Status: First-time applicant
Pre-MBA industry: Consulting/Chief of Staff
Years of experience at time of matriculation: 4
GMAT/GRE score: 760 (V:41 Q: 51)
Undergraduate GPA: 3.89/4.00
Admitted to: Columbia, HBS, Sloan, Stanford, Wharton
Service Type: Premium
I worked with Square One Prep (SOP) in RD 1 of the 2022-23 application cycle, with the pleasure of working with Amalia as my Advisor. I could not recommend SOP enough – SOP’s unwavering support, commitment, and human touch are among the core reasons why I was able to succeed in a highly competitive season (admitted to 2 of HSW, waitlisted at 1)
As an international candidate who grew up in Asia, went to undergrad in the US and spent his professional career across both US and Africa, I knew very early on I wanted to partner with a team that is energized by my story, challenges me to reflect and gain clarity on my own motivations, and is committed to my success. After speaking with ~10 firms , including both China-based and US-based firms, I chose SOP because of Kathryn’s honest style and SOP’s team-based approach. Kathryn was enthusiastic about my profile: telling me that I should focus my energies on M7 schools and that with work and reflection, I have the elements to develop a compelling package for any M7 school. However, she was also brutally honest: cautioning me that especially for schools like HBS/GSB/Wharton, no one is a shoo-in, and while SOP team can help me craft the best possible application materials, there is still an inherent element of luck in the highly competitive process. Additionally, I loved SOP’s leadership-team approach in the Premium package, where the leadership team (incl. Kathryn) reviews each essay (and resume, career narrative, etc) after the advisor and I felt good about the content. The leadership-team approach essentially creates a stage-gate for seasoned advisors to review my application materials from an outside-in perspective (similar to how an admissions officer would read my file) – and ensure that the logic flows smoothly, the language is easy to understand, and the storyline is consistent with my overall narrative. Later on, I realized that Leadership Review is truly one of the best parts of the SOP experience.
The first step in my SOP journey is the Career Narrative process – where a former career coach at top business program helps me ideate, develop, and refine my career narrative: a vision statement that tells the story of what I want to do professionally long-term. Wendy, my Career Narrative coach was very effective in using facts to back-up my career vision. Coming into Career Narrative process, I thought it would be s an exercise of storytelling – focusing more on my personal journey. However, what I appreciated most is SOP’s focus on using industry facts + trends to back up the career narrative. Indeed, the process feels more analogous to building the business case for a start-up: Wendy pushed me to reflect on my personal story (the founding rationale); conduct research to validate the opportunity (the growth potential); and articulate why I am the best person to deliver my career vision (the competitive dynamic). Throughout the process, Amalia (my advisor) and Kathryn stayed engaged: including multiple rounds of presentations to ensure that my story is compelling, easy to follow, and memorable.
While I signed on with SOP relatively early in the process (Jan’22) – Kathryn and Amalia both offered me the valuable advice of not starting too early, but instead, create pace by starting at a more reasonable time. Therefore, I started the essay drafting in mid to late June – which was quite helpful as I found myself to be much more effective when Amalia and I started rapidly iterating on essays. The essay process involves a brainstorming call, where Amalia and I would go over high-level ideas and stories / anecdotes to back up the storyline, followed by me drafting the essay in the next 1-2 hours and sending the rough draft to Amalia. I found the approach to be highly efficient as it enabled me to rapidly prototype essays, and advance / kill different ideas for the essay. What I also appreciate is Amalia’s willingness to work with whatever I could produce in that 1-2 hour interval – which sometimes could look more like a skeleton sketch than a nicely flashed-out essay. With the process, Amalia and I would iterate essays with <24 hr turnaround time, exchanging multiple essays a day, and go through up to 20 versions of drafts (for some essays), before passing it along for Leadership review.
The leadership team would then sense-check the essay’s story, cross-reference with my career narratives and resume to ensure the story fits nicely together, and then share their final thoughts. In one of the earlier essays Amalia and I worked on together, we were both quite excited about the storyline, having both spent hours fine-tuning the idea and getting it on paper. However, the leadership team sensed a potential mis-interpretation to the essay that deviates from the intended message – something that Amalia and I didn’t catch because we were both so close to the drafting process. Ultimately, we decided to re-write the essay, and I ended up receiving an interview invite to the school. Although this was the only essay where we had to go through complete re-drafting post leadership review, I still take comfort in knowing that every essay has gone through a third set of eyes before being submitted at SOP.
I could not have imagined myself going through the process without the generous support from Amalia. Amalia is responsive, caring, and is always ready to offer her thought partnership where needed. I remember myself frantically trying to make final adjustments before the application due dates, thinking these small changes were needed. However, Amalia was quick to point out that all of the essays have gone through multiple iterations of detailed review, and that I should resist the urges to make tweaks to essays that are already so thoroughly reviewed. I stuck with her advice, and now at the other side of the process, I am so glad that Amalia told me to stop (many of the small “tweaks” I was proposing were trivial at best, if not confusing). Similarly, Amalia told me to stop over-prepping when she sensed that I was feeling stressed out and over-rehearsing answers before the interview process. Amalia has established herself as a trusted advisor that I look up to – and I know the lessons I learned from her were not only helpful in the application process; they , but will also carry me forward in the professional world, where effective communication and storylining are so crucial to one’s success.
Throughout the process – I felt truly grateful to be supported by a passionate team that is invested in my success at SOP- my partnership manager, Cristina, helps Amalia and me& I prioritize our work and ensures that the leadership team knows what to expect from us and when; my advisor, Amalia, who challenges me to have thoughtful reflections about who I am and what I stand for; my career narrative coach, Wendy, who helps me develop and articulate my career vision; and of course, Kathryn, who strives for perfection in my application materials, but also cheers me on throughout the process, sending me good luck notes before interviews and decision release dates. It is evident that the SOP team is invested in my success and wants to see me do well – and I strongly recommend anyone who is willing to put in the hard work for MBA application to partner with SOP: the MBA application process is competitive and the journey may not be easy, however, I am confident that the SOP process will help one find their purpose, articulate their vision, and emerge as a more confident and thoughtful leader.