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B.Com grad with multiple admits reviews ApplicantLab, MBA Crystal Ball and other consultants

The number of MBA applicants hiring consultants has seen a sharp rise in the last few years, as the competition has only seen an upward trend. It’s also become very confusing for applicants who research the market, review the best MBA consultants and their pricing and ultimately hire one.

A few, like Santosh Kher (name changed), decide to spread the risk by working with multiple teams. With a 3-year bachelors degree (B.Com, 15 years of education), CFA/FRM certification and equity research / business development experience, his profile was different – compared to the Indian IT male engineers who make up the bulk of the applicant pool. And so were the challenges.

After working with the other admissions consulting teams in Round 1, Santosh finally came to us…in Round 2 (read why chances in Round 2 are lesser than in Round 1). His work with MBA Crystal Ball helped him get a $72,000 scholarship from Emory, the school he’s ultimately joining.

Read Santosh’s ‘agonisingly long‘ (to use his words) account of his MBA application journey along with reviews of ApplicantLab, MBA Crystal Ball and other consultants he worked with.

Reviews of ApplicantLab, MBA Crystal Ball and other consultants

International MBA after B.Com (15 years of education)

by Santosh Kher

Born and brought up in Delhi, I am an out-an-out “Delhi Boy” who grew up watching and loving Bollywood movies. Sports and fitness has been integral to my life and I hope it remains like that. Someone who looks to draw inspiration from everyone around, I see this article as an opportunity to share my experiences to possible inspire and help a few out there.

As an undergrad student, I was fairly active in extra-curriculars which included debating and social-entrepreneurship. After completing my undergrad in commerce, I joined one of India’s largest firm providing ratings, research, and risk and policy advisory services as an equity research analyst and relocated to Mumbai. I consider this to be a life-changing experience for me as I had never been around such motivated, professional and focussed individuals before. I pursued CFA & FRM programs simultaneously – The curriculum of the CFA program helped me directly (and immensely) in my job which involved Industry & Company Analysis, Financial Modelling, Forecasting and Valuation.

After spending about 2.5 years in this role, I transitioned into business development (BD) for the same set of services and beyond. While my stint as an equity-research analyst helped me hone my analytical skills, BD provided me an opportunity to nurture my skills in building and managing client relationships by leveraging my analytical ability. Helping me grow professionally as well as personally, BD gave my profile a holistic touch.

While I got to learn a lot about finance and analysis from the CFA and FRM curriculums, I always wanted to be in an atmosphere where I could learn the application of the same. My job did extend this privilege to me, but I longed for an environment where I could learn from top faculties who happen to be ex-bankers, ex-consultants, investors and so on. Also, I am a strong believer of peer-to-peer learning. Learning about industries right from the people who have experienced those first-hand can seldom have a better alternate. Hence MBA.

I was quite unsure of my chances given the highly-competitive over-represented Indian males which culminated into making my GMAT score of 720 look average. Also, while I knew that I wanted to stick to finance as my Post-MBA goal, I was unsure of “What” in finance (IB, Corporate Finance, Financial Advisory, PE). While I don’t want to dig deep here, I would just advise the potential MBA candidates to not fret over things which aren’t in your control. It doesn’t help and it’s something that I regret, in hindsight.

My GMAT Prep

Riding high on clearing CFA and FRM programs, I underestimated the might of GMAT and bombed the exam on my first attempt which was purely based on solving the Official Guide and opting for a group coaching which wasn’t worth it. I neither made a strategy nor followed any plan.

Devastated, I decided to take a “break”. I realised that I need to unlearn a lot of things and approach this exam differently. After referring to the traditional GMAT study material (Manhattan guides and GMAT Official Guide), I figured out the areas I needed to work on.

I would like to mention Chiranjeev Singh (CJ) and Rajiv Sharma here, who helped me address my specific issues. They are great coaches who genuinely want to help.

After slogging a lot, I reached to decent GMAT score from an Indian’s perspective. Still not confident about the score, I took the exam two more times but got a similar score on both attempts. Although it was more than a 100-point improvement (590 to 720) from my first attempt, I wasn’t really ecstatic with my score (read greed). Given that I was late in the game (it was September already), I decided to go ahead with it.

As a broader suggestion, I would urge the GMAT test takers to let go of the pressure. I wrote my GMAT with a broken right hand after an unfortunate accident 5 days before my attempt. In hindsight, it took away the pressure from me as I was already prepared to retake the exam once more. With such flexibility on offer, there is no point taking so much pressure. Easier said than done though, agreed!

Working on the MBA applications

I was really lucky to have a very close friend who had applied to B-schools back in 2015. Though he was unsuccessful that time, he learnt a lot from those experiences and shared all those experiences with me generously. In that sense, I was not in a position where I didn’t know anything about the applications to B-schools.

However, as I started writing, I felt I required professional help to evaluate and put my stories together. This thought also stemmed from the fact that I was quite desperate to enroll into an MBA this year itself and not experiment. Hence, I decided to take professional help.

I reached out to the MBA consulting community and (foolishly) asked a lot of them to provide me a list of schools that I could apply to with my profile.

I also had a brief chat with Sameer Kamat and Manish Gupta (MG) and tried to understand. I received a response which did not make me happy – “purely’ from a GMAT perspective, the list might be tad on the aggressive side”. On trying to probe deeper, I was made clear that it would require a deeper analysis of my profile, goals and so on.

A piece of advice here – I would suggest all the potential MBA candidates to engage with consultants extensively before making their decisions. Having been in that position, I understand that candidates like words which comfort them but don’t let anyone influence your decision.

Know who exactly would work with you, whether he/she would be able to understand and appreciate your profile and goals. Don’t base your decision on:

1. Success stories mentioned on their websites

Please understand that only the successful candidates make it to this space, hence it’s a biased sample set.

Don’t bother to connect with them for validation – I don’t believe you’ll get anything significantly new from that.

What might have worked for them wouldn’t necessarily work for you. Consultants are not magicians – Most of the outcomes depend on YOUR profile and story.

Appreciate that the “successful” candidates might be inherently strong candidates. By no way I mean that you don’t have a strong enough profile; just don’t let the “consultant-they-worked-with” factor influence the choice of your consultant.

2. Beware of emotional and passionate statements

You’ll find a lot of “professional consultants” making emotional and passionate statements about how they are going to get you through. Don’t fall for it. I did. And I still regret it. If someone is “promising” something or offering a “guarantee”, run in the opposite direction.

If a consultant is throwing swanky stuff like Artificial Intelligence, Data Analytics etc to sell their service, run in the opposite direction.

An objective assessment (like the one MG did when I reached out to him first) is far better than someone offering his/her shoulder or faff to you.

3. Don’t sign up for too many schools

I realised that I started getting better after writing applications for 3-4 schools. I signed up for a 5-school package with MCB, despite MG’s suggestion to sign up for a 3-school package (Yes, these guys are this honest!)

Once you get into the groove, you’ll realise you don’t require that much of help on each application.
You may refer to this article for more information on how to select the right study abroad consultant.

I zeroed down on someone who fully met the above two points. Not satisfied with the intelligence that I was receiving from my first consultant, I decided to opt for the ApplicantLab which is a self-help tool on a friend’s recommendation.

This turned out to be a boon for me and I wish I had opted for it much earlier. ApplicantLab’s career-maps and brainstorming modules are exactly what one needs to introspect about themselves, their career goals and arranging their unique stories in one place.

Maria Wich-Vila, ApplicantLab’s founder, has done a terrific job in an attempt to level the MBA admissions playing field. I loved the school-wise and school-specific advice Maria had on offer with a full blown-access to the platform (across schools) at a highly reasonable price point.

The school-specific advice comes in form of videos in which Maria talks very passionately about each essay and the appropriate structure to it.

This comes with a caveat – ApplicantLab would work like a charm for self-starters and self-motivated folks. However, candidates not clear about their target schools or goals might well face challenges to be confident about their progress in the tool. The same happened with me. My goals essay was all over the place!

While I was happy with the ApplicantLab, I felt I still might require individual help and personalised feedback on school selection and essays, to be doubly sure.

Also, you might reach a stage in the ApplicantLab where your notes about yourself might get too much for you to process. For people who are great at processing/arranging a lot of information and who have time on hand might be better off than others.

For these reasons, I enrolled with MBA Crystal Ball for my round 2 applications. More on that later.

Round 1 Applications

I applied to Rotman, Georgetown and Olin using the intelligence from ApplicantLab and essay editing from my first consultant. The criteria for selecting the B-schools was purely the “ease” of getting in. Yes, so much for “admissions consulting”.

I wasn’t very confident of my chances, which also reflected in the result – Reject without interviews from Olin and Rotman. However, I made it Georgetown, which helped in get some belief back in myself.

Interestingly, Georgetown did not have a goals essay unlike the other two schools. This helped me realise that my goals essays were all over the place and my experience with the first consultant wasn’t helping much in that aspect.

Not satisfied with the experience with this consultant and not willing to take any more chances, I opted for another consultant to apply to ISB in round 1 itself. This experience was relatively better and far more professional. I intentionally enrolled for a single school this time as I wanted to make an informed choice this time around.

Round 2 Applications

Having experienced a lot in Round 1, I needed to know where I stand. I wrote back to MG from MBA Crystal Ball expressing my interest in the MAP MAP from MBA Crystal Ball. It was exactly what I needed.

I was mapped with a coach who happened to be a Stanford MBA Grad (a super humble guy named AG, who also got into Harvard) and effortlessly understood my profile.

I cant understate the importance of this process. I realised that there was no basis to my school selection in Round 1. I got to know where I stood. It also helped me regain my lost confidence as the schools which MG referred to as “aggressive” earlier, turned out to be categorised as “practical” for me after the thorough evaluation using MBA MAP.

For those with raised eyebrows, I want to make it clear once again that NO ONE can tell you which schools would be a good fit for you basis a cursory look at you CV and GMAT score.

AG also helped me “read” the categories in which the schools were categorized – Ambitious, Stretch, Practical, Safe and Backup – in the MBA MAP report. Understanding that for me was very important as I wanted to know which schools I have a fair shot at.

On probing if I could consider some of the “ambitious” and “Stretch” schools, AG came up with an impressive perspective – If I was open to give my MBA applications another chance next year, I should DEFINITELY fancy my chances in some of those category schools – else stick to a combination where the chances could be maximized.

This again re-iterates that it’s you and your priorities who’ll be driving your ship, and not your consultant.

Cut to applications, I realised that all this while, I was trying to write something which I thought the adcoms would love to read. My drafts were full of buzzwords which only happen to sound jazzy. I used to dread the “Goals” essay which was a result of I not being clear of my goals. Brainstorming with AG helped me be confident of writing what I wanted to do.

As a comparison, my former consultant (from another consulting company) always pushed me to write something which a particular school was famous for – for example, Consulting for a school which is “known” as a consulting major school.

But while working with MBA Crystal Ball, AG made me understand that’s not how things work. Each candidate is unique and an adcom doesn’t prefer people coming with a particular goal or background.

AG helped me brought a lot of clarity and simplicity in my essays with no compromise on the strength of content. I relished the entire experience of working with him, irrespective of the outcome of my applications.

My interview preparation with AG was one-of-a-kind. It started with AG sharing a list of potential interview questions with me. He consciously avoided few questions in that list to maintain the element of surprise in an interview. Having interviewed twice already successfully, I was brimming with confidence that I could handle this part comfortably.

I always imagined myself as someone who was good at handling situations. However, few of the questions really stumped me to the extent that I just couldn’t come up with a response. That was a wake-up call for me, to be honest.

I put all my energies towards focusing on every aspect of an interview, be it the traditional questions or the off-beat ones. I also understood that there are no “right” answers to a lot of questions. Other neglected factors like the delivery, confidence, smile-on-your-face, and your ability to listen and appreciate play a far more significant role.

While each school puts out information comprehensively, I can’t emphasize the importance of reaching out to the students and alumni of the schools. The insights on their experiences with their peers, faculty, employment opportunities, major events on campus cannot be gleaned through browsing the school’s website or through other content available online.

Also, each one I reached out to was super supportive and was ready to help. I was humbled with each conversation I had with these people.

Start connecting with students/alum now!

Having said that, I’d also encourage people to not get too influenced by strong opinions coming from students & alums. Everyone speaks from their experiences, which differ considerably. Listen and absorb.

MBA Interview Experiences

I received interview invites from Georgetown, ISB, UNC and Emory. As a general advice, I would recommend reading your application at least thrice before your interview for consistency and other various factors.

Georgetown MBA Interview

My first interview invite came from Georgetown. It was a huge relief and a confidence booster. I interviewed over skype with an adcom member. The interview questions were mostly behavioural hovering around my goals, why Georgetown, leadership experience, what I like to do outside work, and if I had any questions for them.

The interview went smooth. My interaction with students and alums helped me figure out what I wanted to ask the interviewer.

Avoid asking questions the answer to which is easily available on the University’s website. It reveals lack of research. Georgetown sticks to its notifications deadline which happened to be ~2 months after my interview. I received an admit from Georgetown with a $20k scholarship.

ISB Interview Experience

After a long wait, I received an invite from ISB – which happened to be my top priority school from the very start. The interview experience was pleasant. I was interviewed by two alums – each of whom came across as really humble. It was again a behavioural interview focussing around goals, quality of prior experience (~40% of time was spent on this and some leadership experiences I had), why MBA and why ISB.

The interview preparation with my ISB consultant helped me a lot to position myself appropriately. It didn’t only help me for ISB’s interview but also for the subsequent interview. After pushing the results deadline by a week, on December 12th, three weeks after my interview, I was delighted to see an email popping into my mailbox with an admit. I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep that night.

UNC Kenan Flagler Interview Experience

The experience with UNC adcom wasn’t great, more because of external factors. I was made to wait for half-an-hour from the scheduled interview time with no updates from the interviewer (It was over skype). After a lot of confusion, an hour of wait and technical issue from their side, the interview finally happened over a voice-call.

Though the interview went smooth, I did not come out feeling confident, unlike my prior two experiences. I was waitlisted.

Emory MBA Interview Experience

I received an in-person interview invite from Emory on the same night as my Georgetown admit. I interviewed with an adcom member in Delhi. The questions were in-line with those asked in my earlier interviews.

However, I felt much more confident walking out of this interview – maybe it was because the interview was in-person, or it was just a good day. I was confident of receiving an admit, which happened ultimately.

However, I was amazed out of my wits when I saw a subsequent email informing me of the scholarship I had received. It was 60% of the tuition.

I was happy but also concerned about the decision I had to make.

Choosing between multiple MBA admits

By now, you must have realised that I am not the best at making decisions. I narrowed down my options to ISB and Emory and started reaching out to more people to gain insights. I did an extensive research which was also lauded by MG. Here’s the summary.


ISB vs Emory Goizueta


What I think about ISB

ISB Pros

  • Best in the country – better recognition in India.
  • Flexibility to apply to any (relevant) company.
  • One year program – opportunity cost.
  • As safe as it gets (in all probability) – Top companies visiting campus etc

ISB Cons

  • From what I have understood and seen from my experience (I know a lot of people who have gone to ISB from my firm), finance is not really ISB’s strongpoint. I know people who have struggled to get through what they would have liked to.
  • One year program – For someone like me who wants to explore a thing here and there, I don’t know if a one year program would be right for me. Specifically, entering school in April and starting recruiting as soon as November makes me wonder what is gonna change in such a short time-frame.
  • Huge class – tougher to differentiate yourself
  • Low on diversity – hence relatively lower on overall experience as compared to a reputable US school.
  • From what I have understood, candidates with strong undergrad (Read IITs, NITs, DCE, BITS, NSIT and SRCC, CAs) and high CGPAs with 2-4 years of work experience are seen as better fits for top consulting jobs (MBB, AT Kearney, Accenture Strategy, Deloitte Strategy, Roland Berger). My credentials over here might become a roadblock – I am not sure on this though (hey, I have a CFA charter too :p). I have enclosed my CV for your reference here to help you understand where I am coming from. Also, not to forget that these spots are really few with almost everyone competing for these.


What I think about Emory Goizueta

Emory Pros

  • Small class – more opportunities to learn/develop etc.
  • Reputable brand, at least very good in South America.
  • Scholarship – $72,000 (that’s close to INR 60 lakhs!), if the risks pay off, ROI will be great.
  • Better learning environment in general/global exposure.
  • Better chances to be a well-rounded, informed and matured individual in general.
  • Placement record looks great on paper – looks like a better fit (vis-à-vis ISB) for someone with a profile like mine.
  • Internship component and experiential learning opportunities.
  • Although the thought of leaving family still freaks me out, living in different cities for the last 5 years has definitely helped me prepare for it.

Emory Cons

  • This is where the apprehensions creep in. Few companies sponsoring H1Bs. Finally going through a lottery – So all on luck. If lucky, then the employer may move you to a different geography.
  • Leaving family – Challenge to move back to India, if things come to that point (because hey, you never know about future).
  • Competing with candidates from the other ~19 schools which are better ranked. So is it like your turns comes after that pool is exhausted?
  • Basically a 500 ft high level decision of letting go of an easier option. Personally, I love challenges and probably thrive in challenging situations. So I am game for taking on that challenge – I am sure going through it will come with its own set of takeaways and development.

For people struggling with decisions on B-school selection, I would suggest people to ask themselves “Why MBA”, in addition to network with the students and alums of the schools to know more about them. Like my earlier suggestion, exercise your own intellect while processing these conversations.

Keeping in mind my goals, a finance-heavy background, a decent scholarship and the entire opportunity to have a rich and global experience, I finally chose Emory.

Closing thoughts

I strongly believe that each applicant is unique and has a unique story to share. For me, my communication skills, a smooth and upward trajectory of handling responsibilities at work, some of my personal experiences from my childhood and my academic history helped my differentiate myself in such a highly competitive pool despite an average GMAT.

One thing I would have done differently in hindsight – Starting early, in each aspect – be it GMAT, school research, consultant selection and so on.

Had I done my research on consultants, I would be better placed to apply to schools in the first deadline itself – which is highly recommended.

Nevertheless, no regrets – I am sure I learnt and got better with each experience I had with my consultants.

As on today, I am excited to embark upon a new journey which promises to be challenging but fulfilling. At a personal level, I’d like to advice all international MBA aspirants to think why they need an MBA and beyond employment opportunities while arriving at their decisions (I hope I am not saying this too early and don’t end up changing my own opinion on this).

There are no right or wrong decisions. You make decisions right.


Edit: After this was story published, Santosh shared an interesting update. He was taken off the waitlist from UNC. He got an admit with scholarship that matched Emory, but decided to stick with Emory!

Also read:
My MBA journey from Columbia to McKinsey: He was rejected from all schools after working with a U.S. based consultant (& spending $7000!)
MBA Crystal Ball review in Poets & Quants
ApplicantLab Reviews and Discount Code

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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

14 thoughts on “B.Com grad with multiple admits reviews ApplicantLab, MBA Crystal Ball and other consultants”

  1. Hi MG,

    I have been going through your web site for a while, i really appreciate your work and responses. I’m interested in working inside Manufacturing industry right from the beginning and developed/realized my interest to work in Operations sector lately. Now, I’m planning to do an MBA in Operation/Supply chain field. I completed my UG in Mechanical Engineering (2012-2016) and now working in IT Industry with 2 years of work exp. I have been wondering if a work exp in a not so relevant field would be a roadblock to pursue MBA in Operation/Supply chain from a decent international university? Would like to hear your thoughts on this.
    I had two subjects related to Operation/Supply chain, planning to do some basic certifications from site related to Operations and Supply chain management, will this be sufficient or at least be useful to fulfill my aspiration?

    Sharan S

    • The certifications will help, your work experience will not – and could pose a fair bit of challenge. You can do one of two things. One, evaluate going for a MS Ops kind of program right away. Or two, look to move into a field (even if within IT) where you work on Ops/SCM areas. Don’t expect an MBA to magically take you into the world of Ops, even if you manage to get into a top program. Work towards it.

  2. Hi MG,
    My Gmat score is not so good (590 with Q45,V27). I have 3 years of experience (2years in IT field and from past 1 year i am doing my own business (small eating joint)).
    I want to pursue MBA from Canada.
    Can you suggest me what are my chances and can i get any scholarship for the same?

  3. hello MG,

    I have done my MBA from a tier 3 university in Blr and i am currently working in the logistics sector, with one of the top logistics companies in the world. my current salary is 5.4 lacs excluding variables and i have a 2 years work experience. i am not satisfied with my tire 3 university MBA & hence i am considering ISB PGP 2019 to have a better shot at a stronger career growth. What are my chances of getting into ISB, considering my academics are nothing extraordinary?

  4. Hello sir,

    I am a civil engineer having more than 7 years of experience in Metros like Delhi , Mumbai, Lucknow and now in Ahmedabad.
    I want to know how executive MBA will help my career to involve in a bigger role and which sector should I choose so that my experience will help to get good packages with relevant core jobs?

  5. Hello Sir,

    I have done my MBA Finance from Pune University & I’m currently working in the Banking sector, with one of the top 5 Indian banks. Profile Just started working as a Relationship Manager and my current salary is 7 lakhs (excluding variables) & have 1yr previous work exp into bank operations.
    Further to my knowledge one really gets frustrated with the sales job role considering 4/5yrs (max.) down the line.
    In order to to get career shift OR changing of Profile from Sales, I’m considering of pursuing CFA so that I would get more of Professional Development and to have a better shot at a stronger career growth.
    Just like further Domain change from Relationship Manager to IB, Corporate Finance, etc.

    • My question is whether this is acceptable career path ?
    • What are my chances of getting the Charter considering the current work exp.?
    • Further even I have heard that Finance domain is Male dominating. Is it so?

    Your guidance would be really helpful.

    Stumped candidate,

  6. Hlw Mr.MG
    I am joining Engineering Cse Right now i Want to Pursue my MBA either From Graduate School of business (stanford GSB) Or Harvard Business School please Guide me How to Do so …?

  7. Thanks for your efforts.I feel happy that there is someone who can help me out.
    Bro I completed my graduation (bsc).It took me 4 years to complete my graduation due to backlogs.And my profile doesn’t sound good because of poor academic performance..
    I would like to do mba in finance. though I know little about finance..Iam fascinated about this due to stock market.
    Si please guide me what should be my next step so as to enter into a top mba universities of the world..


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