Dinged By Eight Schools Last Year, He Has Admits From Four With $250K In Scholarships

What a difference a year can make.

Just ask an international MBA applicant who last year racked up eight rejections in eight applications to U.S. business schools, even though consultants and school alums felt confident of his chances at a Top 15 business school. After all, he brought a 750 GMAT to the game and strong professional experience, though his GPA was something of a black mark: a 2.62 from a university in South Asia.

But one school after another didn’t bite. He was turned down by UC-Berkeley Haas, his target school, even though his consultant encouraged him to aim higher. Then, he was dinged by Chicago Booth and MIT Sloan.

Undaunted, however, the software engineer who works as a director at a tech start-up was back at it this year, with substantially better results. Instead of getting dinged at every school to which he applied, he got admitted to four programs with a quarter of a million dollars in scholarship awards, including UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.


This time, he applied to seven business schools across rounds 1 and 2. He got dinged by two programs, one in the M7 and another in the top 15. He was waitlisted by a Top 20 program. But he was pulled off the waitlist by a Top 10 school, with no scholarship, and then got accepted by three other schools, a pair of Top 20 institutions and one in the Top 25.

How did he turn it around?  The candidate, a Mumbaikar living in South Delhi, shares his story in a Reddit post. Here’s his take on what made the difference, arranged by what he believes was each step’s importance.

1. Revise ST and LT goals: I applied last year with unrealistic goals (VC — with no pre-MBA background in VC/PE). As an international applicant, it was critical that my goals be super-relevant to my pre-MBA work experience. The job market for internationals is very unfavorable — roughly 1 out of 5 companies sponsor internationals; schools don’t want out-of-work internationals graduating from their programs. I re-aligned my goals (PM in Big Tech) to tie into my pre-MBA work experience (tech start-ups). This made me less of a liability and gave B-Schools a clear picture of what my career trajectory would look like.

2. Glowing Letter of Recommendation: This is atypical; however, as a tech-founder, one of my letters of recommendation came from my ex-co-founder. This doesn’t seem super credible. Business schools strongly suggest that recommendations be written by direct supervisors. Since I had only had one direct supervisor until 18/19, my second recommendation had to come from a peer. In 19/20, I took up a new role in a well known, fast-growing start-up and sought a recommendation from the CEO (with whom I work directly). I’m sure this added a tonne of credibility.

3. Promotions and Achievements: I was promoted twice in four months and received an award for being in the Top 1% of the performers in the company. In all, I was able to influence $20MM in revenue in about 8 months. Given the context (a well known, growing tech start-up), the number is fairly impressive. This rapid professional rise probably allayed fears that my earlier start-up successes were repeatable and not a fluke.

4. Application Strategy: Instead of applying to a random selection of schools in R2 like in 18/19, I applied to 5 schools in R1. The results of that round told me that T-15/20 was more likely to happen instead of M7/T-10. So, I dropped my plans of applying to Haas in R2, and applied to 2 T-20 schools instead. I was admitted with a scholarship to both. 🙂

5. HBX CORe: I Graduated with Honors. The program is super-intense, especially if you have a demanding job, so this shows the ad-com that I can manage the rigors of business school. Also – I had an average GPA that I suspect this course help off-set a little bit.

6. Networking: I attended every school event that I could and reached out to and connected with 70+ MBA Candidates on LinkedIn. I really got to know the school’s values and what it looks for in its admitted students. This helped me better plan my essays and interviews. Further, in my informational interviews, I noticed a pattern of acceptance. For instance, people who received admits from School A were also likely to receive admits from School B and School C. Having been admitted to School A in R1, I applied to Schools B and C in R2; I was admitted to both and received $170K in fellowships!

7. Rework Optional Essay: The Optional Essay I wrote in 18/19 (to give context to my grades and choice of recommenders) was stand-offish and could be interpreted as “making excuses”. I re-worked this essay, took responsibility for the grades, and demonstrated why it wouldn’t repeat. It seems to have worked.

P.S. I did NOT retake the GMAT. This is what most applicants would have done, given the disappointing outcomes in 18/19. However, if there’s anything to be learned from my story, it’s that there’s much you can change/fix rather than aiming for a 99.9th percentile score. Even with a 770/780, I do feel the outcomes would have been the same as in 18/19 had I not reworked the aforementioned parts of my application.

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