Just like so many others, I am a long time (1.5 years) lurker.
First, some background to put my story in context.
I, like so many others here, had always wanted to do an MBA. However, my exposure to international options was limited. I never appeared for CAT/ XAT or any other Indian competitive exam either.
I felt comfortably settled in my job with early promotions and decent hikes as milestones.
Fast forward to April 2017, my husband calls me in office and says – the visa application results came through. I am flying off probably by June.
Okaaayyy.. what now? I love my job!
The voice at the back of my head said – this is your chance!! What could be better timing, it has fallen in your lap like a gift, now Go and Get IT! Now is when you can realize your dream of an MBA and become golden.
My husband and I had always discussed what will we do when he moves to US – the plan was always for me to go for an MBA. But all of these talks were on the dining table, I had never studied for it or taken any serious action.
Until I just had to.
While helping him pack and move, I enrolled in a local GMAT coaching centre, with a dream to go to H/W/S.. lol. Excuse my lofty aspirations, I was naïve and ignorant.
I studied at the GMAT coaching centre, while also researching about the process and the requirements.
My office – however mundane you might imagine it to be considering that I am an IT analytics consultant - is very demanding. I have to put in 60+ hour work weeks at intervals – not regularly though.
Fast forward to me juggling office and GMAT – I appeared for the exam 1.5 months into my initial introduction to it.
To be fair – I had scored only 640 on GMATPrep1 and 680 on GMATPrep2 right the day before exam (both on same day one day right before the real GMAT – I know, stupid).
However, I was greedy and hoping that I would miraculously score a 730. I kept reading stories of people who only got 600s on GMATPreps and scored 720+ on the real exam and prayed and hoped that something like this would happen to me too.
I was not one of them.
I was, however, determined. I cried in the cab on my way back home. I mourned and cried and pitied myself for exactly 1.5 days and got back into the game.
Purchased GMATClub tests for quant. Studied verbal by doing and redoing the official GMAT guide.
28 days later – appeared for the exam again.
Received a 710.
I was not happy. I was not sad. I broke the 700 mark. My husband was ecstatic. But I, having read so many debriefs, knew that it was not enough (and they said 720 is the new 700, so no trophies there).
I did not go to an IIT. Did not work for a fantastic glamorous firm. My undergrad college is not even among the top 100 (dare I say 200) in the country.
I did not have amazing extra-curriculars.
I, however, had a lifelong dream of finally becoming golden with that silver bullet of an MBA.
I decided to go ahead and apply with my dismal 710 score. I worked with 2 consultancies, applied to 5 with the first one, and 3 with the other one. I was invited for interview by 3 schools. One of them was Kellogg (doesn’t it interview everyone anyway), Tepper (they had a Women’s weekend – I received the invite 3 days after hitting submit on my application - did they get time to read my application?), and ISB. I was also waitlisted without interviews by 2 schools.
None of the offers were converted.
I was adamant to break through the top 20 schools. I had read about how hard it is for an IT Indian, but really had no idea how cut-throat the competition in-doing was.
When the last decision came through in March-end 2018, I was in a very dark place. To say that it was rock-bottom is an understatement, I could not sleep and could not eat. I took the rejection very badly.
Which in itself shows how ‘un-ready’ for business school I really was.
Tip – you can practice getting rejected while you’re at it to fare better in this process. I, for example, started asking for random upgrades in flights and hotels. I was almost always rejected (almost – because I wasn’t once). And it helped rewire my brain to take rejections as part of my daily life. They may say yes, or they may say no – but really, you’re not doing that bad right now either.
A new opportunity to travel to international client location came through to me at that time. Since I was looking for a change, anything to break through the night, I said yes straightaway.
After the initial sting of rejection subsided, I started to reflect on my applications and interviews. First things first, the goal – I had said MBB on my applications. For someone like me, with 710, no golden undergrad, no prior management consulting experience, it was downright stupid. The 2 consultants that I had worked with did not find that goal unrealistic at all.
Second - my essays weren’t really that honest either – they were doused in what I thought I should say, and what I thought would make me look like a winner in front of the adcom – aka – no sincerity (came through even to me during those re-reads). Nothing from the 2 consultants on THAT either.
I decided to discuss what I thought with one of the more ‘intimate’ consultancies of the two – I said that I thought that my goal was probably too ambitious/ unrealistic for someone without a golden pedigree.
The response came – “we are happy to work with you this time (no feedback on the goals statement) – however, having said that, you were punching above your weight in the last cycle, and looks like you are trying to do the same this time too. The schools you are targeting are all……jksdnjsvjheg” – translated to me as – ‘you have no shot, apply to lower colleges kiddo’.
It felt like a punch.
When I went into that first application cycle, I was delusional, sure. However, I had realised how difficult it really is during the process. The reason I paid so much money to these consultants was for them to help me realize this dream – I already know its hard. But can you help me?? Or if you cannot, can you be honest during or before the process, and not after-the-fact?
If there is just one thing that you consider while choosing to work with a consultant, it is –
• They should believe in you.
Now to all you brilliant people, it might sound too romantic and perhaps even stupid. But for me, the belief is the only secret ingredient. The consultant should be a person who holds nothing back and gives you all the advice that they think will help you. Regardless of your undergrad, or your work ex, or your GMAT score.
I think the consultant who works with any applicant should not know about these details at all. One person can do the identification of the schools they think are right for you based on your profile, but the one who helps with your application should know nothing; except you as a person and your essay story. (business advice for you all boutique consultants).
Anyway – as I settled into the new international location, I started studying again for GMAT.
Appeared for the test a month later. 710 again (Q48 V40). Felt like a loser.
But decided to go ahead with applications again, to work harder on them, and apply to ‘lower’ ranked schools.
I did not want to pay thousands of dollars to any consultant.
But I still wanted to make sure I don’t miss the mark by 100000 kilometres. I had read reviews of ApplicantLab, and decided to go for the trial version of the application.
It blew my mind.
And considering that the cost was almost only as much as 1 school’s application fee for UNLIMITED applications, I decided to go for it straightaway.
Maria is brilliant. If you just go through with the tool and see the amount of hard work that she has done – for EVERY school’s application form – you will understand and marvel at her brilliance.
In one of her advice videos (in some relevant context) she says – ‘these schools are good, but they are not HOGWARTS’. I disagree – hers has definitely contributed in making her a magician - and ApplicantLab is pure magic.
What distinguishes ApplicantLab in my opinion –
• Price - I mean, seriously?
• Quality of advice is just plain spectacular – here’s the thing –
o the tool does not know if you scored a 780 or 650. It does not know if you are Minister of Foreign Affairs or a software engineer.
o the tool does not – cannot – hold back. The advice remains the same for a 780 and a 650 person.
o The tool gives you advice EVEN FOR THE other APPLICATION COMPONENTS – which, IMHO, tend to make or break your chances. So fine, you did brilliant with your essays using that 780-score advice from the ‘consultant’. What about the rest of the 12 pages you need to fill on the form? The adcom goes through all of it while making their decision, not just your essays.
o Maria is brilliant.
• Step-by-step process –
o You get started, and you build upon your strengths and weaknesses.
o You have everything documented, from what you can leverage to where can you show improvement, and how.
• Interview advice –
o Does not charge extra for it.
o And it is just plain brilliant (you know, Maria).
• Turnaround time –
o Ok, so you may think that working with a ‘real’ person gives you more intimate/ quicker/ personalized advice. But in my case atleast, the ‘consultants’ had a turnaround time of 3-4 working days. ApplicantLab has a small box at the right-hand side corner of her tool – you just type in your question, and ladies and gentlemen, I kid you not, Maria or someone from her team, HAS ALWAYS responded within 1.5 days (working or not).
o And the advice is pure gold.
I can go on and on, but I am already close to 2000 words and I should really get back to work.
As parting words - I have cracked into 3 of the top 10-20 schools with big sums of scholarships, ISB, a top 10 school without scholarship, and have 4 top-15 waitlists. Two schools have rejected me – which was my wrong-doing – I rushed the application for one of them and recorded the essay for another in ‘not-a-right-state’ of mind.
And, I am a reapplicant to all of the above schools.
The above is just my perspective, and my journey.
There will be many bumps on your road, and you will meet many people who will tell you that your dream is unrealistic. For all that its worth, it might be – but it might also not be – and it is our duty to do justice to ourselves, and try just one more time.
The night is dark and full of terrors – but hear this, young men and women, the earth is yours and the fullness thereof. Be kind but be fierce.