Posted on June 16, 2024

An American Candidate’s Journey to USC and UCLA with Scholarships

Tyler Sweeny graduated from Occidental College with a degree in Economics in 2021 and has since gained valuable experience working at three different companies. With only three years of full-time work experience, he decided to pursue further education to fulfill his career goal. He applied to the MBA programs at both USC and UCLA. Tyler reached out to us just a few days before the Round 2 deadlines, and together, we worked diligently on his essays for both schools. Tyler’s hard work paid off as he received admission offers from USC and UCLA, each with scholarships.

Join us for Tyler's interview with Poonam to dive deep into his application journey.

Please note that at the interview, Tyler was undecided about which program he would attend. Later, after careful consideration, he finally chose to attend USC.

In this interview, Tyler shares insights into the following:

  • His background  01:18
  • Why MBA   02:38
  • Planning for GMAT Focus Edition  05:23
  • Approach to Data Insight Question 09:12
  • Application Strategy  13:52
  • LOR Advice  15:20
  • The most challenging part of the Application  18:10
  • Importance of personality/ character in MBA applications  20:11
  • Hobbies and interests  22:46
  • Interview advice  28:36

And now presenting Tyler Sweeney…

Poonam: Hello, Tyler. How are you doing?

Tyler: I am doing well. And yourself?

Poonam: I am doing well too, thank you. Thanks for joining me in this conversation.

Tyler: My pleasure. I am happy to share any advice and talk through my process.

Poonam: Congratulations on receiving admission offers with scholarships from USC and UCLA. How do you feel about this achievement?

Tyler: I am thrilled. First and foremost, thank you for your help throughout this entire process. Applying to business school was new to me, and your guidance helped calm me down and keep my peace of mind. I ended up with two admission offers, so I couldn’t be happier. Thank you.

Poonam: I am happy too. It was a pleasure working with you. For our audience, who are watching/ listening to this conversation, could you share some details about your academic and professional background?

Tyler’s Academic and Professional Background

Tyler: Sure. I graduated in 2021 from a small liberal arts college with a major in economics. After graduating, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do but knew I had other interests.  I grew up playing sports, and I was always into the sports business. My first job was in that field, but it didn't progress as I hoped, so I moved to Los Angeles. I combined my data background with my interest in sports and entertainment and started working for a top talent agency here. I've been with them for about two years now.


Poonam: You applied to MBA programs after three years of work experience. Typically, people consider pursuing an MBA after 5-6 years of professional experience. What inspired you to make this decision sooner?

Tyler: It's two-fold. I always wanted to get a business degree, and it just felt like the right time. I was happy with my job but felt a bit complacent. I wanted to broaden my horizons and contribute more to my role with a formal education. That's why I chose a part-time program, so I could continue working and attend school simultaneously.

Poonam: The beauty of part-time programs is you can work and study in parallel while applying your learnings at work.

Tyler: Absolutely. Coming from a smaller school, I felt there were certain classes like technical classes and finance that I hadn't taken in the past. So I wanted to gain concrete, tangible skills  I could apply at work.

Tyler’s Preparation for GMAT Focus Edition

Poonam: That's wonderful. Before pursuing an MBA, you must take the GMAT. You took the GMAT Focus Edition and scored 675, which equates to 720 on the classic GMAT. Since it is a new test, there is a lot of curiosity around this test and how it compares to the classic GMAT. Can you share your experiences and advice on this test?

Tyler: Sure. I could talk about the GMAT/ GMAT Focus Edition for hours Preparing for the GMAT Focus Edition was intense. It felt like it was months of really preparing for it. Though some schools are test-optional, I knew a good GMAT score would set me apart from USC and UCLA. So I was fully committed to it. The GMAT Focus Edition came out last fall, replacing the classic GMAT by January 2024.

My study process involved refreshing basic math skills and focusing on speed since the test is timed and shorter. Each section has 20 questions in 45 minutes: you get maybe 2 minutes per question. So speed is crucial. and I practiced a lot to improve my speed.  It was a strenuous process.

In terms of scoring, I was a little perplexed because I had only known the scoring for the classic GMAT. I took the test at the exam center, so I got my score back instantly – a 675, and I thought I would probably have to retake it. But when I looked at the conversion charts, it equated to a 720. I was content. I finally closed the books- no more practice problems. I took the test around Christmas and submitted my applications by early January.

Tyler’s Advice on Approaching Data Insight Questions

Poonam: Do you have any advice on how to approach Data Insights questions?

Tyler: Sure.  I scored highest on this section because the scoring is based on your percentile. Despite getting more Data Insights questions wrong compared to the quantitative section, I scored higher in Data Insights because fewer people did well in that section. I got three or four quantitative questions wrong and ended up in the 76th percentile, but only four or five Data Insights questions wrong, which placed me in the high 90s percentile.

Understanding that you have a bit more of a buffer room with Data Insights helps. It's crucial to stop and thoroughly understand what the question is asking. Often, the logic isn't complicated, but the questions can be tricky. It's similar to reading comprehension-how well you understand and interpret the question. For questions with multiple statements, like "Is statement one true alone? Is statement two true alone? Or do they depend on each other?",  it's important to read carefully and keep calm.

Poonam: Keeping calm, taking the time to read and understand the questions, and then answering them is key.

Tyler: Exactly. Like 'Reading comprehension', Data Insights tests how well you can read what is being asked. It tests your intuition, logic, and reasoning. Studying helps familiarize you with the question flow and improves your response. My advice is to have faith in your ability to figure out the answers and maintain composure under time pressure.

Poonam: You mentioned you spent months preparing for the GMAT.

Tyler: Yes, I started studying at the beginning of the summer, planning to take the test in late fall or early winter. Instead of cramming, I studied gradually, doing practice problems every few days. Sometimes, life and work got in the way, but I would find free time to study for an hour or two. It was a spaced-out process over almost six months.

Tyler’s Application Strategy Under Time Crunch

Poonam: You reached out for help with your application essays a week or 10 days before the deadlines. We accomplished multiple edits of all four essays for USC and UCLA within that limited time. You also handled letters of recommendation and other application components. What strategy did you use, and what advice do you have for prospective applicants?

Tyler: Yes, after taking the GMAT near the holiday season, I initially planned to apply in Round 3 but then decided to go for Round 2. I reached out to you in mid-December, knowing both applications were due in early January. You were very kind to say, 'All right, let's do this.' We tackled it step by step, starting with UCLA as its deadline was first, followed by USC.

The process involved more than just essays. I had to get my transcripts, which was challenging during the holiday season, and fill out application forms with questions about myself. For UCLA, which required letters of recommendation, it was nerve-wracking to make my intentions public by asking for recommendations. My advice is to choose recommenders who know you well, understand your strengths, and genuinely want to see you succeed. Building good relationships is crucial, as you never know when you might need their support. I was fortunate to have supportive recommenders from my current employer and a former volunteer firm. It was nerve-wracking to go public, but it's important to stay calm and have faith in the process.

The Most Challenging Part of the Application Process

Poonam: That's a helpful suggestion. I always recommend choosing recommenders who want to see you succeed. What did you find to be the most challenging part of the application process, and how did you overcome it?

Tyler: The most challenging part was getting everything done on time. From taking the test to submitting applications, I had just 10 days for multiple schools. It was overwhelming, especially since I wanted it so badly and had high hopes for both schools. To overcome this, I took a deep breath and focused on one application at a time. We prioritized UCLA first since its deadline was earlier, then turned our attention to USC. This way, I could put my best effort into each application without mixing up my thoughts.

Poonam: Exactly, we decided to focus on the first deadline first, and then move to the next one.

Tyler: Right. Doing them one at a time allowed us to ensure each application was strong. Trying to do them in tandem would have diluted our efforts. We got them done and submitted them on time.

Importance of Applicant’s Personality/character in MBA Applications

Poonam: Yes, the result was good. How important do you think an applicant's personality, character, and values are in MBA program success, in addition to professional goals and accomplishments?

Tyler: Just as important, I would say. While I don't work in admissions, I believe personality plays a significant role. Business is about interacting with people, networking, and collaborating. Admissions committees can see your grades and resume, but they don't know who you are. Showing you are a normal person who can laugh, work hard, and collaborate is crucial. Schools want to foster communities of bright, outgoing individuals who can work well together.

Poonam: Absolutely. Personality is key. USC’s question was an open-ended address to the admission committee, and UCLA’s essay question was about what you will bring to the community.

Tyler: Yes, it's about community and collaboration. How can you benefit from others, and how can others benefit from you? Being personable and collaborative is essential and key to life as well.

Tyler’s Non-work Experience

Poonam: So true. Regarding your non-work experience, I found it compelling, and we highlighted that in the optional essays for both schools. Would you like to discuss your extracurricular activities?

Tyler: Sure. In college, I played basketball and later got into broadcasting, announcing basketball games as a passion project. I also worked in the admissions office, giving campus tours and taking on an administrative role. These activities weren't about money but about exploring interests and staying busy. These experiences became part of my story, helping me show my personality and interests when applying to jobs and business school.

Poonam: You were a sports announcer, tour guide coordinator, and campus tour guide. Can you elaborate on these activities?

Tyler: Yes. Announcing and tour guiding were things I did out of interest, not for money. It was the first time I pursued activities purely because I wanted to, rather than following a standard mold. After I stopped playing basketball in college, I could explore my interests and spread my wings. These experiences were invaluable, and I have no regrets. They were fun and helped shape who I am.

Poonam: And these are the activities through which you will contribute to school also.

Tyler: Absolutely. That's what I emphasized during the interview process. Whether it's directly by reaching out to prospective students, similar to my undergraduate experiences, or indirectly using my communication skills to contribute to the classroom and collaborate with peers, all the skills I have developed will be utilized in business school.

Poonam: You have been accepted into two great programs, USC and UCLA. Have you decided which one to attend?

Tyler: I haven't decided yet. I'm still weighing my options. It's a tough decision because both schools will shape the next three years of my life and have a lasting impact. Both are top-of-the-line and wonderful programs and will set me up for success. I am from the East Coast but live in California now. My parents are coming out next week, and we will visit both schools one last time before making a decision. People reassure me that there is no wrong choice, as both programs are excellent.

Tyler’s Insights into Interview Prep

Poonam: That’s true. Regarding interviews, many people get nervous, but you navigated the interview process confidently. Do you have any advice for prospective applicants?

Tyler: The biggest thing that helped me was knowing that the interviews are essentially about personality. Unlike job interviews that ask tactical questions with right or wrong answers, these interviews focus on your story—why you want an MBA, and what you can bring to the campus. Knowing your story and how to share it is key. Interview questions are very open-ended questions where there's no right or wrong answer. I think that's what the whole admissions process is, sharing your story through your essays, letters of recommendation, and sections of the applications and then in the interviews. For me, public speaking isn't a big deal, However, in social situations, I'm the opposite. I'm introverted when it comes to just walking over to somebody and introducing myself. However, if you give me a microphone and put me in front of people, I have no problem speaking. But I understand it can be challenging for some people. Just be confident, know your story, and share it.

Poonam: Your experience as a sports announcer and public speaker must have helped with the interviews.

Tyler: Definitely. But you never know how an interview will go. Sometimes you think you did well and don't hear back, or you think you bombed it and get a callback. Just be yourself and have faith. If it's meant to be, it will work out.

Poonam: That's excellent advice. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?

Tyler: No, I think we have covered everything- from the schools and the application process to the GMAT. I'll be deciding soon, but I can't thank you enough for all your help. I emailed you at 11:00 pm my time. and said I had a bit of a time crunch here. I was applying to two schools but didn’t know what they were looking for in the essays. Can you help me out? You took me on at the last minute and helped me organize my thoughts and present them succinctly. It made a big difference.

Poonam: I enjoyed working with you too, even under a time crunch. I'm thrilled about your success and wish you good luck with your decision. Whether you go to USC or UCLA, you will do great.

Tyler: Thank you, I appreciate that.

Poonam: Thank you for your time, Tyler. Good luck with your MBA journey and continued success in your career. Stay in touch, and we can discuss your MBA experience in the future.

Tyler: Absolutely. I will be happy to share any advice or insights once I start school.

Poonam: Once you decide, you can start connecting with current students, and you'll be fine. My students have told me that it's a transformative experience.

Tyler: Yes.

Poonam: All right then. Thanks again for this conversation. Good luck with everything.

You can connect with Tylor via Linkedin

Click here for Tylor’s testimonial of MER Services

Click here for his recommendation on LinkedIn.

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About MER (myEssayReview)

Poonam Tandon, the founder of MER (myEssayReview), is a Ph.D. in English with 13 years of MBA consulting experience and three decades of teaching experience in India and the US. Poonam has successfully guided hundreds of students from around the world to gain admission into the esteemed MBA, EMBA, and specialized Masters's programs in the US, Canada, Europe, and Asia. Throughout her four-decade-long professional career, she has reviewed 11,000+ essays written by applicants worldwide. Poonam was among the top 5 most reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club from September 2012 to December 2023.

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