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Accepted to LBS with 620 GMAT: The Power of Sincerity & Storytelling

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Accepted to LBS with 620 GMAT: The Power of Sincerity & Storytelling  [#permalink]

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New post 28 Jul 2015, 10:55
If you were to ask me, I was a crying baby 7 months ago. I took the GMAT for the 2nd time and came out with a disheartening 620 (Q44 // V31 // AWA6.0 // IR8), way below the range that I expected. Fast forward to today, I still can't believe that I am going to one of the best business schools of the world. Tuition and accommodation deposits are paid. Student visa is approved. Who would've thought that I am actually going to London Business School starting August (just a couple of weeks from today, actually)?

Was it luck? Did I do the right thing to overcome my GMAT? Who knows. But if I want to give prospective applicants some advice, here are the two pieces that I want to give you: (1) Don't underestimate the power of telling a compelling and assuring story, and (2) Be sincere, both in writing and verbal manners.


Just like hundreds of thousands of business school applicants around the world, I had the GMAT as my biggest business school application hurdle. I had no idea where it went wrong, but things seemed to go wrong on the days I took the GMAT. Back in April 2014, I took the GMAT for the 1st time and I scored an underwhelming 560 (Q47 // V21 // AWA6.0 // IR8), even though I had been scoring 650-700 in the practice tests. Then in December 2014, I retook the GMAT and improved by only 60 points, even though I had been, again, score 680-700 in the practice tests.

With the upcoming Round 2 applications for most business schools coming up quickly, I knew that I was running out of time. I had two choices: to cry on my low GMAT score OR to move on and do something else. I decided to move on, albeit with worries on how I am supposed to overcome my GMAT score.


What does it truly mean by choosing the "RIGHT" business schools? What is the definition of the word "RIGHT" in this context? Perhaps, only one of those business school admission consultants could truly state the true meaning of it. My personal definition of "RIGHT," however, is whatever "RIGHT" truly means for you.

If you feel good about the school, it is the "RIGHT" school for you (or at least, it's a good start).
If you feel that you can fit in with the school community, it is the "RIGHT" school for you.
If you feel that your backgrounds (academic, professional, personal, etc.) can richly contribute to the experience, it is the "RIGHT" school for you.
"RIGHT" is all about what you realistically think of from every possible corner.

Most of us would perhaps automatically have HBS, Stanford GSB, and Wharton right in our head when it comes to applying for business schools. Why? We're not sure why. We just have these schools in our "reach" list because they're the "best of the best," the "cream of the crop," or whatever you want to call these three schools.

In searching for business schools, I avoided these ways of thinking and started from the scratch: my own research. I took the time to visit schools, talk to current students, and sit on a few of their classes (in class-visit programs). I want the schools of my choices to come sincerely out of my heart, throwing away as much preceding biases as possible from my decisions. Throughout the process, I was able to think and rethink whether a particular school is a good fit for me or not. The results of my research was somewhat surprising. One school that I visited -- that I thought was a school that I visited just for fun -- became one of my top choices because it made me feel SO GOOD about applying. On the other hand, another school that I visited -- one of those ultra-elite business schools that I was very excited about -- left me feeling un-welcomed and cold, leading me to striking the school from my list because it just made me feel... not so good.

When you do your research sincerely, you will uncover a lot of hidden pages, both good and bad. Sincerity will lead us through the right path to finding the hidden beauties (and uglies) of each school you research. Sincere research will make or break your decisions, and I know that the result of my research was somewhat heartbreaking... but I was thankful that I made my decisions early and fast.

Fast forward to December 2014, I included my latest GMAT score into consideration. With all possible factors included, I decided to apply to five programs around the world:
    > Harvard Business School - 2+2 Program
    > Fuqua School of Business - Masters of Management Studies
    > London Business School - Global Masters in Management
    > IESE - Young Talent Program
    > Kellogg School of Management - MS in Management Studies


For every choice we make in our lives, we have to reflect on a lot of things. Business school application decisions are not exception! Even when choosing the "RIGHT" schools, one has to thought carefully on a lot of things, ranging from academic and social fit to technical things like probability of getting in with certain GMAT score.

By this stage, a lot of business school applicants may have sought for advice through GMAT forums such as this (GMAT Club) and others. They would be getting a lot of comments, that's for sure. Constructive feedback, yes. Criticism, of course. Destructive feedback, quite a lot, actually. From here on, I know that a lot of business school applicants tend to start getting worried about their business school applications with respect to their chance of getting one of those glowing admittance emails.

I, on the other hand, avoided these forums at all cost.

From the start, I knew that forums like GMAT Club would greatly affect me, given my academic background and heavy involvement with online conversation and such. Because of this, I did all of my business school applications on my own: no communications on forums and no advice nor help from business school consulting firms.


I believe that a business school application is a highly sensitive and personalized subject. It is a privilege, a glowing opportunity for a person to show his/her interests in attending a business school. It is a document where basically the main point is "Hey, I am interested in attending your school! Pick me!"

Yet, when I talk to a lot of people, it seems that people look at applications as "hurdles" rather than as "opportunities." Indeed, business school applications are tough. They require people to write essays, to fill out a whole lotta blank spaces, to write even more essays, etc.

Rather than seeing an application as a hurdle, see it as an opportunity instead. You are given this precious document to fill out so that you can sincerely tell the admissions officers that you want to go to their schools. Now what are you supposed to say in the application?


In case you want to know, here are my backgrounds:
    > Bachelor of Music in Music Business/Management from Berklee College of Music, Summa Cum Laude
    > Interned at Boston Symphony Orchestra, DeVos Institute of Arts Management, Warner Music Indonesia, and Superfly Presents
    > Indonesian traditional vocalist who finished his education by becoming a Principal Bass Vocalist for Indian Grammy- and Oscar-winning composer, A.R. Rahman
    > Love traveling around the world to ride different roller coasters; 209 roller coasters conquered to date

What is unique about me? What would make me different from the rest of the applicant pools? The truth is... YOU WILL NEVER KNOW. Do you even know every single person who is applying to the same exact school and program as you? No? Then stop guessing and make your application as unique as possible. Be true about yourself. Find your inner beauties and uniqueness that will make the admissions want to hear more about you, more than the things that you already put in the application :-D


The art of storytelling is an art that seems to be missing a lot from business school application process nowadays. I have seen a lot of articles and facts released by business school admissions consulting about making essays that would clearly show your future goals, how you have been creating the paths towards those goals this whole time, and many more...

I said, "NO!" to those articles.

There is more to a business school application than to fill out blanks and write essays. Each component that you put in the application counts. Imagine an application as a storybook. Each word works together to create sentences, which then make paragraphs that connect the story from start to finish. Just like a storybook, your application has to tell a compelling and connected story. When you put one particular thing in a section, connect that with something else that you put in other sections. For example, if your whole application is pretty much focused on finance, then it would not make sense to put something like "I take the cooking classes" out of the blue without you somewhat connecting it in another part.

Of course, each application is different, so your story should be written different for each school that you apply to. Use your essays as the heart of your story, then extend your story from there.


Who are you supposed to ask to write you recommendation letters?

I chose people that I dearly believed to know me well as a student, as a human-being, as a personality, basically as everything. In my case, I had to provide one professional reference and one academic reference. Because I had done many internships and taken a lot of classes at Berklee, it was an extremely easy decision for me. I chose my ensemble professor who taught me for the A.R. Rahman performance, and then my senior internship supervisor at DeVos Institute.

When choosing recommenders, choose people that can give you good recommendations, that can give you substantial support to your applications. Remember the golden rule: substance is more than titles.


When GMAT fails, the story prevails. At least that's the lesson that I learned from my application experience.

In general, we know that all business school essays have to be impeccably constructed, in the sense that they should not have grammatical errors, misspelling, wrong apostrophes, and many other things that would better be left not mentioned one by one.

Essays are truly the heart of business school applications. I don't think an applicant has an opportunity to talk, to reflect, and to showcase him-/herself as extensively as in essays. Here is the freedom to construct your sentences word by word, letter by letter (even accent by accent, if you make the application in other languages). Here is the chance to tell the story that the world has been waiting for. Here is the chance to let your personality shine bright in the admissions officers' eyes.

Essays are the amazing chances to show admissions officers who you truly are. If you're a cheerful person, then write a cheerful essay. If you convey your expressions and personalities best by writing in serious tones, then don't hesitate to write in serious tones. In my opinion, you can do anything as long as you both answer the prompted essay question AS WELL AS answer the question with well-thought answer.

I've heard stories on how people BS their way into the schools of their choices. I've heard stories of people writing essays by tailor-writing these essays to fit each school's characteristics, etc. Rather than telling lies about yourselves, how about just being honest to yourself and just accept of who you truly are? You are you, and no one would ever change that. Rather than tailor-fitting your essays, how about showcasing yourself by telling them about what you like about that particular school's character and how you can contribute to that character? Do you have anything else to add or contribute to the culture? What do you want to experience from that culture? Do you have any particular worries or fears?


Fast forward to the interview stage and, guess what, I scored 5 out of 5 for interviews! Well, more of like 4 out of 4 because of Kellogg, which has an "Open Interview" process... but I guess that still counts, no?

To my surprise, on the day of my first interview, I did not feel nervous. Of course I still had that tingly feel in my stomach, but not the nervous feeling that I had 5 months earlier when I performed with A.R. Rahman in Boston! I felt that I was well-prepared to answer any questions that the interviewer might ask.

The first interview went generally smoothly. I think I answered the questions such as "Why do you want to attend our school?" and "What's your future goals?" rather well. Some questions required me to think more logically and take some time. I was being honest to the interviewer when I needed to take some time to think about the answer. "Could I please have a minute to think about my answer?" I asked the interviewer. The interviewer seemed to cooperate well and respect my effort to address the question as best as I can. Of course, I also made mistakes, a couple of them actually. But rather than letting these mistakes be my obstacles, I treated them as laughing matters. The result? My interviewer and I had a blast. The whole thing did not feel like an interview. It was more of like a conversation where two strangers become friends in an hour.

I even got to invite the interviewer to the festival that I was working with at the time. Later in June (just last month), my interviewer ended up coming to the festival and spent some time with me exploring the festival ground together. But let's get back to our topic here...

The next couple of interviews went pretty much the same, albeit easier. I guess it's true what people say: the more you interview, the better you are at interview.


One beautiful morning in February in New York City, I woke up at 8:30am. I opened my Gmail and the first thing that I saw was, "Following your interview and final review of your application, the Admissions Committee is delighted to offer you a place on..."

After that, I remembered nothing other than high-pitched shriek coming out of my mouth and sharp pain on my right knee, which I later found out because I literally jumped out of my bed and fell to the floor, hitting my right knee on the desk next to my bed.

Given that this decision came from my first-choice school, I immediately paid the deposits, contacted the other schools to retract my applications, and updated my LinkedIn profile. Since that day in February, I have been a proud member of the Pioneer Cohort of Global Masters in Management program by London Business School and Fudan School of Management. This is an amazing program where I will be spending the next two years earning two degrees: a MiM from London Business School and a MSc in International Business from Fudan School of Management (Shanghai, China).


By no means this story was uploaded to GMAT Club to say that GMAT is irrelevant or such. In fact, GMAT is important. Your academic performance in undergraduate is important. But so does your personality. So does your sincerity. So does your story. Admissions officers do not lie when they say that each component of business school application is important. This is the truth. A GMAT alone can't uncover the true nature of an applicant. Neither can essays alone, or grades alone, or recommendations alone. Each component works together to create a compelling and assuring story. It's just up to the applicant's effort to make it work.

When you get a low GMAT (or in anything else), don't let that destroy your dreams of attending a top-tier business school! When GMAT fails, your story prevails. So stop worrying over your GMAT and start constructing your own story to tell. Who knows you will end up somewhere you never dreamed of, even :wink:
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Accepted to LBS with 620 GMAT: The Power of Sincerity & Storytelling  [#permalink]

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New post 30 Jul 2015, 11:10
Wonderful story. I wish you the best in all your future endeavours.
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Re: Accepted to LBS with 620 GMAT: The Power of Sincerity & Storytelling  [#permalink]

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New post 31 Jul 2015, 11:42
Wonderful! This is the most different 'debrief' i have read on Gmat Club till date :-D You are surely an artist and a real honest one it seems :)

I have some spicific queries regarding LBS, which ill PM you (if i may :-D )
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Re: Accepted to LBS with 620 GMAT: The Power of Sincerity & Storytelling  [#permalink]

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New post 01 Aug 2015, 19:54
Great debrief indeed. Im facing the same probelem with my application. Ive lots of things i wanna tell but the word limit juat wouldnt let me do so.. one ques: since the essays ask to highlight majorly our professional achievements how can we highlight our personality out of profession... i mean like extra-curriculars, hobbies etc
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Re: Accepted to LBS with 620 GMAT: The Power of Sincerity & Storytelling  [#permalink]

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New post 04 Aug 2015, 08:54
AA2014 wrote:
Great debrief indeed. Im facing the same probelem with my application. Ive lots of things i wanna tell but the word limit juat wouldnt let me do so.. one ques: since the essays ask to highlight majorly our professional achievements how can we highlight our personality out of profession... i mean like extra-curriculars, hobbies etc

Hi AA2014! I feel you... in terms of word limit, it took me a lot of editing. For me, the process of writing essays went like this:
    Write anything I want within realistic range of the world limit (example, if the word limit is 500 words, limit your word counts to 600-650.
    After finishing your essay, re-read it again and delete unnecessary words and phrases to make the essay more condense
    Combine sentences whenever possible (as long as they're still easy to understand)
    No matter what, tell a sufficient story that you can start and finish within the word limit

When you asked about how can we highlight our personality, did you mean from just one single essay or from multiple essays? If it's from multiple essays, you can separate each subject into each essay. If it comes from a single essay, it's better to tell a focused story (although it does not necessarily mean you have to focus on one single thing).
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Re: Accepted to LBS with 620 GMAT: The Power of Sincerity & Storytelling  [#permalink]

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New post 31 Oct 2017, 06:53
What a beautiful genuine and helpful article- direct from the heart, to the point and no advertisement or selling of consultanting services. This is the only article I found that gves tips about approaching essays.

It's a pity that articles like these have been buried in the application story thread and received lesser kudos than it actually deserves.

Thank you so much!!
GMAT chronicles : 670-->660--> 700--> 650--> 680-->660--> 610-->700 (main exam)-->710--740-->700 (main exam again) -->Target 740+

Never never never never NEVER give up!!

I can and I will- watch me.
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Re: Accepted to LBS with 620 GMAT: The Power of Sincerity & Storytelling   [#permalink] 31 Oct 2017, 06:53
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