In Search of MBA

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Waiting Game

So you think that the waiting game ends after you receive your admit letter, huh? WRONG...... I realize that the real torture is actually after I pay my deposit. Waiting for the school to start is at least as hard as waiting for the decision. I am talking about having to come to work every day, even though I know that I will leave for business school in a few months. I cannot really motivate myself to get things done at work.

I contemplated whether I should just resign, go to a foreign country, learn a new language, and do volunteer work. Unfortunately, I cannot do that. Business school is very expensive that I must work as long as possible and save as much as I can before school start.

If only someone can tell me how to keep my concentration on works I must do........

Thursday, October 20, 2005

It's All About the Money

I was in the state of euphoria in the first few days after receiving the admit decision. I could still hardly believe it that I would get such an early decision by such a reputable business school. A year ago, I never thought that I would apply to a top 10 school. I aimed only schools ranked 30-50 in US News ranking. Only after I took my GMAT did I have confidence to put top 10 schools in my list of schools to which I would apply.

The problem with Columbia Business School is that it does not have guaranteed loan. It does not include the financial aid decision in the admit letter either. As I must send my deposit within 3 weeks, I was in panic mode trying to secure funding in case CBS gives me zero financial aid. I have basically contacted every single banks here and none seems to have an idea about education loan. Even more panics.... Fortunately, the CBS alums that I contacted are very helpful and re-assuring. They told me that the lack of money will not prevent me from attending CBS. They told me that even though CBS does not have guaranteed loan, the school will do anything to assist me. Based on their suggestion, I sent emails to the financial aid office informing them my situations and asking them my options. Let's wait what they have in store for me....

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


I don't know what to say.....I just received an acceptance letter from Columbia Business School. YES....!!!!!!! The timing could not have been better as I was ready to send applications to other choices. I am so lucky that I waited until the last minute before submitting my applications to other schools.... This saves me a few hundred dollars.

I am still not 100% sure if I am dreaming or something. Just a year ago, I would have never thought that I would have ever applied to a top 10 school. After all, my undergraduate record was far from excellent. Now I could not wait to receive the admit package from CBS.....

Saturday, August 13, 2005

(Estimated) Loan Repayment

I have been asking myself how to repay an MBA student loan, in case I take 100% loan to finance my MBA. Part of me says that I am crazy if I am willing to put myself into such a huge-debt situation. On the other hand, the lure of MBA is hard to resist.

Engineer is always about numbers and calculations. And I am not an exception. I have done a lot of calculations on how I am going to pay off the student loan if I do take one. I have considered several best-case scenarios:
1. My future employer is giving me tuition reimbursement or
2. I marry a billionaire's daughter or
3. I win a lottery (which is very very unlikely as I never buy one...or maybe I should start buying now) or
4. All the above

From my experience however, it is much better if one anticipates and prepares to accept the worst-case scenario. The suffering is much less if one is ready to accept the worst case scenario. Well, hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.

The worst case scenario is, off course, jobless after MBA. Nothing much to say if I face in this situation after MBA. But if I try hard enough, I believe I can still get a decent job with an MBA from top business school in US or Europe.

The second worst is you get a low pay after MBA. This scenario is the one I am going to focus at this moment. There is a high chance for this scenario because most likely, I will return to Asia after MBA and I heard that the MBA pay there is far lower than that in US or Europe.

Getting a data on the MBA salary in Asia is not an easy task. There is a wide deviation within this group. The salary in Japan tends to be comparable to US because the living cost there is much higher. In South East Asia, on the other hand, the living cost is much lower and the average salary tends to be significantly lower too. In less developed countries in South East Asia, the living cost and the pay is peanut compared to the one in US, Europe, or Japan (by peanut I do not mean this peanut...)

The most comprehensive data about MBA pay in Asia is probably the one in INSEAD's employment report . In page 8, you can see that the range of salary for INSEAD graduate working in Singapore is from SGD 72 500 to SGD 316 973 a year. I do believe that the pay for graduates of other top business schools, be it one year or two year MBA, will be in this range. If I study for a two-year MBA, I will need to take about USD 120,000 loan. At 8.5% for 10 years, the annual repayment will be about USD 17,856. If I get a one-year MBA instead, my debt will be about USD 75,000 with annual repayment of USD 11,160. Now, with an annual pay of SGD 72,500, I will have to pay Retirement Contribution of SGD 14,500 and Income Tax of SGD 6,110. Hence, my After Tax Income will be SGD 51,890 or roughly USD 31,259. So my Disposable Income (after loan repayment) will be USD 13,403 for two-year MBA and USD 20,099 for one year MBA. In both cases, I think I will still be able to live in Singapore....barely

You see the huge difference on those numbers?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Schools with Loan

I am a cost sensitive candidate. There is no way I can afford an MBA education without a loan or a scholarship. Not even if I delay my MBA aspiration for a few years and save a significant amount of my salary. In fact, the longer I delay attending business school, the less likely I can afford it.

Just take a look at the tuition fee increase: the tuition fee at Columbia in 2003/2004 was $34,788 a year, in 2005/2006 it is $38,290. Almost 5% annual increase. Being a PE, I do not think my increase in saving will be able to match tuition fee increase ( is not THAT PE. In my case, PE stands for Poor Engineer).

Full scholarship, therefore, will be a dream. However, I am not very confident of securing such scholarship. Some people suggested that I apply to second tier schools, which will likely give me scholarship based on my GMAT. After some thinking, I do not think that is a good idea. If I ever have to spend 2 years of my adult life studying, it must be something that can open most (if not all) windows of opportunity. Unfortunately, I do not think that second tier schools can do that. In that case, the long term benefit of scholarship money does no seem very interesting anymore.

In top schools, the competition for scholarship is brutal. Partly because there are a lot of qualified candidates, partly because there is little need for top schools to offer such scholarships. Those top schools can do want they want and young lemmings will still flock to them because of their name. A loan, therefore, is the most realistic way I can afford a top MBA education. As I want to study in Europe or US, getting a loan is not an easy matter. To begin with, I do not have enough assets as colateral (if I have enough assets, do you think I want to take loan......????). Secondly, I do not have guarantor. Because of these reasons, I decide to apply only to schools which have guaranteed loan program for theie international students. So far, here are the schools that , as far as I know, offer guaranteed loan to all students including international students:

- Duke

- Stanford


- Tuck

- Darden

- Chicago

- Wharton

- Michigan

Unfortunately, Cornell does not offer such loan. I am very interested to apply to Cornell, especially because of their immersion program.

Saturday, August 06, 2005


I always know that I want to get MBA one day. I vividly remembered the day I read an article about MBA on Fortune magazine in my university's library. I believed it was in 1999 and the title was something like "Where do the best Asian students go for MBA?". There was a table of 50 most-popular US business schools for Asian students. In the table, there was also information about the average salary of their graduates. I felt These guys were only 28-30 but they had already made tons of money. They also had jobs that I always dreamt of, but did not know to to get.

Reading that article was a defining moment for me (I am not sure what the adcomm will think if I write that in "defining moment" essay....). Since then, I was obsessed with all things related to MBA. Call me crazy, but I have been an avid reader of Business Weeks' MBA forum since I was in the second year of my UG (in fact, I just celebrated my fifth anniversary as a member...). I religiously followed the annual game of the best business schools rank debate.

Having said that, for me, MBA is not an "if", but a "when". My preparation for MBA aplplication, however, did not really start until 2003. I always know that the first obstacle to clear before applying to business schools is to get a GMAT score. There were a lot of books in National Library on that subject, and I grabbed a Kaplan book for a start.

I was used to multiple choice test, but the type of questions in GMAT was really a surprise for me. I did not have an idea how to solve data sufficiency type and critical reasoning. By the time I finished Kaplan book, I had had a good idea how to tackle those 2 types of question. In my first full GMAT exercise (paper-based) on Sept 6 2003, I got 680/Q 49/V 36.

Even though the result of the first exercise was encouraging, I had no confidence to take the test straight away. To begin with, I haven't tried the CAT version of the test. Having paper test was always part of my student life; however, having CAT was a new thing for me.

It was not until second half of 2004 that I seriously prepared for GMAT. I kicked off the preparation by reading PR's Verbal Workout for the GMAT because I felt that verbal was my weak point (What do you expect? English is my third language....). As an engineer, I did not have much problem with math, except the on-off problem with data sufficiency question. However, I did not want to take this for granted. Therefore, I grabbed Kaplan's GRE & GMAT Exams Math Workbook. To familiarize with CAT version, I grabbed Kaplan book and CD from the library and bought PR and Arco books. In addition to that, I also bought the bible of GMAT, the 10th edition of the Official Guide.

Having Kaplan, Arco, PR, and OG in front of me sometimes terrified my. "How am I going to read all of these?", I always asked myself. Fortunately, I found GMATtutor's webiste (, which has several study plan to follow. As I was not in a hurry to take GMAT, I followed the 300-hour plan.

In Sept 4, 2004, I took PowerPrep's first practice to see where I was in term of preparation. By the end of the test, I was really surprised to see my first CAT practice score: I got 730/Q 49/V41. The following weeks, I continued with Kaplan's practice tests:
Sept 19: 630/Q 50/V 33
Sept 25: 640/Q 44/V 34
Sept 26: 660/Q 48/V 36
In all these 3 tests, I locked myself in my room from 8am to 1 pm to simulate the real test condition.

My preparation was disturbed by my move to Germany. I spent the whole Oct trying to get an apartment there and only continued my study in the third week of November. At this point, I decided to register for a test in January 2005. By knowing the exact test date, I doubled my motivation to study. While in Germany, I also tried to form a GMAT study groups, but the response was poor (looks like MBA is not a big thing there). .

December was a cold month in Germany. This, and the short days, were a blessing in disguise. I spent plenty of time at home and spent a few hours a day on GMAT books. Unfortunately, I did not have PC while I was in Germany, therefore I could not even try PR's CAT exercise. From December till mid of January, I managed to finish all the books that I had, even managed to get and finish Kaplan 800, which contains the most difficult GMAT exercise questions.

Even after a long preparation like that, I was not very confident that I would get a good result. I was still not very comfortable with my verbal. But the test date had been set, so I did not have any other choice.

Before the test, I wrote 2 target scores in my score card: one score was what I thought a realistic target, the other one was a wishful-thinking score. After the test, I was pleasantly surprised to see result: not only did the total score matched my wishful-thinking score, but also the Q and V score were exatcly the same as what I wrote in my score card....what a coincidence...

I wish there were schools which only looked at GMAT for admission and scholarship decision (^_^)