It’s a tough road to become a Chartered Accountant. Ranked among the most difficult exams in the world, the passing percentage for all 3 CA exams is in the low single digits. If you considered folks clearing all three exams in the first attempt it drops to a shocking 1%. That explains why many drop the idea midway. Why would anyone consider going for an MBA degree after CA, when they are already part of a super-selective professional group?
Chartered Accountant, Suraj Mehta (name changed), outgrew his role rather quickly and started thinking about getting an MBA. His concerted planning and efforts got him into India’s best business school ISB with a full tuition waiver!
In a class of 800, only 7 students (less than 1%, just like the CA pass percentage) are offered a full scholarship i.e. 100% tuition waiver, the highest amount of financial aid you can get from ISB. With taxes that amounts to around 25 lakhs. Quite a bit of savings there.
From my childhood I have had an interest in finance and the stock market. This was an interest kindled by grandfather who introduced me the stocks and shares at the age of 9. This interest led to my educational decision to take up the Chartered Accountancy.
The course involved a lot of hard work and multi-tasking, juggling articleship with a Big 4 audit firm, undergrad studies and the CA exams itself (the 3 exam levels cumulatively have a less than 1% first attempt success rate).
Post qualifying as a Chartered Accountant, I took up an opportunity to work abroad in an audit role based out of London. I enjoyed the international experience and working with different people on projects.
But, within a year felt constrained that my core role revolved primarily around solving for operational risks. I started volunteering with a UK based social enterprise and found it both challenging and fulfilling. With a view to take a leap out of my comfort zone and engage in work I would find more meaningful I took up a social sector fellowship program in India.
In my current role I have had the opportunity to work on a wide domain of problems outside my core expertise such as in digital marketing. I have also had interesting experiences such as working with a banana hand cart vendor – thereby extending my comfort zone manifold.
With the desire to extend my interest in problem solving further I was (and still am) keen on becoming a Management Consultant in the near term before specializing in social sector consulting in the long term.
I saw the MBA as a good option to help facilitate this transition.
Before starting my GMAT prep, my goal was to score at least a 700. But, after conversations with MG from MBA Crystal Ball I decided to aim higher.
GMAT is in no way going to be the only deciding factor for any application, but it is certainly one of those factors that is changeable (compared to work industry, undergrad GPA etc).
I relied on a self-study regime using Manhattan strategy guides for Quants and Sentence correction. For practice I relied primarily on GMAT material – OG, practice questions and tests. The key to excelling in the GMAT is quickly identifying your strengths and weaknesses and practice.
I gave a GMAT mock even before starting prep and scored an abysmal 550. But, this clearly helped me understand key focus areas (Sentence correction and quant – I did well in Critical Reasoning and Comprehension) and I tailored my study pattern accordingly.
With about 4 months of preparation along with work I scored 710 in the test. I wasn’t particularly thrilled, since I had scored 740 in one of the mocks. I decided to forget about the GMAT for a while and got back to work.
After a few months, I decided to re-take the GMAT, but with only a week’s revision. This time in the mock I scored 700 but decided to give it anyway as the scores usually have a variability of +/- 30 points.
I was ecstatic to see a 740 flash on my screen at the end of the test.
I consider myself a logical and objective thinker normally. But, when it comes to thinking about key decisions for myself as it did for the MBA applications, I tend to lose track of objectivity and act emotionally. I knew expert advice would be extremely useful here.
Here, MG was the perfect guiding force – from helping me shortlist colleges, to brainstorming for and reviewing essays.
I had already read Sameer’s book – Beyond the MBA Hype – and found that it provided an authentic account of the “MBA scene”.
Initial conversations with MG convinced me that these were guys that weren’t after your money but were genuinely interested in helping you achieve optimal outcomes.
In fact, on multiple occasions MG told me to not sign up for an MCB product that would cost more, purely because he didn’t think that would add value.
This convinced me and I signed up with MCB. Since then, MG has been the perfect guiding force – from helping me shortlist colleges, to brainstorming for and reviewing essays. This is something that was consistent when working with MG.
The first time I would look at an essay topic ranging from – the deeply reflective to the insanely creative, I would wonder how in the world I was going to deliver. MG was tremendously helpful here – he gave me honest feedback on my essays and helped me put my best foot forward in the applications.
The one thing I learnt from MG throughout the process was the importance of structure while communicating. This was something that came in super handy during my interview.
I applied to ISB in round one (read about ISB Round 1 vs Round 2) and got an interview invite. Keeping MG’s advice in mind I had done my interview prep trying to ensure structure to my answers. One of the interviewers on a few occasions asked me to outline my responses on a paper. He said this would help him evaluate how structured my thinking was.
The interview went well with questions ranging from my career goals, work profile, industry knowledge and hobbies.The interviewers ended saying that I was an interesting person. I didn’t know if this was a good or a bad comment from an MBA admissions perspective and was hoping for the best.
Finally, I was thrilled to see the results – Admit with a Rs. 10 lakh merit based tuition waiver. Around 25 to 30 candidates (out of a class of around 800) are offered partial tuition waivers ranging from Rs. 5 lakh to Rs. 10 lakh. I happily accepted the offer.
A few days later, I learnt that they had changed the partial scholarship to a full scholarship.
Why did I take up ISB instead of applying to other top 20 US programs?
Firstly, ISB is one of the best if not “the best” MBA program in India. Studying here would be a great experience and would help me transition into my preferred role post MBA.
Secondly, recent events in the US including the election results increase the level of uncertainty to secure a work permit post-MBA. While, this is in no way to suggest that from now onward getting a work visa in the US will certainly become difficult, it just increases the level of uncertainty raising the overall risk.
Thirdly, I see myself more as a “What person” than a “Where person”. What matters to me more is the kind of role I take up rather than where I am based out of. Of course, the “what” and the “where” don’t need to be mutually exclusive, but knowing what matters more simplifies decision making.
The MBA application is a journey in itself – forced me to reflect on key aspects, from thinking about my strengths and weaknesses to developing clarity about my long term goals. While the process was quite draining it was also enjoyable – from making infographics to writing rhymes for the creative essays.
For those planning to apply to ISB and seeking a scholarship, I would suggest working on the following 3 things in no particular order of importance:
1. A strong GMAT
2. Clarity about goals (Communicated clearly in the essays and interview)
3. Interview prep – communicating with structure.
The above 3 might seem generic, but are mostly the only things changeable by the time you decide to apply. Factors such as work experience, undergrad performance and others are normally fixed by the time one decides to apply.
I wish you all the best and all I can say is – Enjoy the applications journey!
Editorial Update (5th Dec 2016): Three days after this article was published, Suraj got back to us saying ISB had hiked the partial scholarship to a full scholarship. So, he now gets a free ride at ISB. We’ve updated the article accordingly, based on his update.
Read these related posts:
– Chartered Accountant (CA) vs MBA: Differences & career prospects
– Is Chartered Accountancy (CA) articleship counted as experience?
– How I got into ISB with scholarship in my third attempt
– ISB Hyderabad admission with low GMAT score of 610