August 30, 2013 12:40 pm

Make sure that the fit is right

Ekta Malhotra

Ekta Malhotra

EMBA-Global Asia: London Business School/Columbia Business School/Hong Kong University Business School

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IN Applying to Business School

An MBA had been on my mind for a while. I began toying with the idea after my employer announced an internal scholarship programme. The problem was the application process felt like a full-time job in itself; the combination of a demanding strategic consulting role and a busy social life meant the years flew by with “Apply for MBA” remaining firmly on my to-do list.

But watching my colleagues use their MBA networks as an external support mechanism, providing challenge, insight and opportunities, gave me the kick I needed. Nine years in consulting had provided a specific lens with which to look at industry. I believed individuals who had broadened this view performed better and if I was serious about career progression, it was now or never.

Full-time MBA or Executive MBA?

Looking through the FT rankings, speaking to alumni and doing online research I started to highlight the schools that I was interested in. Initially I was weighing up the full-time MBA v the EMBA programmes. Full-time felt more fulfilling but I was anxious about the average age of my peer group and the cost of being out of work for a year. This left the EMBA, a potentially massive undertaking but with an instant pay-off – I was banking on taking lessons from the classroom straight to the workplace.

Which programme?

I knew from the outset I wanted a global dimension; working in the US was a long-term ambition but the structure of the courses made a commute from my London base inconvenient. I took into consideration two factors – courses taught and practicality. I needed to be pragmatic and eventually opted for a programme with a London component, the EMBA-Global Asia between London Business School, Columbia Business School and Hong Kong University. Having China in the combination made this special, a chance to understand business and cultural dynamics first hand from my peer group, faculty and speakers.

GMAT, essays and references

There were exactly six weeks between deciding to apply and the final-round deadline for admissions. Impossible? No. A lot of hard work and a pragmatic approach made it achievable. I began with the admissions office – I shared my CV and quickly arranged to speak to the schools. I needed to know I liked what I saw, had a fair chance of getting in and that they would be supportive.

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LBS was amazing, providing the mature interaction I wanted. They were realistic about me cutting it fine but were enthusiastic about my chances. Bringing them on the journey meant we worked together to allow me enough preparation time by which I could obtain an acceptable score on the GMAT while still securing a place on the programme.

After a positive engagement with LBS I embarked on the essays. I made them personal. I illustrated how a strong work ethic and discipline around education had been instilled at a young age. I drew upon my ethnic background, international work experience and understanding of cultural diversity to illustrate my fit on a global EMBA. I also provided examples of my personal leadership style – empowering and coaching individuals to outperform their personal ambitions. I steered away from jargon and only referenced scholarships and industry awards to bring colour to my ambitious nature.

Piece three of the jigsaw was the GMAT. This is an exam where tips and tricks come in useful and I enrolled on an intensive course to get a download of what I needed to know.

The application process was a gruelling time-intensive project, especially while working full-time. My advice would be to speak to schools and students, understand what they are looking for and make sure the school is the right fit for you – it should be a team effort. Also apply Pareto’s 80/20 rule, especially on GMAT and essays where the law of diminishing returns applies. The investment in the application process is high, and I believe a tailored approach to a small number of schools is better than a broad-brush one.

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