With a 740 GMAT score, rich business consulting experience and plenty of community service, Kumar Ayush knew he had a strong profile for the top MBA programs.
In his first year of applications, he applied to a few top colleges on his own, but wasn’t able to convert them.
While most strong candidates keep wondering about what went wrong, Ayush was lucky to get some helpful feedback from one of the official MBA admission teams.
They said that despite his accomplishments, there was one key issue that was working against him.
And that’s what he focused on in his second year of applications, which resulted in interview calls from every program he applied to.
How I got into Duke Fuqua
An MBA reapplicant recounts how he fixed his ‘storyline’ problem
by Kumar Ayush
I am from Ranchi, Jharkhand, where I’ve spent 22 years of my life. After schooling I joined Birla Institute of Technology Mesra. As for most people, college was a life changing experience mainly because of countless opportunities of community involvement.
For example, I worked with my friends and local food joint for its marketing and helped establish it as one of the favorite hangout places.
I got the opportunity to contribute during the incubation phase of Lenskart, helping it achieve the first round of investor funding. Also, I was extremely involved in marketing and publicity activities of all major college events.
Having found reasonable success and enjoyment in marketing early on and learning about applications of quantitative modelling during my engineering days attracted me to the marketing analytics space.
I grabbed the opportunity to join ZS Associates, a global consulting firm focused on sales and marketing functional area.
At ZS, I have closely worked with Brand Directors in leading pharma companies, advising them on sales strategy using my industry knowledge and expertise in decision analytics.
To make a stronger impact on the industry I aspire to move to brand manager role.
However, to truly drive effective decisions, I need a deeper understanding of marketing management and the interdependencies between marketing and other business functions in healthcare.
I need to hone my leadership skills because in a brand manager role I will lead multiple teams for planning and deployment of brand strategy across sales and marketing channels. An MBA is the door to such a holistic learning experience.
My GMAT preparation covered 3 months, which I divided into three phases.
In phase 1, I focussed on building my fundamentals and formulating approach to each kind of problem. Approach was especially important in the verbal section.
I regularly took notes and carved out a strategy that seemed to work best for me. Quant seemed to be easier once I had solved Arun Sharma’s quant guide.
In phase 2, I practiced increasing my accuracy with more of complex/difficult questions. I went through explanation of each question irrespective of whether my answer was correct or not.
I kept adding my daily learning to notes of my fundamentals and approach to different question types. I did not bother much about timing till now.
Phase 3 was all about practicing questions/mocks under exam environment. My practice rate was pretty my 1 mock every two days. Here I worked more on optimising my speed and accuracy. Towards the end of it, I was able to score 760-770 consistently in mba.com practice tests.
My test was scheduled in the morning. But unfortunately I missed carrying my passport to the centre and any other government ID did not work.
So, I had to make multiple trips to test centre, reschedule the test to evening and I already started feeling exhausted.
Thankfully, I was able score 740 with 51 in QA and 39 in VA. Even though it was a little lower than expected, I was pretty satisfied.
MBA application counsellor review
My first attempt on application was in 2016-17 when I did not take any help from the consultants. I applied to Tuck and Ross in Round 2. I did get interview invites from both but could not convert it. However, I got waitlisted for Ross so that was some encouragement.
Thanks to the feedback call from one of the schools, I got to know that my story was not flowing well and that’s where I needed to work the most.
To understand the flaws in my story I was required to introspect much more. That’s when I felt the need for professional help.
My friends who had made it into Columbia / Darden highly recommended MBA Crystal Ball. Immediately, I reached out to Manish @ MBA Crystal Ball for help and signed up for their 3 school essay review service.
Manish connected me with my consultant (a Stanford MBA grad) to help me with my essays. We started with the application strategy call for the first school I was applying to.
Once I discussed with him my current story, my consultant immediately pointed out the lack of clarity around the future career path I had mentioned in last year’s applications.
He also pushed me to think hard about more ways that the MBA can transform my role and help me establish in the healthcare industry.
Getting his thoughts and suggestions on my planned career trajectory played the most crucial role in significantly improving my story.
As we went through multiple drafts he pushed me to bring out the personal side of me to the essays, making them more fun and engaging for the reader.
These key changes made me feel much more confident about my application.
My strategy was to apply to maximum 4 schools – 1 in early action and 3 in round 1.
A very important part of the process according to me was to spend enough time researching the schools, talking to current students and identifying many many ways in which I fit with the school.
This helped me lay out somewhat unique plan for each of my applications.
In terms of career prospects, my criteria of selecting schools was strong marketing and healthcare program.
In terms of fit, I was looking for a very collaborative culture where people believe in authentic engagement with college community as well as MBA aspirants.
For round 1, I finally shortlisted these schools – Duke Fuqua, Michigan Ross, CMU Tepper and ISB Hyderabad.
What my college research revealed
- Culture: Foremost thing that stands out is focus on community spirit, helpfulness and authentic engagement. E.g – I connected with a current student from Healthcare Club and she was extremely candid about her experience at Duke and her internship at Genentech. After about 45 mins of discussion I didn’t feel that I am talking to her for the first time.
With another student, we couldn’t connect at the pre-decided time because she was caught with her internship work. But post that she sent an 2 page email describing her thoughts on the college experience and especially highlighting how it wasn’t Fuqua like behavior to not respond.
There are multiple forums for 1:1 Mentorship be it for leadership through COLE (leadership development initiative) or specific to any industry. Overall, there is immense feeling of camaraderie among students.
- Healthcare: Duke MBA has amazing healthcare program – “Healthcare Sector Management (HSM)” which is one of the best in the US and attracts students from every part of the healthcare industry. Class interactions, Duke MBA Healthcare Conference, Panel Discussions, FCCP (Fuqua Client Consulting Practicuum) provide an amazing opportunity to learn and network with industry leaders.
Duke School of Medicine is one of the best healthcare institutes in the US and there are number of companies in research triangle area to learn from. Through HEAL (Health Experience Assisted Learning) Second years provide a roadmap and toolkit to be successful in the recruitment process. Overall 9% of graduates go into healthcare, the highest of the top business schools. Duke
- Emphasises on action based learning through programs such as MAP (Multi Disciplinary Action Project). This is a practical learning experience with senior industry leaders from across the globe. It is mandatory for all first students before their internships and is entirely funded by the college.
- All rounder school with great rankings across functional areas – marketing, finance, etc. It has marketing labs which provides the students platform to use actual data to solve marketing problems. Also, there are multiple avenues to engage with healthcare school of Michigan university.
Most of the information I got was from the website itself. Program focusses on two key things – Helping hone leadership skills and equipping with analytical toolkit/framework to solve business problems. It takes pride in its small close knit community and provides immense opportunities to learn from other programs in CMU.
Fuqua interview experience and results
My interview was with a Fuqua alumnus, senior marketing director of an MNC, currently based out of Pune.
First part of the interview was focussed on my resume. The interviewer was interested in how I reached my current position starting from my college days and what drives me to MBA. Why Duke?
Second part was about my background and social/personal elements that concern me.
The interview lasted for about 40 mins and then we discussed about the interviewer’s experience at Duke and how an MBA there helped his career evolve.
Because I applied in Early Action round, the results came in about a month’s time of my submission. Unfortunately, I have not received any scholarship yet. There were about 10 admits from India in that round.
It was Diwali, and my family was about to start the Laxmi puja in the evening when I got a call from admission office. Can’t think of a more perfect celebration!
I also got interview invites from ALL the schools I applied to but had to abandon the process because of the binding agreement with Duke as an Early Round admit.
Advice and tips
Finally, three things helped me the most –
- Clarity in goals and making sure they align well with my background. My consultant from MBA Crystal Ball did a phenomenal job in helping me understand if the details of my career plan were clear and made sense from an admission officer’s point of view.
- Personalisation – Bringing forth my personality through my essays is very crucial as it’s really what differentiates you the most. If someone has been socially active and energetic person, it should come out from essays directly or indirectly. Same goes with passion.
- Research and fit – Spending enough time to know a school’s culture, program details, location, etc is all worth it. One should find as many points as possible which connect with his/her career plan and personality. Research not only gives a number of points to talk about and convince the university admissions team through essays and interview, but also instills a sense of passion which makes the overall application truly personal and genuine.
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