The world can take a lesson or two from the American marketing model. Like the business schools in the U.S., the global admissions consulting space is also dominated by a few large American consulting firms.
Their reviews are highly visible on multiple MBA websites, their success stories are better promoted on prominent forums, and you’ll find former admission officers among their consultants’ list.
So it’s not surprising that many applicants targetting the elite MBA programs might be tempted to think that they’d be better off working with a US-based consultant despite the high pricing, rather than any of the boutique consulting firms that operate outside the US.
Yudhajit came to MBA Crystal Ball after he had worked with a leading American consultant. He wasn’t too thrilled when we assigned him a mentor who didn’t have an Ivy League degree.
But he kept the faith and after just one conversation with the consultant, was sold over. What followed was a success story that had eluded him so far.
I just finished watching ‘The Last Dance’ and the show has had a profound influence on me. So I am going to tell my story pretending that I am Michael Jordan. A few things about me first.
I am hyper-competitive and can’t tolerate losing.
I joined Deloitte as a programmer. Very quickly, I decided what I wanted most was to be respected. To do that, I figured I had to be the best at what I do.
To be the best, I had to start winning. After spending 2 years with the firm, I was still not the best but I saw myself running out of challenging work.
I switched roles to push myself. Facing the client taught me that I couldn’t take anything for granted. My teammates taught me that I needed to invest in them in order to succeed.
I also don’t take no for an answer. I hate giving up.
One day, I was thrown into an engagement which taught me how much I hate not having control over my life.
I also figured that in ‘order to be the best, I needed to play with the best‘.
Inspired by my suffering, I applied to 2 business schools in Round 1. Got rejects from both. Applied to 4 more and got rejects from 3.
In the process I learnt to deal with failure.
Fast forward to the final chapter in my story – 4 months ago, I got an admit from the 6th school, NYU Stern School of Business with a $60,000 scholarship.
Let’s start from the start now.
I was a brash and ambitious child. While in 3rd grade, I devised a Ponzi scheme involving Pokemon tazos. It didn’t go well with my parents.
I am not proud of what I did, but I do take pride in my hunger and my foolishness.
As a 15-year-old, I enjoyed a brief moment in the spotlight when I received the Balshree Award – a children’s creativity award from the President of India.
I was also Marketing Secretary for my college club. A role that taught me a lot about dirty politics and prepared me my first job in a big corporate.
The bulk of my work experience has been as a process consultant implementing SAP’s Finance and Controlling module for Fortune 100 clients undergoing Finance and Digital Transformations.
Put simply, I help large clients build and run their financial core. I work in the SAP practice in the Technology Portfolio that falls under the Consulting vertical.
We are Deloitte’s leading practice in the Enterprise Performance business and a market leader in our industry. I started out as a developer but quickly switched to specialize in Finance Operations.
What makes my job challenging is that it is impossible to master all of processes, people, and technology at once.
There is always someone who is better at my job than me. It is either a client or a colleague.
This made my target of being the best at my job an infinite game. This setup really helped me grow as a professional and also as a person.
I was forced to learn people management, something I had resisted learning all my life.
I learnt to work in teams, constantly negotiate with people, strike a balance between work and life and prioritize myself.
At about 2 years with the firm, from observing the career tracks of top leadership and from interacting with the top brass of our practice, I figured there were 2 separate leagues. I wanted to make it to the major league.
Simply put for – Quality of people and growth opportunities. Also I grew incredibly passionate about Finance and wanted to build my career at the intersection of Finance and Technology.
This made getting an MBA from outside India imperative for me.
I wanted to get into a Top 10 school with a great scholarship.
Knowing that selling myself was a development area, I was afraid my application would read Indian male engineer in IT.
Got a 690 after getting 740 in OG mocks. Tried retaking in 6 months but had to reschedule.
I retook the test after 1 year and got 760 (after 760 in OG mocks).
I was overjoyed with my score. In fact, I wasted a good 15 days just gloating.
The score boosted my confidence knowing I had a shot at my dream schools but I also became complacent while applying in R1.
I am conservative by nature. I tried getting help from friends I knew who made it to B-schools in the US.
Frankly, I didn’t know a lot of people in the MBA circles back then and the handful I did, didn’t have enough time to handhold me.
Plus, I take my own good time to learn things. I scheduled preliminary interviews with around 3-4 US based consultants. I finally signed up with a top US based consultant.
I opted for an hourly package trying to optimize the costs. In retrospect, I feel it was a really bad decision that caused a terrible waste of my money.
All the consultants I spoke to seemed the same to me back then. I was inexperienced and was not to be able to make any distinction.
Considering I come from a more traditional role (consulting), I chose a bigger MBA admissions consulting firm for a brand name, over choosing a more personalized approach with a individual consultant.
Looking back, this was a mistake.
When working with the American consultant, I felt they intentionally wasted a lot of my time, charging me hours for administrative tasks.
I was not prepared enough to ask the right questions. The hourly model didn’t work out.
They didn’t really challenge my decisions, which is why I had hired them in the first place. They didn’t know how to handle my Indian-ness. i.e. my inability to sell my story.
Even after I rejects from Wharton and Kellogg in R1, I was hesitant to work with someone who wasn’t specialized in consulting in the US.
For my next attempt, I chose to work with MBA Crystal Ball after hearing positive things about them.
I still felt like I needed to work with someone who had gone through a US B-school themselves.
So I was especially skeptical of working with Vibhav, my consultant from MBA Crystal Ball, given his ISB background.
I now realize that I was wrong.
Manish Gupta managed to convince me to give it a shot and at least have one conversation with Vibhav. I listened to him, thankfully.
That changed everything! Vibhav practically saved my life right from Day 1. In the first call itself I had my aha moment.
By that point, I was desperate. I had procrastinated and was late for R2 apps.
I hadn’t been able to finalize the list of schools I would apply to. And I didn’t have a differentiating story that fit with my experiences.
Vibhav found my story for me. He told me, given my profile, he saw me as a FinTech PM kind of guy rather than a consultant.
I remember him saying ‘Let’s freeze the story and then finalize the schools. Let’s figure out the destination and then choose the vehicle of our choice.‘
Given my goals in finance, I picked up the remaining finance schools.
I chose to work with Vibhav on 2 schools in late rounds – LBS in Round 2, and NYU Stern in Round 3, mainly because of the late timelines.
I repackaged the story and did 2 more schools on my own (Chicago Booth, Columbia Business School).
Also I couldn’t afford to spend a lot more after having wasted a ton of money on my previous US-based consultant.
In retrospect, applying to LBS was a bad idea – it was not the right fit for me.
UK was not as exciting to me as the US. I figured after speaking to people who were at LBS and went for a study abroad to the US, that not having a University affiliation has its own disadvantages.
My impression of other schools I applied to was that CBS has cool people and is fun. Booth is a competitive and serious school.
With time, I started realizing the importance of location. Started researching NYC. Fell in love with it right around the time of my interview. Luckily things worked out with Stern!
When I look back, I feel like I had messed up both my Kellogg and Booth interviews in Round 1.
Both were alumni interviews. In both cases, the face-to-face setup in the alumni’s office felt awkward at best.
Having to wear a suit in the heat didn’t help with my confidence. I was quite satisfied with my R2 Booth alum interview but not particularly impressed with the interviewer.
It felt to me like he was caught up with work and not paying attention to the details. I also didn’t feel particularly comfortable in that office space!
I feel that I did a decent job at the short questions they had asked to be filled around the time of the interview.
With Stern R3, I had a virtual interview with a member of the adcom. I remember being dissatisfied with how I did. But when I look back, I feel I was much better prepared.
Also I had actually something to be excited about, which was NYC. Also, given all of my professional life I have been working virtually with my clients, I feel the virtual element may have actually given me an edge.
LBS dinged my without an interview. By that point I didn’t care about them. Going in for CBS, I had known that I was taking a big risk given they prefer early applications. I felt disappointed but made my peace with the decision.
Looking back, I can clearly see that I didn’t package my personal story right. With the Booth decision, I felt really disappointed and was not sure why I got dinged.
When I got the decision from Stern 2 days after my Booth decision, I remember feeling prepared for the final rejection.
When I saw I had got an admit, I remember feeling numb. In that moment, getting the USD 60,000 scholarship felt good though.
Over the past 3-4 months, I have been interacting with students, alums, faculty and staff at NYU Stern.
I have found it to be a brilliant school full of amazing people. I am really excited to attend Stern.
However, I have deferred my admit to Fall 2021 due to the uncertainties involving COVID and the election year in the US.
I plan to take the upcoming year to Finance, M&A or sales related experience. I hope to crack Investment Banking in the FinTech space.
Else, consulting in a Digital Practice in a Top Consulting or a Tech PM or Internal Strategy role in a Mastercard or similar firm seems like a promising track to me.
What I am really bullish about is NYC and Stern’s amazing culture. Honestly, what I think my career goals are is barely going to matter.
I now have the confidence to believe that I can make it big. I will figure the rest while going through my MBA starting Fall 2021.
The three things that I feel helped me differentiate myself were the Deloitte brand, my President’s creativity award, and my strong background in arts.
In hindsight, the three key lessons I learnt were to package my stories leveraging my strengths better, to sell myself shamelessly, and to get better at small talk.
To my surprise, I also learnt that I want to get better at structured thinking and my understanding of American sports.
It’s funny how the experience felt nerve-racking in the moment but seems reflective in retrospect.
What I can say for sure is I learnt a lot about myself. I got used to staring at myself in the mirror a lot more than I used to.
I think everyone should apply to a US B-school once in their lifetime.
The journey and the lessons that accompany it are totally worth the effort and the costs.
I plan to reapply to a few elite Schools this year just for the heck of it. Just trying to minimize my regrets, and pass time I guess!