Ten years back, Veena’s brother scored a 780 on the GMAT and worked with an American MBA consultant. Despite having a profile much stronger than Veena’s and shelling out a few thousand dollars, he failed to get into any of the MBA programs he applied to, including ISB.
So, when Veena got a 690 on the GMAT, her heart sank. She assumed, any score below 700 killed her chances of getting into ISB, Kelley, Foster and other top schools in her list.
Her concerns weren’t unfounded. Many candidates who’ve attended MBA fair presentations from international B-schools such as Kelley learn that the average score for admitted Indians is almost 40-50 points higher than the average GMAT scores for the class.
But at the personal juncture Veena was in, a second MBA meant more than another degree for her. It symbolized hope and an opportunity to start a new chapter in her life.
Her brother encouraged her to apply. So, she did. And came out with 3 admits and a nice scholarship.
Life is a funny thing – when I thought I’ve everything figured out and the future seemed predictable enough (too smart!), seemingly out of nowhere, everything fell apart.
And when I felt I’ve lost everything and was desperately trying to put the pieces together, someone (more on him, later) kept telling me “One thing at a time, Veena” (at times, almost forcibly!) and “Not over till it’s over”.
Not sure how much impact his words had on my attitude towards MBA applications, but on life in general – yes, certainly a lot!
Circa 2016, my professional career was at an all-time high at Tata Steel. I was one of the founding members of the firm’s digital strategy initiative and being a part of the firm’s internal strategy team meant lots of opportunities to interact regularly with some of the senior-most executives of the industry, from within and outside the firm.
I was happy, satisfied, and was eagerly looking forward to a promotion. The birth of my daughter the same year increased the happiness quotient by tons!
That year, if someone had asked me about pursuing a second-MBA, I would’ve answered bluntly, “Out of your mind, or what?”.
I did my first MBA (PGDM to be more precise) from IMT-Ghaziabad which is still one of the decent MBA programs in India.
Fast-forward to mid-2017, things changed drastically at the personal front, and I struggled with continuing work after the maternity break.
Around a year of juggling motherhood with work, I decided to take a career break and migrated to the USA – partly to take better care of my daughter and partly because of several other inexplicable personal reasons.
It was a couple of months later when I was exploring various options to re-start my professional career outside India that the thought of pursuing a second MBA hit.
While I was still unsure what exactly I want to do, or how and where I want to re-launch my career, one thing I realized that I’ll have to take GMAT exam if I want to get into any of the top universities.
It was already June 2018 when I thought of all these options seriously for the first time. In many ways, I was already miles behind my competitors!
You know, how hard it is to do anything after becoming a parent – the facts that my daughter doesn’t want to stay indoors, or that she doesn’t like to sleep weren’t going to help me much in my preparation.
So, I and my daughter used to stay outside almost whole day –morning walk, evening walk, random-walk, park-time, duck-time, or whatever-time!
We used to come back when she wanted to eat, or sometimes sleep. In addition, my relationship was in a terrible state that made it impossible to concentrate on anything.
All in all, I was terribly depressed. It wasn’t perhaps until August 2018 that I finally accepted the reality of my situation and started preparing with some seriousness – during whatever time was available to me.
To prepare for GMAT, I purchased the e-GMAT online verbal course and Manhattan books in addition to the official guides. But I couldn’t really finish any of these except the GMAT official guides.
I did some tests on GMAT Club and bought a couple of official tests in addition to the freely available ones. While I got scores ranging from 720 – 760 (in 1st attempts) on the official mock tests, I’m not sure whether I should even compare these scores with my actual scores.
The reason is that I never really completed any test in a single sitting – it used to be ‘n’ no. of breaks in-between varying from few-minutes to even next-day.
But since I was running out of time, I decided to take the exam on Oct 1st, 2018 and got a score of 690.
I was neither happy nor disappointed; I wasn’t expecting much that day since anyways I had not slept for close to 30 hours before the exam.
Oh yeah, GMAT was done, but what should I do next? To be honest, I had not really thought much on that part till then.
My score, in my view, wasn’t good enough for the top programs, but my brother considered it competitive enough and encouraged me to apply with this score without wasting much time.
Few hours of conversations (and debates and arguments) with him helped me finalize the location. I decided to apply to the universities mainly in the USA and 1-2 in Canada and UK/Europe.
The reasons for these were simple – the USA is world economic leader and education from top universities in the US is globally valued. Canada, UK/Europe – all because these would have helped me in my personal-life as well as in meeting my career aspirations.
If I were to think of solely from my career perspective, then probably I would avoid these destinations, since in my view the job opportunities (and the quality) in the USA would always be much more.
I was still not sure whether to pursue a second-MBA program or can an MS program also help me achieve my career goals.
Having already done an MBA, I was sure of what I can get from a second-MBA program – enhance my strategic thinking and leadership skill-sets.
A few days of research confirmed that an MS program won’t help me much in my career aspirations and so, I concentrated my efforts on MBA applications.
Apart from the above, considering everything, my brother asked me to apply to ISB as well – something that I brushed aside as soon as he mentioned it.
While he went on to mention some of the benefits for a couple of hours, I said – “Look, even if I agree with whatever you are saying, why do you even want me to waste my time? You were rejected at 780 GMAT score + a splendid profile. I have neither of the two. You know for sure I’ll be rejected.”
While he kept re-iterating that GMAT score alone is not enough, I guess that his profile vs. my profile put an end to the argument, but destiny had other plans (told you, life is a funny thing!).
A few days later someone called Manish Gupta would advise me the exact same thing after listening to my personal and professional story; I won’t argue this time – the guy is an expert in MBA admissions field and an ISB alum (topper too!).
Some faint memories and an early realization convinced me that I can’t do it all alone.
From the very beginning, my brother and I knew that I would need help on my MBA essays.
My brother had previously worked with some admission consultants from the USA and hence, was quick to mention that an Indian consultant would be much better.
He told me that the pricey American MBA consultants don’t help in the ‘complete MBA application package‘ and don’t help you to create a coherent application by discussing your background, strengths and weaknesses. They just help in editing the essay drafts.
In India, I already knew about MBA Crystal Ball since a couple of years ago, I had helped one of my close relatives on his MBA applications and essays; hence, I was confident that I’m making the right choice.
I contacted Manish Gupta directly and signed up for MBA MAP + 3-school essay package. He had clearly told me what I can expect from MAP and other school-packages.
He also cautioned me that MBA MAP algorithm won’t factor in my career gap and hence, I may not find it that useful.
But I had other reasons for signing up for MBA MAP – the process would help me in refining my career goals and in actually knowing whether my goals would stick.
Moreover, it also meant that Manish will help me in selecting the right schools – No, he never spoon-fed, but the MBA MAP report and his prompt responses undoubtedly helped a lot in finding the right fit.
And well yes, at the end of the MAP, he advised me to apply to ISB. I would’ve never applied to ISB, let alone get an admit offer!
I must also confess that I was quite slow towards the beginning – I actually went into hiding after writing the first 1-2 emails. In spite of that, without ever blaming my attitude, Manish helped in meeting the deadlines.
Throughout the process, Manish was very super-prompt, super-nice, and ‘brutally’-honest (don’t worry, it’s not that scary as he tries to claim!). The entire process was transparent, and his honest feedback helped me in introspecting a lot.
There are many things which I would have never written in my applications – just an example, it was during interactions with Manish that I realized the true market value of working directly with the top executives of the industry.
I think writing good essays is an art – art of picking the right elements to produce an engaging, simple, and inspirational story. And that’s precisely how Manish made a critical difference to my essays and CV.
You know, everyone has a story, but articulation matters to grab the attention of the admissions team within the first few seconds!
More importantly, the discussions with Manish were open and frank; hence, I was able to explain the weak parts of my applications in the right manner.
Looking back, I think I should have signed up for more schools; it was really difficult (and frustrating) to convince Manish later on for his help on the 4th school! :)
I used the MBA MAP report and did some research on which all schools accept second-MBA applicants to shortlist schools.
I spoke to the current students and alums of some of these schools – I’d say I enjoyed interacting with the ISB and Ross communities. Almost everyone at these schools responded to my emails promptly and at times, connected me to other students.
Having said that, the interactions (phone or coffee chats) with the other schools’ students were equally helpful.
There were many shortcomings in my overall application – a modest GMAT score, a career-gap, and the need for a second MBA degree. And these conversations did help me in choosing the right schools.
But even then, if I were to suggest someone on interacting with students, then I’d certainly vouch for going through a mutual connection (wherever possible).
In my case, thankfully my ex-boss connected me to some of the alums of a few schools. The conversations with these people were more insightful since they didn’t wait for me to ask the right question.
In all, I applied to 10 schools (6 in the US, 2 in UK/Europe, 1 in Canada, and 1 in India). Once my drafts for 4-schools with Manish were ready, it didn’t take me much time to draft the essays for the remaining schools.
I got interview calls from 5 out of 10 schools – ISB, Kelley, Foster, Marshall, and IMD. Though I’d expected more, I knew that the biggest issue for me was the career gap.
The first interview invite that I got was from Kelley. In hindsight, I was still hoping one from ISB or Ross.
While I was clear that I will sign up for MCB’s mock interview package once I get an interview-invite, I wanted to utilize this service for my preferred choices.
Uncertain about the future, I signed up for mock-interviews for Kelley. Just two days later, when I got interview invite from ISB, Manish went out of the way once again and promptly offered to model the 1st mock on Kelley and 2nd one on ISB.
The 1st mock was a disaster and an eye-opener. But the feedback and the interview experience helped in realizing the underlying issues. The second mock went fine and proved to be a confidence booster for the actual interviews.
Almost all the interviews were quite conversational in nature, although differed a bit on some aspects. The questions were more or less the same.
I got admit offers from 3 of these schools – ISB (after waitlist), Kelley (with $20,000 scholarship per year), and Foster.
I’ve chosen ISB – it was the much-awaited one. After being on wait-list for many days, I’d somewhat lost all the hopes.
I received the admit call by phone on April 5th and I don’t know what thoughts crossed my mind at that moment, but I was much relieved and probably recalled the words “Not over till it’s over”. (Thanks, Manish!)
I’d say I was pretty much unclear on what I wanted to do, but around 500 email interactions and more than 8 hours of phone conversations (yeah, with Manish) defined new direction for my life!
I still don’t know whether my decision is right – in many ways, ISB still is a bet. But I’ve simply decided to pick the bet that I feel most confident about and will try to make it the right one.