Getting Ready for Columbia Business School, Running, et cetera

Thursday, July 20, 2006


The wsj has printed articles about 529s, and some folks mentioned them on the Columbia admits yahoo board. I think that these plans are great for MBA students, and I'm using the DC plan, at least for a few weeks.

The principal benefit of these plans is that--up to a point--my contributions to the plan reduce my State taxable income. In DC, the first $3,000 that I contribute reduces my District taxable income. Since I'm in the 7% marginal income tax bracket for 2006, this is $210 that I don't have to pay.

This is useful for students, because I can withdraw the money in my 529 account to pay for tuition, room, and board while I'm at Columbia. I will liquidate my DC 529 account when I get the bill from Columbia at the end of August, and put the proceeds towards tuition. I will also get a loan check that will replace the $3,000 that came from my pocket.

In effect, $3,000 is out of my hands for a few weeks, and then I get it back. But because of the 529, I lower my DC taxable income.

One key is that I have to live in the District when I make 529 contributions. If this rule didn't exist, then I could take my loan check, deposit the money in the 529, and immediately withdraw it to pay for school. Columbia students who have worked in New York State this year will be able to do exactly this.

Monday, June 26, 2006

List o' Tasks

For the past two months I have been trying to keep myself busy making task lists for school, and then knocking things off. This is the only way I can keep myself from having carefree days, and nerve-wracking nights as I stare at the ceiling remembering all of the things that I have to do.

So I have
* Earned platinum traveler status on the nyc-dc chinatown bus
* Taken care of my loans: Access Group, floating
* Signed the lease for a nyc apartment
* Found a roommate
* Found a subletter for the first couple weeks, before my roommate moves in
* Set up gas, electric, and internet
* reserved a moving truck
* started to get worried about moving all my crap
* gotten serious about running, in spite of the humidity
* taken care of vaccinations (thank you undergrad health office) and other to-do list items
* bought some clothes, because now I actually want to make a decent impression

The rest of the time I've been trying to enjoy the summer, DC, and being with my friends. Work is about 8th on my list of priorities. And staying motivated is a major struggle. Bizarrely, I haven't wanted to take an exotic vacation, but I don't really want to work either. I just want to get started with school. Well, two more months will be gone soon.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Loan Preliminaries

Both last night and tonight I have puttered about the citibank and access group sites, trying to figure out what rate I could get on my private loans.

Yesterday was citibank, and it was a total fiasco. I had a spreadsheet open, calculating how much money to borrow. I asked for the whole amount, forgetting that I can get $18,500 in subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans. So I asked for 18 grand more than I need. Idiot! After submitting a feverish reduction request, I waited until forever for a response. I got it today: Prime minus 0.5%, which means that I have excellent, but not superior credit. So citibank would make me pay 7%, given today's prime rate.

Today I checked, and there are actually links on the columbia to-do list about private loans. So I think that I jumped the gun on citibank. Tonight I used the link to try the Access group site. It was much easier to do the second application, because I was ready for the questions. Anyway, Access group offered me LIBOR plus 1.7%, which seems to be as good as I could get from them. That works out to a bit more than 6.5% at today's rates.

There's been some discussion on the yahoo board about the historical differences between LIBOR and Prime. What I take away is that Prime is generally 2.7% higher than LIBOR. So LIBOR+1.7%=Prime-1%, usually.

Now I have to think about whether I'm interested in the fixed rate Federal Plus loans, which are fixed at 8.5% during school, but can be reduced by 1.75% to 6.75% after school by paying on-time and paying with direct debit. This would be 2% extra for two years, which is a bit less than 3 grand for my estimated borrowing. Then there's the time after school. Ughh, I'll think about that when I have time to play with excel.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Columbia Open House - Day 2, 3, 4

On Friday there was a breakfast at nine and then a panel on the academics at Columbia that lasted until 11. I woke up and looked at the clock around 9 and decided that I could wait until August to learn about picking classes.

After breakfast at Absolute Bagel, I wandered up the street and sat in on the last few minutes of the career planning session that my cluster was about to enter. And here I managed to hear the one of the two phrases that defined the non-social part of Open House. “Guided Missile”. Basically, one of the Executives in Residence told everyone to get their shit in gear before school starts. I need to be a guided missile by the time I get to school (he later tempered this to December at the latest). His argument was that if we don’t know what we want, we’re going to get our clocks cleaned by the folks who do know what they want, who have been pursuing _______(insert career here) since day one of school.

Sometime later (a lot of the days blend together, probably because of the intensity of the experience and my alcohol consumption) Linda Meenhan said something similar. This was the second phrase that defined my “serious” time at Open House. “Columbia is not a hand-holding school. We put opportunities in front of you, and it’s up to you to take advantage of them.” Aha! This is why I didn’t get any love from Columbia, this is why I didn’t get a t-shirt months ago, and why there was no coffee mug either. Columbia is in New York, and through the school and the city, I’ll have access to just about anything that I want. But I am the one who has to go out and hustle… It’s hard out here for an admit.

Anyway, after guided missile, there was a reception with a talk given by Pete (formerly of Pete’s Wicked Ale), a CBS alum. We had a sheet listing which professors and other notables from Columbia were going to be sitting at various tables. I sat down at the table hosted by the head of the Value investing program. I later realized that Professor Greenwald was holding forth at another table-doh! The food was good, and the speech was great. I especially enjoyed his stories from Xerox (I grew up near Rochester, so this was special). After his MBA, he had to produce lots of color presentations, because Xerox had new color copiers. The bad thing was that there was no quick way to produce color originals. So you had mba grads working until the wee hours of the morning, cutting out pieces of colored plastic and gluing them onto paper to make pie charts. And then they’d just have to change them in the morning, when the boss wanted something a bit different!

We then had a student panel. The main benefit from this was when a fellow admit asked how much money we would need before we get our student loan disbursement in September. Basically, we need enough to get an apartment (three months rent) plus enough to live in New York for 2-4 weeks. Ouch! I had not thought about this.

The club fair lasted approximately 10 minutes, or else I spent too much time talking to people. Whatever, I never found half of the tables I was looking for before a group of us went down to Bloomingdales. There was a speech, good white wine, and pleasant hors d’oeuvres, and sofas that had been set below heat lamps. Ok, they were halogen track lights, but I sat directly in the path of one of those death rays, and may have gotten a tan. I noticed that the only food that was making it to me was cucumber slices with some shredded carrot, so I swung into action. I found several fellow DC admits standing in the path of the food, which came from several directions, but had to run through a gauntlet just outside the natuzzi area. My diet improved immediately.

The next stop was Bliss, a bar where the NYC admits who had organized Social on Wednesday had gotten us open bar for the not so cheap price of $50. I got to the bar and was told that there were no martinis, no caipirnhas, and no mohitos. So I began to order long island ice teas. Later I went to a club called Show. I danced, and had a good time, but perhaps because of my previous libations, I don’t have anything else to report.

I spent Saturday convalescing. I didn’t make it out to the happy hour, and from what I heard, people went to either Friday night, or Saturday. If anyone went to both, I imagine that it’s the guy who was still talking to the Irish women when I left Social on Wednesday.

Sunday morning there was a brunch in the lower east side, again organized by one of our amazing NYC admits. I had a great time, talking to some people who I felt that I knew well, and others whom I had somehow managed to miss over the preceding days. One guy has already quit work, was leaving for Russia, and wants to start a Rock, Paper, Scissors club at Columbia. Apparently there’s a national organization for this-RPS!?! After brunch I had a lovely walk down to a Chinatown bus, where my Columbia Open House adventure ended.

Columbia Open House - Day 1

Marina has already written about her experiences at Open House, but I wanted to throw in my two cents.

I got in to town on Wednesday night with three other guys from the DC admits crew. After I dropped off my stuff, I went down to Social, where some NYC admits had set up a happy hour. I was there for about six hours, leaving at 2am, when there was one admit still there, talking with some Irish women. Before then, I had managed to talk myself hoarse, because the other admitted students were so great to hang out with.

The next morning brought breakfast with a welcome coffee, some breadstuffs, and a plastic bag that contained a nametag, a folder with our itinerary and some maps, as well as a t-shirt. I was pleased to finally get some free stuff. The dean then gave a speech about why I should go to Columbia. If I hadn’t sent in my ED deposit four months ago, this might have been valuable. Luckily I was able to sit on a window ledge through this; I felt bad for all the folks who had to stand.

Next up we divided into the clusters listed on our nametags-which won’t be our clusters in August-and did some icebreaker activities. I really enjoyed this, probably because a) I’m a dork, and b) I may still have been drunk from the previous night.

After that was lunch, with a different group of people, then back with my cluster for a class on negotiation. This class was great! I had to negotiate with another DC admit, and I was scared, because his job is basically to negotiate all day long. We acted out our roles for 20 minutes, and then the whole class did a post-mortem that helped me think about what to do next time I have to try to get what I want. Great class, even though I’m not good at negotiating.

The next class was Bruce Greenwald attacking Thomas Friedman’s thesis from “The World is Flat”. I’m not sure that I agreed with Professor Greenwald, but I appreciated being in an academic environment where people argue for things that I haven’t considered. Seriously, in business school, who says that globalization is neither beneficial for companies nor inevitable?

Then there was a reception (more free stuff!), a happy hour, and the LABA party. I had to take a nap through the first half of the reception, but this allowed me to make it out until 2 again.

The happy hour really seemed like a pick-up bar, so I asked a current student whether people actually hook-up, given that you then have to see one another for the next two years, all the time. Surprisingly, the answer was definitely yes. Lots of people hook up, and relationships (even marriages) that come into business school often don't make it much longer. I thought that this would be more… mature? Perhaps conservative is the word that I'm looking for? Of course, I hung out with party people, so I may have gotten a skewed view of things.

The LABA party is supposed to be one of the best events of the year, and I certainly enjoyed it. I danced and drank and talked and drank... Again, the Columbia admitted students are wonderful! They're smart, fun, have interesting stories and responses to things that I say, etc. I am overjoyed with my class.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Dealing with Work

I will attend the Columbia Open House in only a week and a half!

I succeeded in getting permission to be away from work for a couple days, despite the fact that our busy season has begun. Several weeks ago I spoke with my boss about my eventual departure to go to Columbia. I was promoted in November, so my current boss is not one of my recommendation-writers, and did not know that I had gotten into school. I told him that I was planning to leave in July, and suggested that we hire a replacement in June, and begin advertising for the position in May. A few weeks later I sent an email asking for April 6th and 7th off, to go to the Open House. I didn’t get a response. Then last Monday (after a difficult weekend) I didn’t feel like dealing with work, so I called in sick. The next day my boss came by, discussed some projects that we’re working on, and casually mentioned that my taking time off would not be a problem. Apparently, by showing that I could leave work at will, I gained permission to leave work.

My experience at work has followed Kennan’s description of Soviet Russia. My employers do not respond to argument or reason, they respond to force. Two times at my current job I explored opportunities to move to other departments. Within a month after each exploration, I was promoted. There was no direct connection, just these remarkable coincidences.

I read “The Corporation” a while ago, and I agreed with the description of companies as institutions driven toward one goal: profit. As an employee I can’t ignore this. The company that I work for will do everything it can to get as much out of me, for as little as possible. The only way for me to get more is to demonstrate that that giving me what I want is in the company’s best interest. It always seems to require a credible threat of some sort.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Background Check - Complete

Dear Applicant,

Kroll Background Screening Group has successfully completed your Columbia Business School application verification. The entire Columbia Business School community looks forward to welcoming you during Orientation in August.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Linda B. Meehan

Assistant Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid

Columbia Business School

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Come on, Wednesday!

Well, work has been very busy, but things have calmed down enough for me to feel good about it again. For a while it just wasn't fun. Now, happily, I have enough time to cruise around the usual bschool sites. But it's weird to read the CBS RD posts. Didn't we cover all of this in the CBS ED section? I guess that everything repeats, year after year, round after round. This is not to deny the intensity of the experience, but I am grateful that I don't feel that anxiety anymore.

This week I finished up my taxes (no refunds), and did the FAFSA, Access Group, and CBS scholarship applications. I foresee large private loans. I had been wondering how to leverage my portfolio. I found a way!

I'm going to meet my mentor at work on Tuesday to talk about how to discuss leaving the company with my boss. I'm tempted to try to squeeze him for more money, but then I think about needing recommendations next year, and afterwards. I'll probably just be nice. I'll give them tons of advance notice, and not push for anything special. What's an unconditional recommendation and a sterling reputation worth? Probably more than they could give me for a few more months work.

On another note, I believe that I am the last person on earth to have discovered Chappelle's Show. I've been watching the dvds, and when I google stuff that I'm curious about, all the info that I find is two or three years old. I wanted to put the closing picture (I'm rich...) on my BW profile, but I can't find it. Too bad, another opportunity to make myself look like an ass... squandered.

I can’t wait for Wednesday, when those ads for jewelry will stop playing on the radio!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Playing with the To-Do list

After a decidedly pedestrian evening watching NOVA, I took my usual tour of Columbia sites. Nothing too interesting on the yahoo board, except some info on the to-do list. So I went there, spent a few minutes figuring out how to bring some of the tasks back, as I seem to have a stupid default view. Anyway, I put together my Kroll info ($83! the bleeding continues...), and I'll send that out tomorrow. I can't do my photo yet. I don't want to be sloppy, as employers will be able to see it, someday. But I did start looking at the exemption examinations. I am conflicted about these, as I do want to develop great relationships with my cluster-mates. But reading about the "Capital markets and investments" class got my blood flowing. I think that I would enjoy spending a few weeks making sure that I could rock that exam. I'll have to ask some current students what they think about trying to exempt out of classes, and see whether I can get past exams (as long as that isn't somehow unethical).

I've got a columbia admits happy hour on friday, finally. We put the thing together, well, last year. Next Thursday I will be in new york to hound a current student and bury them in questions. I don't have plans for the Friday yet, but I think that financial aid will get a visit, and adcom a thank you.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Yale Winter Break Social

I managed to close out the SOM social tonight. This isn't an extraordinary feat, as it only went from 6:30 to 9:15 or so. I had a great time. SOM bought us each a drink, which I didn't expect, and of course I got to meet some great people. I met another admit, a waitlist, and some folks who were planning to apply next year or later (three years from now!?!). I did manage to infect some of the future applicants with knowledge of the BW forums and blogs.

I have to say that the SOM people and applicants are great. I really like Business school applicants (and students) in general. What's not to like? They're ambitious, driven, intelligent, thoughtful, and generally a lot of fun. And when you get to meet them at a happy hour, at a good bar... solid. I have also firmly convinced myself that for most of the top schools, the decision comes down to culture. You're going to have similar opportunities (ok, HSW will give you more in Private Equity, Venture Capital, and perhaps some other fields) regardless of the school, so the rest is up to you. The thing to focus on is where you most like the people and culture. The Columbia vs. Wharton, or Chicago debates on the BW forums seem to miss the point, by assuming that there is one ranking for everyone.

Whatever, I've had one free beer, and several that weren't. I have to be at work early tomorrow, so...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

2006 Begins

Back from Christmas in the snow-covered northland. It was actually pleasant to be at work. I had been scared of going back. I applied for a promotion in November, and got it at the beginning of December. I thought that this was awesome, for the money, yes, but mostly so that I could tell Columbia that, look, seriously, I have professional promise, everyone says so. I was too lazy to tell Yale. What I didn't think about was the change in responsibilities. To make a long story short, I have gone from being very good at, and understanding all aspects of my job, to getting buried in something that I still can't my head all the way around. This is at the exact moment when my thinking has begun to shift to: when will I leave my job and what do I want to do this summer? Opportunity certainly does come dressed in overalls, looking a lot like work.

Tomorrow night is the Yale SOM Winter Break Social. 1) I want to see how these things work, because I plan to be involved with Hermes next year. 2) I hope to see some of the folks who I met again and again at Business School receptions in the Fall. 3) The applicants who I've met so far have generally been cool people, and cool people are fun to hang out with. 4) I like beer.

re: my complaints about the silence from CBS. I have now been contacted by three CBS students, asking if I have questions. I was a bit hard on CBS before, for not sending me a t-shirt, etc. I now realize that Adcom is busy, and the students were in the middle of finals last month. I have gotten all of the attention that I want, and I even managed to get a
"Columbia Means Business" t-shirt.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Today was Yale day

In the morning I got an invite to a Yale SOM Winter Break Social. The students are home for the holidays, so they host chats with applicants. What a great idea! Plus it’s at the Brickskeller, which I think is a super cool hang-out bar.

This afternoon I got a call on my cell phone. I saw the 203 area code, so I pretty much knew what it was. So now I’ve been accepted at Yale too. I’m happy that people want me at their school. It makes me feel, well… wanted, which is always pleasant. But I also feel bad for Yale. I think that it’s an awesome school, and I’d agree with the students that it doesn’t get the respect that it deserves. But I’m going to Columbia. Columbia fits my goals better, and I pledged to go if accepted when I applied ED.

I think of Yale SOM as a great woman, and I’m breaking up with her. “It’s not you, it’s me.” I had hoped to let her down easily after the new year. I never expected her to pop the question so quickly. I mean, she’s great, she tries so hard to make me happy (winter break socials, cell phone calls; Columbia, you could learn something...) but I’m already promised to someone else. If she could have waited until January, the way I thought she would, I could have asked her to stop considering me. Now I’ll hurt the yield number. Always a bridesmaid… SOM, I never wanted to do this to you.

Well, I’ll keep up appearances until a bit after the new year. I’ll go to the social and maybe see some of the folks from the school information sessions. Then I’ll send the dear john letter. That might free up a spot for the folks on the YALE Round 1 board.

In other news, I got the Columbia admit fat envelope today. Some people have written that they don’t want coffee mugs or t-shirts. I am not one of them. I want everyone who sees me to know that I’m going to Co-LOOM-Bya, without me having to brag about it. I want to sleep in and wear a CBS t-shirt until it falls in tatters from my body, which by then would be tatooed with the symbol of Hermes. I would never wear a shirt with my company’s logo, because that’s lame. But this isn’t, at least not quite yet.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Application Essays

There was a spot on the radio this morning about monologues based on college application essays. I was shocked. I usually don’t get to hear something applicable to my life on the radio. It got me thinking about applications…

Now that I’m basically done with the business school application process, what did I learn?

- Applying to business school is exiting. Visiting different schools rocked. The other prospective students at the schools and at admissions events were really “my people”, and there was a feeling of opportunity in the air.

- I enjoy writing essays. Not so much that I’ll continue doing it, but it was ultimately satisfying. I really had to think about what I want to do with my life, and try to be very clear about it. I also had to look back at what I’ve done, and try to find things that were interesting and show me in a good light. This introspection was actually pretty ok. Heck, I love thinking about me, but usually no one else cares.

- I saw some things about myself that I don’t really like. I took the CBS value system question as an ethical question. What I wrote forced me to look at a pretty glaring weakness in who I am. I guess that it’s called temptation for a reason, but I really have to work to resist it.

- I also didn’t like that I completely fell apart after the Columbia interview. I knew that I needed to deal with the Stern and Tuck applications, but I couldn’t make myself work. I told myself that I didn’t feel right about Stern, and that I had screwed myself with Tuck with a lousy interview, but that wasn’t the truth. I just could not force myself to come home and write essays. The December 1 deadline came and went with no work on my part. Sure, it worked out with Columbia, but it was not a calculated risk. It was paralysis.

So the pros are that I like business school people and writing about me, and the cons relate to looking straight at some of my flaws. I was hoping for some more meaningful lessons. I’m sure that I could come up with more, but for now I’m done re-writing everything 12 times before it takes shape.

Anyway, the next challenge should be financial aid, and maybe scholarships. I will try to wait until at least the new year to start worrying about how much work business school apparently is. My dream is totally the “happy hours and fat job at the end” business school, but that won’t happen :(

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Admitted to Columbia!!!!

How ironic that I write a long-winded, whiny post about waiting, and the next day I get an admit. Heck, the admit was early in the morning (8:45am), fewer than 12 hours after I wrote.

I am overjoyed, and perhaps a mite tipsy. I spent the day at work displaying no emotion and emailing furiously. Got home and did a little dance, and made a little noise. What a great day. What an awesome year!

Seriously, do I have to go to work tomorrow??

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

It has become a waiting game

Yesterday there was a post on the BW board, trying to see who had been complete for a few weeks for Columbia. This was basically a roll call for a list that I have kept in my head since Thanksgiving or so. The list was originally four people. Then last week one got dinged, and today another. The roll call showed that there was at least one other poster in the same situation: Complete with interview, waiting...

Ben, one of the Columbia admin staff, posted on the CBS ED board today, saying that folks can get interviews on either the first or second read, or as a result of the committee read. So it's likely that those of us who have been waiting in the Complete stage received interviews as a result of the first read. I would have thought that this was a good thing if 2 of the 4 other folks in my situation hadn't gotten dings.

So what can I make of all of this? I have a good understanding of why I've been waiting, but not of how long I might wait. Of the two people in my situation who have gotten dings, the first was complete for 24 days, the other for 22. I have been complete for 22 days, which would indicate,
on average, a ding for me tomorrow - if this data actually meant something. The numbers for the other two who are complete are 29 and 23 days without a decision. I can say that any of us could receive a decision at any time, and if I was going to gamble, I would say that one of us will hear before the week is up.

In the meantime, I should focus on the fact that I am still in the game. Even if this is a game involves waiting for other people to play. Tennis maybe? The ball is in their court.