Many MBA applicants from India think that crossing the 700 score mark on the GMAT is the only way to get into a good business school, and have any remote chance of getting a scholarship.
Oil and Gas professional, Ekta Kulhare, took the GMAT twice but wasn’t able to get a high score. She decided to move on and focus on the rest of the applications.
How I got into a top Asian MBA with scholarship
by Ekta Kulhare
I have always been intrigued by the oil and gas industry. The exciting and challenging stories shared by my father of his hitches on offshore platforms encouraged me to pursue petroleum engineering as a gateway to the oil industry.
Being campus-recruited by Halliburton, one of the biggest oil and gas service providers in the world, as a field engineer was one of the best things that happened to me.
But at the same time I had to let go of another dream – pursuing masters in one of the finest petroleum engineering universities in the U.S, which I had applied to during my last semester in college.
I received both the good news on the same day. I chose to work for Halliburton since I realized that the hardships of field life would help me get first-hand experience, gain operational insights, and help me identify with field personnel as I progressed in my career.
I loved how intellectually engaging my field role was. Facing adversities on field were a part of my everyday job and working with diverse teams helped me realize the value of diversity in stimulating creativity, and bringing unique perspectives to the table.
But working and rising in this male-dominated industry was always a challenge. I was often underestimated and sometimes even mocked at.
People always say that the oil field life is very difficult and challenging for women but that is only in the initial stages.
Once you prove your mettle and capability of withstanding this tough life, people start believing in you and you get to stand out.
I took pride in myself for doing something unconventional and making my mark in a place where women are not seen often.
Outside of work, I am very passionate about animals and animal welfare. I was only 5 when I rescued my first animal – a stray cat.
After spending over 2 years on field, I was asked to take on an office role to lead business development for my service line. The business world was new to me as I had no prior business background.
Over time, I realized that in order to fulfill my long-term goal of taking on a management role in Halliburton, I needed a well-rounded education in business and hence decided to study MBA as the next step in my career.
With this decision, began my long and full of hits and misses and hopes and despairs – MBA application journey. I decided to apply for the 2019 fall intake.
Tackling the GMAT
The most dreadful part of the journey was the GMAT exam.
As much as I excelled in the quantitative section, the verbal section pulled my score down.
But I did not want to keep re-taking the test – I only gave it twice and got a below average GMAT score by Indian standards.
I felt my GMAT score would really hinder my admission to top schools considering Indians always apply with excellent GMAT scores.
But I was not disheartened because I had a good academic background and an unconventional profile.
Choosing the right MBA
Unlike other MBA applicants, I did not want to go all out applying to all the top-schools in the world.
I wanted an international MBA and wished to study in a school that was not only well-known but also had a diverse student body and a collaborative culture rather than a competitive one.
There were only a few b-schools that made it to my list.
McDonough school of business was one of them as my brother-in law is a recent MBA graduate from that school and talked very highly about its culture, reputation and learning opportunities.
I was not very keen on the European b-schools.
A few Asian b-schools also caught my attention – HKUST and NUS. Rather I would say I was impressed by their FT b-school rankings – all amongst top 20 in the world!
I began my research on these schools: browsed through their websites and blogs, contacted students and alumni on LinkedIn and Facebook, and attended their online virtual chats as well as coffee chats.
I also attended the QS MBA tour and met an HKUST adcom member. I could not meet NUS representatives on that day for some reason.
I was slowly gaining more interest in Asian b-schools. Hong Kong, being the business hub of Asia, seemed very appealing to me.
I was overwhelmed by the emphasis that HKUST laid on diversity and a small class-size to foster strong relationships between classmates.
The alumni also spoke very highly of the faculty who are not only academic experts but also have strong industry experience.
Besides, China is one of the economic powerhouses of the world and is a major player in the oil and gas industry.
I learnt that expressing deep interest in the school is an unsaid integral part of the admissions process – schools actually keep a track of who is visiting their websites, contacting their students or even reading their marketing emails!
I also learnt about the idea of “fit”. Researching about the school’s culture, motto, curriculum etc.
Helps you assess your fit with the school and whether you are the right candidate for the school. It also helps you prepare for MBA interviews in which the adcom will invariably assess your knowledge of the school.
If you can visit the school, nothing like it! In any case, one of the first things you should do is subscribe to their email list to be up to date with their latest events.
Moreover, many schools offer MBA application fee waivers if you attend their events.
My quest for a good MBA admissions consultant
While I was learning about the schools, I was simultaneously researching on various admissions consultants.
By then, I was already into September and a little late to apply in the first round. I decided to apply in the second round so that I could come up with a stronger application.
I was not sure if I could work on the applications by myself mainly because I was not very good at expressing my story in an impactful and impressive manner.
Also, from my previous experience with an admission consultant, who helped me in my masters (MS) degree application process, I realized how convenient and smooth the application process becomes with an expert’s guidance.
I wanted similar guidance for my MBA applications.
I had read multiple blogs online on various MBA admissions consultants and browsed through their websites.
A friend of mine who had previously got into ISB with the help of MBA Crystal Ball (MCB) told me to get in touch with Manish Gupta from MCB.
He had also told me that many of his friends had a very good experience with MCB. I was very happy with Manish’s prompt and warm response. I initially only opted for their “one-school essay review service”.
I must say that their prices were very affordable – much more affordable than most good consultants I had read about online.
I worked with Shantanu and since he himself is a top MBA alumni, I knew I was in right hands.
He did not simply edit my essays but encouraged me to think of more impactful stories/experiences from my life to stand out amongst the competitive pool of applicants.
B-schools want to assess your ability to work in a team rather than your ability to work independently.
We focused on my leadership and teamwork experiences rather than any engineering/technical work in which I had excelled.
I was extremely impressed by the flow and structure of the essays and how well the essays expressed that I was an ideal candidate for the school.
It was now time to work on my other school applications. Now that I had done a thorough introspection of my life and experiences, I knew which story I could highlight in my essay.
But I was not able to write a cohesive essay nor was I able to fit all the words within the tight word limit.
By now, I was convinced that I wanted to continue with MCB’s services and work with Shantanu. I opted for the basic package for one school.
When Shantanu edited the essay for brevity, I was convinced that I was putting my best foot forward.
I submitted all my applications by the first week of January, 2019.
My MBA interview experiences
I got interview invites from HKUST and McDonough.
The interviews were a cake-walk since I was already very clear about why I wanted to study in that school and why I was a good fit.
Both of them lasted around half an hour. I was asked common questions such as why MBA? Why now? Why this school? Why oil and gas?
Co-incidentally, the adcom whom I had met during the QS MBA tour interviewed me!
One question I clearly remember answering was “Someday if given a choice between becoming the CEO of a company or teaching at HKUST, which one would you choose?”
At times, the adcom surprise you with such unexpected questions. But if you can give a genuine answer at that moment, you win!
To my delight, I was offered admission by both these schools and with a scholarship by HKUST. It took them around 4 weeks to respond with the results.
It was a very tough decision but I finally decided to go with HKUST.
Looking back at the entire application journey, which lasted around 6 months, I don’t feel like I should have done anything differently.
I am completely satisfied by the efforts that I put in and the guidance I received from MCB and Shantanu. I don’t feel like I left any stone unturned or that I spent more money than I had expected.
My advice to MBA aspirants would be to start the application process early, do your research and keep in touch with the adcom, current students and alumni.
Also, try to think of qualities, skills or experiences that make you unique.
Keep away from “I love to travel” – I mean who doesn’t! 😉
– HKUST Business School MBA Interview with Admissions Team
– Life during and after HKUST MBA in Hong Kong as an international student with family
– On-the-spot MBA admit after 3 minute interview for Oil & Gas applicant