In the race to get into the b-school of his choice he stumbled and fell – not once but twice. But he got up, dusted himself and got back into the race…more determined than ever to get what he wanted.
We can’t compete with the massage parlours in Bangkok, but many of our stories do tend to be therapeutic and they also have a happy ending. Mukul’s inpiring story is one of those.
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How I got into the Tuck MBA | Ivy League MBA Admissions
by Mukul Kumar
Hey there! I am Mukul and I am going to tell you a story, of big dreams, high hopes, dark dejection and sweet success.
Let’s go six years back when I was still enjoying my final days at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi; trying to forget about my CAT debacle by partying everyday till graduation. Little did I know about the long tiring journey that lay ahead of me.
I am a foresighted person, but that time I kept a myopic view of my career, thinking only about the IBM job in Pune I had.
I knew nothing about what am I gonna do, except that I had to an MBA at some point of time in my life. I let myself settle in the job for a while and then around April 2006 started toying with the idea of taking the GMAT.
As most of us, I needed a little push, that extra motivation to get started. I joined classes and very soon forgot about them. Indian coaching centers were just not ready for GMAT that time. And I reckoned that I can do better than this.
As it is I was telling the Math teacher what to do next, and so to the rest of the guys while in the class. But then one fine day my sister, who is a US citizen, asked me what my plans were? And what I have thought about my career.
Surely I was not thinking about working at IBM all my life, she said. And that was a warning bell for me. She said that I should just take GMAT and come to US. She even took a date for me and sent me the details! So yeah I was forced into this, in a way.
I did the math, and figured that a US MBA was way better than anything I will ever get here. Luckily my sister also offered to back me up on the finance front. All I had to do was take the GMAT, or so I thought. Silly me!
I had two months to take the test. The thing with me is, well, I am insane. I started studying for the test day and night. Every waking hour, I was preparing for it.
While at work, I squeezed time out of coffee breaks (not the cigarette breaks tho’) and at home, I did nothing except studying or sleeping. Well a few episodes of Top Gear are harmless
I put in at least 4-5 hours every day. Towards the end, during the last week I was clocking around 12-14 hours per day! I was so prepared that I could have easily taken two GMAT tests on the final day, easily.
Anyway, I scored a 770, basically destroyed it. So the next step was to obviously apply and get into any half decent B-school in the US.
The first deadlines were already over, and so I targeted the round 2. Honestly I had no clue as to which schools I should apply to.
I had no one to guide me and the mad rush to get in the B-schools was virtually non-existent then.
The school selection was random, or as per the ranking at best. Bad, bad, bad move! I chose a few schools of my liking, or shall I say schools I had heard were good, namely Wharton, Tuck, Ross and Yale. And I chose one safe school as McCombs.
For obvious reasons I did not chose HBS or Stanford, come on I had not even one year of work experience. At least I had this much sense.
I rushed my applications, the essays were a piece of … and don’t even get me started on my Resume.
I ended up getting a phone interview from Ross (finally denied) and a waitlist from McCombs, which I never pursued.
The major take away from this debacle for me and should be for you guys was that you have to research schools.
GMAT is just one part of the entire application and often given undue importance. Think of it as a minimum age requirement.
If you are around the median (above is certainly better) you have to look past it and focus on application.
The application packet is what gets you in.
You have to research schools, know everything about them, assess your fit in those schools, build your profile, make a conscious effort towards taking up leadership roles in all fields: work, extra-curricular, community work; and obviously good essays. It is a herculean task and you have to be mentally prepared for it.
Even the shoddy attempt I made that year sucked the life out of me. I was left exhausted, dejected and broke after that application cycle.
But I knew nothing comes easy in life. If getting into IIT was not easy, clearing (well not clearing in my case), cracking the GMAT wasn’t easy, why should this be. In fact I had understood that this is going to be one hell of a job.
I started from scratch, changed my job. Gave myself a new lease of life and started building from ground up.
I worked on my profile, taking calculated risks at work, communicating with people better, taking up challenges proactively, helping others and most importantly by being a good person.
I matured as a professional and the leadership traits became clearer. I had a clear vision and my goals were clearer.
I knew the recommenders would not need refreshing their brains to give me a stellar recommendation this time. And so I was back in the game.
In 2009, things started happening. I had to talk to my parents and my wife (girlfriend then) about my marriage.
Lots of personal decisions and the timing of life events now were relying on it. I geared up for the application cycle, determined to make it big this time.
If you remember that I had a waitlist from McCombs which I never pursued.
That was because when I failed to get into the top schools, I suddenly realized that with the score I have, with the acads I have, I just can’t waste the potential.
I have to get into the Ivy Leagues J This time my application was freaking awesome. Everything was spot on. The essays were flawless, the resume looked perfect and the recommendations had to be enthusiastic.
So when I was waitlisted by Kellogg, Chicago Booth, NYU Stern and denied after interview from Wharton and Duke, I was devastated.
I was back to square one. I could not believe what was happening, why this was happening. I knew that that application cycle was the most competitive till date, but come on! I was clueless and literally in tears. The toughest day was when Booth was going to declare results for the waitlist.
That day was a dark dark day for me. That was the last hope I was clinging on too. And so was my girlfriend and my parents.
But times like these are when you know what you are made up of.
So when I told my mother that don’t worry mom, I will apply again for next cycle, she said that she has never known a person stronger than me. That was a big proud moment for me as a son.
After that, I took time off, reassess my strategy. There was certainly one gaping hole which I am not seeing. All my effort was going down the drain.
I was certainly good, so, then what the hell was happening! I re-read my essays again and again. Nothing! Then it dawned up on me! I was not reading it from the eyes of that School.
Every school has a personality. We Indians are fundamentally challenged to think in terms of such things as ‘fit’ and ‘right school’. It’s always about 99 percentiles and top ranked. The best strategy is to spot the one which is the best of both worlds for you.
I had to find the school which was like me. A school’s personality is the collective conscience of its students, alums, faculty and staff. To become one of them you have to be like them.
I saw everything in Tuck which was a reflection of me. And to top it all, it is an Ivy League. Beautiful place, helpful alums, collaborative learning, everything was perfect.
I wrote my heart out about everything from what I want, what I ever wanted, my childhood, my marriage which was gonna happen, failures, successes, things I cherished, everything. Basically the application essay was a small representation of me without a face, which later on the interviewer anyway clicked J
This time I was sure after the interview that I was gonna make it, even before I did. And there it was, the call. They called me, and I couldn’t say anything, and they understood. They simply said congratulations and to enjoy this.
And I will do the same here, leave you to get back to your studies. If you have been moved even an inch by this story, preserve this feeling.
Keep it sealed inside you. Let it be the driver.
Life will reward you, if you are patient and honest in your endeavors.
No dream is big. Dream is a way to think big, and to tell you that this is what you deserve.
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Editor's Note: This story was originally published on our blog and recently moved here.