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Freelance marketing consultant with NGO experience gets $60,000 MBA scholarship

Differentiation can be a big problem for many MBA applicants from over-represented countries like India.

However, being too different from the crowd can actually be a bigger challenge to overcome, as Kashmira (name changed) discovered in her first year of applying independently. She got rejections from 10 business schools.

As a freelance marketing professional who was also involved with an NGO, she had too many disconnected pieces to present to the admissions committee in a logical manner. And despite a good GMAT score, the overall packaging (essays, recommendations, resume, interviews) didn’t work.
Also read MPP or MBA? Application experience of Oxford Said MBA admit with a non-profit background

After losing a year to the expensive trial and error process, here’s what she did next.

How I got into a top bschool with scholarship despite my uncommon background

by Kashmira

A management graduate with a major in marketing. 2 years work experience at a book publishing company in a marketing role. 2 years work experience as an independent marketing consultant. 710 GMAT score. Soft skills trainer at an NGO. Also, a Marketing Consultant since April 2015.

Your profile sounds interesting. Can you elaborate?

This is the question that stumped me every time it was asked. Having such a ‘unique’ background, I found it really difficult to tell my story the right way, not knowing what I should include and what I shouldn’t.

It was probably the reason why I failed to get an admit from any of the 10 schools I’d applied to for the fall 2016 intake – lack of clarity. I’d applied to Kellogg, Ross, Tuck, Booth and Cornell in the first round and Columbia, Tepper, UCLA, Darden and Rotman in the second round.

When I got a No from the last school where I’d been waitlisted, I was crushed for a while, thinking about what went wrong despite giving my best. But after a lot of deliberation and discussions with my family, I decided to apply again for the fall 2017 intake.

But this was my last chance before I started hearing the age old question of when I would get married, so I had to be really smart and work extra hard to make sure I didn’t repeat the mistakes I’d made earlier.
I researched more schools this time around and made sure that the schools I selected would actually be the right ‘fit’ for me rather than aiming for just the top ranked schools. I picked 2 ambitious, 2 stretch and 2 safe schools- Yale, Duke, UNC, Georgetown, Rice and Rotman (where I was a re-applicant).

I already had a decent GMAT score of 710 after over a year of study and three attempts. I knew I could work more and get a score of 730-740 but I thought I’d focus my energy on improving the other aspects of my application rather than a few points increase in my GMAT. I knew I needed help with the essays after feedback from Tuck.

I soon started hunting for a good consultant to work with. It was really difficult to choose one which didn’t have an astronomical price tag (read $2,000 – $4,500 per school) and also be good at providing honest feedback rather than just asking me to write my essays certain way or worse, offering to write them for me.
That’s when I came across MBA Crystal Ball. I read the admission consultant reviews on the website and was impressed at the way some people wrote about Sameer and MG giving advice that meant loss of business revenue for MCB but an honest feedback for their client.

I then wrote to MG and asked him about the process and a few other doubts that I had and even interacting via email, I got a good feel for the way they worked and decided to sign up for the essay editing services.

I started working with Mithun and I have to say, he’s provided me with honest (and sometimes brutal) feedback which made me really think about my answers and my story.
To give you all a brief, I’m a management graduate with a major in marketing. I love reading books and after graduating I combined my two interests and started working at a book publishing company in the role of a Digital Marketing Executive. The time I spent at publishing company was a steep learning curve where I identified my strengths and weaknesses as a professional, made great working relationships and basically built the entire digital face of the publishing company.

But just as I was closing in on two years, two things happened simultaneously. I felt that I’d stopped growing as a professional and an individual and needed more opportunities to explore that weren’t available at the publishing company.

At around the same time, my father fell ill and I was needed more at home. I decided to leave the publishing company and take some time off for my family which would also give me time to think about what I wanted to do further.

As it turned out, my father got better but his good health was contingent upon maintaining a stress free environment for him.

Ours is a family business where I’d helped out from time to time but now I took up some of my father’s admin responsibilities and paperwork so he could cut back on his hours and come back home early. This situation made it impossible to get a new job since I was unwilling to split my commitment and also because I felt that the opportunities I wanted could not be found in a job which would have its own restrictions and set of rules.

During this time, my neighbour, who ran a Montessori play school, asked for my marketing expertise to increase enrollment at her school for the next academic year. She was my first ‘unofficial’ client as a consultant. I loved working on her project and decided to take up marketing consultancy as an independent consultant, which would allow me to work from home and take care of all my responsibilities without sacrificing anything.

It was the best possible solution and luckily, I started getting clients through referrals. Sometimes, the scope of work wasn’t exactly what I wanted and sometimes, it was so challenging that I felt out of depth. But it was these experiences that helped me recognise my own strengths and specialities.

After a year or so, I got calls from a few clients, asking for my help in more strategic decisions that were above my level of expertise but intrigued me nonetheless. That’s when I realised it was time to pursue that MBA I’d been waiting to get ready for and started preparing for it.
This is my story that I needed to tell and Mithun helped me make it clear, concise and presentable. I applied to the six schools that I’d shortlisted in the first round and got an interview invitation from Georgetown and Rice within a week of applying.

As I’d already been through an interview the previous application season and then gotten rejected, I decided to utilise MCB’s interview prep services as well. I had two rounds with Mithun and after each round he told me where it was I needed to improve and what I was doing consistently wrong.

I gave both my interviews in the same week, with the Rice interview with a second year student going slightly better than the Georgetown one. This was in the last week of November and I waited patiently for the decision that would be announced within the next month. I also started preparing for round two, shortlisting the schools and prepping for the essays, just in case I didn’t get through in the first.

One by one I started getting dings from all the schools and finally only Rice and Georgetown were left. By 15th December, I got waitlisted for Rice and my hopes fell because I really felt that my Rice interview went better than the Georgetown one. I decided I would I continue work on my second round applications once I got back from my Christmas vacation.
Two days before my birthday and five days before I left for my vacation, I was at my father’s office for work, when I got a call. The caller ID showed it was from Washington D.C. and even before picking up, my heartbeat went into overdrive.

I picked up the call and as I listened to the associate dean of admissions congratulate me for getting into the MBA program, I was dancing inside and hushing everybody around the office. My months of hard work had finally paid off and I was going to Georgetown!

That whole night I couldn’t sleep, waiting for the official email and at 6.30 am the next morning, I saw the email notification and opened it eagerly.

After so many rejections, it was liberating to read the letter of acceptance and therein lay a second surprise. I’d been selected as a Forté Fellow and was awarded a scholarship of $60,000. I was ecstatic! I couldn’t have dreamed of something like this and for the whole day I kept re-reading the letter.

Thoughts from Mithun (Kashmira’s consultant)
Kashmira is a unique applicant with a non engineering background and non traditional work experience. What initially seemed like a weakness in her experiences worked in her favor after several discussions developing a career map. This helped us establish unique attributes, career goals and convince the adcom with a strong story.

Additionally, we coached her on the interview preparation too. We nudged her on the storytelling skills, provided templates for difficult questions and discussed advanced interview tips that helped her land a scholarship with a top US business school.

For this amazing news, I have to thank Mithun. Without his input and feedback, I’d never have known where I was going wrong and would never have been able to secure an admit with a scholarship.

To all the people out there who are confused between which MBA consultant to choose, please know that I’ve been there and choosing to work with MCB was the best decision I made. Also know that if you choose to work with MCB, you will have to do the hard work yourself but MCB will put you in the right direction so your efforts are awarded.

After all, that which is worth having is never easy but all efforts are worth it in the end!
I’d also like to say that there are certain parameters for everyone that have to be fulfilled (x no. of years of work-ex, x GMAT score, etc) before you apply for your MBA so that you stand a chance but please know that the most important factor that will set you apart from every other person who fulfills that same criteria is ‘YOU’.

You have to be aware of your unique qualities and this is something Mithun taught me.

If you don’t know what makes you special, you won’t be able to convince others either.

But don’t worry, if you work with MBA Crystal Ball, you’ll definitely figure your unique thing during the application journey. I wish every person thinking of and planning to apply for an MBA, all the very best!

Are you trying to get a scholarship too? These articles should give you an idea of how applicants from different backgrounds managed it: MBA scholarship stories

Send us an email if you’d like to avoid a trial-and-error approach for your MBA applications: info at mbacrystalball dot com

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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 Email. Or follow on Linkedin, Facebook.

14 thoughts on “Freelance marketing consultant with NGO experience gets $60,000 MBA scholarship”

  1. Hi Manish,

    I am B.Tech having experience of 13 years, if I crack ISB, what would be the salary range i can get, approximately.


    • Bhaskar,

      ISB publishes salary range every year – so you’ll get the most updated information directly on the website. It would be very tough to say for your specific case; and that too with just the years of experience in the profile. Check the ISB placement report and you’ll get a ballpark sense though.

  2. Hi Manish,
    I am civil servant, 2011 batch. Working as Indian Ordnance Factory services Officer and earlier served as Scientist in Drdo. Looking for a change in career owing to various factors- moving beyond govt.
    Am 31 and 8 yrs of exp. and looking forward to get into a top mba.
    Can experience in govt sector create hurdle during placements? And is choice of college compatible with my age and experience.

    • Arijit,

      Government work should not be a deterrent provided you can showcase transferable skills. You have not mentioned your choice of colleges so can’t comment on that am afraid.

  3. Hi MG.

    I’m an IT guy, with hard core startup experience of 2.8 years (actual coding and devops). I feel fine in my career as of now,
    but I really want to be a decision taker and someone whose word brings about changes in a company. Hence I feel the need to do MBA.
    I’m interested in product management and marketing and a bit of sales too.

    My dilemma is, after a silly bit of googling around this, from Quora posts et al, that jobs post IIM or other elite MBA colleges in India, are an absolute
    shit show of corporate slavery and meaningless PPTs and excel generation day-in & day-out. I really can’t take their word for it – it’s the internet and people most of the times fluff and hype things up. What I really need to hear is this – if leaving my current role as a senior programmer with a decent salary (~40k/pm) and going for CAT for MBA in one of India’s top-15 colleges for it, would be a worthwhile decision?

    I just want to see myself as the guy who leads the bunch, and apply all my business learnings and tech background to enhance a business’ growth as fast as possible. Heck, I currently see a lot of things that can be done in my current company, but that’s useless because my voice will never be heard. Things like, what feature should be built or rolled out first, where to effectively allocate resources (devs in my cases) for getting “there” faster, future strategy and roadmap for a product, removing useless things in a product, paying attention to crucial things that should be nailed first in the product, defining marketing campaigns’ strategies, etc. Lot of things if I were allowed to put my mind to, I guess I could really shine. But I only shine as the hard working dev who slogs away ~10 hours daily and some more on the weekends to get a feature with unrealistic deadline out there as soon as possible.

    What do you advise? The type of job that I want – will I be able to get it post (let’s assume I make it to them -) an IIM degree? Or will I be yet another regretful techie who will end up doing boring work most of the time?

    • Ashwin,

      Most product manager jobs are filled in by MBA grads. One can find faults with every job and some might argue that every job gets boring after a point in time. All things considered though, if you do your research well, post MBA product manager jobs can be pretty exciting.

  4. Hello Manish,
    I need your guidance.
    I am 12 years experienced Project Manger in Software Industry. My current CTC is 20 LPA.
    I am looking to get placed to more senior level management roles.
    I prefer not leaving my job.
    Please suggest.

    As per my limited understanding I have few options :
    1. PGPPro from ISB.
    2. PGDM/MBA from SIBM.
    3. PGCBM from XLRI Virtual Learning.
    OR Please suggest some better option.

  5. Hi Manish,

    I am a student and passed out a few weeks ago. I am planning to do MBA but my aggregate score is less than 50% (though I scored more than 60% in finals) and I read it that I cannot apply in any B-school in India with this percentage. So I am planning to study abroad. I checked with few of my friends and they said that the aggregate won’t matter to apply in abroad colleges. Is it true? The aggregate % won’t matter in abroad colleges? Should I give GMAT or IELTS? What other courses a BFM graduate can do in India or abroad?


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