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Cambridge MBA update

Well, in short I didn’t get an interview for the Cambridge MBA programme. My first thought, well that means I can buy a house instead.

I always thought applying for Cambridge would be challenging; mainly because it’s Cambridge.

I think there were two main reasons for my ding:

My qualifications: I have a good set of grades, but not stellar and if you want someone with straight A’s or a perfect GPA that’s not me.

Analytical ability: I got a phone call querying my ability to do maths based on my poor quant score in the GMAT, never a good sign. If my work and masters degree couldn’t reassure them, I’m not sure what would.


For just now I’m going to concentrate on getting a new job, buying a house and then look again at part-time MBAs. I more want a place of my own than a fill time MBA.


Cambridge MBA application submitted

I submitted my Cambridge MBA application in on time. But do have to say I took a laziez faire approach to the whole submission thing. Even went to the cinema the night before for a movie preview. I have to say reapplying is just much easier, done most of the thinking and have a better understanding of the process.

The process
Overall the application form was easy to use and well laid out. Could only find one bug. Would only make one suggested improvement. Have the PDF preview button within the main application site. Who wants to press submit until they are ready?

There were more essays than they initially suggested. Instead of two I was expecting I ended up I writing closer to five. The career objectives essay was specially odd. Found it really difficult to write, took me seven drafts to get a story I was happy with. Even tried to get some hint and tips from the MBA consultants essay analysis; not convinced their approach was that useful with a 500 word count limit.

My reference is usually really good, and chasing needed. However had a look at Christmas Day and no submission or even opening of the link. Got a bit worried. Chased him on Monday and he said thanks the reminders, he just forgot to load it up. So people, do chase, send reminders to references, they don’t mind.

The Cambridge MBA tries to make the application straight forward. It’s something they have largely achieved.

Applying for Cambridge MBA

I’m well and truly back on the horse. I’m officially applying for the Cambridge MBA.

Application process

Upside applying this time round is soooo much easier. No GMAT to take, no trying to figure out what my offer is. I done all the hard work last year. Which means I should be able to put together  a decent application in a month which also allows me to apply for scholarships. Wow!

I’ve got off to a good start by lining up my references and, and my amazing team of essay checkers. I’ve even written first drafts of both my essays. Admittedly the personal statement needs a radical rewrite but at least it’s words on the paper.

Insider view

There just one bit I’m struggling with and that getting an insiders views of Cambridge MBA. Thankfully, LinkedIn come in handy and someone from my wider network was willing to chat. Even six weeks into the course and he was still chirpy and happy about the experience. His one piece of advice for the application make every word count in the essays.

It would be great to get another view or two about reality of studying at Cambridge for the MBA. Anyone know of someone who studied at Cambridge for their MBA who would be willing to talk about their experience?

It’s Cambridge

One really scary aspect about applying to Judge business school, is that I’m applying for Cambridge. I’ve loved Cambridge ever since I visited it when I was eight.  Every so often I suffer from a massive inferiority complex and self doubt.  But I have to remind myself, I got an interview from Duke.  I’m OK, I’m not going to get laughed at.  But I suspect I will have a couple of swings before the application is over.

Cambridge Colleges

One of the fun things about applying for Cambridge is  choosing a college.  This is my short list:

  • Hughes;  Is a postgrad only college with a large concentration of MBA students.
  • St John; pretty, rich, sporty and has its own punt.
  • St Catherine; An old college in the centre of town with easy access to the business school, it has a college hockey team and the college sports grounds have an astro.
  • Corpus Christi college; small, old, good community engagement and the opportunity to experience traditional Cambridge college.
  • St Edmunds; Is a postgrad college, and there a good opportunities to mix with a large number of international students and those studying the sciences.  The grounds also looks really good. But it might be a bit out the way.
  • Kings; Not only does it have a great chapel, it also seems to friendly, welcoming and has a photographic dark room.

In case your interested the Student room provides a quick summary of the Cambridge colleges.

Which one college should I choose?

Cambridge MBA open day

The Cambridge open day wasn’t quite what I was used to; no sample lecture, no hard and heavy sales approach. And it even started with a sandwich lunch.

Overall I liked the approach, it was laid back, friendly and allowed us MBA’ers getting to know each other. This was just as important as the school visit.
So I found out that we had a glamorous lady from Ferrari, a lot of people working in healthcare including a GP, and the normal sprinkling of lawyers and bankers. The group was bright, friendly and international- though most of us work in London. My kind of people.

The school emphases its collaborative nature, its connection to the wider uni, and the benefit of interacting with students from other disciplines; all that I’m looking for. It also heavily emphasised its entreneurenship and access to Cambridge tech circle/ siclion Fen.

One of the odd bits of the Cambridge experience is the emphasis on socialising with your college. I tried and failed to find MBA societies. Socailising is done through the college; a bit different but I think I like it, no goldfish bowl living. So next challenge is picking a Cambridge college, suggestions?

Even better the business school is smack bang in the middle of Cambridge which is awesome. I’m sold!

Overall, I think the MBA undersells it self. It might be a deliberate choice, or maybe it’s waiting for more famous alumni before it starts. But it’s worth look if your looking for a slightly different experience from the normal MBA fishbowl approach.

I’ve chosen!

Good news everyone. I’ve chosen where I want to study for my part time MBA!

I’m going for part time MBA at Manchester.

Here are my reasons:

Price; it’s good value for money. And I feel happy to pay it.
Flexible; it’s highly flexible. I can still do my international work and undertake an MBA. As long as I have an internet connection I can take the class room with me. Plus I get to choose three electives. Bonus.
Time off work is about right. I go to campus three times a year. I think that is a level that work would allow and give me the time off.
International component; I can take courses at different overseas locations including Miami! Guess where I’m going for my next holiday!
Time: the taught element is 18 months long. The second component is a project for 6 months. So not too long, they’ve cut down the duration of the course and increased the number of trips to manchester.

But even with this amazing list, I going to have to think carefully on how to manage the downsides;
Less contact with fellow students.
Less careers support
Less face- face time with lecturers.

Suggestions include:
Make effort to socialise with students who live in London and the surrounding area. Maybe a quarterly meet up. Does anyone know of any?

Make most of other networking opportunities I have through work. And if there any external networks I can join. Who says you should only network with classmates and alumni of the school you attend?

For careers it might be worthwhile to make more of an effort to build relationships with the careers advisors and see what extra informal support I can receive. Though I suspect I may need to use some of the money saved from attending Manchester on careers coaching. But we will see.

what next
Well, I had a brief thought of applying now and starting in July when I got an email saying fees will be increasing for January. But I checked my diary, I have plans. Namely stay sane leading the latest work project and go on holiday and watch loads of sport at the commonwealth games. So a January start it is.

I’m feeling dizzy…

I’m feeling a bit dizzy! Every time I think I know what I’m going to do, I find something and go what about this?

The latest one is EDHEC, after speaking to this nice French business school, yes it helped the admissions person was Scottish. Not only am I tempted to apply for a full time programme but also resist the GMAT. And then if I resit the GMAT, HEC ( the other French business school I was considering is now back on the table!)

See, I’m getting dizzy from all these options.

But I think calm has been restored, mainly through my experience of studying for the CISI certifcate in corporate finance.

After my head aching from a 1.5 day training course on the financial regulation I think I’ve realised that Cranfield course might not be for me.  If it’s really 2.5 days of non stop lectures, by brain is going to burst.  I just don’t think I can handle it. I would rather control the pace of my studying more, and I think that means Manchester.  Plus, I think work will be a bit more supportive.

What do I really really want?

One discussion panel later on the future of business education at Chicago Booth’s London campus I feel the need to reflect and challenge myself with three questions that were posed during the event.
1. Do I really, really need a MBA?
2. Is a professional qualification better eg CFA, or maybe even an accounting qualification?
3. What do you want from a MBA? Is it all about buying a network?

Do I really, really need a MBA
Excellent question. The speaker at the event seemed to assume that if you have a good undergrad that all you need. I would say at 24 that might be true. Now for me it’s not. I have two option go deeper into my expertise or go for more breadth. Deeper in my world is a MSc in data analytics or something of that ilk. But I left that world behind for a Reason, I’ve chosen to go broader.

But broader has left me with a problem in the external job market. Lack of specialised skill to sell or particular sector expertise market. So if I want to move in the job market I need to do something else. MBA seems like a good answer.

Is a professional qualification better 
This time last month I would have said I had all the professional qualifications I needed. This month the office has signed me up to do an industry recognised qualification in corporate finance. Yes, I know work for the public sector. But this what happens when you not only move teams you get new directors! So I’m getting an industry qualification but a MBA will compliment it, not replace it. Getting the industry qualification may even help me get into a MBA programme.
But there was a good case made by the CFA  (Chartered Financial Analyst) rep at the event if you want to move industry it might be better to sit an industry exam of the field you want to move to. And it’s probably cheaper!

What do you want from a MBA

Thankfully, after going to the states I have much better idea about this one! So let’s see. I want to learn new skills and change career. But I also want to be challenged by my contemporaries both in and out of class. It not about buying a network; I can do that cheaper in other ways. I want case study method that allows me to apply the theory to practice and think about the wider issues. But I want the cases to be written by the University and fairly new and have an international dimension.

But one issue, if you had to ask where would I rather be: sitting in the class or teaching the MBA class; I would choose teaching it.

Fuqua business school: amazing

My expectations were exceeded by Duke and Fuqua. After seeing Fuqua and its great community ethos I am tempted to reapply. I would highly recommend the school to anyone who is thinking of applying to do an MBA.

The campus
Duke is a beautiful campus and the business school is on it; enabling you to get the full Duke experience. However the business school building is built in such a way that means you never need to leave it. Not sure I like that type of experience. You are literally in a goldfish bowl. I think almost every business school tries to offer a similar experience. When I go yuck; I have to remind myself that due to the course load on my masters all my friends were on the same course as me. And having your lectures, seminars and canteen in one building does make life easier and help build community spirit.

I went to a marketing lecture; I agree with my finance student tour guide. Marketing is just a bit fluffy, not sure I care that much about the subject.

On the upside, the class had a good positive vibe a about and a good level of energy. The students made a point of talking to us. Fantastic! And we even got introduced to the lecturer and the alumni who was the guest speaker also took the time to speak to us. Duke community ethos was alive and well! Lecturer managed the class well and encouraged participation and class discussion. The female students actively engaged in the discussion and were willing to speak up, even when not a 100 per cent sure. Just a nicer environment than HBS.
Me and my friend had a great discussion in the pub exploring the dynamics of the class and how it compared to HBS. I personally preferred the HBS way as it got straight down to business and dived into the case study and all the issues. While Duke was a fluffy and spent longer on the intro and the context. I would have liked to get down to business a bit quicker and I thought the pace of the class could have been quicker.

Case study material
Duke used HBS case studies. The lecturer moaned about the content and the students moaned about the fact that they can only get them on paper. If you don’t like HBS case notes why use them? Your a big enough school to make your own. I want to find out about Duke’s view of the world, not Harvard’s. So here my challenge to Fuqua, make your own case studies and sell them. Give HBS a bit of competition.

Underwhelmed by Boston

I give Boston a four out of ten.  I was surprisingly underwhelmed.  Harvard and by default Boston is someplace I’ve wanted to live since I was 21.  Overall, I wasn’t convinced that this was the place I would want to study or live. The reality does not live up to the hype.

Caveat: In an effort to be fair to Boston my friend rated it as seven out of ten; but wouldn’t live there.

Boston in general

The people were amazing, friendly and chatty. We had a great time chatting to the locals. But Boston look wise wasn’t very inspiring. My camera hardly came out! I think, I have ten picture of Boston and four of them are the Duck and dDckling sculpture in Boston Commons.

The underground thing; well it is odd.  The Green line which I rode on most days is not a train, a tram or a tube.  I’m not even convinced it is trolley.  But it does squeak, a lot! No one heard of WD40?  Now the Red line out to Harvard, that is a train!

The Freedom trail; it’s follow the red line to lots of places that don’t exist.  Highlights I got to see Mother Goose’s grave and we accidentally came across Mike’s (the place where you obviously have to buy cakes.) honestly the trail needs a bit more work.

There not a lot happening in Boston.  There was lots of sport, but little else to do.  Though King’s Bowling was very good!


Harvard Business School

The highlight of the trip was a bit of a let down.  HBS is over the river from the main college; and stuck in the middle of nowhere.  The campus has some pretty bits and some 1970’s special concentrate buildings.

I sat in on a first year finance class.  The section gave us guests a very loud round of applause; and then I managed to leave without saying a word to anyone.  After the terrific support I got from HBS students when I was researching HBS, I was expecting better.  However if they have guests in every class; I do get the point that they get a bit tired after a while; and don’t really need to see the reason to engage.

The female participation of the class was very low.  The girls generally spoke if directly asked by the professor and generally didn’t volunteer.  Large tracks of the conversation as dominated by four blokes (I suspect they were the section’s usual suspects.) I was surprised.  Seriously girls; speak up! (See the NY time article for more background.)

The discussion wasn’t that engaging or dynamic. (Though my accountant friend said the lecture on WACC was a lot more interesting at HBS than what she had when learning about it for her ACCA qualification.) The professor was engaged, knew the students and knew the case and the issues very well.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention; The case study method.  It worked!  I learnt about WACC and how to apply it; and how would I use to inform a business decision that was actually made.  Stopped the subject from being dry and put it a real world context.

On a side note; almost all students had laptops or tablets in the class.  Most students had apple air notebooks. One or two had the black ugly IBM laptops and one or two enterprising ones had the Microsoft surface pro.  They got the benefit of having excel and a tablet.


After the class chat we went to Cambridge’s famous burger place.  It had burgers like the fiscal cliff, bill Clinton, Obama healthcare.  Burgers were good.  But neither me nor my friend could see why the sweet potato chips or onion rings had won prizes.  Just not that good!

Not going to America

I Sat by the phone and waited; and then waited. Nothing. (In reality I spent the day freezing in Salem.) I Finally got an email but couldn’t even see the outcome of Duke’s decision until I got back to the hotel to use my computer.
Final outcome: didn’t get in.

I’m ok with that. In recent weeks I was was thinking how to balance working and paying off a £100,000 loan and in ideal world getting married and having kids. I just couldn’t think how it would work. Yes all my uni friends are laughing their socks off as I make that statement. if I went to an American uni I would 35 before I graduate. And I would want kids before I was 40. That’s Very limited time to pay off loan as I don’t think these loans allow you to take maternity payment holidays.

The other reason why I’m ok. After going to a HBS class I wasn’t in love with the experience. The girls hardly talked; and the class was really young. I want to learn from people who have a bit more work experience. A part time MBA might be a better fit.

So I won’t be reapplying next year. In its current format my American adventure is over. I’m very glad I tried. For me the journey is as important as the destination.

Upside my hockey team will be happy.

But the MBA dream lives on. Next step the part time MBA.

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