When you set your sights high and believe in yourself, you’ll find ways to get there.
Satya, an NIT mechanical engineer, knew his low GMAT score of 570 wouldn’t open up the doors to any of the business schools on his target list. So he switched from GMAT to GRE. But he didn’t get the expected score.
A ‘free’ consultation call with a New York based MBA consulting firm shattered his confidence further.
How I went from 570 GMAT to admission to 3 top business schools with scholarships
by Satyajit Bhowmik
I have been in your shoes and I believe I can speak a word or two for you to take along with your journey.
I have faced the same questions you are facing today and I, despite having an average profile and a disastrous GMAT attempt, got admitted with significant scholarships to 3 out of 4 top business schools applied. I want to share my journey and tips I wish I would have found in one place when applying.
For example, Mahak Garg’s admission story to Stanford. It resonated with me and I followed her golden advice.
I was at a serious disadvantage because of my average test score (GRE – 322) and average profile from an over-represented Indian-IT-Male pool.
I graduated with Mechanical Engineering from NIT Durgapur in 2017. I worked as a Software Engineer at CGI for 22 months at the time of applying.
I’m interested in photography. You can find my work here.
My admission results
Washington University in St. Louis (MBA — Admitted with $50,000 scholarship
Deferred to Summer, 2021 due to COVID uncertainties) — Built on a set of 5 core values that they look for in candidates to some extent: Integrity, Collaboration, Diversity, Excellence, and Leadership.
You can increase your chances of admission by writing in your essays how your values align with those and how you have lived up to those. WashU is very collaborative and entrepreneurial. It has a fantastic global immersion program.
Duke University (Master of Management Studies — Admitted with scholarships)
They seek candidates with a combination of IQ (Smartness) + EQ (Emotional Quotient- empathy) + DQ (Decency Quotient — something that makes you pleasant to be around. You take interest in other’s success and bring out the best in everyone). Fuqua is very much focused on teamwork #TeamFuqua. Durham is a college town that favors a tight-knit student community.
ESADE Business school (MSc in International Management — Admitted with scholarships)
European schools are much more diverse so they look for students who are open to diverse opinions and cultures. They focus on international exposure, the languages you know. Be interested in learning the local language. ESADE has a very collaborative student community.
Stanford University (MBA — Rejected without interview)
They look for students who want to change lives, change organizations, and change the world. They look for in your candidature – intellectual curiosity, demonstrated leadership potential, and personal qualities and contributions.
Entrepreneurship is a big thing for Stanford. Has an interesting essay question — what matters most to you and why? You will love this.
Look into the school values and really align those with yours. Find out what schools are looking for in their candidates. As you can see, I do have a common theme in my applications: all schools are collaborative.
Moving from GMAT to GRE
Back in 2017, when I was in college, I had the dream of an MBA abroad after my friend got into a top Canadian business school. Like many desi peers, I vacillated between CAT and GMAT for quite some time.
But ultimately, I decided to take the GMAT. I saw the value what diversity, international exposure, and large tuition expenses would bring to my life.
GMAT was a long and arduous uphill climb. In June, 2017, I appeared for the first attempt and scored a disastrous 570. My dream came crumbling down!
Disheartened, I started analyzing my faults.
My verbal score gave me a heartbreak (V19). My weaker sections were CR and RC. I just couldn’t finish the passages on time. The adaptive nature of every question wreaked havoc on my score.
Alongside my job, I garnered the courage for a second attempt in Jan, 2019. After scoring a consistent 700+ in mock tests, I entered the exam center pretty confident.
With a despairing 620, I found myself in the same old shoes again. My score was much below average, let alone, competitive. I felt so exhausted and miserable. I almost left the idea of an MBA but my heart was not ready to give up.
In GMAT prep, the number of questions you solve doesn’t matter, rather what matters is the quality of the question and your complete understanding of the solution.
Then, I took a break and did some research on business schools. I found out an interesting fact that most business schools accept both GMAT and GRE and they don’t have a preference between the two.
I loved words and their etymological roots. So, GRE felt like the right exam for me.
I started preparing for the GRE with only Official Guides and with much less expectation and pressure.
After two months of preparation, much to my surprise and joy, I scored a decent average compared to other Indian test takers. I felt relieved. My shattered dream glued back together.
Play to your strengths. Play the game in which you are at an advantage. Choose the exam (GMAT vs GRE) which puts your strong foot forward.
Start researching early about the requirements of the university and program you want to attend.
Don’t obsess too much on GMAT/GRE, these are just one component of your application. GMAT/GRE can never be the reason for your acceptance they can at most be the reason for your rejection.
Finding the right fit and writing essays
After the exam, I realized that the gigantic portion of the process is looming in front of me. I have selected 4 schools to apply to in round 1 and decided to go with the safety schools in round 2.
Due to my relatively low work experience, I applied to 2 MIM programs.
My first application wasn’t the best application I could put forward. My goals were not well-formed. My application was rushed. After the first application, the following ones become much easier.
Start as early as possible to avoid rushed or compromised application.
Spread out your application between round 1 and round 2 and spread out your application wide from a dream, target to safe schools
Some factors should influence your decision in finding the fit — location, class size, collaborative spirit, placement percentage in your desired industry, scholarship generosity, course duration, and class profile.
I found MBA essays to be the most interesting, fun, and the most important component of my application. I wrote immensely, rewrote, and read the works of others.
To improve your essay writing, refer the awesome book On Writing Well by William Zinsser.
I made the effort to find my right fit. I did deliberate research on each school, and its culture. I connected with many current students; read about the works of professors I liked.
For example, Dan Ariely of Duke University. I read his book Predictably Irrational.
So, going the extra mile helps you find your fit and show your genuine interest to the school. Because business schools should be a fit for you as much as you should be for them. It’s a two-way transaction
Connect with alumni and current students and ask them questions like — what are the great things about the school and not so great ones.
Try to find out the negatives of the school to make a selection via elimination. They can give you a sense of the school culture.
Connect with students using Instagram, LinkedIn, and student ambassadorship. For Instagram, search relevant hashtags and find those tagged people and message them. E.g. for MBA at Duke search #dukemba.
Try to enjoy the journey, there will never be a better time to take a step back and introspect and ask yourself what you really want to do.
Attend various MBA and Masters events — QS World MBA tour, TheMBAtour, Accessmasters, Accessmba, Poets and Quants Backstage
The admission committee loves students who do their due diligence. Research extensively- classes, culture, clubs, and the community.
Post MBA I want to pivot to consulting, and later start my own photography business (read entrepreneurship). I think my love for photography differentiated me from the crowd.
The adcom didn’t necessarily have to think — we have another software engineer from India, rather we have a software engineer who is also a photographer and interested in entrepreneurship
Explore any opportunity to differentiate yourself from the pool, especially from the most dreaded Indian-IT-Male bucket.
One thing I wish I would have done differently – being involved with a non-profit social impact Organization.
It was a long journey, but It was worth it. The admission letter came with tears of joy.
I have read many articles on MBA Crystal Ball (MCB), on essay writing, success stories, relevant data, profile evaluation, and numerous comments. I could find all scattered information in an orderly fashion in MCB that saved me time.
I found MCB’s consultancy service as the most honest one out there.
They are the most genuine MBA consulting blog on the internet.
I found this in one of the articles written by the founder, Sameer Kamat. I still remember – here was his response, when someone asked whether admission consultants are necessary to put in the application.
“If you think you’ve understood the requirements of the schools you are applying to, have a good story to narrate and have a compelling style of presenting it, then you could do it on your own.”
Which is so true and he wrote it, even if it might look to work against their business. Sameer sir is awesome!
I took a 30 minute free consultation by a major consultancy company based in New York who said that I have little chance in any top 25 program. It was during my application last July. I was looking to hire a consultant then.
But after I read that comment on one of Sameer’s post, it gave me the confidence to embark on this journey on my own, with help from MBA Crystal Ball, Poets&Quants, plus feedback from alumni & current students.
Now I am going to write some clichés, but trust me these work — never lose hope, never compare yourself to others, you are unique and so is your journey, believe in yourself, and most of all, be humble, human, and honest.
Enjoy the process, because it can be fun, (don’t believe me? I still love doing research on business schools, months after my admission)
As a parting thought, I would say, write your essay like a novel – the best story of your life.
Find schools where you truly see yourself belong. Trust yourself. Take feedback but listen to your heart. Show vulnerabilities that make you human. And your stars will be with you. All the best.
If I can do this, so can you!
Thank you, Sameer Kamat, for sharing my story on MCB.