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Vanderbilt MBA (Owen) in HR – Human Resource Management

Written by Sameer Kamat

Though the MBA rankings might have a different viewpoint, Komal Pathak (name changed) thinks of the Vanderbilt MBA program (Owen) as the ‘Harvard in HR’. She had a bit of a rough ride with her GMAT score and she was pretty clear about the business schools that she wanted to apply to.

Many of her advisors and well-wishers painted a bleak scenario for an international (Indian) candidate trying to get into a Human Resources role in an American company.

But she went ahead and applied to the Vanderbilt MBA. Minutes after her fantastic interview with the Vanderbilt MBA admissions officer, she got a shock. And then soon after, a pleasant surprise. Komal has written interesting articles for a US-based newspaper. See if her flair for journalism comes across in her writing.


Vanderbilt MBA (Owen) – HR Specialisation

I am your average Jane who comes without any fancy awards or conferral frills. I am guilty of putting my folks through the quarterly episodes of embarrassment at parent teachers meet, all my high school years. I am every mathematician’s horror. Taking a clue from my feeble score report I avoided the fashionable careers and joined Mass Communication and Media bachelor’s degree at Delhi University.

After working for seven years, it dawned upon me that I would be better managing people than a Business Development Manager for International markets – Oh yes forgot to share! The plot of my story changed tracks some 4 years ago. I converted from a journalist with a jhola and a scratch pad, addicted to the press club tea to a suited corporate manager with a blackberry glued to Decaf Latte. While I swam through the corporate cosmos dexterously, I also felt the need to acquire structured business education. Step one – take the GMAT!

I took my first GMAT in Sep 2010 and scored a dismal 600. The moment the Pearson Associate announced my score I knew I wanted to take the test again, so I did – in July 2011. I won’t advise this long a break between your first test and the retake but I got married and moved to the US and took time to settle. Ok, so coming back to the second GMAT – this time a 660 with an improved quant and verbal percentile. I made peace with the score and was faced with the real deal breaker question – What MBA colleges to apply to.

I was clear about two things – a) I should not be over ambitious and apply to (touch-me-not) Ivy leagues, though a small part of you will always dreams to be part of Ivy clan- Not me!. B) I knew I wanted to study Human Resource Management. Though, these two criteria did immensely shrink the list of my target schools (since only a handful of schools offer HR immersion, Sigh!), but my worries were far from over.

I started to question the prospect of placement in the HR field after I finish business school since clearly I had no work experience to back my choice of HR elective and my apprehension was compounded when my husband’s friends (all working business professional inclusive of a good chunk of Americans too) gingerly explained that I will always be considered as an outsider in the HR function since I come from a different culture and country. Ouch!

That hurt……and for days I kept fiddling with pros and cons but finally, I decided not to let the noise of others’ opinions drown out my own inner call. What an irony that I could be such a sourpuss??! On the land governed by Barack Obama who gave us the slogan “Yes We can”.

Moving on, a side note — once you decide on what immersion you wish to study I highly recommend that you skim through topics covered under that immersion and see if they cater to your needs of investing your time and money in pursuing an MBA.

Two advantages of doing this exercise are –
A) You can further trim the list of your target schools.
B) You will be in a better position to explain “why this school” in essays and interviews and trust me, an insight into school’s curriculum and specific topics that interest you matter.

One of the schools that I did apply to and badly wanted an admit into was – Vanderbilt MBA Owen – I like to call it the ‘Harvard in HR’. Its HR program is comprehensive and detailed with excellent support from alums and industry and is ranked third after Stanford and Cornell. I worked hard on the essays and applied in Round 2 – Nov 28 deadline.

While I waited to hear from them patiently, with each passing day the chances of an interview call seemed bleak but my eyes were set on this school. To learn more about the school and its fabric I met one of their current students while she was visiting her family in Boston over winter break. I got great insights and a lot of dough to hold conversations around it in my interview. But I heard nothing from the school!

I also joined in all the web chat sessions organized by the school, the conversations were very enriching. Benefit of these chats is that you not only get your answers but sometimes an answer to another’s query provides you with a wonderful pointer which you can flaunt in front of the interviewer. But I still did not hear from the school!

An anxious I learnt from various MBA forums that applicants who applied in Round 2 had already been interviewed and received admits. Sigh! and I still heard nothing from the school! But an email that I received on the morning of Jan 6 was about to turn the tide of despair. It stated that Vanderbilt MBA is visiting Boston and applicants (at any stage of their application) schedule their evaluative interview.

At first, I was not sure if that was a good idea, I didn’t want to look desperate and thank God, I did not waste too much time to shoot an email with my resume requesting for a slot since the slots fill in quickly. The adcom appreciates this initative on your part and sees it as your keenness to join their program so it’s a win–win situation for you.

My Vanderbilt MBA interview was scheduled for Jan 10 and I was a nervous wreck, worried about the way my hair looked to the shape of my unfiled nails. I was to be interviewed by Jill Dunham in the hotel lobby, the lobby was both overcrowded and loud for my comfort but my worries evaporated the moment Jill showed up. I knew this was my only shot, so I gave it my best.

The interview went on as a conversation where she asked why MBA, why Vanderbilt MBA, why now…yada-yada-yada. The most interesting question she asked was – “If I were to send you on a vacation with your husband what are things that you will you do to make the most out of that vacation.”

The good thing was that I was carrying a copy of the newspaper that I write for here, in the US. She seemed visibly impressed and requested if she could carry the paper to show it to her team.

No affirmative answer but I left content. The smile did not last long, a complete shocker in next ten minutes, I receive an email from the Vanderbilt MBA program that I am denied admission this year, I could not believe what I just received in my inbox, I wrote to Jill asking about the mail to which she replied after 2 full days that It was a mistake and she will get back to me with a decision before Jan 20. Yes, she did revert – on the afternoon of Jan 19 – Congrats you are in for 2012 Vanderbilt MBA class!!! Phew!!!


Komal’s won half the battle by getting into the MBA specialisation and business school of her choice. The second half would be for her to break into the Human Resources (HR) field after she graduates. Let’s wish her good luck.


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Sameer Kamat

About Sameer Kamat

Founder of MBA Crystal Ball | Author of 'Beyond The MBA Hype' | Cambridge MBA Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter @mba_cb

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