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Executive MBA: How I got into Columbia with a 570 GMAT score
Written by Sameer Kamat
No, it’s not another article on careers in the glamour industry. If you think all our guest writers are hot and glamorous, it’s merely a coincidence. Or maybe it’s the MBA Crystal Ball platform*. Or maybe it’s Maybelline.
Preeti Wadekar has managed to crack into an insanely competitive Ivy League school despite challenges (like a low GMAT score). What was her strategy for Columbia? What can you learn from Warren Buffett when it comes to B-school applications? Why Munni and Sheila couldn’t get into a B-school? She explains all this and more.
How I got into Columbia with a 570
So folks, for starters, this is my first blog post and more about my own application strategy and NOT an admissions consulting advice (though at times it may come out that way – sorry, being a consultant, old habits can die hard!)
Secondly, I am an Executive MBA (EMBA) student [and that is NOT part-time!!] and not a full-time candidate. That being said, a lot of what I have written will apply equally to a full-time candidate as I myself leveraged heavily on resources available for full-time students.
So here is a sneak peak into all of my 4.5 months application journey (including studying for and taking the GMAT) and finding my way into a school that I always wanted to be a part of.
1. Soul searching
Step 1. Don’t miss. A certain Sameer Kamat’s book, Beyond the MBA Hype, was not published by then, so I settled down with “Case Studies and Cocktails” by Shuchart & Ryan. This book deals with what happens ‘after’ you are admitted and gives great insight into life at a top MBA program. It is written primarily for full-time candidates, but it is very insightful for all aspiring MBAs.
2. It’s all about the ‘Timing’ baby!
The “Why an MBA now” question! I had ruled out a full-time MBA at several points during the early years of my career only because I wanted to time it right.
Besides, Executive MBA always made more sense for me, as I wanted to leverage on the rich corporate experience my classmates would bring to the classroom and take away something more than academia.
So I invested time in building my corporate career and time my entry when I was ready to move into a role that would require skills delivered by a top MBA program. My employer in his recommendation backed this so I earned a few brownie points here.
(Note: The biggest challenge EMBA applicants face is to convince employers that they are at the right time in their careers to go for an MBA. So this question is inherently taken care of)
3. If you do not know your destination, any road will take you there…..
This better NOT be your mantra when you craft your application. A candidate who has sketchy goals may come across as flighty for real responsibility and a ripe case for dismissal.
As for me, I know I want to go to the moon someday!! But that was not what I wrote in my application. I thought probably it was best to tell that to the AdCom after I was admitted and better to save something sensible for my application. That being said, I had couple of plans. But I chose one that translated into my short-term goal and was SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.
4. Insider Trading (oops!)
Finally, having loads of inside information (and using it to your advantage!) will not land you behind bars! I knew I wanted to be in New York city so my research surrounded NYU Stern and Columbia. While Information Sessions and MBA Fairs served as a tip of the iceberg, attending classes at both schools, speaking with alumni (okay, alumnus and only at one school!) and attending events held by student organisations was very insightful and helped me gauge my ‘fit’. I researched their websites for information on faculty, core courses, electives and student organisations (trust me there is so much information that at one point I thought I was already a part of Columbia – I just knew so much!)
When you are coughing up a whopping $150k, it’s wise to remember that perception (the way schools are perceived) can be tricky and it serves your best interest to really dig deep beneath the layers to know what’s really in store for you and how a certain school helps you achieve your goals. Trust me, put your insights in your essays and the AdCom will love you!
5. Why you and why not Tom, Dick or Harry or even Munni or Sheila….!?
Branding. USPs. This is what it’s all about. The brand themes around which I spun my story were:
– International Business Exposure, having worked in over 25 countries across the globe. Having successfully worked with diverse nationalities, I could add a sub-theme of intercultural sensitivity;
– Leadership and Management experience for over 5 years;
– Passionate, Adventurous and a Risk taker.
And I made sure to bring out these brand themes via specific examples without actually spelling them out!
6. Compensating Controls
This is a very common term in the world of risk management. It means that when a control fails in a processes thereby exposing the process to a risk, there should a compensating control elsewhere that mitigates the risk.
To put this in my context, my single and biggest blooper was my GMAT score. Given my double accounting degrees and the analytical nature of my job, I was sure the AdCom would note that I was comfortable handling numbers. As for verbal, I believe a high TOEFL score and my essays served as corroborative evidence.
7. 2 cents from the ‘Sage of Omaha’
Warren Buffet’s investment philosophy is to acquire and hold companies over the long run. One of his acquisition criteria, as taken from Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report is – Demonstrated consistent earning power (future projections are of no interest to us, nor are ‘turnaround’ situations).
My resume brought out this factor very clearly with either a consistent or an upward trajectory in my career with no unexplained breaks.
My guiding principles in taking the risk despite a low GMAT score were:
1. Calculated Risk
I knew there were many strengths to my application compared to the one blooper. Also, for an executive MBA, the thrust is mainly on the depth of your professional and leadership experience (NYU does not even require a GMAT and Columbia does not publish mean/ median GMAT scores for EMBA applicants), so it was more of a calculated risk.
I knew that if I was confident and convinced of my candidature I could put forth a good pitch.
3. Maa ka aashirwaad!
That being said, I am happy the risk paid off and I still hear the echo of my own ecstasy on receiving that coveted congratulatory call….
Preeti is an audit and consulting professional with over 8 years of work experience in statutory and internal audits, risk management and process consultation, IT reviews, forensic audits, transfer-pricing certifications and other regulatory matters.
She holds accounting degrees from India (Chartered Accountant) and the US (CPA). She currently works with Siemens Corporation in their Corporate Audit Department and is based out of New Jersey, USA. She is currently not entertaining coffee in NY requests, specially from strangers.
*Disclosure: Like many of our guest writers, Preeti is not an MBA Crystal Ball client. Dammit, the notional revenue losses keep piling up!