Kenan Flagler – University of North Carolina (UNC): Pranjali’s MBA application

Kenan Flagler UNC MBA Pranjali If you’ve been around on our blog for a while, you might have occasionally suspected that Pranjali Deshpande spends more time writing for us than for her own blog. We took it one step further and requested her to write a ‘short’ 500-word blog post for us covering her UNC-Kenan Flagler story. She sent us 1300+ words! So recruiters, when she says in her resume that she ‘endeavours to go beyond expectations’, take her seriously.
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My journey through the application process has been nowhere close to sensational or ground breaking as it has been for some of my blogger friends. Mining for every nugget of my professional and personal life which I had deemed insignificant not so long ago has tired me out and also made me more patient, honest, humble and reflective.. Okay, the last one’s a stretch!!

My appetite for an MBA was definitely induced by my husband. I would be lying if I denied him the credit! AT first I only saw it as a distant dream, a distraction from my mundane work days. I never realized it would become an all consuming passion, a kind of passion that keeps you awake till 5 am when you are re-shaping your ‘almost perfect’ essay and are desperate to hit ‘send’ to your reviewer, an equally weary eyed mortal who has looked at your worst drafts to your best gems and now knows your deepest, darkest secrets!

Most people research their schools, goals and GMAT for ages before they embark on this exhilarating (read exhausting) journey. A normal person would have planned it in the following manner:

1. Shortlist colleges aligned with your goal
2. Know the acceptable GMAT range for these colleges
3. Plan for GMAT and actually get a score in that range.
4. Apply

For me, this wasn’t the normal sequence of steps. I first planned for the GMAT in March and took a date for 6th June. I worked really hard but landed badly with a 660 (Q48, V33). At that point, I knew that this score wasn’t going to work at all, given the ‘competitive’ (yes you, the IIMs!!) pool of applicants I belong to.

After a few days of ‘mind detox’ I decided to take the GMAT again. I quit my current job and had accepted a new job offer and had precisely 5 weeks in between. And so I knew I had to make the best use of the available time! I retook the GMAT and you can view for yourself my journey at this link. As you can see from the URL, I scored a modest 710 (Q48, V40) and managed an >80 percentile in both sections. It isn’t spectacular, but at least I had taken care of that tick in the box opposite the GMAT component of my application.

And then began the real hard work. Since I had very little time as I had finished my GMAT by mid September and had precisely 1 month to the R1 deadline. Before I took the GMAT, my previous list of schools was: Booth, Darden, Fuqua, Schulich, Ross. I chose these schools on the GMAT simply because I didn’t know about other schools. I wouldn’t advise the same to anyone else. You need to have a fair idea of what you are getting into and use the 5 schools that will receive your scores for free wisely! After all, sending a score to every other school afterward costs approximately INR 1200. I had spoken to very few current students before short listing my colleges. I mostly trusted the BW rankings for reference.

Since I was way past mid of September I decided to hire one of the famous chain of admission consultants in India. To avoid controversy, I wont elaborate on the things that didn’t work me on the consultant front. If you wish to know more, feel free to write to me and we can discuss about what worked for me and what didn’t , on the consultant front. Sameer, I hope I don’t get into trouble for writing this!! I sincerely wish I had gone through the MCB website and its services before I applied. But all’s well that ends well.

Let me run the numbers by you .
1. GMAT: 710 (Q48,V40)
2. GPA: 3.5 or so (my school calculated this automatically, didn’t have to convert and send my GPA)
3. Work profile: business process and solution consultant for a telecom client
4. International experience: UK and Germany

I applied to only two schools in R1 – Darden and UNC. I ensured that I didn’t stress the ‘burger (wada pav) eating coder sitting in the corner cubicle furiously coding away till the wee hours of morning’ aspect of my work experience at all. Anyway, I can’t code to save my life and I ensured that my usual ‘software engineer’ experiences were least emphasized! A few pointers for the application process that worked for me.

1. Every nugget of your personal and professional life that you deem insignificant IS NOT! It doesn’t matter what you did as long as you know how to project it to your best advantage without sounding arrogant or boring.

2. If you feel your work was insignificant or your contribution to your project wasn’t as great as you would like it to be, ask yourself. Did the other person in the project do it the way I did it? What did I do differently that led to the success of my project? Compare yourself to other people and you will get fresh insights into your own personality.

3. Chose a balanced mix of reviewers. In my case, I had the following sets of reviewers

A. A non-techie: my sister – a prolific writer and a non-techie. She rapped my knuckles (metaphorically) every time I used “IT” specific terminology that didn’t make sense to a businessman (read Adcom).

B. A current student: A current student, if he/she is willing, is the best gift to an applicant. But you need to know where to draw the line. At the end of the day, the student only has his /her perspective on what got him/her in the school. Refer to Sameer’s article on this topic to know more.

C. A close friend/spouse/girl friend/boy friend: Someone who appreciates you and knows whether you come across as ‘yourself’ in the essays, while helping you use your best experiences in life to your advantage.

4. Essay writing is an incremental process. Too many people get caught up in writing the perfect ‘first draft’ to send to the reviewers and lose precious sleep over it. It wouldn’t be a draft if it were perfect right? So relax! The most important thing is to organize your thoughts and know which experiences you are going to use in which essays. Put these experiences in your first draft and then work on these. So essays are like ‘achaars’ or ‘old wine’. They mature with age!

5. Develop a marketing strategy for yourself by trying to describe yourself in 4-5 words and that should be the overall message of your application. I ensured that I read my application as a complete package and noted down different qualities that I wanted to depict in different essays. I removed any traces of redundancy. Don’t overuse the same /similar examples all over your application unless you are able to bring out different qualities of your personality in the essays. Also, factor in the examples that your recommenders will write about you. When I wrote down points for my recommenders, I knew that I could not use those examples in the exact same manner in my essays.
Once I had submitted my application, I prepared extensively for the interview. I had pinned down every detail I needed to take care of, right down to the watch I would wear with my business suit on the day of the interview! I used ClearAdmit Wiki as my database of interview questions and then worked with my reviewers and mock interviewers over the phone. I have a more detailed debrief of my UNC application on my blog if you are interested in viewing the same here

If I were to go back and change things I did, I would!! But right now, am just happy that its over and I now have to take care of the daunting dollars I need to raise to sustain two years at school. Any sponsors out there?

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Check out Pranjali’s blog for more tips and ideas, except maybe the little section on ‘sticking to the word-count in essays’ where you might want to do your own research. Any questions for Pranjali?


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Sameer Kamat //
Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook | Linkedin

7 Comments

  1. Ash says:

    Great article!

  2. MBA Roadie says:

    Inspiring story Pranjali!! thanks…btw, r u working with TechM Pune?

    Congratulations for your admit to UNC-KF.

    This is my profile:
    GMAT: 650 quant:87%ile, verbal 55%ile) AWA: 5.0
    Work experience: 4.5 years in telecom industry.
    Good extra-curricular and academics.

    I am seriously planning to retake GMAT in March 2011.

    I applied to below b-schools.

    1. UNC-KF: Applied in Round 2. Still waiting to get any response from their side.
    2. ESADE: Wait-listed before even short-listing for interview.
    3. ISB: Applied in Round 2. Still waiting to get any response from their side.
    4. Hult: Admitted with $10k scholarship. Total tution fee is $55k (1 year program).
    5. Wake Forest: Short-listed for interview. I have my interview over Skype on 20th Jan.

    Please can you guide me in my process – What should I plan for next few months.

    Thanks
    MBA Roadie

  3. Pranjali says:

    this is scary… did you see me in tech M ???
    dont tell me you are also in Tech M..if so, gimme your ID and we can talk.. aur mere manager ko mat batana ki mera admit aa gaya hai.. currently, am the office bet, boss’s favorite coz am working really hard ;)
    I think Sameer can better guide you in this process but i have shared my 2 cents with you as a reply to the mail you sent me on BTG.

  4. Gopi says:

    Hi Pranjali,

    Congrats on the Kenan Flagler admit!

    Would love to hear your insights on how you tailored your app specifically for Kenan-Flagler. Another blog post hopefully? :-)

    I too am from Pune and am a Corporate lawyer by profession. Am gunning for the 2012 in take and Kenan Flagler is on my list. Would love to connect. Who knows, I might be your junior at Kenan Flagler next year!

    All the best for you funding hunt.

    Cheers! :-)

    Gopi

  5. Pranjali says:

    Thanks Gopi. If Sameer allows me to take up more space here then I can definitely write another post ;)
    We can speak in depth , please email me and we can take it from there? If there is something I haven’t shared on my blog / MCB blog before, I will write a proper post this time..
    email me at pranjali.deshpande@gmail.com
    And good luck with your apps.. Your profile is distinct and will carry you far :))
    Cheers,
    Pranjali

  6. cristy says:

    Hi Priyanjali,

    I read your story at

    http://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2011/01/16/kenan-flagler-%E2%80%93-university-of-north-carolina-unc-pranjali%E2%80%99s-mba-application/

    It was very inspiring and since i am from planning to apply to UNC Full-time MBA program, i would really appreciate your guidance on the matter.

    I will brief my profile and list the questions:

    Undergrad: 75%
    Senior secondary: 90%
    Secondary : 85%

    Profile: 4.5 yr experience
    -Senior Design Engineer, Semiconductor industry (5th largest semiconductor company)
    -Facilitator and coordinator in NGO

    Career progression:
    -Started my career as an associate engineer and moved up to become design engineer and then senior design engineer within a short span of 3 years.
    -Key contribution: Responsible for innovation and development of a tool, which helped save close to $2 million dollars annually. Affecting the overall cycle of Semiconductor chip manufacturing cycle and helped save more than a month time in overall process, thus increasing time to market and contributed to the optimization of entire chip development process successfully.
    -Written Technical papers and articles during college and work.
    -As technical trainer, conducted sessions at national and international sites.
    -Worked closely with people from varied nationalities such as Europe, Britain, America and Asia.

    -As part of founding team of CSR initiative of my current organization, worked closely with establishment, management and development of CSR initiative of the organization that has currently affected more than 0.2 million people globally and running in more than 100 countries.
    -Facilitator and coordinator of India center “Digital Divide initiative”, a program for free computer education.

    My job basically involves R&D activities, along with customer interactions, numerous travels both national and international, strong focus on marketing and management of innovative methods.
    Specialty:
    1) International experience: Worked in France.
    2) Strong analytical skills and innovation.
    3) Communication and Presentation skills: Involved in customer interaction on a daily basis. Conducted trainings and presented papers.
    4) Management and facilitation: Managed team of 200 people and facilitated the procurement, development, and training of participants and brought several new NGOs to join the initiative.
    5) People management and travels: Traveled extensively within my country especially to rural areas.
    6) Strong extra-curricular.

    GMAT score: 660

    1) I am aware that GMAT score is my weakest link, so i would like to know what are my chances of at UNC Kenan Flagler.
    How much weight-age is given to GMAT score and how can i cover up for that?
    Could you suggest some other US good schools?
    2) I have been advised to network with alums. How much it helps and exactly what level of networking is important? Does networking play role in interview calls as well?
    3) Round 1 vs Round 2. Do you think applying in round 2 will be a good idea?
    I read somewhere that it is less probable to get through in round 2. Is this true or just a myth?

    Regards,
    Cristy

    • Sameer Kamat says:

      Cristy,

      I’m not sure if Pranjali is still keeping a tab on the comments and queries on this post. You could leave a comment on her blog. You’ll find the URL towards the end of the post.

      Good luck!

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