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How I got into an Ivy League university as an older student from a small town in India

Ivy League admit after 30: Columbia MBA applicant blog

The ambition to get into the world’s best universities isn’t limited to the metros. A lot of MBA applicants who reach out to us for help, hail from tier-2 and tier-3 cities. While the small-town label has no bearing on their strength as an MBA applicant, some of their concerns are universal – such as higher age and low academic grades.

Sahil Agarwal interacted with many prospective brides from matrimonial sites and admission consultants (with different objectives, of course). But his experiences – ranging from the uninspiring to outright fraud – left him disappointed. It also highlighted the importance of compatibility and trust in any successful relationship, whether it’s personal or professional.

Ivy League admit after 30: Columbia MBA applicant blog

by Sahil Agarwal

I knew that if I had to scale up my family business, I need a more structured, long-term and financially viable business plan and thinking.

Sitting in Rourkela, It was impossible to get it by hobnobbing with my friends or my counter-parts running similar business. MBA was my only option.

When 2 of my best friends got calls from ISB in 2016 while I was spending my time half-heartedly in my family business of steel manufacturing and restaurants – I had a “3 idiots” moment.

At 32, talking to random girls from (a popular matrimonial site), I had almost given up my desire to pursue an MBA from a top B-school.

I was already on the wrong side of the table – everyone had told me.

But this event rekindled the lost spark to chase my MBA dream and I resolved to take the GMAT.

I worked hard and with focus for 5 months to achieve a score of 750 in the test.

Achieving my first goal towards MBA was a big relief. I knew I needed a good score to set off my average undergraduate performance.

My advice to blog readers is:

  • For test preparation is to work hard and work smart.
  • Try to take as many mock tests as possible to build up the stamina for the actual test.
  • Spend time analysing the mistakes made in mock tests as quickly as possible after the test.

I believe GMAT is more a test of patience and focus, than intellect.

The celebrations after the GMAT were short-lived as I realised that getting a good score in the test wasn’t even half the battle won.

Post GMAT, I faced a major challenge was to find a consultant. I had a word with my friend from ISB. Taking his suggestion, I started to look for an Indian consultant ‘who can relate to my Indian story’.

My search threw up multitude of names and I started connecting with as many as I could. This was a harrowing experience at first.

Some MBA consultants were arrogant – I couldn’t get to the consultant without depositing the initial deposit.

Some made fake promises – I deposited Rs.50,000 into someone’s account only to later come to know that he was masquerading as the owner of the company. His calls vanished once the money got transferred.

The third consultant came across as rude and cocky in our first discussion itself. I felt small talking to him.

At least the girls I was talking to from the matrimonial sites were courteous and polite 🙂

After my experiences, frankly, I wasn’t very optimistic when I spoke to MBACrystalBall. But, my first conversation with Vibhav itself was a great experience.

Vibhav was able to not only make sense of my incoherent, unstructured explanation of my business and my journey thus far, but also was very clear to how can they help in providing impetus to my MBA journey.

Still a little skeptical, I decided to take the MBA MAP to get the ball rolling.

The MBA MAP experience was helpful and the way Vibhav structured his questions helped me start thinking about my life stories and my future goals in a fresh perspective.

I still remember how he was able to lead me to a place from where I started to come up with real reasons to pursue my MBA and how MBA can help me professionally, in the long term – all with just a few phone conversations.

MAP was also helpful in enabling me to decide which colleges I wanted to apply to based on my interests and future goals.

We decided to apply to HEC, ISB and Columbia. I had personal reasons for such a diverse choice of schools but Vibhav never questioned that. More importantly he never discouraged me from applying to such highly ranked schools and was always encouraging to focus higher.

With Vibhav, his patience, and promptness was antidote to my confusion. As started with HEC, the back-breaking effort and the confusion of which stories to use along with the idea of meeting a deadline which was always very near was nerve-wrecking.

Later, with ISB and Columbia, his insights on how to think about the questions and the messaging around them really helped him to not become a nervous wreck again. I was overjoyed when I got an interview call from HEC and ISB.

Choosing to do my MBA interview preparation with MBA Crystal Ball was a foregone decision by now. Vibhav’s mock interviews and tips really helped me to make a good impression at both interviews and by now, I was a different person. My age, work experience, GMAT score were all my assets.

I made it to both ISB and HEC in first round itself. An then it became 3 on 3 when Columbia also sent an acceptance note as well in November. I was officially in seventh heaven.

I obviously decided to go with Columbia given its pedigree, international curriculum and cohort.

Today, this achievement has given me a new confidence to create a full-fledged business plan to scale up my family business in Steel & Logistics and put it in motion as soon as I am back from Columbia.

I aim to full advantage of the burgeoning Indian VC and PE ecosystem and Indian Govt. support for MSME enterprises along with my business prowess to put the business on a high growth trajectory.

To all those blog readers who think 30+ age or below average academics in under-graduation is a big impediment to get into a top-tier MBA school – Well think again!

With focus, a good GMAT score, hard work and obviously guidance from an able and good admissions consultant, no goal is too big to achieve.

Also read:
Columbia MBA admit in Round 2 after 4 rejections for Ivy League grad (MS from UPenn)
From an Ivy League MBA School (Columbia) to McKinsey
Admission consultant shares Ivy League success story
Columbia Business School MBA Interview with Admissions Team

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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

12 thoughts on “How I got into an Ivy League university as an older student from a small town in India”

  1. Hi, I am 46 years old with 23 years of work experience in logistics with MBA in Material Management I would like to study further correspondence courses .Please would you suggest .

  2. Hai Manish,

    I am Lakshmi here and am 30+. I have done my MBA and working in a Limited company as Manager Customer care. Now I would like to change my career towards IT sector. Would you please suggest me what kind courses should I opt to change my career to IT field.

  3. I am a 2nd officer in merchant navy but i do not have graduation degree. I need to know can i proceed for MBA course and how could i get graduation degree.

  4. Hey Manish!

    I took a break from my college (BITS Pilani – Goa) a year ago and worked with a tech start-up in a product manager role in Bangalore. I still have 6 months to finish my degree but have been offered a one year long internship by Flipkart (for the associate product manager role) and I am unsure at this point. I have always wanted to do an MBA from a major foreign B-school in the future, and I wish to know if my work experience with this start-up and Flipkart will count towards my ‘work-ex’? I intend on going back to college sometime for 6 months sometime soon anyway but I am not sure if I should forego this Flipkart opportunity.

  5. Hi Manish!
    I am pursuing MBA in Marketing from a Mediocre college and I am not very satisfied with it and I am thinking about doing a second MBA from abroad. What would you suggest me? Should I take a job after MBA or go for another MBA. (I do have a scholarship option for studying in UK)

    • Hi Manish, I am 40 yr old MBA &14 yrs experience initially as commodity analyst in broking houses & past 6 yrs in FMCG as in house research analyst. I feel like reaching career bottleneck have been exploring many things from enquirying finacial modelling, CFA/FRM to select IGNOU courses finally settling to learning online data science topics only to find them too tough. Considering I have been mediocre in academic and never studied maths after 10th, as a first I have started working on my maths (calculus,linear algebra etc) skills intend to appear NIOS 12th maths after 6 months preparation. Please guide me with whatever you think should be relatively better to do

      • Tough to say with limited information Vijay. The next steps would really depend on your career priorities and plans.

        In general, given your age/experience range, it would be ideal to do courses/training/certifications that help you in your current profile path. For that, you should check with your supervisors/mentors at the workplace instead of trying to do it by yourself and realizing that skills you may have developed would be irrelevant.

  6. @kumar – you can check this:

    @G.Lakshmi – it is indeed quite tough to effect a completely unrelated career shift. You’ll have to first begin with identifying your interest – IT is a VAST field. After that, it will require a lot of personal skill building and then, networking to knock at the right doors.

    @Tarik – most good GMAT based MBA programs would expect an undergrad education. You may want to double check once directly with your target schools in case they can waive off that requirement.

    @Moosa – most internships are not counted for work-experience purpose. Besides, most schools would not take kindly to a break in your educational career.

    @Abhishek – we are usually of the opinion to begin what you’ve started. Chasing another academic degree may not be the ideal solution more so because most good GMAT based MBA programs expect 4-5 years of solid professional experience.

  7. Hey Manish, if I have entered in a company with a PPO during internship and continued my work there , so can I add my internship also in work experience as it was just continuation


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