The image isn’t Photoshopped. Debanjan & Nilanjan Paul are identical twins. And they have been taking the ‘identical’ part very seriously in most spheres of life.
They’ve been partners in crime – from pranks & punishments during childhood, to GMAT test preparation and MBA applications now.
Over the years, they’ve polished their joint-execution skills to an art-form. But getting below 700 GMAT scores wasn’t exactly part of their MBA admissions gameplan. Despite all the preparation, they couldn’t cross their target score of 700.
Not to be deterred, the brothers worked around their GMAT scores and ended up with admits from the same globally renowned bschool in Europe – Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management.
How we got into a top European b-school despite GMAT scores below 700
by Nilanjan and Debanjan Paul
Being born with a twin brother has been one of the biggest advantages of my life. We have had a fun-filled childhood with a lot of memorable incidents – starting from going to the same class to tricking teachers.
There were multiple occasions where one of us was punished, but we’d end up sharing the punishment equally – the advantage of having a twin brother!
With an elder sister setting the benchmark by getting into a top engineering college and finally into IIT, the obvious expectation from us was to take up science for higher studies.
Defying the obvious, we pursued commerce as our choice of subject. With the support from our parents and confidence in our abilities, both of us were able to complete Chartered Accountancy along with graduation.
There were also many conflicts between us. There were times when we did not exactly understand each other during studies. Or fight over who would get the first chance at driving (one of our common passions).
I had around 5 years of experience across Goldman Sachs and PwC. My brother, Debanjan, had 6 years of experience across Barclays, HSBC and PwC.
With that experience, we were able to gain considerable knowledge working in the accounting and finance domain. However, we thought we weren’t ready to lead companies from the front.
Getting into a global role and understanding how businesses operate globally were the key reasons behind our MBA decision.
But our journey was a lot different than any other person aiming for higher studies.
Being together has always been a priority since it creates a synergy to deliver more than 200%.
The journey initially seemed very confusing with a lot of variables – whether the GMAT score would be similar, whether we would get in the same region or our choices of b-schools and most importantly – whether we would end up being a competitor for each other due to our similar profiles.
We prepared for the GMAT together, which was helpful, as we were always reviewing each other’s approach and preparations.
Finally, we appeared for the GMAT, however our GMAT scores had different stories to tell. With my score at 640 and my brother’s at 680, there was obviously a sizeable gap.
This meant that a choice had to be made as it was difficult to get into the same college which was in our list with a 640 score.
680 was still competitive as per the list of B-schools we had chosen. Given that it was the first attempt at GMAT, a retake seemed like the only logical idea to achieve our target score of 700.
Once we got there, we would be able to apply to the schools on our wish list, preferably in the same college or region for both of us.
Confused at the current juncture, whether to retake the GMAT or to focus on applications or both, we reached out to Sameer Kamat, founder of MBA Crystal Ball.
Other than the regular discussions, one key aspect which helped us decide was his guidance on how to manage GMAT prep and the applications in parallel, without hampering the quality of either.
This is often the case when we try and juggle both together along with a full-time challenging job requiring almost 12 hours of involvement.
Sameer’s MBA blogs on various topics always provided additional insights throughout our journey. The articles helped us understand the strengths of various colleges, and most importantly, what should one expect from an MBA.
Moreover, Sameer has been extremely approachable and always ready to provide his guidance tailored to suit our requirements, which we found unique about him and MBA Crystal Ball.
With a determination to start off the program latest by 2021, we decided to try our luck at the applications and went ahead with the list from top 30 B-schools globally (the list may vary across different rankings).
While we were looking for schools both in India and outside, one of the programs that stood out was the International MBA program from the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University.
The diversity of more than 97% in their international program, carefully crafted program module to build leaders inculcating in them the values of sustainable business carefully designed in a 1-year program seemed a good fit for us.
We did choose a couple of other schools as well like ISB and HEC Paris. While we could get interviews for ISB, HEC Paris was a heart break for us.
While we were planning to get back to our GMAT prep, we both decided to complete our application for RSM before heading back to studies.
With a lot of research on the school and specifically on what we expected out of the MBA program, we submitted our applications.
Being from a very competitive pool of applicants, we were hoping that the strengths in our profile – like leading a team or experience with a leading Investment Bank – would make up for a lower GMAT score.
As two minds working together towards a common goal, we were able to reach out to many alumni to gather insights on the program, read various articles about the requirements of the college and how the admission committee looks at applications, we were able to prepare more than what we individually could have done.
We practiced a lot with each other taking mock interviews and specifically asking a lot of hard questions targeting the weaknesses in the profile.
The first step of KIRA video assessments went well, and we were elated to receive a formal video interview invite with the admission committee. We turned to our skeptical selves to come up with questions, while preparing for the interviews.
We chose the same day and subsequent interview slots.
While the interview was quite easy to start with, I realized while expecting a stress interview, a general conversation seemed difficult. Being used to a lot of stressful job interviews with technical questions, the MBA interview was quite different.
The Adcom member’s intention was to bring out the best in the candidate. Not being in a stress interview stressed me out :-) But soon I got used to the discussion mode.
The interview went well and revolved around real-life experiences – from my sky diving experience to setting up team at work.
One key takeaway – the interview focused a lot of what one expects from the MBA program, and how one can contribute.
Once my interview ended, it was the turn for my brother in the next 10 minutes. I had introduced him to the admissions officer, since I feared he might be in for a shock seeing the same person attending the interview twice, without knowing the twin angle.
The first question the Adcom member asked my brother was “Since you must know all my questions, why don’t you start?”
We had a good laugh over this once the interviews were over. For my brother, the MBA interview questions revolved around his expectation from the MBA. It shows why B-schools focus a lot on what we want to achieve from the program rather than only on our grades.
While the interviews went well, we were disheartened as the interview only lasted for around 25 minutes. I had read about other candidates’ MBA interview experiences in various MBA forums where they mentioned that the interview was comprehensive and lasted for almost an hour or so.
Since the interviews had gone well, we were hopeful to be able to make it through. One question remained – given a somewhat similar profile, whether we both will be offered the admit.
A week later, we both had admits from one of the top colleges we wanted to be in.
Given this experience, we strongly believe that the most important thing during this MBA journey is self-confidence and giving it your best.
There will be some rejections and some success, but it is always about giving your best and enjoying this MBA journey.