Indian moms are heading back to business school. And we consider ourselves fortunate when we’re able to make a difference in their journey.
Archana Veerabahu, an assistant professor in a Mumbai-based business school, already had an MBA from the prestigious XLRI.
The former marketing professional had taken a career break to do what she always wanted to do – teaching.
Here’s her interesting journey from being an MBA student to MBA professor to MBA student.
The year was 2018. I was preparing for a class on Digital Marketing for my students at a private B-school where I was an Assistant Professor.
After my PGDM from XLRI in 2012 and five years in marketing roles across different industries, I decided to take a break to focus on family and follow my passion for teaching.
I was recalling what my friends used to think of me – someone who never gives up and goes relentlessly behind her dreams. I was yearning to reach larger goalposts and become a business leader in this technology driven world.
Teaching graduate students was an eye-opening experience for me – it played to my strengths of communicating and presenting my knowledge in the best way possible while also exposing the gaps in my own skill-set.
I realized that the future of marketing was going to be very different from what it is right now and that I need to re-skill myself to be relevant – whether in the classroom or in the business arena.
That moment of awakening fueled my desire to change the course of my life with a second MBA.
I decided to give my GMAT in July 2018 and started preparing for it from April 2018. I spent about 2-3 hours each day, making a detailed plan to ace both the Quant and Verbal sections.
All the early mornings and late nights helped me score a good 740.
I would give all the CAT and XAT prep done years ago the credit for being able to score well with limited preparation.
In hindsight, I felt that I should have taken a few more mock tests to make myself more comfortable with the test atmosphere.
I had initially planned on applying in 2018, but put those plans on hold when I found out that I was expecting.
This development put a question mark on 2 things – if I will be even able to do an MBA with a toddler and whether I can manage the grueling application process in the emotional roller-coaster of pregnancy and early motherhood.
I decided to go ahead with my applications in May 2019.
While preparing to apply, I realized that my story needed polishing and decided to take help of professional consultants. I was not sure how to articulate my post MBA goals and how I was suited for the program.
I shared my story, my motivations and he asked to come for an MBA MAP discussion. This discussion was truly a game-changer – I identified the strengths that I needed to play up in my application and the concerns that I needed to address.
I was thinking that the career break to follow my passion and start a family were weaknesses that I needed to cover up. Instead, the MBA MAP discussion helped me understand how I can use my unique experiences to stand out.
The excel-junkie in me loved the list of schools shared by Sameer on which ones were practical and which were ambitious. I knew that a 1-year MBA in UK or Asia will be the best bet for me to balance my family’s needs with studies.
Dissecting the list helped me narrow down my target schools to 9, from which I applied to 5 – INSEAD, London Business School, Judge Business School, Said Business School, and Duke Fuqua.
I took the help of MBA Crystal Ball for INSEAD, Cambridge Judge and Oxford Said applications.
I applied to INSEAD and Judge in Round 1. I worked with Manish Gupta (MG) who helped me articulate my thoughts on why I was doing this MBA and what I intended to do after.
The brainstorming call before each application helped me retell my story to suit each school’s values.
I remember one particular email sent to MG – I had promised to send him a revised draft of essays for INSEAD by the next day. I wrote him an email saying:
Please expect a delay of 10 days for the next version, I’m in labour!
MG was extremely understanding of my unique circumstances and turned around every essay super quick.
I really loved how expectations were clearly set and delivered without fail, every single time. I also saw meaningful improvements in my essays whenever MG waved his editorial magic wand.
In trying to juggle my applications with pregnancy and motherhood, I missed out on having solid conversations with multiple students and alumni from each of the schools I applied to in round 1.
While I had spoken to at least 1-2 alumni, it did not give me the wealth of information needed for a solid application. I got a reject from all my R1 applications.
I then connected with more than 10 people each from both Oxford Said and Duke Fuqua – I had at least 30-minute long discussions with each of them on varying topics – academic and co-curricular activities, cultural differences, career prospects, etc.
I got to know about different types of networking events organized by student clubs, best professors in marketing, toughest courses in technology, etc.
While identifying who to connect, I used a combination of LinkedIn and the college website to find people with profiles similar to mine in terms of higher work experience, similar domain or doing a second MBA which helped me have very focused discussions.
I was sure that they would have had the same doubts in their minds while applying and talking to them made me more confident about my suitability. These conversations also helped me make my interviews richer as I inserted these anecdotes wherever possible.
For the ‘fit’ – if you are clear what your personal goals are, you will be able to identify which business school will work for you best.
All this background work helped me make a mental map of what the business school values in its students and how it can help me achieve my goals. These inputs made a significant difference to the quality of my applications in R2.
I got interview calls from both Oxford Said and Duke Fuqua. For interview prep, I again got in touch with the students and alumni and also had mock interview sessions with my friends.
The interviews were quite straightforward and mostly based on the ‘Why MBA, why now, why you and why xyz school’ template.
I reviewed my answers with current students who gave great inputs on how to make them even better. Both interviews happened through video conferencing and went quite well.
When I got an offer of admission from Oxford Said for their MBA 2020 intake, I was elated.
It was my second best pick and I could not be happier. All the effort, all the sacrifice seemed worth it right now.
Looking back, it feels like I have crossed the first summit and have a series of peaks to overcome till I reach my Everest.
If I had taken the effort way before I started writing my applications to talk to more students, especially when they may have had more time, it might have had a significant impact on my applications.
I feel the most important element is clarity of thought on why you want this and why you deserve this.
If you are thinking of applying to business schools, starting serious preparations on the essays by introspecting and connecting with students at least 8-9 months before the deadline will keep you in good stead. Good luck!