Overcoming The Male Indian Engineer Hurdle

Hormazd Patel, a project manager for motorcycle maker Bajaj Auto in Pune, India, was accepted to four top U.S. business schools. He’ll attend Kellogg in the fall. Courtesy photo

When Hormazd Patel got the news that he’d been accepted to the business school he most wanted to attend, he didn’t shout out loud. But he did jump for joy, bouncing on his bed and around his bedroom. “It was silly and foolish, but I couldn’t help myself,” Patel says. Only after about five minutes did he compose himself and call his parents with the news: Kellogg had said yes.

Patel could have replayed that scene four times over, since by the time the application and acceptance season was over he had gained admission to four premier U.S. business schools: Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Yale School of Management, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. But it had been a long journey that involved three cracks at the General Management Admission Test, a host of doubts, and even some “darkness.”

And perhaps the biggest obstacle faced by the 26-year-old Mumbai, India, native? Being a male Indian engineer.

‘ODDS WERE STACKED AGAINST ME SUCCEEDING’

Hormazd Patel. Courtesy photo

There is no hard data on the number of Indian engineers who apply to, or get accepted by, U.S. business schools. What is known is that highly qualified Indian engineers routinely confront rejection from leading business schools at rates that are four to five times the average. And this was very much on Patel’s mind as he spent years researching and applying to business school.

“Right from the onset, the odds were stacked against me succeeding,” Patel tells Poets&Quants. “Not unlike thousands of other MBA hopefuls, I belong to the dramatically over-represented Indian male engineer candidate pool — a pool many might call the most competitive of them all. It is one of the first things that I felt was an impediment for me before I even started on this journey.

“Indian engineers, particularly from the IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) and the NITs (National Institutes of Technology), are moving to the U.S. and applying to business schools in huge numbers, and I realized that it’s way more competitive than probably any other pool I had come across at that point. I tried getting numbers on what the acceptance rates are, what the average GMAT scores are, but … the data on Indian engineers is pretty scarce. All I knew is that it was going to be an uphill battle, for sure.”

‘I REALIZED THAT THERE’S A LOT THAT I DON’T KNOW’

So how did Patel overcome the odds? “Grit,” he says. And a whole lot of self-confidence and hard work, along with one really gutsy call that saved him thousands of dollars and made his eventual acceptance to four top schools that much sweeter.

Patel’s journey to business school was atypical in many ways. He didn’t go to one of India’s top engineering or business schools, the Indian Institutes of Technology or the Indian Institutes of Management. Instead, he attended Mumbai University’s Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute, one of the oldest engineering schools in India, receiving his degree in mechanical engineering in 2013. He did well, earning an 8.5 on the 10-point scale of grades.

But he didn’t go to work — as many with an eye on matriculating to business school do — for an employer that serves as a feeder to U.S. B-schools. Instead, Patel took a job as a project manager at Bajaj, the country’s second-largest maker of motorcycles, and immersed himself in working on two-wheelers for a “very dynamic company that really believes in new products all the time, new technology, and challenging the status quo.”

But even though Patel loved the work when he started, something was missing. He loved being in the fast-paced world of tech, and he loved working with automobiles particular, but he wasn’t satisfied with the trajectory of his career. “I think it was some point in early 2014 that I realized that there’s a lot that I don’t know,” he says.

ON THE FIRST TRY, ‘CRUSHED’ BY THE GMAT

Curious, and inspired by some peers at Bajaj who were pursuing master’s degrees, Patel “randomly” enrolled in a Wharton marketing course on Coursera. “And I was pretty engrossed in that course, and one thing led to another after that. I got one course done, I signed up for another one, and that was when I started moving in the whole managerial direction,” he says. He looked around at the options in India and he looked at options in the U.S., and he liked what he saw in the U.S.

“The first thing that I would say is, the focus is not entirely on academics in the United States, and that is something that is pretty appealing to me, honestly,” Patel says. “In India everything is super competitive and super driven by numbers and scores and examinations. I was looking at the U.S. B-schools in particular, and I started off with Kellogg. There, it is about a whole lot more — it is about networking and clubs and diversity and people all over the world, and that is something that is really fascinating to me.”

Fascinated, Patel vowed to get his MBA in the U.S. But amid his initial research he discovered right away that to get into an elite B-school, male Indian engineers face a steep uphill climb. So taking the GMAT, he knew that he needed a certain minimum score to have any chance. But he wanted to surpass even that. His goal was 770, even though Kellogg’s average GMAT score last year was 728. Patel wanted a 40-plus point advantage over the typical score for an enrolled MBA student.

And he didn’t come close.

“I struggled with the GMAT,” Patel says, “particularly because I was focusing a lot on work as well. I have to admit that my entire preparation was very unstructured, the juggling of the whole personal-professional aspect of it was, I admit, a mess. I did the GMAT and I got a 710. Which isn’t a bad score per se, but again, since I knew the pool that I was a part of, it was a problem. I knew that for an Indian male engineer a 710 was not gonna get me into the programs I really wanted to go to. So I was pretty crushed at that point.”

  • just graduated

    Having been involved in admissions at a top school, I can say with fair amount of certainty that you would not even get invited to an interview let alone admitted with a substandard essay. A huge majority of prospective students that I interviewed were very sharp and had clear vision of how an MBA would fit into their career trajectory.

  • Indian760

    Not true. I am an incoming MBA candidate at a leading US BSchool this year, and definitely required an admissions consultant. In fact, I had a 760 “99 percentile score” too. Truth is, many of us need consultants to refine if not help shape our applications. It’s a personal choice having little to do with how good or bad your GMAT score is. Many many more like me.

  • The reputation of your undergrad institution and employer are often overlooked by applicants. This is something that Sandy brings up again and again in our handicapping series and it is also something that is pretty clear once you look at the feeder colleges, universities and employers into the elite programs.

  • NotCool

    Biz schools should stop accepting people who do the GMAT more than twice

  • 740 club

    Join the club. I’m also a 740 Indian and only got into 1 of the 6 schools I applied to.

    It’s more than just quality of writing tho. (I believe I can tell a pretty good story and objectively, I got a perfect 120 on toefl) Things like brand of undergrad institution and brand of company are often underrated or overlooked.

  • Smh

    LOL. SOM trolls are hilarious.

  • Kaushik Kumar

    I completely agree with that. Schools should take a holistic approach but sometimes exceptions happen where they take higher scoring candidates to increase their average GMAT scores which directly correlate to ranking.

  • CaptainObvious

    The process is strict and holistic for a reason. No candidate should ever be picked only based on the strength of any one piece of the application such as essays. it has to be a complete picture or else some pools will be at an inherent disadvantage.

  • Kaushik Kumar

    I would like to believe the same too, but I guess that is what I have seen from my personal experience. Its extremely hard for an Indian engineer to be selected in a top b school based on just his essay, and I hope that happens more often at business schools.

  • SOMboy

    I’d have picked SOM over Kellogg tbh.

  • CaptainObvious

    Don’t you think if what you’re saying is true it would imply that to save thousands one could simply retake the GMAT and get “wow” scores? I disagree with this “one way to workaround it” view of yours.
    I do not think admissions committees particularly at top schools would accept people with :substandard: essays simply because of a higher GMAT. Everything needs to fit.

  • Kaushik Kumar

    No doubt, that’s why I said ‘probably’ he would have needed a consultant if he scored much lower on the GMAT. I’m not doubting his research or his capabilities. He could be a great storyteller. What I mean is it’s easy to say after getting a 770 on the GMAT that you do not require a consultant. I have seen many of my Indian friends who have scored 740+ write substandard essays and get into top schools just on the basis of their scores whereas those with less than 700 and amazing essays get rejected. I am not a fan of using consultants myself but getting a higher score is one way to workaround it.

  • M7Bound

    What is the correlation? Obviously the high GMAT helped a lot, I’m sure, but how can you conclude based on that that a lower score would warrant the help of a consultant? What if he’s actually a good storyteller and had a solid story to tell based on all the BSchool research he’d done since the past couple of years? In other words, what makes you an expert on this matter?

  • Kaushik Kumar

    A 770 on the gmat is why he didn’t require an admission consultant. The B school must have been lured by his 99 percentile score. If he scored much lower on the GMAT, he probably would have needed the help of a consultant to highlight his achievements.

  • Anon

    I like this story. It focuses on the positives. But honestly t’s still really tough to make it to any of these schools for an Indian engineer. I applied to 5 schools last year (including 3 of these), and wasn’t even interviewed by 4. My GMAT was 740.

  • Indian Dude

    yeah that other story sucked like a big stinky turd.

  • Tanmay Singh

    This is fresh and inspiring !! So tired of hearing about all the engineers turned management consultants and bankers who pick up most seats at the M7 schools after spending hundreds of thousands on inventing stories out of thin air.

  • AP

    Great story and I feel happy for this guy. Oh, and John, THIS is a much better success story of an Indian applicant than the ridiculous story you can some time ago; I am referring to the guy from IIT Kanpur who worked at BCG and got into HBS, that happens all the time. This guy on the other hand, is fairly unique because he’s worked in the automobile sector in India.