Utkarsh Bajpai’s profile ticks all the right boxes – IIT graduate, competitive GMAT score, impressive international work experience.
This is typical of many strong applicants who plan to apply to the most selective masters and MBA programs in the world, such as the M7 business schools, INSEAD, London Business School, and other elite institutions.
It may seem that the application process would be a formality for candidates with such formidable credentials. Just get a few close friends or relatives to review your SoP and essays, and be done with it.
Why is it then, that the strongest applicants still see value in hiring an experienced and reputed MBA consultant? Why not just work with trustworthy colleagues or friends, some of whom may have gone through the process?
What does an experienced MBA admission consultant who’s got into Harvard Business School and Stanford GSB know that friends, family and colleagues don’t?
All fair questions to ask.
Utkarsh is the perfect person to answer them. He’s tried both options at different stages, with contrasting results. He explains in detail what his MBA admissions consultant did that made the entire process more streamlined and effective.
How I got into my dream schools in Europe and India
My experience working with an MBA admission consultant with Harvard & Stanford admits
by Utkarsh Bajpai
I was born and brought up in Kanpur, a town in Northern India. I did my schooling there and joined IIT Kharagpur for my graduation. I graduated in 2016 with a master’s in mathematics and computing.
After my graduation from IIT Kharagpur I joined the Intelligence & IoT division of Samsung research and Development institute in Bangalore.
At Samsung I worked on the backend services and the frontend applications required for their 100 million strong IoT platform.
After Samsung I joined Bronk Ventures, an HFT firm in Singapore. This firm focused on trading in cryptocurrencies at several exchanges around the world. Here my role was to develop strategies and services required for their trading platform.
After staying for about 1.5 years in Bronk Ventures I joined Shopee, where I currently am a part of their order processing team. As a part of this team I am responsible for developing and managing the services required for end to end order processing for millions of orders received per day.
Apart from work I enjoy reading, cooking and photography. My friends and colleagues describe me as an extremely friendly and jovial person, one who is approachable and ready to help in any way he can. They tell me that I am extremely optimistic.
During my college, apart from academics I was involved in several extracurricular activities which helped me grow as a person. I played hockey and was the captain of my hostel team, I was also involved in data analytics competitions and led my team to win several institute level competitions.
My first reality check
The major concern I had while preparing for my application was that my profile seemed too generic.
During the first conversation that I had with Ankur (my consultant from MBA Crystal Ball), he pointed out that being an Indian IT male engineer, I belonged to the most over represented pool in the world.
Therefore I would need to make my profile stand out to be considered by the schools I was targeting.
During my application process, I realized that the competition is such that there is no one thing that needs to be extraordinary for your application to stand out, rather every part of your application must be above average.
To start my GMAT preparation, I found out the average and the maximum GMAT scores of the accepted cohort of my target schools. The average score was in the range of 710 – 730. This helped me set my target of 750.
To prepare for this score I used various sources, most helpful ones were official practice tests from GMAT and verbal practice material from Magoosh.
I realised I was good in quant but did pretty bad in verbal. I focused on verbal and analysed my growth through regular practice tests.
I scored 740 in GMAT. As I gave the exam in August, I didn’t have enough time to go for a second attempt. Also I thought 740 is a decent score so I decided to go forward with it.
Working with friends and colleagues has its limitations
I have previously applied for a Master’s in the US. For that I prepared my application myself and took help of my seniors and colleagues for reviewing and correcting my essays.
Even after having a decent GRE score (324), good recommendations and an IIT tag, I was unable to secure a place in any of my target universities.
I believe that the reason for failure was my essays.
The essays are the most important part of your application. They are the window for the school to your motivations, capabilities and promise you hold for your and theirs future.
Even if you have the ability to succeed during and after the program, if you are unable to put it into words, it’s a waste of your application.
During MS applications I followed a similar review process. I completed my application SOPs and forwarded the essays to my college seniors for reviews.
They were helpful, but I usually only got 1 or 2 rounds of reviews with basic comments such as on grammar etc.
The main limitation I felt was, even though seniors and colleagues want to help you:
- They don’t necessarily have the expertise required, their insights may or may not be correct.
- They may not know the school you are applying for that well and your profile may be much different than them, making their guidance somewhat risky.
- They don’t have any skin in the game, therefore are not as committed to the task as a professional admissions consultant.
To maximize my chances and not making the same mistake twice, I decided to take help of reputed consultants from MBA Crystal Ball (MCB).
How the formal admissions consulting process worked
For MCB readers who aren’t aware of him, he’s among the best MBA consultants who got into Harvard Business School and Stanford GSB. He dropped Harvard, and chose Stanford after he got a free ride (i.e. full scholarship) from the latter.
MBA MAP made me think about my motivations for doing an MBA, my post MBA goals and the ways in which my past journey would support my future.
This process was especially important because not only it helped me in my applications later but also helped me in deciding my target schools.
Through the process I realized that I was not adequately motivated to study in the US and was inclined towards working and living in Europe post my MBA.
To select my schools I went through the profiles of previous cohorts, known inclinations of the admission committees etc.
All of the information is freely available via their own or other websites. Major thing to look for is any particular thing which the school values and you have it or if there is something of particular value provided by the program which would help you realize your future goals.
For example, my target school INSEAD values diversity, so one would be valued if he has worked in a multicultural setting. MBA MAP program also helps you with the shortlisting of schools suited to your profile.
After the MBA MAP and my own research I shortlisted 3 schools. I selected INSEAD, London Business School (LBS) and ISB. Each of the schools has different requirements for the type of candidate they are looking for.
Ankur helped me draft my story according to each of them. Even though Ankur only reviewed and corrected my essays, I was amazed at the end result.
Through several reviews and corrections to each essay Ankur made sure, each of them was impactful and conveyed my story in a precise way. I think this maximized my chances of acceptance.
As a result, I got interview calls from INSEAD and ISB. For INSEAD I had to myself approach two alumni, contact information for whom was provided by the school and arrange for my interviews.
Both the alumni were very friendly and focused on my motivations for the MBA and how well the INSEAD program sits with my future goals.
ISB’s interview was taken by a panel of alumni, who focused more on my experience and knowledge about the things I was supposed to work on in the future. Interviews for both the schools went well and now was the time to wait for the results.
Results of the structured approach and rigorous reviews
After about a week I received a call, directly from the admission’s officer in France. As soon as my phone showed a call with code +33, I realised I was in.
I was so thrilled to receive the call that I forgot to ask about the campus I have been admitted to.
I also got accepted by ISB. As my primary motivation was to work in Europe in a diverse environment, I decided to go with INSEAD.
I believe my experience across different cutting edge domains, working in a multicultural environment with cross functional teams, helped me differentiate my application from other applicants from the same representative pool.
Through my application I realized it is important for the applicant to study his own profile, find out these strong points and effectively portray them through their application.
With his years of admissions consulting experience and the unique mentoring approach, Ankur helped me a lot in this challenging process and I would sincerely thank him for it.
So what does an experienced consultant (who has himself cracked into the elite bschools) know that friends don’t?
An experienced consultant has firstly the most important thing, the “Experience” of helping many applicants like me, learning through their mistakes and knowing what works and what doesn’t through hundreds of applications.
They also have skin in the game, they want the applicant to succeed as much as the applicant himself does.
This shows in their commitment to work with you until he gets it right, no matter how long it takes.
I believe these two things make the consultant much more valuable than friends.
Reiterating the point with my own example, if some of my juniors would want my help with their applications, apart from guiding them:
- I would still suggest they go with an experienced consultant, as even if I have cracked a b-school, doesn’t mean I know what will work for them.
- I don’t know what part of their profile should be highlighted, what should be downplayed and what should be defended.
A trustworthy friend cannot become an experienced MBA consultant in a short span of time. However, as Utkarsh mentioned, a good consultant can become a trustworthy friend and mentor during the difficult journey, helping you avoid the pitfalls that other applicants are likely to make.
Send us an email if you need professional help for your applications: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com