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Executive MBA: How I got into Columbia with a 570 GMAT score

Written by Sameer Kamat

Columbia Executive MBA - Preeti Wadekar

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.

2. Faith
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….


Get help on tough GMAT verbal & maths topics on the Free GMAT Preparation helpdesk.

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!


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Sameer Kamat

About Sameer Kamat

Founder of MBA Crystal Ball | Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter @mba_cb | Facebook


18 Comments

  1. Tinu Menachery   |  Monday, 19 December 2011 at 5:56 am

    Hey Preeti ,
    Doesnt seem like your first post.. I love the way, the entire post is, funny and informative
    The fact that you have put forth ‘GYAN’ in a systematic way def helps . I totally agree with point 5.. been there done that for a friend .. (sigh)
    The guiding principles esp the “Maa ka ashirwaad” bit rocks ..
    P:S – Love your profile girl .. its super awesome..
    BTW Coffee from Strangers once in a while can lead to awesome stories .. Have a lovely Christmas a and New year

  2. Preeti Wadekar   |  Monday, 19 December 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Hey Tinu,
    Great to hear from you!

    Thanks for your comments! They are important for me because you have read it from a non-MBA applicant perspective and your insight beyond the MBA-related content matters a lot to me as a writer. Time permitting, I plan to torture people more with my random write-ups :D

    As for the “coffee from strangers” bit, maybe WE should catch up for coffee sometime when I am in Mumbai (or when you are in New York), then you could inspire me with some of these awesome stories :)

    Happy holidays and a fabulous New Year to you too!!

  3. Sameer Kamat   |  Monday, 19 December 2011 at 2:58 pm

    “…and those were the two epochal comments that made the founder of MBA Crystal Ball go, ‘Hmmm… looks like we’ve stumbled upon something big here…to hell with MBA admissions consulting…let’s convert this into a social networking site
    And the rest as they say is history. If the grapevine is to be believed, MBA Crystal Ball has just acquired Facebook for an undisclosed sum…”

    - Potential TIME magazine article in 2015

  4. Preeti Wadekar   |  Monday, 19 December 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Sameer – tathastu! (so be it!)

    Tinu and I will gladly accept royalty :)

  5. Tinu Menachery   |  Tuesday, 20 December 2011 at 5:32 am

    @ Preeti : I would def like to catch up on those ‘random write-up’s’ ..
    This Coffee invite sounds pretty Fab .. ;)

    @ Sameer : Am i glad that we have been helpful or what :) .. i second you on that one preeti – Royalty suits me just fine :)

  6. Parul Sharma   |  Saturday, 31 December 2011 at 5:18 am

    Hi Preeti,

    Firstly, Congratulations on receiving an admit from Columbia, its a great school and an extremely tough one to crack.
    I am in the process of applying to the school and really any information that you can give to me on how to make my application better would be invaluable.

    I especially wanted to know if you had written the optional essay which helped to explain to the school why they should override the GMAT score.

    It would really help me if I could get in touch with you regarding my application.

  7. Preeti Wadekar   |  Sunday, 01 January 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Hi Parul,
    Thanks a lot! And its great that you have chosen to apply to Columbia. I start my courses in less than a week and I am super excited!

    Coming to your question, I did not write the optional essay regarding my GMAT score. I gave the exam on Nov 1 and the application deadline was Nov 9. There was hardly any time for me, especially since I was not prepared to see such a low score. But I decided to move forward with my application nonetheless. And there are many components to an application, so when the AdComs say that they evaluate an application in entirety, they mean it! I am testimony to this. Besides, the interview gives you an opportunity to explain the gaps as well.

    I am happy to answer any questions you have that will help you in your application to Columbia. You can reach me at: [email ID snipped and shared separately with Parul].

    Wish you all the very best!

  8. anonymous   |  Thursday, 17 May 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Hello Preeti ,

    Congratulations on your achievement.

    I am glad that I landed up on your blog, it is truely inspirational. I am interested in Columbia EMBA program. The Fact that Columbia does not publish the avg GMAT score , makes it harder for the candidates to decide whether to apply or not.

    I plan to apply for next years session.

    How are you finding your classes and EMBA life ? It would be a great help if I can reachout to you to know more.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Best regards,

  9. Ra   |  Friday, 16 August 2013 at 4:04 pm

    EMBAs are very expensive and yet to be proven. Worldwide the B-Schools are in need to expand heavily to make more money. In today’s world anyone with few years of leadership experience can get into this. The schools look for few criteria, 1. Students capacity to pay the fee 2. Students capacity to complete the program 3. Cultural fit in the class room to emphasize team work because most of the students are not capable of completing the course by their own
    If you have these three then you are sure to get into any of the EMBA program. It is not LUCK. Because there is no fixed ceiling in number of admission in EMBA. Schools benefit a lot.

  10. Preeti Wadekar   |  Sunday, 18 August 2013 at 2:05 pm

    The factors you mention are certainly relevant. However, while I cannot speak of every school, I can certainly speak about the quality that goes into a EMBA program at a school such as Columbia, or even Wharton or Chicago Booth. If these schools start admitting every applicant who can pay and just about “fit in” they risk jeopardizing the experience for other students, which they don’t want to. The reputation of these schools and ability to attract future students heavily depends on the program experience of current and past students. Work experience is very important for EMBA because you bring your experiences to class every weekend. I have taken electives with full-time MBA students and this is a big differentiation in class discussions compared to EMBA classes.
    Besides, there is a ceiling to the number of students being admitted. A few extra students can definitely be accommodated, but classes are not conducted in stadiums.
    I have known of people being rejected to the program. If I had to go through the application process again, I would still be diligent and not advise that it is easier to get into an EMBA at a top school as compared to a full-time program.

  11. Sanjay T   |  Saturday, 24 August 2013 at 4:48 am

    Hi Preeti,

    It was quite and interesting read. I have a exactly similar background as yours but I got my GEMBA from Marshall School of Business. Would like to have a conversation with you if you have some time. I can be reached at [personal details edited].

    Thanks

  12. Preeti Wadekar   |  Friday, 30 August 2013 at 12:36 am

    Thanks Sanjay. It would be good to speak. However, I would encourage you to post comments and/ or questions on this platform so that everyone can benefit from the discussion. Look forward to hearing more from you.

  13. Ying Wang   |  Thursday, 05 September 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Hi Preeti Wadekar,

    How are you doing?

    Ying here. I am Canadian Citizen originally from China. I have 7 years work experience as Accounting Supervisor. I am working in Canada right now. I came to Canada from China for better life 7 years ago. I completed an accounting designation from China as well as from Canada. Looking for better challenges.
    I am obsessed with the EMBA for some time now.
    I did not have opportunity and money to do it in China. I am 43 years.

    Your story is inspiring to me. I work full time. Studied part time with family commitments.
    Do you think I can handle the pressure and work load and commute (from western Canada to US) of EMBA ?
    If I successfully complete EMBA, will I get a job with a job in US? How do we raise 150,000 for the program? Through student loan? I have Chinese accent. Is it a problem to get into EMBA?
    What are the extra curricular activities are usually accepted? I have not traveled to lot of countries like you.

    Have you been recruited by a good US company after the studies? Are you a US born person?
    Can you please shed some light for a potential candidate like me?

    Thanks
    Ying

  14. Preeti Wadekar   |  Sunday, 29 September 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Hi Ying,
    Thanks for your note. Its great that you are interested in pursuing an EMBA. Just be clear as to what you want from the program and you will be happy with the choice you made.
    Regarding your questions, a lot of them can actually be answered through simple online research or even by attending MBA fairs or information sessions that are hosted by the admissions office of many schools in the US. That will give you a better sense. Come up with a tentative list of schools, so that it is easier when you do targeted research.
    Regarding raising money for the program, you can perhaps ask the financial aid office of these schools. Since EMBAs are in full-time employment while in the program, sometimes the employer is also willing to sponsor candidates partly or fully, subject to conditions. You can check if your employer has any sponsorship programs.
    From my perspective, I was happy with my decision and investment. I am not comfortable answering recruitment questions here, but yes, there are good opportunities available for graduates. However, many also continue with their current employers. It really depends what you are looking for.
    And no, your Chinese accent will not be a problem. However, for a lot of us Asians, they do require that we give the TOEFL exam and submit the scores as a part of the application.
    I was already working with a reputed US Company when I went into the program. And I am not a US born person.
    Your question regarding handling the pressure of handling a full-time program alongside work and family responsibilities is a very good question. Essentially, you will be required to set aside anything between 10-15 hours of study, project work, etc. for the school on a weekly basis. This can be more during weeks of term-end paper submissions, exams, etc. Please assess this carefully and ensure that you have your family’s support.
    Apart from that, it will be necessary to evaluate your candidacy considering your experience (resume), education and other details in depth. I do not believe this can be simply done in a Q&A format on this platform. Since I am not a professional MBA admissions consultant and my research is 2 years old, I would suggest you approach someone like Sameer, who can perhaps shed some light for you as you prepare for an EMBA admission.
    Hopefully I have answered your questions. If not, please do not hesitate in approaching me again.
    Good Luck Ying!!

  15. Yingwang   |  Sunday, 13 October 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Thank you so much Preeti Wadekar for your detailed reply!!
    You answered lot of questions.
    Thank you Sameer Kamat for hosting such an informative site and facilitating conversation with people who are experienced and successful like Preeti Wadekar.

    Once again thank you so much both,

    Regards
    Ying

  16. Vinodh   |  Wednesday, 23 October 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Hi preethi,

    I have 4 years of experience post CA with Auto sector MNCs and am mainly into controlling, financial planning and analysis
    Am interested in doing MBA for a better and quick career growth
    Can u please give me your inputs in this regard

  17. Preeti   |  Wednesday, 16 April 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Hi Vinodh,
    What kind of inputs do you require? If you have a specific question, it will be easier for me to answer. Also,I would be more helpful if you have specific questions related to either Columbia Business School or Executive MBA. For general MBA questions, I think Sameer Kamat will give you the best inputs/ guidance.

  18. Josh   |  Friday, 06 June 2014 at 1:31 am

    Hey Preeti,
    Great article, Nice read. Need some help.

    I have never taken a GMAT and have applied for a couple of Ivy league colleges. One thing that is bugging me is what of the Adcom asks me why don’t you have a GMAT score. This is a EMBA program and it says that the GMAT can be waived. I need some help on how to answer this question. Any thoughts? God bless.

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