What’s it like to study in a European MiM program? How is life as an international student different? What can you expect in the class and outside? What about internships?
Gourav Agarwal, a Master in Management student at ESCP, answers all these questions in this blog.
I was born in the small town of Warangal and I was a very curious kid. I remember that I loved history and economics as a kid and as many curious kids of my generation I ended up choosing engineering. My family was into business (so clichéd) and didn’t place a high regard for education.
But life was a silver spoon and I never had to think about working at a company for money. At the age of 20, I was heading around 40 people along with my uncle in his business and never thought of getting a masters degree.
My grades at my engineering college were really low as I was consumed by sales and purchasing. But then I saw my whole engineering college giving the GRE to go and live their American / Australian / Canadian dream and I decided to attempt the test just after a few weeks of preparation. I got a fairly good GRE score of 323, which was the highest in my college. I was super pumped.
Finally I realised that engineering wasn’t my calling and so I choose to attempt GMAT. This started a struggle with the GMAT which took three attempts to get a 750.
Getting a 750 in the GMAT was not easy especially because I had no direction or guidance, I scored high on the quant one time and on verbal another time. But then I made sure that I made a very elaborate plan of sticking to the basics and the hard work paid off fetching me a 750.
At the same time, I started working for a startup where I met a very dynamic boss (780 GMAT, IIIT Hyderabad, Wharton admit) who gave me the inspiration to punch above my weight. Nothing was un-doable for him and after talking to him I felt that I needed to get into a top school and be the best manager there ever was.
To be very honest, my application strategy was very impulsive. I applied to ISB but got rejected. I got into Amazon and started working there and thought of applying next year.
But Amazon was nothing like the startup I just came out of. I had no business exposure and I felt that I couldn’t stay there without any business exposure for a few more years. So I applied to a few other French colleges and chose ESCP that offered me a scholarship of 20,000 Euros.
My reason for choosing ESCP was simple, It gave me a chance to get totally out of my comfort zone and Europe seemed to be a place to target especially as US and UK were dealing with populist movements.
I got into ESCP and I was clueless about how business schools actually work. I landed in Paris in August of 2017 with a roommate from ESCP who was also from the south.
I couldn’t cook and I survived a few months just on bread, Nutella, better and whatever my roommate made for me.
After a week of French classes, we started with the prerequisite courses that non-management background people were required to do.
Our class was fairly diverse in terms of nationalities. It had a lot of French and Italian students with a fair number of German and Spanish people. There were also a lot of Indian and Chinese students. They mostly had business backgrounds but some of them had also studied languages, politics or engineering.
The year started full throttle with core courses which included Corporate finance, Management Control, Organizational management, HR, and law.
For me, the problem was that all these courses didn’t focus a lot on the quantitative side of things but forced us to look on vague concepts such as vision, alignment, strategy and the ‘Big Picture’.
The idea was that a management course was not intended to make financial analysts or performance marketing executives but managers who could handle a fair amount of ambiguity and chaos.
Having said that you could always choose specializations depending on your interests. More than 50% of our class time was spent on discussions, student presentations, and projects.
For example, we were given a project of making peanut butter jelly sandwiches for an orphanage in most time efficient way possible. This actually forced us to understand how to set up an assembly line following the Agile and Kaizen concepts rather than just producing some bookish concepts on an exam.
There was an organizational management project on the culture that actually helped me to understand what kind of firms do I want to work in (For example, I would never work in Apple).
I also understood what makes bankers so ambitious (Greedy), how many implicit things affect the work culture of a place and how to conduct yourself in a firm.
In the finance lecture, the ease with which the professor explained the diversification of risks, differences between systematic and firm/industry specific risk is something I will remember for a long time.
Student life is pretty great at ESCP because you have campuses in Paris, Berlin, London, and Madrid and that along with student discos such as that in Berlin campus makes your life pretty solid (10 Euros for 6 vodka drinks…good luck with those prices in India).
I ended up making a lot of friends from many nationalities and was often the only Indian in the party, it was great because that has helped me adjust to Europe much easily as adjusting from Warangal to Paris can be quite a task.
ESCP has a very strong brand name in France (comparable to IIM Calcutta) and is also gaining popularity in Germany. Brand recognition is always dependent on which country you target. So networking becomes pretty easy.
I was coached by a senior manager at BCG Digital to prepare for my interviews and some VPs at reputed tech firms in Berlin helped me get around on what kind of jobs to target.
Internships are considered as a stepping stone to a full-time job so it is very important to get an internship in this in the area that you like.
When I joined the business school I was not very sure of what I wanted to do but after some deliberation, I thought that working as a product manager would be really fit for me and so I applied to a lot of project management product management roles in various companies. An internship is always complicated if you don’t speak the local language.
Every Indian I know at ESCP or ESSEC has at least applied to 100 companies to get a decent Internship.
I was able to get into a very big FMCG company and a very big e-commerce company and I chose the latter because it was still functioning like a start-up and I really liked the work culture.
But then I watched a Business Plans lecture by Jim Goetz, Partner at Sequoia Capital, which got me interested in Tech strategy and venture capital space. I applied to a few VCs and tech strategy roles but I had to work very hard for those interviews.
These interviews mostly focus on your knowledge of finance and strategy concepts (Porter’s model, financial statement analysis, consulting case studies) but also firm-specific tasks such as preparing pitch reports for startups, some analysis for a huge luxury firm etc.
So the best way to crack them would be read up on your lectures, solve the case in point book, research the firm and follow TechCrunch and medium.
At least for me who wasn’t working in the most dynamic job in India, this was a very good experience because I didn’t want to work at that role for five more years to wait for an MBA.
Also in France and Germany, you aren’t expected to get an MBA and a MIM will usually do as long it is from a reputed place. I think the end path with a MIM or an MBA is the same in Europe.
So the decision that you have to make is can you work in your job for three or four more years to get an MBA. For me, I couldn’t and I feel ESCP has been the best decision of my life.
Plus there is also the question of age, You would certainly want to enjoy Paris or Berlin when you are 23, not to say that it fades away when you are 30.