With over 11 years of work experience, Vishal Parashar was clear that he needed an MBA (thanks to his MBA dad’s advice and inputs on the benefits of an MBA) and that he’d only target the top 1 year programs in the world.
I am a person who is afraid of riding a roller coaster because of butterflies in the stomach on the way down, yet bold enough to jump out of an airplane from 13000 feet. I always had a curiosity to try or learn new things. This curiosity has led me to write blogs, learn a difficult language such as Japanese and become an adventure sports enthusiast (Skydiving, Paragliding, parasailing etc).
Though none of these were done for mentioning it in MBA essays or putting it put on Facebook as some people try to do. I have always been interested in knowing about the way business runs, M&A and organizational behavior, so MBA comes naturally to learn more and become part of the change.
My tryst with MBA goes back to 2009 when I decided to bell the CAT, after a couple of years of work-ex. I come from a family where everyone has a master’s degree in their respective field of work, so I also decided on an MBA.
My father was an MBA and he told me clearly that to make it to the top management and to stay relevant to business, an MBA degree is essential.
My attempt at MBA didn’t materialize in 2009. I did make it to the TISS (Tata Institute of Social Science) HR program interview but couldn’t make the final cut by 3 marks. I didn’t mention TISS here just to boast about it, but to emphasize that things that I learned while preparing for TISS interview (writing an SOP, learning about different motivational theories etc) have helped me during my professional career, in becoming a better manager and during my recent interviews at B schools.
The CAT percentile was decent enough to make it to tier 2 colleges, but I was working on advanced technologies related to data and was being offered chance to take up US assignment, so I decided to drop any further attempts for MBA. Before I went to the US, I started looking at the 1-year MBA programs in India since I knew I would be pretty much out of the 2 years race in a few years’ time.
In 2009, there were not many reputed institutes who provided 1-year MBA. Great Lakes had one program, IIM Ahmedabad and IIM Bangalore had started PGPX and EPGP respectively.
The profiles at IIMA PGPX were amazing, unlike PGP where most people were right out of college, PGPX had several people with 10 years’ work-ex and most of them had worked outside India for approx. 3 years on average. At that point, I knew PGPX and EPGP were two programs that I could target even with 7-8 years work-ex.
Even with 11 plus years of work-ex, I don’t think I am an old candidate for an MBA. In India, there is a myth about doing MBA just after graduation but unlike engineering where the concepts are mainly applicable to machines, the MBA concepts are more about real-life scenarios. With more experience, I may have a corresponding real-life experience for each of the scenario discussed during the lectures.
IIT (Indian-IT-Male not Indian Institute of Technology) is an over-represented group in GMAT/GRE based MBA admission courses’ applications. Indians are known to be good in the competitive exam so any score below 700 is considered below average for Indians. Surprisingly, the average GMAT score for the rest of the world stands at 570! Hence, I knew I had to score at least 700 to stay competitive.
Moreover, with 10 plus of work-ex, while starting my applications, I had to show an apparent reason for doing MBA now. Most MBA schools ask this question one way or the other. Many people try and copy someone else’s reason for doing MBA and fail miserably.
My advice would be to remain original and show a logical movement towards your long-term goals. All B school adcoms are experienced enough to see through your original vs copied story.
“The more you sweat during peace; the less you bleed during the war”. I saw this adage written on one of the training grounds for the Indian Army and clichéd it may sound, this is what happens during the GMAT journey. Simply speaking, the score you get in your mock is what you get in your actual GMAT. GMAT is a very intelligent exam and compared to CAT, trickier.
I started preparing in 2017 and joined a coaching, everything was good. Then in September, the pattern changed and when I went in with a new pattern to give final GMAT, the score was dismal 590. The GMAT prep mocks had to score of 680 and 690 so I was surprised to see the dismal performance.
I went back and did a thorough analysis and worked on my verbal. In three months’ time, I was able to move up from 590 to 700. Then I attempted once more but with the new shorter pattern, the score didn’t improve so 700 remained a not awesome yet a competitive score.
I reached out to MCB, after getting good feedback about them from friends. With my work experience reaching 11 years, I already had a limited number of schools, where I could apply; so I didn’t want to take any chances. There are various consultants in the market but a good consultant can increase your chances manifold.
I reached out to MCB in early 2018, but since it would have been too early for 2019 intake, Manish Gupta(MG) from MCB advised me to come back later. I was impressed by his honesty.
With some time left, I decided to take a chance and applied to IMD, Switzerland for their Mumbai assessment challenge. IMD is a top-notch school for experienced folks like me. I used ‘Applicant Lab‘ an online tool for MBA candidates for drafting essay for IMD. ApplicantLab tool has been created by Harvard alumna and is a self-help tool.
I didn’t use the services of MCB for IMD but was called for an assessment day. IMD, unlike other normal B schools, has a daylong assessment and you cannot fake yourself way in. IMD gave me a ding but that process gave me an insight into the competition I was going to face at any top B school.
This experience made it quite evident that I needed some professional help if I had to make my application stand out and MBA Crystal Ball was the obvious choice.
I chose the 3 school MBA application review service.
While choosing consultants, my advice would be to see if the consultant is selective in choosing the candidate. Additionally, If consultants tell you that they will ensure a Harvard admit based on 15 minutes of discussion, just run in the opposite direction.
Similarly, if someone promises you to write your essays, don’t work with them. The reason for such advice is that whatever you write in your essays is cross-checked during the interview. If you didn’t write those things, there are chances that you will be left looking for answers during the interviews and a possible ding at the end.
MG was my consultant and it was a great process overall. I still remember the first draft feedback and MG’s feedback was an eye-opener. The thing with consultants is that some people only want them to mention nice sugar-coated stuff since they are paying the consultants.
Though it may help in improving the short-term ego, it is a loss in the overall B school application process.
I chose not to have sugar-coated comments and it made the essays stand out. The entire process is a learning experience. Your goals become clearer and you learn a lot about yourself since the real you must reflect in the essays. MG and I worked together for 2.5 months and It was intensive throughout.
Even with all the content in place, how do you place your story is more important. The flow, language, and tone of the essay can make your application stand out. This is where the good consultants usually help. With their experience, consultants can make simple things more obvious to seasoned admission committee members.
I applied to 3 schools initially, 2 European (HEC and INSEAD) and 1 Indian (IIM B). I had ruled out USA since I had lived in the US and the visa issue was a major challenge. Choosing a school required some thought process.
I didn’t use any help from the consultants on this but didn’t apply blindly as well. Overall, the process can be demanding as there are many schools so choose wisely. Apply only to those where you want to go.
I got interview call from HEC and ding from other INSEAD and IIM B. While some may think that 1 interview calls out of 3 applied is a loss, I would disagree. I was able to tweak the IIM B essay for the other IIMs.
In total, I got a call from 4 out of 5 IIMs. (IIM A, C, I, L). The reason I didn’t get the call from IIM B was probably due to my 10 plus experience. This is what I heard from other candidates, in core industries / PSU, with 10 plus work ex as well.
HEC was the first school for the interview and they have two rounds of interviews. I had my interviewers from France and Australia. HEC requires you to present a 10-minute presentation and then the normal interview happens.
I approached MG from MCB for interview prep since he already knew my application and I didn’t have to start from scratch. We did two mock interviews and they were very useful. The feedback helped me understand the shortcomings.
The actual interviews went well. Interviewers at HEC spend the time to understand the real you and then recommend your fit in the program. HEC has rolling admissions and the results are out usually 1-2 weeks post interview. The day of the result was nerve-racking.
Even though I knew I had done well in interviews but in the Trump era, the applications number has also gone up at HEC and so did the competition. At 6 PM, I received the news that HEC was the first admit of the season. Finally, the effort of 2 months bore fruit!
One week later the results of scholarship came out; I didn’t receive any scholarship.
For IIMA PGPX, I didn’t prepare anything separately. HEC interviews were so comprehensive that I didn’t need to work separately for IIMA. But I still found the questions asked for the last year on the internet.
IIM A interview was a stark contrast to HEC. It turned out to be a stress interview.
One of my interviewers (PGPX chairman) decided to abruptly close the interview from his side, while other one continued. I kept my calm and answered every question. I knew, I already had an admit from HEC and that resulted in a positive impact at IIM A. It was a unique experience overall.
Not understanding what happened in the room, I left the interview room at IIMA at 9:30 am. My flight back was at 10 pm. I had full 12 hours to ponder over what happened in the room!
I found some stress interview experiences from prior years, but I wasn’t convinced that it would result in an admit. The results were supposed to come on 12th November, so I got myself busy with other things.
On 1st November, I was sleeping in the afternoon and woke up to find the email “Update regarding your IIM Ahmedabad Round-1 PGPX Admission Application”. I instantly knew the results were out.
I opened the link and typed in my Id/password with trembling fingers and there it was –
Congratulations. We are pleased to welcome you.
Everything else became hazy after those words. I called my family members immediately. Everyone was excited to hear the news.
After IIM A admit, I received Interview calls from IIM Calcutta, IIM Indore, IIM Lucknow though I chose not to attend any of them.
In the end, I had admits from HEC Paris and IIM A, both without a scholarship. HEC Paris and IIM A are strong schools in their respective countries and the differences between the two are not much. To make choice more difficult, IIM A has an internship at PGP/MiM level with HEC Paris.
For deciding between the two, I did a lot of research. Talked to various alumni of both schools and experienced folks such as MG and Sameer Kamat from MCB.
Wrote down the list of criteria while choosing a school and rated both. The entire process took 2 plus weeks and the results were more confusing. Both schools matched equally.
HEC Paris has 93% international diversity, while IIM A PGPX has more senior cohort and provides an opportunity to choose the job without taking too much debt in the form of student loans.
In the end, I chose IIM A for the brand value, Average work experience closer to my work-ex, better placements at senior management level and comparatively more growth opportunities in India, as my long-term goal is to settle in India.
Nevertheless, I firmly believe that HEC Paris is still a solid brand and must be on the aspirants’ list of schools in Europe, provided they are willing to learn French, as learning it increases your chances of landing a job in France manifold.
The overall application process was enriching to say the least. I learned a lot about myself, my goals and the different B schools. The ding at IMD was an eye opener; maybe I should have used MCBs help for IMD.
Though I was quick to rectify the mistake and glad to have worked with MG and MBA Crystal Ball.
My final advice would be to choose a school, which fits your goals. Don’t choose any b school blindly because someone you know went there.