What I’ve Learned Helping Nearly 900 MBA Applicants In India

Students at the Indian School of Business celebrating their graduation

4) The road West ultimately leads back to East

One of the most noticeable trends during the past decade has been Indian applicants intending to return to their native country immediately post-MBA. This is a reflection of multiple realities, including a growing national economy, tightening of visa rules in the western world, and a desire to contribute to positive change back home. Adcoms have come to respect and even support applicants with this goal. As an illustration, a growing number of MBA graduates are opting to join their “home” office when recruited by McKinsey, Bain and BCG. Therefore, we are finding that MBA applicants from India who have career goals that would bring them back to India after business school should not shy away from stating those goals with precision and passion.

5) Entrepreneurs are welcome – but must be prudent

Another defining trend of the past decade has been the sheer number of entrepreneurs and early-stage startup employees from India pursuing top MBA programs. For the first time in 2017, the number of our clients from India with this particular professional profile represented more than a third of the total of our Indian clients. This trend should only accelerate in the future as more than 50% of our Indian applicants in 2017 had a goal of founding or joining a start-up enterprise within five years of graduation. Their post-MBA success will inspire future entrepreneurs and employees from startups in India to apply.

At the same time, there can be an added hurdle for those entrepreneurs whose ventures show signs of becoming a “rocket ship” and/or who have already attracted substantial investment. That is, the onus is on them to explain why they really need an MBA education given the high trajectory of their business. So, those who believe their venture is the next big thing may face an adcom with doubts about their true motivations and goals. Therefore, producing a compelling application and a convincing admission’s interview that leverages, but doesn’t oversell, one’s entrepreneurial prowess are more important than ever.

6) The future is more specific

While most business schools have reduced the number and word-count limits of their essays over the past decade, the need for applicants to be specific when talking about goals has grown. Today, applicants are expected to have a firm grasp of their short- and long-term goals in order to answer the key questions: “Why an MBA, why now, and why this school?” Anecdotal evidence suggests that an authentic, well-articulated goal can help mitigate a candidate’s current vulnerabilities, even a below-average GMAT score, at some schools. Conveying a sharply defined goal makes school selection more credible and demonstrates the MBA admissions version of “product/market fit.” Another benefit of presenting a specific career goal is that the applicant can elaborate, in essays and interviews, on how he or she will benefit from and add value to certain student organizations and campus initiatives. Not only does such clarity increase the chances for admission, but it also enhances the total MBA experience upon enrollment.

7) Engagement offers leverage

The explosion in the popularity of social media in the past decade means that a connection with most b-school communities is just a click away for applicants worldwide. However, while accessing admissions officers, alumni, students and professors has become easier, achieving true “engagement” with them requires more effort and expertise. Many Indian candidates err on the side of restraint rather than proactivity and enthusiasm in such communications. However, we have seen successful applicants from India establish a strong rapport with school officials prior to applying that proved highly beneficial during interviews. Social media offers applicants the chance to engage with gatekeepers to establish their personal “brand” early in the application process and thus gain a competitive advantage.

Over the past decade, these 7 trends have changed the macro landscape significantly for MBA applicants from India. But on a micro level, what remains constant for them and all candidates is the need to present a candidacy that represents a true “value exchange.” That is, adcoms welcome those individuals – regardless of nationality – who truly want and need the school’s offerings, and who can enrich their classmates, strengthen the alumni network, and enhance the MBA program’s reputation. There’s no reason why applicants from India cannot harness current trends, overcome emerging obstacles, and achieve even greater success in this value exchange.

Deepak Punwani of The MBA Exchange

Deepak Punwani, who earned his MBA from INSEAD, is managing consultant & head of Asia practice for The MBA Exchange