My Mind Is A Hot Mess, That Means It's Time For Grad School!
January 14, 2011 7:01 PM   Subscribe

Bipolar, doing better, wanting to get an MBA...

I have bipolar (II) disorder and social anxiety and probably five other things (the therapist and the psychiatrist I currently see are still sorting it out.) I began experiencing symptoms at age 14, was diagnosed at 20 after seriously screwing up during undergrad, spent the better part of a decade floating around, despairing, going crazy, recovering, rinsing, and repeating, and have been stable and under medical supervision for three years. I do require medication, and still have bad days where I'm hopping up and down like crazy or trying desperately to convince myself I don't really want to sleep, but I haven't missed work for my mental illness (other than severe reactions to a new drug) in over a year: not even a "I feel like shopping, so I'll call sick" moment. I'm really really proud of myself for this. I have never had a full-blown manic episode.

I have a good, steady, professional job, and have gotten raises totaling 25% of my original salary since being hired about three years ago. My supervisor loves me, and their supervisor loves me. That supervisor wants me to get an MBA, and I am assured of at least two if not three really good professional recommendations. Impressive titles and everything.

My undergraduate GPA stinks. I basically have a 3.0 for the main part of my classes, with some failing grades from the term I locked myself in my room for a month and a half, a medical withdrawal, a really prestigious internship, research awards, and several changes of major. I finished most of those classes ten years ago, but only graduated about three years ago (when I finally got my act together - I was 10 credit hours shy of my degree.) Since graduation I've taken ten (online) courses at a local community college, including business/finance/accounting classes, with a 4.0. The heaviest load was 10 quarter credit hours, but that was three classes.

I haven't taken the GMAT yet, but given my SAT/ACT/etc. history I expect to get something in the 680-720 range - maybe higher; I've never been this stable before an exam before.

I intend to enroll in a part-time, "for working professionals" program, that meets twice a week, and takes four years to complete. About 25% of the total tuition/fees will be paid by my employer. I will more or less double my total debt load by the end of it all.

I intend to attend the same school I attended for the bulk of my undergraduate career. They're the highest-ranked business school in the area, I'm already comfortable with the campus, and I'm very pleased with the flexibility of their program as compared with some of the other schools here. They should be able to see lots of really wacky transcript stuff, but I've been told that (unlike the medical center people, who knew how well I was doing at school - they bring up classes I took when I stop by for tests to this day) they won't be able to see things like reports from my dorm adviser.

My questions are:

If you were an admissions officer, would I seem like an OK enough candidate?

Is there anything else I can do that I haven't already, that would make me seem like a safer bet?

Would it be helpful to insert an additional paragraph, on a separate page, explaining my medical history and how it affected my undergraduate record? This is discussed as an option not on the business school site but rather on the disability services site, where it says you should consider it if your disability impacted your academic record. I did read this, and I plan to keep this out of my statement of intent.

Are there resources out there for helping bipolar/socially anxious/PTSD students cope, especially in terms of approaching professors and getting needs met without coming off as a needy albatrossy freak? I do intend to register with the disability services office (which I didn't know existed in undergrad, even after the one suicide watch the university put me under,) but they seem to want me to tell them what I need, and, well, I just know that undergrad went badly and online classes ten years later went OK. I don't know what I need, and I'd rather learn by asking than by failing a class or having a breakdown.

(For the concerned: I will be continuing therapy throughout my education, and my therapist supports my desire to go to grad school, as does the employee assistance officer at work. My funding will not depend on me finishing the degree; they'll pay for any courses related to my degree. I'm already in the "for 25 years you pay 10% of your disposable income" plan for my loans anyway.)
posted by anonymous to Education (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Although 25% contributed by your employer might seem generous, it does still leave you with a really big debt hanging over you for a long time. Doing an MBA is not necessarily the no-brainer it was in the Wall Street 80s. I don't have the resources to do an MBA myself anyway but I'm very interested in the material at the site run by Josh Kaufman. For a contrarian view you might want to have a look at a couple of his articles. If you really want to do the MBA for yourself that's great but go in with your eyes open. Whatever you decide, good luck!
posted by AuroraSky at 7:47 PM on January 14, 2011

Your question is two-fold: can you get in, and if you can, should you?
1. I think it doesn't hurt to try. Take the GMAT and send in the applications. All you can possibly lose is time (application cost is minimal; and you can ask your employer for reimbursement). Try your best and see if you will get the school you want. From what I read, the admission standard of MBA programs has gone down somewhat from the decade earlier. There are fewer students pursuing an MBA, now that a career in finance is no longer guaranteed nor lucrative as it used to be.

2. The second question is should you pursue an MBA. Think of it as an investment: does the return justify the cost. Only you can answer that question. Anecdotally, I think you will probably lose money investing in an MBA. These are my reasons:
a. US is in a financial recession, the population is aging and spend-thrift. Both factors will likely reduce demand for financial services.
b. US manufacturing has been in decline, reducing demand for management services.

However, don't listen to my reasons. Do your own research and "buy" the right program for yourself.
posted by curiousZ at 10:07 PM on January 14, 2011

I think I am most comfortable giving advice on how to get in:

Totally do-able, but one has to be creative and persistent.

I had a very challenging undergrad for various reasons (financial, medical and family) = l-o-u-s-y GPA. Luckily, I had the resources of good people on campus to ask questions of, who were interested in my outcomes and I.

Your path may vary, but here's how I went on to grad school (where I'm making all A's, btw):

1) Started demonstrating I was able to make good grades in my classes and that I was a capable and intelligent thinker/worker

2) Took a grad class as an undergrad, impressed the professor with my skills, thought process, hard work and performance, made an A and asked them to accept me into the program. Often Uni's will let you take classes without being admitted, and sometimes they are transferable to your chosen advanced degree. I know another student who did this same step to get in after having an even lower GPA than I did. Note: the classes this student and I took were no pieces of cake, I worked my ass off to get that A.

3) Spoke with a lot of staff and faculty people on campus about my previous challenges, this is why I'm going to succeed now how can I get into the program?

4) I would suggest speaking with the Disability Resource Center and Counseling center. Ask people what they think, and who can they please refer you to?

5) I think it's more important that you "show your commitment" and are able to show a change. As someone told me that I needed to show that I "woke up" Yes, the challenges you had/have are significant, but I think it's important that one is able to show "look, this happened, I dealt with it, look what I am doing now!!"

6) How to talk to professors? Not sure if this is helpful, but I paid a lot of attention to students that I thought were good, and watched how they did things.

Good luck!
posted by *phoenix* at 11:19 PM on January 14, 2011

Whoops, forgot to add I also read the entire University catalog and policies especially on admittance to grad school, there are policies for extenuating circumstances and petitions, etc... although I ended up having enough faculty support to get in as usual.
posted by *phoenix* at 11:23 PM on January 14, 2011

Gosh I can't help but think you're not selecting the Business School properly; by that I mean by any factor other than convenience.

I've got an MBA (as well as an MSc and few other degrees), and when I finally decided to take this degree one of my filtering criteria was total cost considered against a three to five year payback period, from the increase in compensation alone.

In other words, when I was evaluating different Business Schools I only considered programmes where I knew the forecast increase in pay after I'd received my MBA would cover all costs of the degree in three to five years.

I honestly don't see any other way to make this decision. Debt is a crippler and if you're already dealing with a "10% for 25 years" loan I don't understand why you'd willingly add to that burden. Myself, I hate debt and would be aggressively paying down as much as I could; an MBA can seriously help you in that way, simply because of the increased earning power and doors such a degree opens.

Finally, if you're interested in an MBA I'd encourage you go full in as it might help you keep your mind focused and occupied. I've been pleasantly surprised by the ROI on my MBA, as its allowed me to change careers and has offered up alternatives that wouldn't be attainable without this degree.
posted by Mutant at 3:30 AM on January 15, 2011

Outside of whether you should get an MBA and whether it's financially worthwhile, the purpose of those part time programs "for working professionals" is to make money for the university. As long as you show enough competence on the GMAT to show that you have decent language and quantitative skills, they are not going to bar you from enrolling. At worst they might put you on probation and only allow you to take a couple of classes to monitor your performance before officially enrolling you in the degree program.
posted by deanc at 6:42 AM on January 15, 2011

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