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18 Months, From Nowhere to...

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Joined: 16 Apr 2013
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Location: India
Concentration: Operations, Finance
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WE: Engineering (Manufacturing)
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18 Months, From Nowhere to... [#permalink] New post 06 Jun 2014, 23:48
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Sorry for being late, but here’s my bit.

Let’s go through the disclaimers first:
The views expressed in this thread are my own. They are the views of a paying customer and not of any forum or collective.

The beginning (Feb 2013, as far as I can remember):

It was a Sunday afternoon, far away from any civilization at Odisha, India. I and a couple of my friends were chatting away, soaking in the morning sun and recovering from the effects of Saturday night.
Friend 1: The sunlight does feel nice; so what are the plans for Sunday?
Friend 2: More of the same, movie/television, big lunch, and nap till evening. We could go out for dinner…God, I am bored!!
Me: Yeah me too…we’ve been doing the same thing for the last two years, desperately need to get out from here.
Friend 2: Lets’ review the options:
a) Let’s update our CV and send it to everyone we know…You would probably be again posted at a similar place and having the same conversation after two years.
b) Let’s prepare for CAT 2013; enroll in TIME/ CL, travel 200 kms for the weekend classes every week and slog like hell for the next few months. We also have to take a medical leave of 2 months just before the exams and incur the wrath of our bosses.
c) Let’s get married.
This was the premise. Clearly this was going nowhere and as luck would have it one of my friends from college called and filled me up about his plans.
Friend 3: …blah blah blah….I gave the GMAT last month.
Me: GMAT??!! You’re planning to go abroad? Isn’t MBA abroad like super-expensive?
Friend 3: Yeah, but they give scholarships as well. Besides, compared to a premier school like ISB, It really isn’t that much of a stretch. Maybe you should do some research.

That’s when the seed was planted. Researched about GMAT at MBA.com, had another chat with Friend 3 (while Friend 1 & 2 was enjoying the customary afternoon nap) about the right time to give the test and settled on June/July. He was insistent that I register for the test then and there and become fully committed to the cause. So I did and payed the Rs 15000 –ish (Ouch!!) registration fees and ordered two books (OG 13 and Princeton review) from Flipkart. While my material was on its way, researched about the format and downloaded some more content (Kaplan, Manhattan).
I had 3-4 months to transform from a Minardi to a Red Bull; finally something to do! The content of the test seemed interesting as well for a change. One particular reason why I refrained from giving the CAT was because the formula became increasingly predictable: Join a coaching institution like everyone else, solve anything between 50-100 problems a day of every conceivable type on the subject until you are programmed to identify and execute rather than think, give a mock-test every weekend and compare the scores with your friends. I whole process was very unappealing to me. It was almost similar to cracking the IIT-JEE through the Kota/FIITJEE/Akash route. It also meant shifting my focus entirely from work and possibly taking time-off, something I was averse to. That is why the adaptive GMAT was a fresh page. Unlike CAT there was no cut-off so one could give the test without any pressure.

The GMAT and TOEFL experience (June & August 2013):

Due to my busy work and play schedule I could rarely find time to seriously prepare for GMAT. Nevertheless, even if it was for half an hour, I tried to go through the material every day. My major resources (in no particular order): OG 13 (basic guide), Princeton Review (tougher than OG), gmatclub (absolutely peerless due to the sheer variety of questions), e-gmat (I tried the free content and must admit it was good) and Economist (for casual practice as the free web interface is very good). One of the major mistakes in my preparation was probably underestimating my biggest enemy- PATIENCE. It was only 2-3 days before the D-day that I realized that I could not bring myself to give a four-hour test in a single sitting (my previous proper test was a 3 hr exam in college, 4 yrs ago). Two full mocks later my appointment came. Frankly I was nervous because I knew I only had one chance. If it ended badly I would not have the determination or drive for another go.

Trying to keep myself calm, reached the centre about 30 min. prior; had a coke and went in. Passport verification and biometrics were done in a jiffy and I was told if I was comfortable in starting the exam right away. I obliged and with a notebook and a pencil went to the examination room. There were about 6-8 persons already giving the test and I must admit it was a bit of a bother because every 10-15 min. someone had some issue or the other. Nevertheless the essay was first up, and it calmed my nerves. The rest of the test went smoothly but as expected I was having trouble being patient, especially towards the end of every session. By the time it came to last 30 min. of Verbal I just wanted to finish and go out at the earliest. Nevertheless, ended my test with plenty of time to spare and the instructor finally gave me my score- a respectable 710! I expected 720 but given my pace I felt pretty content that it wasn’t a disaster. Took a printout, grabbed some food and called up Friend 3 about my options on the way home.

Next up was TOEFL in August. GMAT boosted my confidence levels and I knew if I could hold myself together I can cross 100. Went in with close to zero prep (seriously you don’t need any!!) and cleared the test. A word of caution: Avoid the Kolkata centre (Near Park circus). There was around 30-40 persons cramped into a 200 sq. ft. room with zero amenities like drinking water/clean toilets. For a test like TOEFL you need some quietness and personal space and the centre was lacking in both. Also midway through my listening exam the headphone went kaput, so there I was try to listen some noise while a technician was try out different pair of headphones. Nevertheless all was forgotten after two weeks when I got a 104.

School selection and application:

I was leaning on getting a degree from the US primarily due to two things:
a) I preferred a 2-year degree instead of one. I believe that taking shortcuts helps you in a lot of things in life but for an MBA I wanted the full experience.
b) The uncertainty surrounding Europe at the time. The dismay was all over the news. Somehow, the US economy gave me more comfort given my manufacturing background. (My judgement is yet to be proved though)
Right after the GMAT, I knew I had to get help, I mean professional help if I needed to get it done correctly. Considering my busy work schedule and my ignorance there was no way I could have done it on my own. It is here that forums like gmatclub shines. Not only do you learn from experiences of other applicants and the logic behind their approach but you can also connect to professionals for help. It was here that I heard about the various consultancy services. I phoned and inquired with some of the renowned international consultants like Aringo & Princeton Review and realized that it was not for me. Believe me, I am not questioning their competence but it was too expensive and formal for my taste. Maybe it would work with someone else but I needed the informal approach and the cushion of missing my deadlines due to my work commitments. So I started searching closer to home and decided upon MBADream. Called up Rahul, liked his friendly approach and took his help. In the hindsight, I am glad I did so because it made the whole process so much simpler for me. We decided upon the schools from which we felt we could secure a scholarship, edited the various essays and polished the applications. In fact Rahul became my helpline for anything and everything related to the application process.

Interview calls started around October and I remember what a nervous wreck I was before my first Skype interview. I skipped the second half at work, got suited up waited for the clock to tick. My advice for the interview: Try to schedule your interviews within a short span of time, if possible, the next day. It helps tremendously once you are into the flow of things and by the third interview within a week, you would be very comfortable.
Nevertheless, by December/January, rejections, waitlists and admits (Yes, in that order) started coming in. I still remember that after getting rejected/ wait-listed from the first couple of schools I was very down and disappointed. All those talk of an admit being a few weeks away didn’t cut ice. But just when I doubted my approach the admits and scholarships started rolling in and I couldn’t be happier. Around January/February ‘14, I decided on the program and informed by bosses to search for my replacement at work to ensure a smooth transition. This was another good move which meant that I am able to write this piece peacefully from my work without any disturbance from my boss/subordinates. However needless to say, don’t try to enlighten your bosses with our future plans so early if you two don’t get along.

VISA, I-20 and miscellaneous:

Once you’ve decided upon the school, do not hesitate to ask for the I-20 right away. Get your finances in order and apply for a bank loan well in advance. The loan approval takes a month or two minimum unlike what those banks tell you. Also if possible get a loan from abroad (cheaper rates) if someone is willing to be your cosigner. I got my loan approval letter in April and requested the I-20 right away. It took a month for it to reach me (by FedEx Priority, worth the extra cash). Received the I-20 in May and applied for the visa straight away. The entire process is pretty seamless and you need a good internet connection, a computer and four hours. The only manual procedure was to deposit the visa fee at an ICICI Branch nearby but that wasn’t very much trouble either.

The VISA Appointment was in two phases, one day to take your photo and biometrics and the interview itself. The procedure was very smooth and very efficiently managed. I was a bit concerned about the interview and prepared all my documents in a file and tagged them but the interview hardly took a minute. Asked me about my intention of pursuing an MBA from US, about the finances and approved the visa right away. He didn’t even look at the individual documents although I advise strongly to take all the relevant documents in a proper manner for the visa officer. Went to collect my passport the next day and brought home my 5-year visa. Air-ticket was up next and got a superb deal with Qatar Airways on their website. As far as my experience goes, the best rates are available always at the website of the individual airline. Agreed, you have to look around a bit but the savings is probably worth it. Also the best fares are available at around Tuesday/Wednesday about 8 weeks prior to the journey. Another tip: Breakup your journey as much as possible. I know it creates hassles due to transfer but you get tremendous benefits especially if you are traveling to a Domestic airport in the US. E.g. A ticket from Calcutta to Minneapolis (Yes, I got into Carlson with a half tuition scholarship!) costs about 60-100% more than Calcutta to Chicago and Chicago to Minneapolis separately. Anyhow try to book on a reliable airline with sufficient transit times.

Well that’s that and come to think of it, the journey has been quite something. If you’re just starting out, let me tell you that giving GMAT is only the start of a cycle. The whole admission process has been grueling but extremely satisfying, but the best part is, my MBA experience in a foreign country is yet to begin. Can’t wait for August ’14. :-D :-D :-D
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Re: 18 Months, From Nowhere to... [#permalink] New post 10 Jun 2014, 17:58
Thanks for sharing your story! I enjoyed reading it - wish you the best of luck at Carlson!
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Re: 18 Months, From Nowhere to... [#permalink] New post 17 Jun 2014, 06:57
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Re: 18 Months, From Nowhere to...   [#permalink] 17 Jun 2014, 06:57
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