GOING THE EXTRA MILE
The next two years, I continued to research online about various programs at different schools. I read details on what electives they offered and what kind of student club activities they had. I delved into current student profiles to understand more about what they did prior to business school. Going above and beyond, I went to information sessions, coffee chats, alumni connects, networking drinks hosted by admissions teams, and dinner events. I also networked extensively with current students and alumni and gathered information about the program, admissions process, job placements, professors, and the overall experience. I even visited some of the schools in the US and UK and spent a day on campus. While on campus, I attended classes with current students, had lunch with them, and went on campus tours to get a better sense of the school.
While doing all this, I felt a connection to some schools, based on what I was looking for and what the school could offer. For example, culture was a major factor and the schools that resonated most with me were MIT Sloan, Harvard Business School, London Business School and Dartmouth Tuck. My interactions with current students and alumni made a big difference in helping me shortlist the schools I wanted to reapply. I evaluated schools based on their geographic location, specializations, and top employers. Most importantly, I honed in the personality traits of my future peers – with an emphasis on being humble yet being innovative and forward-thinking – in narrowing down my choices.
I still remember a networking dinner event organised by MIT Sloan in London in 2018. It was attended by the associate dean of admissions, select faculty members, and current students and alumni. I decided to go for this event as I would get an opportunity to meet the associate dean, Jacob Cohen, in person. Attending such events as a reapplicant always made me feel a bit uncomfortable. However, everyone made me feel very welcomed. Over the course of the dinner, I got to speak to Mr. Cohen personally. After hearing my background and my failed application, he suggested that I reapply. He told me that universities appreciate a candidate who is reapplying; it shows the candidate is committed. I was also advised to apply in the earlier rounds and to highlight my leadership skills along with clearly answering a key question: Why MIT. Many of the alumni and students I met were extremely helpful as well. They explained the various labs, electives, and tracks they took and how they shaped their journeys. Some of them even offered to advise me on how to target my essays effectively and better convey how my traits fit with what the school looks for in candidates.
A SLOANIE IS BORN!
Beyond their helpful students, what really resonated with me about Sloan was the school’s culture of “learning by doing” both inside and outside of the classroom. The “action learning” approach – where students conduct consulting projects for real companies and organizations – resonated the most with me. At MIT, this means blurring the boundaries of the theoretical and the practical – knowing not only the concept behind something but also how to apply it and create value to the world. Given all the work I had done in gathering information, I decided to reapply for the one-year MBA program at MIT Sloan in October 2019.
I was invited to interview, and I reached out to a few alumni and current students seeking their input. They prepared me by asking questions such as how I would add value to the program cohort and situations where my leadership skills were tested. After listening to my responses, they helped me better frame my answers. Since I had practised various questions, the interview experience was smooth and very engaging. The assistant dean of admissions who interviewed me, Dawna Levenson, truly displayed the true ethos of MIT’s culture. She went above and beyond, being strategic in thinking yet down-to-earth as a person.
In mid-December, I got a call from Dawna. It was a wonderful moment to get the answer I had long awaited: a congratulations that welcomed me to the school. I was so happy that I cried on the phone with her; it was a truly kind gesture from her to take time to call. After so many rejections, I had reached a huge milestone. It was a truly special moment.
IT’S ALL WORTH IT
The journey has not been easy. There were many times when I felt I was pursuing a goal that would never materialise and it surely has helped me in becoming much more resilient as a person.
One of my favourite quotes, which kept me going during my days of struggle, was the following: “Sometimes it’s not about who has the most talent, but about who’s hungrier.” Another source of inspiration? “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”
My advice to all the reapplicants is to not be disheartened. Treat the application process as an investment in yourself. Being rejected can feel terrible. However, treat it as a process to refine yourself further and become a better individual. It will surely make you humble, which is a great trait to possess. When you succeed, your humility will make you appreciate the moment much more.
I am Varun Kumar, originally from Bangalore, India, but currently living in London, U.K. In my most recent role, I was part of the Deal Advisory business at KPMG UK. I am a current Sloan Fellows student at MIT Sloan School of Management. I hope to cross the pond and relocate to Cambridge once the borders reopen. In between learning new languages (French & German) and being a school governor for a secondary school in south London, I am currently preparing to run my first marathon in Boston in 2021.