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’
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.”