Rishi Bajaj (name changed) would be soon flying from Singapore to Chicago to join the Kellogg One Year MBA program on a cool $25,000 tuition scholarship. This is the culmination of a long, intense and often frustrating ride he’s been on since 2013. It finally got to a stage where he had offers from not only the Kellogg School of Management but also Tepper (CMU), ISB and Anderson (UCLA) with a $40,000 scholarship.
As you read Rishi’s story, you’ll realize that he doesn’t like putting all his eggs in the same basket. He used the diversification strategy at various stages in his business school preparation process with different results and emotions.
- He took the GMAT 5 times and improved his score by 90 points from a 650 to 740.
- He applied to multiple bschools in diverse regions (USA, Asia, Europe) and programs with different formats (2 year and 1 year MBA).
- He did the same while choosing to work with MBA consultants. Instead of hiring one team to help with all his target schools, he worked with over 4 admission consulting firms spread across the world (including ApplicantLab, an online DIY self-help option).
The last experience of dealing with multiple consultants and their working styles left him with a bitter feeling about the entire admissions consulting industry itself. Apart from documenting what worked for him, we asked Rishi to share his lessons & views about working with multiple MBA consultants (skipping individual team names, out of professional courtesy).
In the interest of being transparent, we have to mention that Rishi worked with MBA Crystal Ball for general career counseling before he started his MBA application process. We sure are happy that he chose to come back to MCB to publish his story.
Kellogg One Year MBA admission with $25K tuition scholarship
Improving my GMAT score from 650 to 740 got me admits from ISB, Tepper and UCLA
by Rishi Bajaj
My schooling started on a rough note and I flunked in 1st standard. Thereafter I kept my focus on studies and was always amongst the top 5-10 students in my class. I always enjoyed being well aware and so I read newspapers and magazines from an early age. I left home right after high school to join Bansal Classes in Kota (Rajasthan).
I did my engineering from MIT, Manipal following which I worked in Reliance’s petrochemical division in an engineering role. My passion to explore my potential bought me to NUS where I did my MSc in Management of Technology and subsequently started working for Lanxess, looking after process improvement projects in their petrochemical manufacturing unit in Singapore.
I was always sure that I wanted to do an MBA. I scored 98-99 percentile twice in the XAT exam, but couldn’t get the program of my preference. I always wanted to go abroad. So I shunned the Indian entrance exams after 1-2 attempts and decided to go the GMAT way.
Most people go abroad for money or for a better lifestyle. Honestly, this wasn’t my motivation. When I talked/looked at my managers in India or Indian MBA grads who were senior to me, I just couldn’t imagine myself being the kind of person they were (no offence!).
My readings convinced me that if the 20th century was about democracy, then the 21st century will be about diversity and that experiencing other cultures and becoming a global citizen will be critical to my personal and professional success.
5 GMAT attempts and my GMAT study plan
I gave my first GMAT in July ’13 and scored a 650. I was rejected by Krannert and Rice MBA programs but luckily made it to NUS MSc program (not based on GMAT).
After my MSc program, I worked with MBA Crystal Ball on career planning and understood I would still need an MBA in the medium-term.
I took the e-GMAT course, gave my 2nd attempt in March ’16 (680; perfect Q51), 3rd attempt in May’16 (660, cancelled), 4th attempt in July ’16 (680 again) and final 5th attempt in Oct. ’16 when I scored a 740 (Q50, V40).
I have never been a good test taker and had a habit of losing my nerves and getting anxious during exams. Hence I started practicing Mindfulness meditation that helped me keep my mind cool during the exam. For a bit of motivation, here’s the GMAT study plan I pasted on my wall.
In July ’16 after my 4th GMAT attempt I had lost all hope of getting a good GMAT score. So, in parallel I started working on MBA applications. I hired 3 separate consultants for INSEAD, Judge and ISB, since each was well known for respective business schools. Since I had a low GMAT score I wanted to give my best in applications. I had made my first B-school application back in 2013 hence I knew the importance of hiring a good consultant.
In October ’15 after I got a 740 I decided to drop Said and NTU from my list and added 7 American business schools. I was more interested in the top one year MBA programs in the world, hence I never considered US programs with a 680. But with a 740 score, I felt not applying to US b-schools would be cheating myself.
My application strategy
My criteria was to apply to the top schools in every geography. I am personally of an opinion that choosing a top school in a geography makes your life much easier. Hence instead of choosing a single geography, I chose to apply to the top schools in every geography i.e. ISB in India, INSEAD in Singapore/EU, LBS and Judge in the UK and 7 of top 15 schools in US. On an average, I talked to 3-4 people in every school (10+ for INSEAD and ISB).
Why Kellogg 1Y MBA
I applied to the Kellogg 1Y MBA program primarily because it’s one of the very few top one year MBA programs in USA. Moreover, I had done some management courses in my prior Masters at NUS and Kellogg’s 1 year MBA program is designed to recognize your prior business knowledge. The program gives you an option to waive off the basic course and delve more into electives. This made the Kellogg 1 year management course one of my top choices.
Further, the newly built “Global Hub”, the collaborative community and my overall interaction with Kellogg alumni and students made me understand my fit for the program. On the admissions part, Kellogg tries to interview every single applicant and has one of the least conversion ratios post the interview stage. Understanding the Kellogg culture, it’s focus on creating “social leaders” is in my opinion the single most important thing for Kellogg (other than your overall profile, leadership skills, GMAT score etc.). Also, Kellogg is one of the very few b-schools that have video essays (Kellogg started this trend) hence you do need some practice for that.
I interviewed in Singapore with a Kellogg alum. He was an Ex-McKinsey guy and had been interviewing for McKinsey and Kellogg for years. We met at a coffee shop and it was more like an informal discussion with a senior colleague. He asked me about my leadership experiences, why Kellogg and why MBA kinda stuff.
At the end of our interview I ended up asking multiple questions to which he replied very patiently. Another thing I must mention is that he was super excited and positive about Kellogg, I didn’t notice that kind of enthusiasm with my other interviewers.
In total I interviewed for ISB, Kellogg, UCLA, Tepper, Ross and Haas.
Kellogg 1 year MBA vs UCLA vs ISB vs Tepper
I got final offers from UCLA ($40k scholarship), ISB (early round), Tepper and Kellogg. Initially I was a bit nervous choosing Kellogg as I had opted for the one year MBA program (which is slightly different from the Kellogg 2 year MBA) and given the geopolitical challenges I thought it was quite a big risk. But after having discussions with the Admissions Director at Kellogg and multiple other current students and recent alumni I decided to choose Kellogg. I also managed to negotiate a USD 25,000 scholarship from Kellogg at a later stage.
I read Beyond The MBA Hype back in 2012-2013 when I was just starting off this journey. It was an eye opener as I could not imagine then how much an international MBA would help me. My stint in Singapore further convinced me to go for a top-notch international program.
Tips and Closing thoughts for MBA applicants
I am more distressed than happy with the MBA consultants I used despite the fact that I got the desired outcome (almost). I feel the admissions consulting business is very opaque and exploits the lack of awareness and the anxiety of MBA applicants.
It’s very hard for an applicant who lived and grew up in a totally different culture to understand what admission officers of top US business school might like/dislike. But in today’s age of internet and IT, this shouldn’t cost thousands of dollars.
In my opinion Admission Consultants today are digging a hole for themselves, sooner or later someone will disrupt this industry and then they will cry foul. I like to compare this with Uber and Taxi Drivers. Taxi drivers have been cheating on customers for all these years so now they have no right to complain against Uber.
After this long MBA journey, I feel slightly accomplished but much more nervous and anxious. I am nervous because I know this joy is temporary and I have long way to go to improve myself. I still actively network with people and I feel there’s so much to do and learn. I am still far from being my best.
My honest suggestion to any applicant would be not to waste time just ‘thinking’ about an MBA, but to actually make a start somewhere even if it’s not a perfect one.
- Be unapologetically honest to yourself.
- Learn to hold yourself accountable for the mistakes you make.
- Life is about becoming the best version of ourselves and making your work count.
- Find ways to create value for others, you personal success will follow.
- Never compare yourself with your peers, as they’ll keep changing, rather compare yourself with what “you” were few months back and keep exploring ways to improve yourself.
- Never give up and stay humble, no matter how tough it gets.
- And most importantly…
Stay hungry, Stay foolish!!!
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