Defying The Odds: How This Indian Student Stood Out From The Crowd & Caught Harvard Business School’s Eye

Defying The Odds: How This Indian Student Stood Out From The Crowd & Caught Harvard Business School's Eye

Abhijay Vuyyuru’s undergraduate school was a lesser-known technical school in India. He was told he had no chance to get into Harvard Business School. He didn’t listen. Courtesy photos

Nearly every admissions consultant Abhijay Vuyyuru spoke to when he started thinking about attending business school in 2021 gave him the same frustrating advice. As an Indian applicant from a non-traditional business background, he was told there was almost no point in him even trying to land a spot at prestigious U.S. business schools like Wharton, MIT Sloan, and Harvard Business School.

“They almost all said, ‘No one from your college has ever gone to Harvard, so don’t even think about applying there,’” says Vuyyuru, 29, a former data scientist and product manager with a computer engineering background now in his second year at HBS. “I was convinced it wasn’t going to happen.”

His hesitation was not surprising given that the majority of students from India who attend top-ranked business schools in the U.S. tend to be drawn from a small pool of students who attend the elite Indian Institutes of Technology, known as IITs, a group of schools in India that have acceptance rates comparable to or lower than Ivy League schools in the U.S.


The odds are stacked against Indian students like Vuyyuru who don’t attend an IIT. Indeed, those who attend the original “Top 5” Indian Institutes of Technology are 5 percentage points more likely to migrate abroad for graduate school, compared to students with similar qualifications who studied at other Indian undergraduate schools, according to a June 2023 study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research. In another analysis by Fortuna Admissions, 12 of the students in the Harvard Business School class of 2020 collectively came from the Indian Institutes of Technology. In Vuyyuru’s case, no student had ever attended HBS from his undergraduate school, the well-regarded International Institute of Information Technology in Bangalore, a top engineering and technical school from which he earned a B. Tech and M. Tech in computer science before going work for the Hilti Group, the multinational manufacturer and direct sales provider of products and services for the construction industry.

Discouraged, Vuyyuru set his sights on a European B-school or a lower-ranked B-school in the U.S. But he changed his mind a few months later when a student from HBS reached out to him, asking if his employer was hiring. Around the same time, he found a case study on Hilti written by a well-known HBS professor. Hilti was clearly on the radar of HBS students and professors.

Vuyyuru had spent five years at Hilti developing artificial intelligence products in their Malaysian and Switzerland offices, led a team in Paris that worked on e-commerce offerings for 50 countries and recently landed his dream role as a product manager. He may not have attended at IIT or worked in private equity or consulting after school, but he realized that his considerable international experience at Hilti could help him stand out in Harvard’s competitive applicant pool.

So he ignored the admission consultants’ advice and applied to HBS during the second round of admissions in January 2022.

“I knew there was some hope, but not much hope,” he says. “I was hoping that Harvard would be willing to take a bet on a student who was more unconventional.”


Defying The Odds: How This Indian Student Stood Out From The Crowd & Caught Harvard Business School's Eye

Abhijay Vuyyuru: “I want people to encourage people who have gone to schools that are not IITs to apply to Harvard”

Following that hunch led to a big payoff for Vuyyuru, who received an acceptance letter a few months later. He made history, becoming the first student from his college, IIIT-Bangalore, to attend HBS. A video of his family in New Delhi opening up his HBS acceptance letter in their living room has received close to 400,000 impressions and 3,000 likes on LinkedIn. He has become something of a celebrity to the students at his school back home in India, many of whom watched the video he posted on LinkedIn of his first day as a student at HBS and offered him congratulatory comments.

“I was absolutely thrilled when I found out I got in,” he says. “All the same consultants who were saying they didn’t want to work with me before all of a sudden wanted to publish articles on their website saying they helped me out.”

In both his schooling and career choices, Vuyyuru has often taken the unconventional path. After graduating from IIIT-Bangalore, he was offered a job at a hot startup in India’s Silicon Valley or a role working abroad for the Hilti Group in their Malaysia office. He decided to take the role at Hilti Group, a decision that he says some of his friends called “the biggest mistake of his life.” Yet he quickly moved up the career ladder at Hilti, and he believes it was that valuable work experience that ultimately won the attention and consideration of the HBS admissions committee.


From the beginning, Vuyyuru says, he has had to be his own advocate, overcoming many roadblocks along the way. When he began his application to HBS, he encountered a problem on the application form where applicants had to indicate what school they attended as an undergraduate from a drop-down menu. IIIT-Bangalore is a well-regarded engineering and technical school in India, but no student from there had ever attended the MBA program at HBS. The school was essentially unknown to HBS’s admissions committee, and Vuyyuu had to take the unusual step of calling HBS and asking if they could include his school to the dropdown menu.

When Vuyyuru started HBS as a first-year MBA in August of 2022, he says he initially felt like an outsider. He was nervous participating in class; he remembers feeling left out during a retreat for South Asian students when everyone who had attended an IIT was called together for a group photo. Recruiting initially proved challenging because there was no one from his undergraduate school to ask for advice, as he saw other students doing with second-year MBA students from their respective institutions.

“I had a slow start that first semester. I needed to believe in myself, but at times there was self doubt,” he says. “I’d think,’Did they make a mistake letting me in?’ It was hard because no one had the same background as me.”


Now in his second year at HBS, he says he has found his footing and his community. He was awarded first-year honors at HBS in recognition of his academic performance at the school, an honor given to only 15% of the MBA class. He serves as community director of the Tech Club at HBS, which has allowed him to build a community of like-minded people at the school, many of whom are transitioning from typical business careers into technology roles. He helped organize the school’s India Conference last fall, and he facilitates entrepreneurship events on campus.

Vuyyuru also landed his dream internship at Apple last summer, spending three months working as a product management intern in Cupertino during the launch of the Vision Pro.

His unusual path to HBS has garnered him a following in India and beyond. He has his own YouTube channel, “BeyondBiz,” where he posts videos on “How to Get into Harvard and Other Ivy Leagues” and “How to Get a Recommendation Letter for an MBA.” And he also talks to students from his university back home about his journey and how they can improve their chances of getting into B-schools in the U.S and around the globe.

“Personally, I want people to encourage people who have gone to schools that are not IITs to apply to Harvard,” he says. “People are hesitant about it and worry about not getting in, yet we need people who have made unconventional decisions to share their voices in class.”

His experience at Harvard has helped him realize that he is now part of a vast network of students and alumni who will help him find his way forward now and as he moves through his career.

“When I went to college, I had a group of 50 students I was in school with and now I’m in a group of 900 at Harvard,” he says. “The fact that you have these connections with people in every role possible is just phenomenal and is one of the biggest advantages of being here.

“I think it is a life-changing experience once you get into one of the top business schools.”


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