Notre Dame University (Mendoza), Olin (St Louis) and Simon (Rochester) were three MBA programs (apart from the regular suspects Harvard, Wharton, Kellogg, Chicago Booth) where Sourya Biswas applied with a GMAT score of 750.
A high GMAT score doesn’t guarantee anything. Neither do strong MBA essays or a good MBA resume, if you consider them in isolation. Sourya Biswas got the ingredients right and two bschools offered him a full-ride (100% scholarship).
But along the way, he had his share of highs and lows. Sourya persisted and did not give up on his ambition. He shares his MBA application strategy and success story.
The first time I decide to get an MBA was in the first year of engineering. The newspapers were agog with reports of an IIM-C student bagging an offer of Rs.50 lakhs and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Even then, I realized that the student would be based out of London where Rs.50 lakh, or its equivalent in pound sterling, though quite a handsome package was not as impressive as half a crore salary in India. However, these were minor issues and I decided that an MBA was the path to future success.
However, within a year, my interest abated somewhat. I was never a hardworking student, unless it be the week before the exam, and the prospect of two years of study immediately after graduation did not appeal to me. However, what took the decision right out of my hand was my family’s financial condition, which was not very healthy. My father had had to take voluntary retirement because he was being continuously posted to remote areas, often militancy-ridden, and my younger brother had started his law degree at an elite institution for which we had to take out a large loan. I decided to get a couple of years of work experience under my belt, and once my brother graduated and started work, to get my MBA.
At the same time, I did take the CAT in my final year (2003), if only to give my friends company. My first attempt was disastrous, but as things would unfold, the entire examination was canceled because of a paper leak. My second attempt was better but I did not have any hopes, considering I hadn’t prepared at all whereas my classmates were attending TIME classes. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I got 96 percentile!
Although the score was good enough to try for some pretty good colleges, it was certainly not enough to get an invitation to an IIM interview. By then, I had started work at Kanbay (now part of Capgemini) in Hyderabad and actually started being in the corporate world. I was living in shared accommodation with a college friend who had also moved to Hyderabad to take up a job with Infosys, and another one working with Satyam (luckily, he left before the Ramalinga Raju fraud came to light).
In Kanbay, I observed that senior executives, above the designation of Delivery Manager, all had MBAs. That reinforced in me the desire to get one for myself, and definitely from one of the top 3 IIMs. Although my planned two years of work experience were not yet done, I took the CAT again in 2005. My friend in Infosys was taking TIME courses, and I sometimes used to solve the test papers on weekends. With this minimal preparation I scored 99.68 percentile – 99.99 VA, 96 DI and a measly 46 QA. As is obvious, Math wasn’t my strength. Although I could have possibly, nay probably, gotten into very good colleges with this score, I was stuck on IIMs.
I moved to Mumbai in 2006 to take up a position with Citigroup. In 2006, I made a serious effort in the CAT, and ended up with a disappointing 92 percentile. Then suddenly, I fell in love. Whether it was the fact that I was in love and didn’t want to spend 2 years away from my girlfriend, or it was the disappointing score in CAT 2006, or the fact that I was earning quite well, my zeal for an MBA slackened. I thought I was doing well enough to buy a car, marry, buy a house, have kids and settle down.
However, only the car materialized. In 2008, my girlfriend of seven years broke up with me, and after combating the depression, I decided once again to get an MBA. By then I realized that IIMs were perhaps no longer a fit for me with 5 years of work experience, and I decided to explore other options. I liked ISB and decided to try and go there. I took the GMAT with no preparation other than the sample GMATPrep tests available on www.mba.com. By God’s grace, I scored 750 and I decided to explore overseas opportunities.
Like almost every Indian applicant, I applied to Harvard, Wharton, Booth and Kellogg (I skipped Stanford). And like almost every applicant, I was rejected without even an interview invitation. I got an interview from Ross, and was waitlisted, but didn’t make the final cut. I then decided to spread the net further and apply to some colleges ranked between 10 and 30. Of course, the fact that these colleges, informed about my GMAT score through GMAC, invited me to apply and mentioned possible scholarships was also a major factor. During this time, Sameer offered me valuable advice through BusinessWeek forums.
The three other colleges I applied to – Mendoza (Notre Dame), Simon (Rochester) and Olin (St. Louis), all offered me free applications. Actually, Olin had free applications for everybody. What I was looking for were – brand recognition in the US (since I wanted to work there after graduation), quality of education, scholarship opportunities and alumni network. I got acceptances from all three, with Mendoza and Olin offering me full rides. Analyzing them, and this is my personal belief, I found Notre Dame’s brand recognition and alumni network to be excellent, almost on par with the top-10 colleges. Once I researched further, I found that it has impeccable educational credentials, small classes that provided individualized attention and a culture focused on values. I knew where I wanted to spend perhaps the most important years of my professional life.
And I have been extremely happy with my decision. It met my expectations in every way, and surpassed them often. This truly is one of the best campuses in the world, and the people are extremely friendly. Although international placements were a bit difficult, I guess it’s the same everywhere in this economy. However, the college’s excellent alumni network helped me get an interview with the consulting practice a Big 4 firm, where I am happy to state, I will be starting from June 2012.
As for advice for an international MBA, I would like to offer the following suggestions:
1. Unless you are extremely rich or have a generous scholarship, you should consider taking out a mammoth loan only if you intend to stay back and work, at least for a few years.
2. Yes, jobs are tough but not absent. Recruiting is quite different than in India and networking is the key.
3. However intelligent you are, communication skills are extremely important.
Disclosure: Like many of the guest bloggers on this site, Sourya is not an MBA Crystal Ball client.