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Stanford MBA (full scholarship) vs Harvard Business School: Reliance Dhirubhai Fellowship Winner

While the battle of the giants in the MBA world – Harvard Business School (HBS) and Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) – has raged on for a long time, very few Indians have been in the envious position to have got admits from both.

That number shrinks further if you consider Indians who’ve got a 100% free ride (i.e. full scholarship) from either of them.

IIT Madras graduate and former McKinsey consultant, Ankur Gigras, falls in that super-elite pool. Though his down-to-earth and simplistic style of narration reflects none of the arrogance or eliteness you might expect from someone with such credentials.

How I got into Stanford GSB MBA (full scholarship) & Harvard Business School

Stanford Reliance Dhirubhai Fellowship Winner | Scholarship for MBA

by Ankur Gigras

Stanford Business SchoolIt was midnight and I was clicking refresh on my browser screen again and again to see if Harvard Business School (HBS) results were out. Finally, I got to see the results. It was an admit!

The next day morning around 2PM IST, I received a call from Derrick Bolton, Assistant Dean for admissions at GSB, Stanford that I have been admitted. When I asked about the MBA scholarship (Stanford Reliance Dhirubhai Fellowship), he replied, “yes, you have that too. It covers your tuition and living. Do you have any questions/concerns you want to talk about?” By that time, I was speechless. I just thanked Derrick and put the phone down. It was really one of the best days of my life!

By background, I am from a small city and have done my Chemical Engineering at IIT Madras. From IIT, I was lucky enough to be placed at McKinsey & Co. and then left that after 2 years of analyst program to join Abbott Labs in Mumbai to work on implementing their growth strategy. I wanted to do an MBA because I wanted to complete the arsenal of my business knowledge.

I wanted to take courses that build my fundamentals of finance, marketing and consolidate whatever I had learnt over 3 years to allow me to pursue my passion in the future. I discussed my aspirations with my mentors and my bosses and decided to apply to business schools after 3 years of experience. Based on my discussions I decided to take chances in Round 1 and Round 2. Round 1, I decided to apply to HBS and Stan and keep Wharton for Round 2, in case something seriously bad happens in Round 1.

GMAT prep for Harvard / Stanford Business School admissions

The next step was cracking the GMAT. I prepped for a couple of months, read through the standard GMAT guides and took a lot of practice exams.

Finally, when I gave the exam, my score was above the average score for both HBS and GSB. I think the key to scoring well in GMAT is to practice and to keep a cool head during the exam.

Given that the exam is tiringly long, it’s good to practice as much as possible using the online test prep software.

Writing the Harvard & Stanford Business School MBA Essays

The next step was to write good and complete essays for the application. From where I saw the application process, I wanted to make my application as personal, consistent and real as possible. I wanted to bring life to those essays and make the admission office want to talk to me once they read my story, and most importantly, it had to be “my story”.

As a result, I brainstormed a few ideas of how to structure my essays with a few very good friends from McKinsey and figured out what I wanted to write about. I then wrote the first draft and sent my applications to two of my friend at Kellogg and HBS.

My friend at Kellogg responded within a day with just two words – “call me”. I called him asap and his feedback was very simple. While the essays were “OK”, it would be better if I rewrote them and restructure most of my points! I agreed and took the next couple of weeks to rewrite the entire essay set for HBS and Stan.

After two iterations and one complete idea change (My friends convinced me that my idea was stupid!) the essays were good to go! I also made my recommenders go through my essays so that they can realize how I am positioning myself and provide recommendations in sync with what I had written (remember consistency is exceptionally important!).

My Harvard & Stanford Business School MBA Interview experience

Thankfully, I got interview calls from both Harvard and Stanford Business Schools and I prepared by going through tons of questions on websites, talking to people who had gone through this process before and by reciting my answers in front of people who knew me so that I know what to say and what to avoid!

The interviews were an interesting experience. While one of my interviews was very warm and polite, the other one was a stress test! (Don’t ask me which one was which!)

Thankfully, my preparation kicked in and I did not blurt anything random either in the stress test or during the warm and polite discussion session.

Advice for those targeting Harvard & Stanford MBA

If I were to synthesize my learning from the point of view of Indian applicants, here would be my takeaways

Strategize how to apply
Keep some of your first choice schools in Round 1, while keep a few for Round 2. You never know what can go wrong in these processes!

Practice for GMAT
Sitting for 3+ hours in an AC room in front of a computer screen is much more difficult than you think!

Look for MBA scholarships
Most schools would have the names of scholarships on their web pages. I found one and hence my 2 years of Stanford education were free while many of my friends simply did not get it because they had no idea that it existed.

Personalize your essays
It sounds simple, but the admission committee officer sitting in a room reading your essays should feel a connection to you. The essay is your only way to reach out to them and tell them that you are interesting enough to warrant a call.

Keep things consistent
Bad things can happen if your recommenders write your strengths and you have indicated them as your weaknesses in your essays! Make sure every single one of your recommender knows what your essay thesis is.

Be prepared for anything in an interview
Most likely, you will get a surprise question during an interview. Don’t picture an ideal interview in your mind, just go with the flow and answer them!

– Ankur

It’s easy for someone reading this story to get carried away by the simplicity of the story and undermine how difficult it can get to crack the code. However, while formulating your admissions strategy, keep in mind that the acceptance rates at Harvard (hovering around 12-13%) and Stanford MBA (under 7% selectivity) are the toughest in the world.

If you are really serious about getting into any of the elite MBA programs and looking for MBA application guidance from Ankur, drop us an email with your profile details on: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com.


Ankur’s MBA Consulting success stories

Ankur has helped many MBA applicants (including those with low GMAT scores / low GPA and reapplicants) get into several prestigious business schools across the world. Here’s a small sampling of his MBA success stories:

Working with Stanford MBA grad Ankur on the MBA essays was an extremely satisfying experience. His feedback inputs were quite thought provoking and they made my essays more wholesome and coherent.

Read more: On-the-spot MBA admit after 3 minute interview

Ankur guided me through MBA MAP and gave me invaluable inputs which led me to choose the right mix of schools and also helped me refine my career goals. During the research post MAP, I re-adjusted my post-MBA goals. But yet, my application results were surprisingly mirrored by the MAP report.

Read more: Top MBA in USA as a reapplicant

Ankur had a unique perspective and some great suggestions. He helped me to refine my answers and advised me to elaborate not on ‘What I did’ but rather ‘Why I did’ something. He was very polite and soft-spoken throughout all our interactions. He was just the kind of mentor I needed for my application process.

Read more: Top MBA in UK as a reapplicant

I really liked the structure that Ankur brought to my application approach. He made mental notes of my personality, my aspirations and my preferences and through the course of our association constantly redirected me whenever necessary.

Read more: Top Indian MBA with GRE

Read these related posts:
How to get into Harvard Business School
How to plan your MBA Application Timeline
What is most important in MBA applications?
What Admissions Officers of top business schools look for in MBA applicants

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Manish Gupta
About Manish Gupta
Chief Consulting Officer at MBA Crystal Ball, ex-McKinsey, IIT & ISB topper. MG can help you get into the top B-schools. Read more about this top MBA admissions consultant. Connect with MG on Linkedin, Facebook or Email: mcb [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

39 thoughts on “Stanford MBA (full scholarship) vs Harvard Business School: Reliance Dhirubhai Fellowship Winner”

  1. First of all a BIG congrats!!!, Ankur. I have planned to write a GMAT and would like to know your preparation strategy that you have followed in your daily routine. Moreover how you ‘ve balanced work and prepararion?

  2. Thanks.. Karthik, the simple way to crack GMAT is to practice a ton (it gets boring after a while but thats the point). Also, people tend to ignore a few sections as they are good at it, but my tip would be to read on them as well.. it improves speed and would make you more confident.

    Also, regarding timing.. depends on what job you are in! But a normal strategy is to use the first month to go through just one GMAT book (pick your choice) and read it through. I dont think reading one book in a month is that tough.. we all read novels 😀

    Then in the next month, take 1-2 tests a week for practice and utilize weekends to do the same. Hopefully you should be confident by the end of the month and all set to crack the GMAT.. Best of luck!

  3. You have carefully hid most of the information in this article, and so i am going to ask you just one question: Which scholarship did you get at Stanford?

  4. Thanks Kshitij – Appreciate the different angle of looking at the article. I wasn’t definitely looking at it the same way and was just trying to keep it as general as possible and share my story as it was

    Actually, if you Google my name or go to my LinkedIn page, you should be able to get most of the facts. I just dont want to put my resume in my story on the blog. Also, there is only one scholarship (to my knowledge) that offeres full funding to Indians. The link below might help

    Happy to take other questions if you feel anything is “shrouded” in mystery here 😀

  5. Congrats Ankur! I got accepted to GSB deferred program so I will be doing my mba in 2y. Could you elaborate about the scholarship? Where did you apply? Was it a fellowship?

  6. Well Done Ankur!!! Really a tough choice for you…. although its like rose bed on both sides. I would like to know whether I’ve any chance of getting into SBS. I’m a NIT Durgapur (2013) pass out and currently working in L&T ECC (Design Engineer, although had an offer from ZS Associates as BAA, which I left for some reasons.) I’m getting around 760 on GMAT mock CATs (MGMAT). So, assuming I’m getting such GMAT score & with (pretty) strong extra curricular, what are my odds for SBS.
    Thanks, in advance, for your reply

  7. Thanks Sayantan.. While its very hard to judge from what you have written here, GSB students are from a very wide spectrum of experiences… engineering, consulting, finance, etc. As a result, I would not discourage you from applying to any good B-School.. It all depends on what you write in your essays, how you did on your jobs, what you want to achieve from doing this MBA, etc.

    Let me know if I can be of any help here

  8. Hey Ankur…congrats on such a rare achievement.
    I am a CA student hoping to complete my CA in 2015. Till then I would have completed my Bcom fromm Mumbai University (correspondence). I wish to get an MBA from HBS but I am not pretty sure that which program is best for me. However I think 2+2 program is right way to i dont have experience in business or profession. As I am from a small town in Rajasthan…having a little knowledge about HBS, I really need your advice in this regard.
    Also, how could I get a full scholarship in HBS.?? And plus they need recommendation letter…but since I am doing a correspondence in Bcom….I could not get it from any college professors…and also i have no contacts in HBS… Help please..

  9. Hey Ankur…
    Congrats for being an alumni of GSB
    I need to know about the eligibility and the criteria they consider for the scholarship as frankly saying I dont have very academic background so are there any chances .

  10. congrats sir,i wish to follow your footsteps.i am currently doing bachelors in commerce.please guide me what steps should i follow further.i will be very thankful to you.

  11. Congratulations on getting admitted in probably the most prestigious mba institute in the world and that too with a scholarship. My question is based on the chances of admission for engineering undergraduate fresher students wih no job exp. I am currently pursuing instrumentation and electronics engineering from Jadavpur University Kolkata. Please be patient to reply to the query.

  12. Nayantara,

    For general queries, the blog or our MBA forum works best.

    If you are looking for professional support from Ankur for your MBA applications, drop us a note on: info at mbacrystalball dot com.

  13. Hello Ankur,
    My heartfelt congratulations to you for getting into “Stanford”.I graduated from Delhi University and currently placed with Mogae Media(airtel’s media partner).I was really looking forward to pursue an MBA from Harvard but lately i have realised that Stanford has a wider practical approach to MBA and it would certainly be worth it if i pursue an MBA from this school as i believe that this approach can make a hell lot of difference.I was in dire need of the details of the scholarship that you received.It would be really helpful if you could provide me with the information.

  14. gud mrng ankur sir

    whith whom we have to get recommendations ? which people we have to contact ? how can we reach to them

  15. hi ankur,

    i will be applying for business schools this fall..there were a few questions bothering me.

    1) I don’t have work experience, how important is it?
    2) Is there any eligibility criteria for scholarships?
    3) Are my grad school grades something i should be worried about?

  16. Hello Ankur,
    I took a peak in the hsb website and from what i could make out, the entire cost would come around to $160, 000 and that would come to approximately 100,00,000 INR for two years (the cost including the tuition fees, the student residential fees and all). Does hsb provide a 100% scholarship?

  17. Hello Ankur.
    Firstly, Congratulations on making the cut and getting a Reliance India Fellowship at Stanford GSB.
    I’m a final year student of B.Com(Hons) at Delhi University. I have just given my second year exams, and will be applying for the fellowship.
    I wanted to ask you a couple of things as enumerated below :
    1. How exactly should I go about the essay? In the sense that how do you think would be ideal as a structure for the essay? I just want a basic outline.
    2. Also, since majority of the students applying for the fellowship have a good 2 or more years’ work experience, how are my chances of making the cut? My academic accomplishments have been good and apart from that I’m very regular at participating in extra curricular activities, debates to be specific.
    3. Apart from these, I have also passed exams till CA-Inter (recognized by ICAI). Will this be given credence as a part of the application?

    Hope to hear from you soon so that I can start with my application which is due in a week or so.



  18. Hi Daksh,

    The question is pretty straightforward, write about your vision for India, as you see it. However, its really hard to advise you on the exact structure of your essay without knowing what you want to write about. If you need further guidance, please contact Sameer @ mbacrystalball and he can guide you on the process for this.

    Also, regarding your second point, its hard to get into any US MBA school without experience. That said, I have seen that happen as well. It all depends on how you build your story around what you have done and demonstrated potential to fit into these schools!

    Please do let me know if I can be of any further help,

  19. Hi Ankur

    Congrats on getting into the best 2 schools!

    I wanted to know if it is better to get a recommendation from a professor or a manager?

    Also, does the designation of the person recommending matter(means will it make a difference if my application is from an Associate Manager or a manager)?

    Does the kind of work done by me matter more, or the kind of firm I have worked in(like the Big Four)?

    Thanks in advance!


  20. Dear Ambica,

    I will respond to your questions one by one

    1) Managers are preferable, but it depends on what you are planning to write about. If your essay is about what you did in college, you would want to have a professor’s reco. I think consistency between essay and reco is more important than who you are getting the reco from
    2) Point 1 should answer your question on designation
    3) Both things matter. Business schools look at your profile in whole, not in isolation. what you want to focus on more is definitely something you can work on with your essays.


  21. Hi Ankur,

    Your story is really very inspiring.
    I am planning to apply to Stanford, Wharton and HBS during round 1 this year.
    I have taken some of the Mock tests for GMAT, and have scored around 685-710. I plan to sit for the GMAT in the last week of July, to give me ample time to prepare my essays and other necessities.

    I have done my Bachelors in Electrical Engineering and am working for the past 3 years in a software company. Due to some medical issues, my graduation results were not as expected.
    I am very inclined to do my MBA from either of these three institutes. I am confident of getting a good score in GMAT. Could you please how I need to prepare for the essays, as well as other areas to possibly get an interview call, and then crack it.

    Thanks in advance,

  22. Dear Sangeeta,

    The purpose of sharing my story was exactly to give you a general idea of how to crack it.

    Basically, you will need to start writing your essays at least a couple of months in advance and then get it reviewed multiple times to get it in perfect shape. Try to make it personal, so that it is your story that makes the admission officer consider you interesting enough to warrant a call.

    For more specific guidance, I will need to look at your resume/essays, etc.


  23. Hello Ankur,

    I am a Stanford Reliance Fellowship finalist, and an applicant to HBS 2+2 program. Should I mention the fact that I am a Stanford fellowship finalist in my HBS application?

    Your help will be appreciated.


  24. Dear Raj,

    Firstly, congrats. There is no need to do so. Given that both these schools have different philosophies, mentioning one in another app might dilute your application


  25. Hello Ankur,

    Congratulations on your great achievement! I am sure your family must be so proud of you 🙂

    Please find my questions below:
    1. Is experience in community service very important for the application? What if it is not from some globally recognized organization like Teach for India etc., but rather from the CSR wing of the work organization itself?

    2. How do you identify a institute as finance heavy institute, entrepreneurship heavy institute etc.? Are there some links/blogs discussing about these details.

    3. The schools are looking for unique profiles. Will they value an application with 1.5 year management experience in the (Very common) software industry in India?

    Thanks a tonne for your valuable inputs!

    Thanks and regards,

  26. Dear Ishvarya,

    1) CSR is relevant only if its a part of your story. I wouldn’t sweat too much about whether it was at an NGO or community service.
    2) Finding what a school is looking for is possible through the following – 1) Go through the website of the school in detail 2) Talk to the alums/people who know about these institutes 3) Look at the other institutes the university is strong in (e.g. Stanford Engineering, Harvard Medical, etc.)
    3) The schools have all kinds of profiles, but 1.5 years is definitely on the lower side. The average workex is typically 3-4 years

    Hope this is helpful,

  27. Hi Manesh,

    This is long overdue but I remember reading this post last year when I was applying to Stanford. You words really helped me and pushed me along and I GOT in! Still super excited – I start this fall. Thank you very much, I just wanted to express my gratitude.

    You inspired me even further to share my journey and help other applicants so I started a video blog.

    Keep doing your great work!

  28. @Koodzi, Great news buddy – congrats, glad that Ankur’s story inspired you enough. All thanks to Ankur here for sharing his story – we are merely the means to get this story to you.

  29. Hey,
    I am a B. Tech passout 2010. Since then I prepared for civil services. Since I believe it’s high time for me to pursue a career I zeroed on MBA. Because I have no work experience now and it’s already been four years out of college, will I be able to get into MBA program’s in USA. I definitely would want to take up in uni’s like Stanford but which uni’s could possibly admit me?
    My other options being Haas College, Fuqua College, Uni’s in California.

    Thank you in advance.

  30. Dear Anjali,

    You will need to explain the gap between education completion and time of application (for any school), and in fact for any job interview. I dont have your complete profile, so cant guess on which schools should be good option/fit for you. Please reach out to Sameer [ info at mbacrystalball dot com] for more information on MAP, which can let you know your best bet in terms of schools,

    Hope this is helpful,

  31. Dear Omkar,

    My comments

    1) Yes, it can be positioned that way
    2) Cant provide guidance here. I had found books like the official GMAT prep guide and Princeton quite helpful

    Hope this helps,

  32. Dear Sandaruwan,

    The best MBA program for you depends on a lot of details. I would recommend reaching out to Sameer at for guidance on that front.
    Most schools provide loans and scholarships. So cost should not be a big concern

    Hope this is helpful,

  33. Hi Mr.Ankur
    Congratulation on your achievements. You are my idol.I am currently finished CFA/FRM/CAIA program and working at fund management company for 2 year and my gmat is 750, Gpa 3.6 in finance major. I intend to apply top tier MBA but dont know about my chance to get in. Can you give me advices . And iam 23 years old .Thank you so much.

    • Hi Hoang,

      It depends on what your resume / application / essays looks like. Based on the limited knowledge of your GMAT score of 750 and your experience at a fund management company (assuming a good one), it seems like you have a shot at good business schools.

      Best of luck,


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