While education can be a great way to broaden one’s horizons, growing up in a middle class family can make it difficult for many.
Getting an international degree was never on Vipin Mathew’s to-do list, given his modest background. But the talented mechanical engineer from National Institute of Technology (NIT) Karnataka ended up with a master of engineering degree from Canada and is now en route to a top MBA from Europe.
That’s 3 degrees from 3 continents – quite a haul for someone who never considered himself to be ambitious!
While many from the IITs and NITs prefer US for their technical master’s degrees, Vipin shares also his reasons for a preference to go to Canada in this post. In the end, that choice played an important role while applying to his dream school (INSEAD), which valued the rich international experience he came equipped with.
I wasn’t a dreamer, I wasn’t terribly accomplished or ambitious. Like most average Indian students from middle-class families, I didn’t really have any goals; certainly not one as lofty as pursuing an MBA from one of the top b-schools in the world.
Where I lacked in ambition, I made up for in drive and enthusiasm.
My friends would describe me as affable, easy-going, and someone who can rally a group of people under a common cause, but even during my undergraduate years, I wasn’t sure where my life was supposed to take me.
I was involved in a variety of extracurriculars, including heading the NITK Marketing team, organizing and fundraising for events, playing the drums in the Music Club, and writing & directing several plays and satires.
I went ‘with the flow’ but the lack of clear direction and career goals always gnawed at me, leaving me feeling rudderless in an ocean of options.
I wasn’t particularly interested in the core subjects of my specialization: Mechanical Engineering, with the exception of Operations Research.
Working with data, and seeing that there is optimality in every problem that’s waiting to be found excited me in a way that Thermodynamics never did.
I wanted to specialize in the subject and decided to apply for a Master’s program. I chose to pursue my M.Eng. in Operations Research at the University of Toronto (UofT) in the fall of 2013.
The choice was far from easy, but I felt that the progressive immigration policies, much lower fees, and high ranking and reputation put Canada and UofT at the top of my list.
The Master’s program opened my eyes to the possibilities in store in the world of Operations and Data Analytics, it gave me the intellectual curiosity and skills needed to be successful in this domain.
I was, at last, forming a vision for my career, and with that vision came ambition.
I started my professional career at Canadian Tire Corp. (CTC), a major player in the retail industry in Canada, as a Forecast Analyst. Working with big data and making predictive models was exciting and challenging.
By rapidly gaining an understanding of the business, key stakeholders, and various aspects of forecasting, my reputation was cemented in being trustworthy, knowledgeable and an up and coming young leader.
With the support of my mentors, my career progressed within the company, culminating in my current role as Manager of Merchandise Forecasting, leading a team of six analysts in a rapidly evolving industry and function.
Through my journey at CTC, I was involved in various strategic projects that required my expertise in predictive modeling.
My focus was switching towards higher impact projects, and upward mobility required me to learn about the business world, especially finance and strategy – motivating me to pursue an MBA.
Switching gears to the b-school application process after 5 years in the corporate world was a monumental challenge.
Working full-time while preparing for GMAT and researching online on potential b-schools truly tested the limits of my time management.
Given the sheer volume of options and information, I was processing at the time, I decided to take on the expert advice of MBA Crystal Ball (MCB).
Having a long-standing reputation of helping prospective candidates get into the very best schools in the world made MCB a natural lead in my search for an admissions consultant.
The MBA MAP process really helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses, and enabled me to narrow down my potential school list in a structured manner.
I highly recommend this step for any prospective MBA candidate, as it can be pretty daunting when faced with so many options and so little time.
My consultant, Ankur (a Stanford MBA grad), helped me identify key ‘pitch points’ and gave me the insights I needed to tailor my application for various schools.
I was resolute in my dream to get into a Tier 1 school, and so every school I applied to was ranked in Top 20 globally, with several from the M7 business schools list.
Naturally, I was concerned that my GMAT score of 720 wasn’t high enough to make the cut for an M7 school and I was nervous that my work experience was from a single company without much diversity in exposure.
MCB helped me focus on my strengths and helped me put my best foot forward for every application.
The biggest learning for me through this process was identifying the culture and fit with the schools I applied to. This isn’t easily available online.
So I grew my understanding on this nuanced subject through several conversations with both current students and alumni, with MCB there to guide me throughout the process and steer my research in the right direction.
I had interview calls from Kellogg and INSEAD and at this stage, the MCB interview prep package was instrumental in my preparation.
From identifying the most frequently asked questions and preparing and reviewing my responses, to conducting mock interviews typical of the style b-schools follow, I felt confident and prepared going into my interviews.
The questions asked were all prepared for in advance so I wasn’t surprised during the interviews. I had to elaborate on my journey so far and the motivation behind my application.
I was asked questions on my short-term and long-term goals, my principles and value system, and my leadership style.
The overall experience was one of deep self-discovery; I learned that in order to get into your target b-school you must know yourself and what drives you towards your goals – with a good cultural fit and a bit of luck, you will be successful.
I am overjoyed to be admitted to INSEAD, one of my top choices, and am looking forward to the next year in France and Singapore.
I plan to pursue a career in Strategy Consulting – with INSEAD being a target school for MBB consulting firms, and ranked consistently among the top 3 b-schools globally, I am excited and cautiously optimistic about what the future holds for me.
I believe that a strong differentiator for me was having international experience with strong career progress under my belt.
Spearheading multiple high impact projects and leading with a strong sense of empathy set me up for a good cultural fit with INSEAD.
In hindsight, if I had to do things differently, I would have started the entire process well in advance – I realized that the preparation to get into your target b-school starts from day 1 of your first job.
By tailoring your profile and accomplishments to meet the requirements of your target school early in your career, you will have a much higher chance of success.
My advice to future applicants to INSEAD or any of the top b-schools in the world is to first find yourself and then be yourself – develop a strong value system early in your career and follow your passions and see your projects to completion.
If you, like me, took time to define your goals, don’t be disheartened because times change, plans change, and goals inevitably also change – but your core values and passions should be timeless.
All the best!