Savvy Advice For MBA Applicants In India

Indian MBA seekers, like those from China, represent by far the greatest international bloc of students at U.S. business schools

Among Indian MBA applicants, do women have an advantage over men?

Anecdotally yes because they are not as over represented as male Indian applicants. The numbers are definitely in their favor, but seldom has this been a factor. They still have to do everything that a male applicant has to do but given two similar profiles, chances are they might have a better shot.

I wouldn’t imagine that many in India could afford to hire an MBA admissions consultant. Isn’t that true?

Not really because they realize the value the consultancy brings to them translates to 4% of the overall cost of the MBA program. Many apply themselves and realize that good credentials are not enough. So increasingly they realize that having a consultant could even be a source of competitive advantage. People who are more proactive would in any case have decided to take a couple of years of experience outside India because it helps them build their profile and have higher savings. So for them, it becomes easier to do. Most serious Indian applicants right out of undergrad start thinking about going to an MBA program.

That leads me to believe that the very best applicants are not those who procrastinate.

The closest correlation is the fact that they have an experience from someone close to them who lets them know what an involved process it is. The smart ones pick this up from others. They may have seen some highly accomplished people not make it. One of the big mistakes an applicant can make is that it is too early or too late to start. They don’t have a context for judging that.

Given a choice, i would say give yourself six months. There are some candidates who are very self aware and have turned out a very good application in two or three months. But the more time you give yourself the better it generally is, especially if you haven’t had the experience of writing essays for your undergraduate education. Quite a few of the Indian applicants haven’t gone through a similar process. International applicants have at least had one round of writing multiple essays but Indian applicants haven’t had that. So getting into the essay writing contest for many is a new thing. The older you are, the longer time it takes.

My recommendation is to try to have the GMAT done a year before the program, leaving time for a retake if needed. That is an ideal scenario. Take the GMAT before you actually start writing your applications. If you want to start writing your app now to apply in October, a good time to have taken the GMAT would have been last June. It just gives you more time to take it again.

Harvard Business School has a very early deadline for round one applications this year of Sept. 9th. Is it already too late for an Indian to think about HBS?

Chances are that if you are thinking about Harvard you have planned in advance. The ones who are really serious about the top schools understand what competition is from day one. No door has easily opened for you. If you get an applicant who is serious, they know how competitive it is and have already started working three years ahead from an IIT. So it’s by no means the end of the road for applying in round one or two. If you haven’t been preparing to apply to a Harvard or a Stanford, it would be very difficult for any over-represented cohort, including consultants, investment bankers and Indians.

How do you help people decide what schools are worth going to?

With a lot of clients we state this upfront. Before they get into writing the application, we help them think through their goals. We sometimes offer other programs in the U.S. that might be as good for their goals but are not the top five programs which are good for any kind of goal. Sometimes it is a case of matching the goals a candidate has and asking them to evaluate a program and research it. We encourage them to go out, not be shy and to talk to as many alumni and current students as possible to get to know the program first hand. That increases their confidence. Oftentimes, they realize their goals can be achieved at another school. If someone is not a sure shot at one of the top five, the best thing is to guide them to a program that is a good fit for their goals.

For many in India, of course, the cost of a two-year MBA program at a top school in the U.S. is pretty daunting. What’s your advice for a candidate who isn’t making a lot of money and is facing the prospect of piling up a lot of debt by going to North America or Europe for the MBA?

That is a similar concern for most emerging countries where salary levels are much lower than Europe or the U.S. If your salary is in rupees, it has become even more expensive in recent years due to currency rates. At a stage where they have done the best they can do with the application, that is the right time to look at options for paying for the MBA. Sometimes it is counterproductive to think about paying when you apply because you may not have that clarity about where you want to go.

There are specific scholarships available for people who come from this part of the world, Some are supported by the schools and foundations and then there are upcoming loan programs from local banks, including banks in Singapore. For anyone who has access to a U.S. loan, they definitely look at that. We recently had a client from a big four accounting firm and we debated on whether to approach the partner and ask him to be a co-signer on the candidate’s loan. The partner was so taken up by his essays that he agreed to be a  co-signer on his loan. You may need to expand your network to get a co-signer. One of the things that is underutilized is scholarships. There are so many and the chances are you will get something.

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