My road to Rotman. Getting in!

As with most MBA hopefuls, during the build-up to finally getting into the MBA program of my choice, Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto, I was meeting Admissions representatives and Alumni from various schools trying to get to know about the programs and succeed in deciphering the all-encompassing “fit”.

It was a bit like speed dating a bunch of attractive university programs, hoping that you’re making a good first impression, all while trying to find “the one”. Now that I’ve committed myself to this analogy, the “chase” was an interesting one for me!

Here’s a sample of the schools I met…

Getting In

Hey, now… don’t judge me! It’s a big world out there and I just had to explore before committing. Okay, I’ve got the analogy out of my system now (I hope). So, let me get back to the story of how I got into Rotman.

After many sessions/coffee chats/meetings/one-on-ones/etc/etc with Admissions Directors from many schools, I had got my elevator pitch down pretty well. But, it was a chance encounter with a Rotman Assistant Director of Recruitment & Admissions, Ms. Bailey Daniels, when I actually had to make my elevator pitch on an elevator! Ms. Bailey was in town to promote the School at ‘The MBA Tour’ fair organized at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dubai in early September, 2013. Other schools such as Duke, McGill and George Washington were also in attendance, but I had already narrowed down on Rotman as one of my top choices and I was there to make an impression (“Insha’Allah”, as we say in UAE – “God willing” in Arabic). The itinerary at the Fair included informational sessions for the first couple of hours on the second floor of the Hotel before moving down to the ground floor where the booths were set up for the next couple hours for one-on-one time with hopefuls. Having previously attended Rotman Info Sessions, I hung back and got a coffee at the Hotel lobby and reviewed my CV and did some last minute review of the Rotman website on my iPhone!

With about 15 minutes to go before the booths were to go live, I decided to walk up to the second floor and find out if everything was going as per schedule. As I was about to enter the grand doors of the conference rooms, I saw Ms. Bailey walking out with a large bag filled with Rotman booklets. Yes, I was able to recognize her. No, it’s not stalking! It’s called watching ALL the Rotman promotional videos while researching “fit”. I then offered her help in carrying the bag. But, Ms. Bailey, true to her spirit (which I have been lucky to get know since then) was happy to manage on her own, but she did say I could show her which way the elevators were. Going the same way, we rode the elevator together. On the way down and on the walk to the booths, I had approximately 5 minutes to tell her who I was, why I wanted to meet her and why I was keen on Rotman. I guess my rapid fire pitch worked, because she offered me a pro-tip right as we were about to enter the Fair floor. She said she wanted to hear more about my story, but said that I should stick around till the end of the 2 hours, instead of trying to get in line immediately. 90% of the other hopefuls would have already exhausted their questions by the 1 hour 45 minute mark, having had about 3-4 minutes each, if that, with several pairs of eyes and shadows from other applicants lingering a little too close for comfort. I really appreciated this tip and as hard as it was to not be a part of the conversations, standing around in my suit, I listened from a distance and waited it out. True to her word, in the closing minutes of the Fair, I had real one-on-one time with Ms. Bailey and we were able to spend a great 15 minutes getting to know each other. We shared stories about our shared experiences from our separate trips to Nigeria, talked about the diversity in Toronto and Dubai and how we each thrived on it, and mixed in-between truly enjoyable conversation, we also got into all the nuts and bolts of the program; the scholarships, video essays, study-abroad, the Dean, my personal interest to study Mandarin while at School (which Ms. Bailey honestly suggested would be too much to take on during the first year of the course – I appreciated this), and other relevant/valuable information. It was refreshing not to have to hear just about the ABC’s of MBA programs that I generally heard from most other schools, and instead to build a connection before anything else. I was sold, then (about 10 minutes into our conversation), that Rotman had to be a top-choice school for me. At the end of the conversation, Ms. Bailey asked me to apply. I did.

“Before I go on, I request and urge any future applicants reading this blog NOT to wait by the elevator for Ms. Bailey or any other admissions reps. This is not a how-to. 🙂 It is simply my particular story. My take away from the experience, is to stay in the moment and try not to let the process of “networking” consume you, and surely opportunities to connect and not just network will arise organically. When it does, it’s probably a good indicator of fit.”

So, I completed my application and submitted it on November 2nd, 2013, a couple of days before the Round 1 deadline, having thoroughly enjoyed the mysterious video essays.

“For anyone applying and worried about the video essays, breathe. It’s a lot of fun as long as you stay calm. Also, make sure you use practice with the trial question as many times as possible until you’re comfortable with the tool. You’ll be surprised about how much you move your hands or the facial expressions you make. My hands seemed to have a mind of their own! But, I practiced and stayed calm, and it was a great experience at the end of it.”

Soon after, I received an email to set up an interview date from the school… What a relief, that was! I was scheduled for an interview with Ms. Bailey on her next trip to Dubai, and we set up a brunch interview. How cool is that? So the day came, and we enjoyed a great afternoon of conversation and food, topics of discussion flowing smoothly between my MBA/Career goals and the current state of affairs in Toronto (the infamous Tdot Mayor, Rob Ford, definitely came up), to the history/future of Rotman and a recap of our personal hobbies. The interview felt effortlessly professional and had distinct moments of introspection as we went down the list of interview questions. At the end of the interview, I left feeling reassured about my decision to apply to Rotman.

With the promise by the Rotman website of a decision on December 13th, 2013, for Round 1 applicants, I tried to keep myself distracted and waited for D-day to hit me one way or the other. It was very hard to sustain my distraction and the anxiousness mixed with excitement was brewing strong. Then, one week before decision day, I got a little bit of a reality check. I received an email from the school asking about my GPA in the final year of my Undergrad. With an overall cumulative GPA of 3.37, I was well clear of the 3.0 requirement, but having taken 52 credits (regular allowed load is 40 credits – I had got special approvals) in my Senior year of Undergrad, in an effort to complete my major and minor courses in time to graduate, my GPA for the last year had slipped slightly to 2.92, due to the immense workload… So close, yet so far. However, I backed myself and replied explaining the situation. Rotman was understanding and responded quickly to let me know that they appreciated the further insight, but warned me though that this may cause my decision to take longer than the 13th. My heart sank a little bit, but I let it be knowing that I’d done what I could do.

The day of the 13th came and I woke up relaxed. I had mentally told myself not to expect to hear back on the day, so I went about my morning. It would be evening in Dubai anyway, by the time Toronto rises. On the same day, a popular electronic music festival, Creamfields, would be taking place in Abu Dhabi, the nations capital, and I had already decided to go with a group of my closest friends as part of an annual tradition. So, we did. A quick 1.5 hour road-trip to the concert, and we were quickly in a happy dancy mood!

Then, it happened. The sun was setting… Great music was playing… But, the sound of my standard iPhone ringtone was the best thing I could have possibly heard in the moment. “Unknown number” calling… I picked up. “Antony, is this a good time to speak?”, I heard. I mustered up a, “Hello, Ms. Bailey! Yes! Absolutely!”, with one ear plugged with my finger, trying to listen over the music. “Great… I wasn’t very sure I’d be able to make this call today. But, I’m happy to tell you that you’ve been accepted into the Rotman School of Management… Congratulations!”. The next few minutes were an absolute blur. To add gravy to the experience, cellular reception in the area was really poor. So, in a moment of anxious excitement, I grabbed and shook my best friend, Raj, who was standing right by my side and looking at my facial expressions, probably to make sure I didn’t pass out, and told him that “I GOT IN” and that we need to run somewhere with better reception. So, we did. The call dropped. I tried calling back, to no avail. Then, Ms. Bailey called back. I picked up, but we could barely hear each other. I think I was able to convey that I was in-fact at a concert, and then the call dropped again. So I ran some more, to a place where I could find 3G and I quickly sent out a thank you email, as eloquent as I possibly could have then, battling back shaky hands. I then called my parents and sister, whom immediately had a sense about the reason I was calling and picked up on speaker-phone. The joy that was being transmitted back-and-forth in that conversation is indescribable, but one I will forever remember vividly. Right after that, I called Jia. Oh, how long I’d been waiting for this moment. Again, the rush of emotion when she said, “I knew it! You deserve it!”, was surreal. The warmth that I felt in these moments made all those months of MBA networking, research, GMAT prep, stress, all so worth it!

I returned to embrace all my friends. I had 14 friends with me at the concert, and one by one I picked them up in bear hugs and on many occasions spun them around and thanked them for being there, both in the moment and in the lead up to it.

I couldn’t have imagined a more incredible way to kick off my MBA journey, and it is a very special moment that I will cherish for a long, long time.

Thanks for reading!

Raphael

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30 day notice

It is ironic that I begin my MBA blogging adventure with a story about quitting. But, I just submitted my notice of resignation to my job of the past 2.5 years at KPMG, Dubai, a few days ago, and it’s been a surprisingly bitter sweet experience. This moment is one that every MBA aspirant will likely have to brace for. So, why not kick things off by reflecting back on the things that got me to this moment…

The infamous “Quitting Day” has been in the works for me for well over a year. Well, to be fair, I knew this day was coming the moment I took on my first job, nearly 5 years ago. An MBA was always on the cards in my mind and I spent about 4 years building my career to get to a point where I’d be ready to apply to an MBA program. An engineer upon graduating my undergraduate education, I knew early on that my real long term career goal is to be in business. What business? Where? When? How? I didn’t have answers to any of these questions. But, I always knew why! I watched my father and mother work very hard for many years, succeeding in their careers as a Ceramic Industry Professional and a Banker respectively, and providing an incredible life for us, my younger sister and I, as parents. But, I always had this sense that their hard work and dedication wasn’t getting the true valuation it deserved. If you ask my father though, he wouldn’t see it that way. He told me from a young age to always remember that, “the hard work you put in, is for you”…”not for your manager, boss, parents, or any-one for that matter”…and that, “no-one can take the learning and experiences you gain from hard work away from you”. “That is yours to keep”, he would say. This struck me and stuck with me. So, today, even though I’ve worked for companies, I’ve tried as much as possible to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit in these jobs, while awaiting that glorious moment where I take a leap and truly put in hard work for myself (by myself, I really mean my dear ones). All that being said, I do mean business… and an MBA is not an MBA for the sake of an MBA, for me. I visualize it being a catalyst to my natural progression, and so, it has been on the cards from that moment of realization many years ago that I wanted to do my own thing!

After months of research on MBA programs, attending numerous MBA events, having several conversations with current students, Alumni, Admissions Directors, friends and family, and a little embarrassingly, multiple attempts at the GMAT, I sent in my applications in the last months of 2013 and waited agonizingly for the acceptance call. Needless to say, after thinking about and planning for the MBA for such a sustained time, I was hopelessly committed to getting in and “getting in now” without a real Plan B, against the advise of the wiser supporters of my cause. So, when I finally got the call from Ms. Bailey Daniels, Admissions Director at Rotman, on December, 13th, 2013, I was absolutely elated and relieved to be starting my new journey! The story of how I received that call when I was at a concert with friends and the events leading up to it are for another post. One that I will surely write about soon.

But soon after getting in, there was a little bit of an unsettling calm that was setting in. My body and mind were still running on full throttle from the past year of pursuing the MBA admission, and suddenly I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I knew I had a little over 6 months to go and from a practical perspective I knew that I should take the advise given to me by MBA vets on how to use the time to relax and get ready for the storm that’s about to hit. But, I simply couldn’t. I immediately found the next things to get anxious about… visa, student loan, housing, etc, etc.

However, now with just 1 month to go before I fly off to kickoff my MBA, I really wish I had taken the advise and spent more time smiling around my family members and friends. I think it’s safe to say that most MBA aspirants will face this same internal battle. So, I’m not going to advise you to take it easy, because it’s really easier said than done. But, I do wish you all better luck in finding that balance and maximizing the happiness between the time you get in and the time the MBA program kicks off.

All of this realization and emotion is what flooded my thoughts on my day of resignation. The sudden reality that I’m leaving soon was overwhelming, even though I’d spent the last 5 years, apparently, preparing for this moment. Once I took a step back though and recognized that this isn’t another time to be anxious, but instead 30 more opportunities to be happy and make others happy… I’ve chosen to grab it by the horns.

There are always reasons to be anxious, but it’s important to remember all those who have enabled and fueled the journey to the holy grail that is the admissions to an MBA program. Because, more often than not, the journey to an MBA begins well before application and there are many vitals cogs in the form of parents, siblings, friends, bosses, etc, etc, that get us there. Whether it is a few days, a month or that whole 6 months between acceptance and kick-off, I encourage my peers and future aspirants, to go say thank you and spread some happiness. In my experience, smiles and hugs are the two best tools to mitigate the emotions that come with the closure of this stage of our lives, before kickstarting the next!

On that note, I’d like to share my love and thanks to:

my ever-loving and diligent parents – my father whom I’m super proud of for in-fact starting his own business a few years ago, and my mother to whom I just can’t describe in words what her love and dedication to our family has meant to me.

my caring sister – who is studying to be a doctor; an accomplishment that I’ll definitely be more proud of than any of my own MBA achievements.

my beautiful, talented and unbelievably supportive girlfriend – of whom I constantly wonder how I lucked out this much!

my dear friends – who know who they are and whom I hope know what a profound impact their friendship and support has had on shaping me.

my mentors – all of whom have exhibited characteristics of openness and humility, even though their achievements commanded less humility, and have pushed me to achieve more than I could have on my own. I’ve been fortunate to have a mentor that has influenced me right from high school, to my undergrad, one from each of the companies I’ve worked for and one from the institute where I sought gmat coaching!

Thank you!

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As I continue to post on in this blog, I will include a lot of practical MBA-Life related stories, more specifically anecdotes and information on experiences I have at the “Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto”, and also some posts like this where I share some introspective looks at life in general. I promise that most of them will not be as long as this one 🙂

I hope this will help, encourage or simply interest fellow MBA students and aspirants. Thanks for reading and feel free to leave comments/questions!

– Raphael