs a huge budget deficit, it's just spend, spend, spend all over the place, and he's sick to death of it. He wants my help. So I'm preparing for the GMAT. How did you prepare, Lex?

Thanks for writing, Steven.

First, I took a Princeton Review online prep class. I would only recommend this marginally; it's quite expensive and though it claims to be a superb diagnostic tool for identifying and then fixing your weaknesses - a certain type of data sufficiency problem, for example - I could never find a pattern in the questions I was getting wrong. For that matter, neither could Princeton Review. Basically, I felt like I wasn't getting any stronger. And Princeton Review certainly wasn't useful on the more complex quantitative questions, the ones that determine whether you'll end up with a 670 or a 720.

If I were to do it all again, I'd focus on actual GMATs from years past, available from (the sadists at) ETS. I'd also concentrate on Project GMAT from Veritas Prep and Kaplan GMAT 800. I didn't expect to master all of the questions in these latter two books (and succeeded magnificently in not mastering them) but got both the quantitative review and the level of difficulty that Princeton just wasn't giving me. Project GMAT is particularly good on statistics and probability (where Princeton basically sucks). And given that on the computerized GMAT two or three mistakes early on can put you in a hole you can't dig your way out of, I needed to close the big statistics/probability gap in my quantitative armor, such as it was.

I should note a) my big concern was obviously quantitative, not verbal, and b) I work pretty well on my own, and so had little trouble being disciplined enough to work my way through the books and do a series of practice tests. I can see how a class would be useful in forcing this kind of discipline, though, despite the downsides.

05 July 2006

Reading Your Mind

In Annie Hall, Woody Allen relates that he was thrown out of school for cheating on his metaphysics exam. "I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me," he remembers.

A better way to get a good look would have been the Myers-Briggs personality test, with which I've developed a slightly unhealthy obsession because I think it's super-revealing. (Though I doubt it's officially called a "test" which would suggest some people could outright fail, as in: "You've got no personality. We just couldn't detect one. We've been over the results twice already!)

You're probably familiar with the basics: there are four overall preferences measuring whether somebody tends introvert/extrovert, thinker/feeler, etc. For example, I'm an INFP, Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving, which is named the Idealist Healer. (Other types among the 16 possibilities: the Diva. The Mastermind. The Field Marshall.)

After taking the test (the legitimate version has dozens and dozens of questions) you can read all about yourself in the accompanying book called What's Happening To Me? Please Understand Me. Here's an excerpt from my profile:
Healers have a profound sense of idealism derived from a strong personal morality, and they conceive of the world as an ethical, honorable place. Indeed, to understand Healers, we must understand their idealism as almost boundless and selfless, inspiring them to make extraordinary sacrifices for someone or something they believe in. The Healer is the Prince or Princess of fairytale, the King's Champion or Defender of the Faith, like Sir Galahad or Joan of Arc. Healers are found in only 1 percent of the general population, although, at times, their idealism leaves them feeling even more isolated from the rest of humanity . . .

They are patient with complicated situations, but impatient with routine details. They can make errors of fact, but seldom of values. Their career choices may be toward the ministry, missionary work, college teaching, psychiatry, architecture, psychology-and away from business.
Away from (presumably, private) business, fine, no news there. Lots to learn from the private sector, but probably not my career path. But the ministry? Missionary work? That came as a bit of a surprise.

03 July 2006

Lexington At The Helm

Now, my ruthless insistence on anonymity is well known in the blogger community. It's a key to my self-chosen mission of telling it like it is at Yale. And when I say "well known in the blogger community" I mean, of course, that should a reader stumble by mistake upon one of these posts, she might say to herself, or perhaps to a close friend, you know, someone she confides in from time to time, "That Lexington! What a ruthless insistence on anonymity."

Nonetheless, here's a biographical scrap: I'm a senior staffer at a national non-profit group. And I mention this not because it's interesting, but to set the stage for offering (scant) justification for my absence over the last week: we were conducting our first-ever audit. All week, there was Lexington tirelessly at the helm, answering the auditor's endless questions, scrambling to provide randomly chosen invoices and grant contracts, having long discussions about internal financial controls. All in all, pretty interesting in a dry sort of way. But grueling.

On top of that, having been broken up with B for several months now and ready at last to move on, I went out on Friday night with somebody new. And the date ended up lasting until 10 AM on Sunday morning. Just over 36 hours. Not much else to say about that here, except that it was fantastic from start to finish and I don't recall the existence of this humble blog even entering my mind.

Nonetheless, let's catch up on all things Yale:

1) The summer prep materials, new because they support the new curriculum, are available. Two cases studies, both published by HBS, ground us in accounting and quantitative analysis. I'll be working hard on those this month.

2) Northstar sent the documents accompanying my Stafford loans. I haven't signed the promissary note yet (I did, however, sign a promiscous note; see above. A joke! I'm exceedingly cautious in that arena). But for the first time I had the pleasure of perusing a section titled, "Current Title IV Indebtedness." When the PLUS comes through and shows up on that box, I'm really going to love this section. Also, Northstar warns in big black letters, "This is a loan that must be repaid." Wait, what's this now?

3) Housing is set, roommates are fantastic, price is right, place is huge. I found it through the Yale message boards and pursued no other arrangement. Which is crazy, given that thousands of students in New Haven are/were looking for a place to live (someday soon I'll summarize other strategies I developed vis a vis Yale that I wouldn't recommend, as well as those I would). But it worked out.

4) I cleared Kroll's background check. Kroll is the firm charged by Yale with verifying applicants' backgrounds to "protect the integrity of the Yale degree." Kroll says very little about its methods; I'm sure it would just make the job harder.

When I was applying to Yale, I never thought that much about actually attending. I knew I wanted to go, of course, but the road to get there is so long and narrow and full of twists and turns and steep climbs, that I was consumed by it. Getting in, of course, which is its own marathon. But then borrowing the money. Finding a place to live. Moving. Getting prepared. It's easy to lose sight of the final destination, but soon there will be nothing to worry with except actually going to school. I expect I'll wake up one day during orientation and think, "I'm actually doing this."

20 June 2006

Gandhi, Meet Sam

Well! We've received our first homework assignment (outside of the pre-MBA prep some of us are scrambling through: stats, accounting, intro to finance).

The assignment: background reading to prepare for our Careers course. I'm a little surprised to learn that there is a Careers course, though it is a hopeful sign that the school intends to put its immense resources behind helping its MBA grads do what they want to do.

Anyway, the summer reading list: autobiographies of Sam Walton and Gandhi, plus a biography of Warren Buffet.

And here we enter the first round of what I expect to be/worry about becoming a major struggle throughout the MBA program: learning everything useful that I can -- even from practices and businesses I'm completely opposed to. Walmart, for example. Terrible labor practices. Destroying local economies across the country by driving small local retailers out of business. Swallowing up hundreds of acres of open space to build a sea of parking lots around a new Superstore. Pretty much soulless.

I wonder if Walmart will be venerated when our reading comes up in the fall. Will there be as much criticism as praise? Or will the mountain come to Mohammad, and I'll discover something to change my pointblank anti-Walmart stance?

Either way, I think I'll start with Gandhi.

19 June 2006

The Debt Monster

Remember that episode of the American version of The Office when Michael buys a condo? He's about to sign the 30-year mortgage and, choking on the obligation, has to go out in the backyard to get his breath. Hovering by his side is Dwight K. Schrute (my favorite character) who points out that given Michael's age, he's pretty much buying a coffin. "And if I were buying my coffin," Dwight says, "I'd get one with thicker walls."

The scene came back to me today when I took a hard (and probably overdue) look at the loans necessary to pay for SOM and, using the calculators at Access Group, figured I'd pay about $1040 a month for the next 20 years (though after the first, oh, decade, when the Stafford loan is paid off, that number drops to a cool $622. The scenario is based on borrowing about 90% of the total 2-year budget of $122K, drawing on both the max Federal Stafford loan and then on the new Graduate Plus loan. To choose the latter is to gamble that the interest rate on a private loan will rise about the fixed 7.2% rate on the Plus (I've included the discount offered by at least on Plus lender).

It's not so much the $1040 as it is the 20 years. I can see why Michael had trouble breathing. The internal Yale-admit boards are alive with the same kind of worry. And mutual reassurance.

One route is Yale's unbeatable loan repayment program. Given that non-profit work has been the central and consuming theme of my short professional existence, that program is a comforting option. It's a life raft stored on the deck of a towering freighter of debt.

The other choice, of course, is to harness the MBA's vast earning power - that's right, earning power - and simply earn enough to manage the loans. I'm skeptical there is a private sector job out there that a) I'd want and b) pays enough, though expect the next two years will open my eyes (and the doors) to all sorts of possibilities I'm not even considering. The worst and most dreaded outcome is to be forced into this route not because I love the job but because I need the money.

Last Sunday's New York Times reports that the average first-year salary of an HBS graduate is $100K and goes on to debate, inconclusively, whether the tuition and attendant costs are worth it. Probably not coincidently, the same day's Magazine devotes itself to debt, with an entire article on student debt.

The cover is a red ink drawing of some kind of debt monster waving its many frightening arms.

14 June 2006

Chapter The First, In Which We Meet Our Narrator

Navigating the treacherous shoals of B-school applications last winter, I wasted invested lots of time checking out blogs of MBA students and prospective MBA students.

This was a big part of my application research. For real. You know, getting a feel for the landscape and the people. Business Schools and the Students Who Love Them, that kind of thing. The stuff I bet the books on applying to B-schools suggest applicants do. Though the books probably say nothing about spending hours at thesuperficial.com or Wonkette. And they surely don't include warnings about You Tube.

I liked a handful of MBA blogs, but mostly I found them too wooden, full of stuff I could just get from the school's web site. Or, alternatively, some are just a hodge-podge of complaints about everything under the sun. High plane fares over Christmas break. Some guy who didn't call back. And the postings were sporadic. Waiting for news from these bloggers, I felt like the British probably did waiting 3 months for news from the colonies during the Revolution. King George didn't even find out about the Declaration of Independence until October or whatever. Which is when some of the blogs I've been reading would have reported it, too.

So, I'm striking out on my own. Boldly. In fact, full of cockiness that will no doubt evaporate when my own postings slow to a trickle or angry comments force me into silence.

Until then, my goal is to give an unflinching look at the SOM experience in all aspects. I expect many of these posts to be positive, if not glowing. And I'll cast a broad net. My background. Loans and more loans. Housing. Classmates. The new curriculum. Quantitative ability: am I screwed? If my roommates turn out to be a pack of zany misfits, maybe I'll chronicle that. And no doubt some romantic (mis)adventures will crop up too.

But I'll work hard to describe what it's like, day by day, through a student's eyes -- starting before we even turn up on campus. The kind of blog I wish I'd found a year ago.