This Indian Student Got Into SDA Bocconi With A 510 GMAT

For a long time, my browser history was filled with such search queries as “MBA admits with poor academics,” “MBA with low GPA and low GMAT,” and “Top MBA schools that do not care about academics.” Needless to say, the results were not very motivating.

Ever since I realized the value of an MBA degree in early 2016, there has been nothing that I want more. But the goal wasn’t easy. I graduated in economics with a meager 46% from Shri Ram College of Commerce, and everyone suggested that the only way I could make up for an academic performance as bad as mine was with a stellar score on the Graduate Management Admission Test. Otherwise, I should forget my MBA dream. Over the next 15 months, I took the GMAT three times — and the best I could manage was 510. My 301 on the Graduate Record Exam wasn’t much help, either. Clearly, I was not a good test-taker.

But my MBA dream wouldn’t go away, so I decided to work with a consultant. I wrote to 43 of them seeking help. Thirty-one recommended I only look at colleges outside the top 50; the others didn’t even reply. I was adamant about working with someone. I was aware of my grades, but I knew that I had some great stories that could be converted into an MBA admit. I finally managed to land Charlotte Taylor, former associate director of admissions at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. She saw something in my story and agreed to help me with my applications.


With the strenuous hours of the startup where I work, the daily office commute, and initiating the work on my applications, the pressure was intense. I shortlisted three schools for my first round: HEC Paris, SDA Bocconi School of Management, and NUS Singapore. I did not have any “dream” or safe schools — I was sure about the schools I wanted to get into and didn’t want to look further. For my main filters I put location, one-year duration, marketing-friendly curriculum and recruiters, alumni base, and my interactions with the admissions committee.

My story was appealing, at least to me and Charlotte. My experiences include running my own theater venture (Turntable Productions) while in college, handling logistics and branding for India’s biggest entertainment event (Indian Premier League), running a marketing agency for startups (Old Cheese Media, which later got acquired by a client), leading the brand and events team at India’s leading dating app (TrulyMadly), and managing marketing for a company that works toward accelerating Internet usage across the globe (U2opia Mobile).

With Charlotte’s help, I was able to put across a strong application for HEC Paris. Again, I got advice from many “experts”: Take the GMAT again or everyone will reject you. You’re not an engineer. Change your story to make it more obvious. Even this one: Quit your MBA dream. I chose to ignore them all and concentrate on my stories. I wanted to tell admission committees about how my marketing startup got acquired by a client within nine months of launch, how I executed over 50 events in 11 Indian cities for a dating app, and how I handled the ticket sales for a cricket stadium with a capacity of 47,000.

I was looking forward to an interview call from HEC Paris. I got a straight reject. I was so bummed for a week that didn’t speak to anyone. Suddenly, a head full of dreams had become a head full of doubts. But Charlotte helped me to bounce back to the applications and work even harder.


SDA Bocconi was my favorite school. The application demanded so much, including multiple essays and a video interview. I worked very closely with students at the school, alumni, family, and friends. I would listen to podcasts and watch YouTube videos on loop during my commutes every day — I even fell sleep to them. I took my time to incorporate all the feedback I got from my HEC application.

SDA Bocconi called me for an interview. I took this as a positive and decided to put all my energy into the big interview. I prepared well, and Charlotte did four grilling mock interviews with me. The interview date was looming and I was stressing out. I was already thinking of my next steps: Should I still apply to NUS? Should I just work and forget about a MBA? Should I give the GMAT one last try?

November 13, 2017 put an end to my challenging 18-month journey. I was at my workplace when I received the admission email and I froze for about five minutes after reading it. I remember checking the email domain and the person who emailed me to be sure that no one was playing a prank on me. It was all in place. An unorthodox male candidate from India with poor academics had made it into a top business school.

I doubted myself every day. Didn’t sleep for days. Forgot most meals. But the hard work that Charlotte and I put in was all worth it. There is absolutely no formula to get in a top business school. It’s all about how hard you work and how much you want those three letters after your name. There will be a school out there somewhere that will see where are you coming from and appreciate who you are. Coldplay is my favorite band and a line from their song always stays with me: “If you never try, you’ll never know.”

Shoury Gupta graduated in economics from Shri Ram College of Commerce and has had five years of experience in marketing. He will initiate his MBA journey at SDA Bocconi School of Management in the fall and hopes to leverage his marketing experience and SDA Bocconi education to help organizations solve marketing challenges. He loves listening to Coldplay, playing tennis, and trying new cuisines.

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