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From an Ivy League MBA School (Columbia) to McKinsey

MBA applicants think it’s worth every dollar spent hiring the best MBA consultants even if improves their chances of getting into the elite schools.

And the general perception is a flamboyant international consultant is better than the modest Indian MBA consultant in delivering the goods.

Canada-based Arindam Mukherjee hired a high-profile and well-known MBA consultant whose team has a very strong presence on the top MBA and GMAT forums. The consulting fee for the multi-school package in USD was a cool $7000 (that’s around 5.5 lakh rupees!).

Every single school rejected the application. Here’s what happened next.


From Ivy League MBA program to McKinsey Strategy Consulting

by Arindam Mukherjee

Columbia MBAI almost feel like beginning this entry as “A Hobbit’s Tale: From There and Back again”. The struggle of a potential b-school student does not however stop at finishing essay applications. The painful wait for interview call comes next.

Once that passes by, next comes the admit/reject decision. At this stage we may think that we have owned the world, only to realize that we will not get our bonuses this year. But the biggest bomb comes within the first two or three months of B-school.

It is not a real bomb but a literal realization bomb of “We quit our $80K job, paid $180K over two years plus lost wages only to be looking for a job within the first two months of business school”.

Such is the reality..yes we are not fighting a zillion orcs or trolls that Bilbo Baggins did but our path is riddled with challenges. But as Bilbo would say “I would do that journey again and again”, I would say the same.

Business school is the most wholesome educational experience I have ever had and I would recommend it to every single person who is interested in pursuing a career of value creation, a career of management or a career of making a difference.

Rejected by all the top business schools

The journey started in 2010. That year was full of rejections. Rejected at every major US Business school and it hurt a lot, not because of application fees but because of dreams being shattered and a large $7,000 fee I paid to [Editor: Out of professional courtesy, we’ve taken out the name of the top US admissions consulting firm] for MBA consulting services.

But I was convinced that if I do a business degree its either from the elite US M7 or Tuck, Berkeley, Stern, INSEAD, LBS or ISB. Pretty much the elite business schools of the world. Having visited Harvard Business School multiple times I dreamt of being there.

I was day-dreaming of going to HBS. I knew I belonged to HBS – they were snobby, they were respected, they were god’s own creature, they were Harvard. Only to realize I had no place among them.

My second brush with MBA Consultants

A trip to Disney World in January helped me get over the initial setback of the rejections. This time I decided to do all my applications myself and only get them reviewed from current students who I had met during school visits.

However I was not sure about the process at ISB and reached out to Sameer and Manish at MBA Crystal Ball.

As an international applicant to ISB, I had the flexibility to apply anytime during the process but I worked with Manish in July and by end of July I had a complete application set for ISB.

Then I started working on my essays for US universities. It was then when I realized some of the content (especially the presentation) for ISB is applicable to some of my US school essays as well.

Sooner than later all applications were due, but this time I was much more relaxed. While I was waiting to hear about interviews from HBS, Stanford, MIT Sloan and Wharton, I got a fabulous news from CBS. They wanted to interview me.

And within 2 weeks I interviewed with an local alum. The interview experience was very casual and almost seemed like an informational session rather than an interview.

A week later, on Diwali day, I got the call and I was IN!!!

I was overjoyed and to express my joy I went in and purchased an iPhone and a BMW 323 car, maybe a bit too extravagant, considering I would be shelling out close to $300K towards the MBA.

Once, I got the admission from CBS and the license to live in New York City for 2 years, I knew that I did not need to look anywhere else.

P.S. I had an admit from one other M-7 school that I turned down.

Life in New York @ Columbia Business School

After slacking off at work for the next 6 months and taking some trips, I started at CBS in August 2012. The change to New York City may be big for some. I have visited NYC many times and I was in love with the city, a reason I chose CBS over another M-7 school admit.

But it was only when I moved to NYC, I realized the worth of the city. There is truly no city like Big Apple. While settling in was not as smooth as living in Canada was, the approaching orientation made me both excited and nervous.

On the day of my orientation I could literally hear my heart go ‘dhak dhak dhak‘ and I did not know what made me palpitate but there were many lingering questions at that point – was this the right decision? will I be able to make friends? will I fit in with Americans?

Will I be able to understand business lingo and get myself a job? But 2 hours into orientation and I was having a blast. Unlike some major schools, the entire CBS orientation is run by 2nd years who are volunteering on their own time so that the 1st years can have an out of the world experience.

I do not think I have slept that little or partied that hard even in undergrad as I did during the first week. I was out till 3 or 4 am each night and I reported back to morning events at 8 am in the morning. But it was totally worth it. Soon as we moved on to week 2 and academics and my new learning team, I was missing Orientation like anything.

Choosing the right career after MBA

Most of September was settling through the first term and then come a slingshot at us – Company On-Campus Presentations. On campus presentations were every day after class and I was getting home at 10 pm every night tired after entire day’s worth of class.

And if you are clueless like me and undecided between banking and consulting then your life was even more difficult because while consulting thirst was quenched through coffee chats and emails, the banking lust had to be fulfilled by multiple “informational interviews” where pretty much the concept is the more people who know you the better it is.

I have no idea where November breezed by and very soon it was December and I was applying for jobs and then rushing to take my final exams. Now is the time for peace..we had already heard back from companies who have invited us for interviews or who have rejected us and it is winter holidays.

The internship interviews were not my best. Many second round interviews but I failed to convert them into job offers. My fault totally because either I was not prepared well or I was competing against better candidates.

But those gloomy days I liked to blame everything external – racial bias, gender bias, sexual bias, engineer bias and that made me feel good. I was at a point where I had to decide between choosing a path of working for larger corporate positions or working for start ups and while the pay of the latter would be lacking significantly I was prepared to do something different compared to the rest of my resume. But my patience was waning.

It was mid April, and even the less deserving people (or so I thought at that time) started getting jobs – some through networking and some through dumb luck and yet here I was applying for jobs. The school partied as they welcomed May but I was still on interview phone calls and applying for jobs. Finally, it clicked. Petflow hired me to be one of their Interns and I would be in NYC.

Investment Banking vs Management Consulting

Summer was amazing. I got engaged, I saw a thriving e-commerce business and made a great mentor in Petflow COO, who was an operations whizkid. But all through summer, I had a lingering thought in my mind and that was how will I fare in my full time interviews.

I had already decided I will not do banking. I realized I was less and less interested in hard core financial modeling, that had initially appealed to me. Plain and simple, I was not for banking.

I knew last time around my consulting preparation had begun too early that I was worn out towards the end and I was not enjoying my cases. So I waited till early September and I started taking my consulting feedback seriously and I started to take cases as a way to learn a new problem.

Things looked brighter this time. I got an interview with Accenture in Canada, which I was able to turn into a full time offer. That gave me a tremendous morale booster and the feeling of having a BATNA behind me made me feel secured.

When I walked into my McKinsey first round interview, I felt secure and confident. And I did tremendously well and I moved towards the 2nd round interview. Fortunately, things went very well on the 2nd day as well and I got the great news at night – I got an offer.

It was my dream job – after all it was McKinsey and after such a frustrating summer job search I got an offer – I had a hard time believing it was all happening to me. For the first time in my life, I pinched myself as I went to bed on 18th October, 2013 to ensure I was not in a dream. The credit card bill that came along proved further it was not a dream, given the wild drinks and dinner that happened that night.

Getting a job before marriage

I need a solid job badly. I was getting married in January and I was a student. But now I could look my father in law and assure him that his daughter is in safe hands. Once the job offer was signed, I must have turned my mode off from working hard.

I think this happens to most people so I had to really motivate myself when I had to work hard for finishing off projects. In December I headed off to India to get married but in between I took advantage of Columbia’s Foreign country visit program called Chazen.

I toured along with 30 people to Thailand and it was one of the best trips I had been on. 5 star hotels, AC coaches, best of facilities, meeting with CEOs and most importantly party every night. It is definitely one of my highlights of CBS and I wish I had been on 3-4 Chazen trips. But they are expensive!!

And now here I am…it is spring break. 6 more weeks to go. I am in South Beach Miami and I have a graduation trip planned with 1000 people from CBS at San Juan, Porto Rico and I am considering what trip to take in April.

– Arindam

All the references to awe-inspiring brands like Columbia, McKinsey, BMW, other Ivy League MBA programs etc aren’t surprising. Arindam’s penchant for quality brands goes back a long way.

The first time he called me from Canada (this was before starting the MBA MAP), he was in an Apple store waiting in queue to pay for an iPad he just purchased for his mom.

It was natural to choose one of the best international brands (i.e. the American team) in the MBA consulting space, assuming a high visibility on discussion forums translates into a high quality service. But it doesn’t always work out.

Go back to the sections before the champagne starts flowing. That’s where the real learning lies – a lost year, lost money, a badly battered morale. Arindam battled it all to come back stronger and get into not one, but two Ivy League MBA programs.

Know your potential – are you Ivy League MBA school material or should you be more practical? Most applicants get this part wrong and that’s when even the best MBA consultants whether India or USA or elsewhere can do nothing.

Drop us an email if you’re looking for professional admissions consulting help: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

These applicants also worked with other consultants before approaching MBA Crystal Ball.
Zero admits after wasting £2,500 and 2 years on top international consultant
Columbia Business School MBA
My review of ApplicantLab, MBA Crystal Ball and other consultants
Worked with another consultant, before hiring MBA Crystal Ball

Also read:
Executive MBA: How I got into Columbia with a 570 GMAT score
How I got into Columbia from India despite little experience and an average GMAT
How to get into Columbia University
Columbia MBA admit from a small town in India
McKinsey vs BCG vs Bain vs Big 4

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

6 thoughts on “From an Ivy League MBA School (Columbia) to McKinsey”

  1. @Saikat: The class profile page of the bschools on your list (not just GMAT score, but also their academic / professional achievements) and the backgrounds of some current students would be a good starting point.

  2. Hi Sameer,

    Ravi here. Have a GMAT score of 740. Based on my profile and career goals, I realize that Cornell’s Johnson school of Management is my best Ivy league bet.I will be approaching you guys by 1 st week of June to take your services. But, I have a query, will appreciate if you can address it. My dream is to get into a M7 or Ivy league B school(USA). As mentioned earlier, given my profile(low GPA), I feel my best bet is with Cornell’s Johnson. I just want to know whether Cornell’s Johnson is a respected school in US/World, even though it is not a top 10 school, but more of Top 10 -20 school,although an Ivy. Your view on its alumni/school strength is also highly appreciated 🙂

  3. Hi Ravi, in absolute terms Cornell University is definitely a good brand with strong ties to NY based companies (and across the US as well). But the halo around individual programs offered by the university varies. Its undergrad programs are known more than its MBA.

    Among the other Ivy League universities that offer MBA programs, Cornell is among the easier ones to get into. That also puts it lower in the pecking order compared to say an MBA from Columbia or Tuck [Harvard and Wharton are in a completely different league, so not bringing them into the discussion].

    Also, outside the US the Johnson brand power isn’t as strong. We’ve had several cases where a candidate who’s got into Cornell and a bunch of other colleges has chosen a stronger Ivy League brand.

    Hope that helps.

    P.S. I sent you an email to check on something on a related topic. But it bounced back.

  4. Thank you so much for the detailed response, Sameer. It definitely helps. Bouncing back ? I don’t why, can you share the email subject title for my reference. Nevertheless, can you please resend that mail to another email address of mine from which I am logging in this comment. Sorry for the trouble.

  5. Thats an excellent story. Thanks for sharing, Sameer. I find that most of the Indian applicants to IVY leagues have strong brands in their resume. Like Arindham here who attend U of T. Do you think some one without a strong brand backing them can get in to an IVY league MBA?

    I have a BE from a not so recognised engineering school from India. After two years of work at an automobile company, I choose to work for a start up found by a Wharton Alumni. I have been working in the same company for three years. I take care of business development in the company (Its still a small company though). I have also experience in setting up a local chapter of an NGO and also a few other extra curriculars. Do you think I have a chance at getting in to Wharton without any high value brands associated with my resume?

    Thanks in advance.


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