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International student life in India: American student shares ISB experience

American student shares experience at a top MBA program in India ISB

How easy or difficult is it for international students to study and live in India?

Andrew Wilson completed his MBA from the Indian School of Business (ISB), a top ranking MBA program in India. His shares his experience of being an American student in India, the differences and similarities between studying in India vs USA, and some tips for international (non-Indian) MBA aspirants who wish to study in India.

Life as an international student in a top Indian MBA program

by Andrew Wilson

I majored in Computer Science for undergraduate education, at University of Maryland. I graduated into the dot com bust and ended up working at an hourly wage for several years. I made the best of it, living in Miami and Puerto Rico, learning Spanish, and enjoying life.

My professional career began in 2007 as a junior technology consultant at Oracle. Pay was decent, but after a few years I really wasn’t getting where I wanted to go professionally.

I had long planned on getting an MBA, but putting the logistics of that together took me a while.

My MBA application experience

I got a 720 on the GMAT. I’m reasonably happy with that, though if it mattered today, I’d take it one more time.
I applied to six schools. I applied to schools I was somewhat familiar with and because one of my recommenders recommended them.

I think the biggest factor for me was, do I really want to go to this school? If I only kind-of wanted an admit, or if I didn’t see myself paying $200,000 to go there, I didn’t apply.

I didn’t really do much research in terms to talking to current students or alumni. I went to a few recruiting events, though I probably wouldn’t bother if I did it again.

I do recall talking to one alum from University of Chicago whose main advice was get a 720 GMAT. That might have been true a few years ago, but perhaps not so much today.

ISB interview in USA

I was interviewed in Washington, D.C. in person, where I was living at the time. There were two interviewers. They were in town for a GMAT conference.

As I recall the interview was about 1/2 hour. A mix of getting to know you, and then making sure that you had thought through the implications of quitting your job, moving to India for a year, getting an MBA, and then getting a job placement after that. Why an MBA?, why India?, that sort of thing.

I received the final result a few months later. I didn’t have any admits at the other schools I applied to.
I received a 50% tuition scholarship.

I was happy to be admitted, and looking forward to starting to move forward with my professional career.

Experience at ISB

Things mostly went smoothly when I started the program. It took me about a month to get my phone SIM card activated. That wouldn’t have been a big deal, but I had already cancelled my US SIM card, so I was unable to sign up for Whatsapp, which is the main method of communication on campus.

I think there were about 20 international (non-Indian) students between the two ISB campuses. It really wasn’t unusual at all to be in a class full of Indians. There are lots of Indians in the US.

Keep in mind that there are also a number of foreign exchange students in the later terms, so you do get a mix of students in any given class.

The teaching at ISB is substantially the same as what I would expect in the US.

I believe most or all of my professors received their PhD from US universities. There are also many visiting professors whose main school is in the US.

The overall student experience is a bit different in that there is huge pressure, particularly initially in the school year, to get good grades.

Beyond that, as far as I can tell, the overall experience is comparable to a US or European business school.

That is to say: lots of classes, lots of studying, lots of group projects, lots of sports, parties, and other social events.

Life as an American student in India

The weather in Hyderabad in a big plus. I really enjoyed the weather on campus. Many mornings I would go outside to a strong fresh breeze, almost as if I was on the coast. The campus in gorgeous and lush during the monsoon season.

While I have traveled around India before, I rarely left campus while I was in school – perhaps once per month for a specific purpose, such as a movie at the mall, or a trek, or for government paperwork.

The campus has reliable water and electric supply, and everyone lives on campus, so there is no need to worry about traffic. Daily frustrations are minimal.

Life outside the class

School work kept me quite busy, so I mostly participated in ad hoc activities, such as treks and hikes. On one memorable hike, we trekked fairly deep into the jungle. The water was clean and we all drank from the stream without issue – I wouldn’t normally do that anywhere.

In the winter I organized a small trek to the mountains – I mostly wanted some pictures of me in the snow in India – which we did find.

My general impression is that the overall study culture in India is more similar than different from studying in USA.

I would expect written accounts from students at ISB and students from top US business schools to sound similar on average. Lots of work, lots of studying, lots of group work, lots of fun.

Life after ISB

I found an unpaid internship at a small private equity firm almost immediately after returning to the US. It was fun while it lasted, but ultimately didn’t turn into anything more.

I’m currently working as a Technology Lead at Infosys. I found each job through a normal web search.

I think one nice advantage from pre-MBA is that I now see updates online for what my classmates are up to professionally. I think it is encouraging and motivating to see what they are doing and trying to do.

Tips for international students in India

My advise to international students planning to study in India.

  • Work hard and learn all that you can. I was quite happy with the overall experience at ISB, and if anything I wish I had gone sooner.
  • I think using some prep material before arriving on campus, something like HBX Core, would be useful.
  • If you are interested in India, I would definitely recommend applying to the Indian School of Business.

Spending one year in the country living and learning and making friends and experiencing life is something that can’t be replicated with a series of short trips.

Also read:
Life at ISB Mohali Campus
MBA student life after ISB Hyderabad admissions
How the consulting recruitment cycle works on campus at ISB
ISB Mohali Campus Placements: The story before employment reports are published

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

2 thoughts on “International student life in India: American student shares ISB experience”

  1. Hello Sameer,

    I am Rahul. I had connected with you on LinkedIn and you gave me some valuable inputs about the application process to mba colleges.

    So i Graduated in 2017 with a BSC (triple majors in Physics, Electronics and Maths) from St.Joseph’s College. I started interning with NGOs from my second sem in college. Interned with an NGO for 6 months working with kids by interacting & playing with them and submitting reports once a week. Post that I joined an NGO (calling it X) which started when I was in my second year. I was part of NGO X as a volunteer from it’s very first batch of volunteers and volunteered/interned with the till my Graduation. After Grad, i was looking for a job parallely helping parents take care of our shop for a couple of months until the same NGO offered me a Job and now it has been almost 1.5 years that I am working there on multiple roles (finance, admin, volunteer management etc.)
    The mentors at my NGO X are really supportive and encouraged me to do MBA. I intend to write my exams this year and get into a top B-school next year and specialize in Consulting.
    I plan to working in the consulting work for a good 5 years so as to know the field inside out and also become financially stable post which I plan to consult NGO’s and get (& give) back to the social sector.

    During college, I was a part of a Wildlife Club since my first year and became the president of the club in my final year. The club grew during my final year and now is the biggest clubs in college. We organized lot of events and a National Conference during my tenure as the President which was never hosted before. Plus, i was Event head for the fest conducted by the Student Council.

    However, my aggregate was 64% and I even failed in Physics once in my second sem (i rewrote the exam and got decent marks). TBH,i chose the course because it was the cheapest (I finished my 3 Grad in under 45k) so as to not burden my family. I knew, that a regular degree won’t help me make the cut, reason why I got into a lot of extra-curricular.

    I need to know if this profile along with good GMAT/CAT scores will land me in the top B-Schools (ISB/IIMs).

    My 10th score is 84.96 & 12th score is 87%.

    Looking forward to your response.

  2. @Rahul: We’ve written about how to tackle low academic grades here:

    But that’s just one part. Other than your acads, you should also start thinking about the other aspects of your application. Your experience will be lower than the other applicants. You’re planning a big career shift from non-profit to consulting. And you don’t have a GMAT score yet.

    Don’t over-focus on one aspect (which is water under the bridge now). Look at what else adcoms would want to know about you. And find a way to tackle those aspects too.


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