Higher age, low graduation grades and an over-represented profile can be liabilities while applying to elite bschools. And Avinash Kaparekar put a tick mark on all of them.
But that’s not the only challenge he was facing. Getting rejected can take a big toll on the confidence level, while working on MBA applications all over again.
Avinash Kaparekar had a good GMAT score (730) when he applied in the first year. In hindsight, he considers it a wasted opportunity.
As many first time applicants do, he focused on the GMAT score while not giving as much attention to the rest of the application. The result – he was rejected by his dream school, IIM Ahmedabad and other top Indian bschools.
In the subsequent year, as a reapplicant he figured out how to get into IIMA PGPX. He did it with the same GMAT score, but a more refined and structured application approach. That speaks volumes about how admission officers evaluate profiles.
Having seen both sides of the coin, Avinash is now paying it forward by guiding and coaching bschool students avoid the mistakes that cost him a whole year.
He also talks about his student experience in Ahmedabad and life after IIMA.
Well, just like countless others, I am a mechanical engineer who has spent most his career in the IT industry. What I do hope helps me stand out among the crowd is my love for dabbling into many things in my spare time. I love cycling, trekking, travelling, chess, acting, watching films, reading, writing film and book reviews.
In short, jack of many trades and master of a couple maybe. I have represented my college and my employers in chess and won a few prizes over the years. I have a tiny set of fans of my film reviews. If it interests you, check out some of my articles and reviews on my blog.
Coming to my professional life, I had spent close to a decade being a Team Leader and then a Project Manager in the IT Products domain. It was a challenging and rewarding journey, with a whole lot of learning about resource management, people management, product evolution and technology.
However, in spite of the good growth and learning I had had, I felt I had hit a glass ceiling.
Two things made me really anxious during this phase:
I was desperately searching for answers when I got the news of a friend getting admission to PGPX at IIM Ahmedabad and it just felt like a eureka moment.
Doing an MBA was an unfulfilled dream and it seemed like the right option at that stage in my career to upskill and equip myself with a degree that would always give me a seat at the table.
After some deep soul searching and (thankfully) not talking to too many people about this, lest I get confused, I decided to take the plunge towards my MBA dream.
Taking decisions in an inspired moment is the easiest part. The actual journey towards an MBA at such a late stage in one’s career (I already had 12+ years of work experience by then) can be full of challenges, some real and some imagined!
For starters, I was going to be part of an over-represented pool of MBA applicants in India – IT male engineer.
My work experience, on the wrong side of a decade, was one more disadvantage.
Another concern I had was that while I had good professional achievements to boast about, my graduation level academic record wasn’t exactly stellar.
On the positive side, my family was fully on-board for this.
After some research and talking to a few business schools, I felt my opportunities for doing an MBA abroad, with my higher work experience, were limited.
My primary target was the IIMA PGPX Programme where the average age as well as work experience were closure to my range.
While starting my preparation for GMAT, the number I had set my sights on was 700+ (90 percentile), and after I scored 690 in my first mock test after a few days of practice, I felt it was definitely achievable.
However, to my surprise, my scores in mock tests showed a downward trend from there, which left me scratching my head and also made me work harder. Eventually, I ended up scoring 730 (96 percentile).
I finally had a respectable GMAT score that enabled me to take a serious shot at any good B school.
But I wasted all the opportunities in the first year! In hindsight, I had very little time to spend on my applications and with the exception of the GMAT score, the rest of the application was of poor quality.
I realised that I hadn’t done any justice to the richness of my profile in my first attempt. So, I desperately wanted to make sure that my applications were top quality next year. I wanted to leave no stone unturned.
I felt it was important to give the applications a solid touch from experts in the field, who could give me feedback on what I was doing wrong.
When I was looking for consultants, MBA Crystal Ball (MCB) was my first choice.
MCB consultants seemed thoroughly professional who knew what they were talking about when it comes to MBA applications. It was an easy and obvious choice.
For starters, in my first interactions with my MCB mentor Vibhav Agarwal, he told me in no uncertain terms what he thought of my previous year’s essays. It was clear that I had to start afresh.
He gave me a very good structure to work with and made me dig deep into my experiences to come up with solid write-ups.
To be clear, no one else can write our story for us as well as we can. It has to come from within.
MCB however gave me a solid structure to work with, shared clear feedback and ideas for improvement. I got the feeling of being handheld through a crucial process that was very important to me from career as well as personal perspective.
Considering all factors like work experience, age etc, I had shortlisted 3 B-schools: IIMA, IIMC and ISB. I wasn’t eligible for IIMB (they had an upper limit of 12 years for work experience), else it would have also been on my target list.
I had spoken with alumni from each school to know more about their MBA experience. IIMA PGPX was my number 1 preference.
The average age of the PGPX class at IIMA is perhaps the highest in the world (consistently around 32-34 years since last many years).
A class of 80 odd (when I applied) means you are part of a much smaller MBA classroom, if you compare with a place like ISB.
Everything in PGPX is student driven which presents another fantastic avenue for learning.
Most importantly, it’s IIM Ahmedabad we are talking about (never miss an opportunity to boast!)
For my IIMA admissions interview which I gave on campus in Ahmedabad, I had decided to reach nice and early, a good 24 hours before the scheduled interview time and decided on stay on campus (They have a hotel inside).
I felt well prepared and confident, thanks to MCB’s fantastic MBA interview prep with me and also having gone through IIMC interview just a week earlier and having done well in it (Or so I believed then :-) ).
I was the second last candidate for the day to be interviewed by a panel of 2 professors. My interview lasted about 30 minutes. It was being conducted in a very cordial atmosphere but they did try various things to throw me off track.
For example, one of the interviewee professors asked me a question and just as I began my answer, simply walked out of the room without saying a word to me. It was a split second decision whether to continue answering or wait. I decided to take permission of the other interviewee and continued my answer.
The questions were more or less on expected lines though: Why MBA, why now, how will it help, what if you go back to your current job post MBA, top achievements, top learning etc.
My interview ended abruptly when I was simply told to stop and dismiss myself in the middle of my answer.
When I came out, I felt I had given this whole process my very best and there wasn’t much I would look back and change, even if I didn’t make it, which was satisfying.
Well, I only had to wait less than a couple of weeks to know that I had indeed made it to the first list of 40 odd selected candidates.
When I read that admission confirmation email on the pavement just outside my then office while sipping on my evening tea on typically stressful weekday, I literally screamed in joy and had quite a few people staring at me wondering if I had completely lost my mind like they have been suspecting all along :P
It will remain a lifelong memory. The next few days were spent in euphoria before the enormity of the decision and the challenge I was going to take on, dawned on me.
If one is aspiring for PGPX, a good GMAT score never hurts, though depending on the profile, it’s not mandatory. For instance, if you are from more niche sectors like navy, banking etc., you will still have a chance with an average GMAT score.
A good quality application however is a non-negotiable, since it’s your application that tells the B-school your story beyond GMAT and who you are as a candidate.
A good GMAT score and a solid application drafted with MCB’s help ensured that I got into the shortlist for an interview at all 3 target schools.
I believe it was as much the calmness shown by me while dealing with some of the bouncers thrown at me during the interview, as the quality of my answers that won the day.
Looking back, I thoroughly enjoyed my journey of GMAT prep, MBA applications, the multiple twists and turns, the nerve-racking wait and the oscillating emotions through it all. It gave me a sense of purpose when I was going through some struggles at a personal level.
In a typical PGPX batch, you will find tremendous diversity, in terms of education/professional background. Along with engineers and CAs (the more common pool of MBA applicants), you will also have bankers, Doctors, Surgeons, PHDs, merchant and Indian navy people.
The minimum age to apply is 28 years. There is a logic to having age as a criteria and not having years of work experience: Some people like the Doctors and PHDs, spend more years in their education in the initial years.
Typically, the average age at IIMA PGPX is between 32-34 years. When I did my PGPX, I was 37.
But, I had at least 5-7 classmates who were much older than me, with 3 of them being well above 40. Of course, I also was fortunate to be great friends with multiple batch mates who hadn’t even turned 30.
This diversity is what makes the PGPX experience very special and a great opportunity for learning.
There are 2 rounds for PGPX admission. First, one needs to fill and submit a detailed application form which gives candidates an opportunity to highlight their education, professional background, achievements, awards and extracurricular activities. There are no essays to be written till one is shortlisted for an interview.
There are typically a couple of situational essays to be written,for instance, talk about a time in your life when you overcame a challenging situation.
The final verdict is a cumulative result of GMAT score, application, essays and interview performance. I believe one needs to do reasonably well in all four to stand a chance.
Reaching the revered IIMA campus was a fantastic feeling as I finally started my MBA. The sheer talent in the class was dwarfing and at the same time, something to be proud about. But, the fantastic feeling couldn’t have been more short-lived.
Before I knew it, the course had sucked me into doing truckloads of hard work, where I could sleep 5 hours if it was a “very” good day.
Four lectures of 1.15 hours each, quizzes, personal and group assignments would ensure that the city, I mean the campus, never sleeps.
It’s not unusual for people to study till 4 am, and be up and running for an 8:45 am class.
In spite of that, there is of course a lot fun to be had watching movies in big groups, performing skits and partying (Hold your horses. Gujarat is a dry state).
Of course, as with most things in life, the fun does come at a cost. There are no free lunches as every minute counts. Because Sharma-ji ka beta, with the insatiable capacity for hard work, will complete 2 assignments in the time you spent watching a movie. And now, you are lagging behind!
The campus interviews typically start in the month of November. The date/time is decided by the placement committee which consists of students elected by the batch, with one professor as an overseeing authority.
The actual placement process varies from company to company. Some companies give prior assignments/case studies, some conduct one or more interviews.
While anyone who has made it to PGPX is surely a good talent, the campus process is all about finding a mutual match.
One will definitely have a shot at function change, if not sector change, if one so desires. It is however important to be sure of what you want and prepare well for interviews.
In my case, I made a function change from IT Delivery to Business Development. I also got a solid vertical growth where I reached CEO-2 level.
A post MBA job is generally more demanding since typically, one is working with the leadership of the company and it’s a high stakes’ role.
In most cases, the work pressure is a bigger deal than the working hours. This is where, having a life outside work becomes very important. Fitness, cultivating good hobbies, giving an expression to your creativity and of course, time spent with near & dear ones can certainly help.
To close, I am very happy that I took up this journey. It has its ups and downs but I have thoroughly enjoyed, learnt a lot along the way and the degree keeps opening newer avenues for me.
Last, but certainly not the least, it helped me forge some enduring friendships and make lifelong memories.
Having given my GMAT in the last week of July 2015, I was left with barely a month and a half for completing the essays. Clearly, I didn’t give myself enough time for what was a very critical component of the admission process.
I had a strong profile but didn’t do justice to the richness of it while filling the application. Creating a solid application involves digging deep into one’s experiences and sharing the best of them. This is something that was missing in the first year.
In the first year, I was aware of the admissions consulting offered by MBA Crystal Ball.
But, thanks to my GMAT schedule, I was left with little time to contemplate working with a consultant. I had to do the best in the limited time I was left with.
A friend reviewed my essays and gave me good inputs. But, I had written ordinary essays.
So, nobody’s feedback was going to help turn an ordinary essay into a great one. And a great essay is what’s required to succeed in such a competitive admission process.
The drawback of relying on friends and family for inputs is that they will inevitably try to improve what you have already built, but rarely give you a blunt feedback.
What’s sometimes required is to destroy what you have built and start afresh. This is where a good consultant like MCB helps.
Secondly, the way human psychology works (at least that’s the case with me), an external entity/authority can always demand more from you and push you to the next level, than family/friends.
Thirdly, and most importantly, knowing the admission process well and having the experience of mentoring several hundreds/thousands of students through the application process means a consultant like MCB has developed a sharp eye for what works and what doesn’t. It’s a great resource to have for the admission process.
Having experienced failure and success, I am now acutely aware of the right and wrong way to approach business school applications. As a mentor, I’ve been helping other applicants avoid the pitfalls that I faced.
If you’re wondering how to get into IIMA PGPX and looking for a mentor, drop a line to: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com