Prakhar Gautam, MBA student at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, in Bangalore, India on Wednesday 4th June 2014. Photograph by Namas Bhojani
Prakhar Gautam: 'The hardest part was finding the right balance between work and studies' © FT

When Prakhar Gautam first thought about studying for an MBA he assumed that applying to business school would be straightforward. Little did he know . . . Now at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, studying on the full-time Executive Post Graduate Programme in Management, he found the entire application process far more time consuming than he had first imagined.

How long did your application process take?

The application process, right from my GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) preparations to submitting MBA applications, took an unusually long time.

My GMAT preparations were completely self-driven and spanned a couple of years, much of which was due to my extremely busy professional schedule. I took my first crack at the GMAT in August 2011 and ended with a rather disappointing score of 640 – inadequate to target the schools I had in mind. I retook the GMAT in January 2012 and scored 730.

In April 2012, I moved from India to the US. While in the US, I wanted to underline how my profile differed from the typical Indian-IT-male. I moved from engineering leadership roles into pre-sales. Spending almost a year in different roles helped me differentiate myself in my applications.

Selecting the right mix of schools took time as well as I deliberated between one-year and two-year MBA programmes.

Was there any part of the process you found particularly difficult?

The hardest part was finding the right balance between work and studies. Getting back to studying was difficult, initially, but keeping focused for long hours was my biggest challenge.

In my first GMAT attempt, time management turned out to be my nemesis. But four months of various mock tests taken under exam conditions helped me to fare much better in my second attempt.

Consistency in reading comprehensions and critical reasoning was a major challenge. I practised, practised and practised. No short-cuts, no substitutes helped.

Writing applications brought new challenges. Every application needed an appreciable lead time: facts and figures had to be objectively squeezed into limited essay space, thorough school research was necessary, including visiting schools, talking to alumni and attending sample classes, all to better understand my fit.

Did you make multiple applications?

I applied to six schools – two in the US, two in Singapore and two in India. I developed a criterion which broadly covered the specialisations I was interested in – location preferences, networking opportunities, class size etc. It was a complex matchmaking process. It helped me to understand the unique selling points of different schools, which in turn helped me to customise my essays and make informed decisions when I was trying to pick the best option.

What would you do differently?

There’s a term called analysis paralysis. And that’s something that I suffered from while preparing for my GMAT and, to some extent, while doing my applications. How much is less and how much is sufficient? There are no right answers. In retrospect, my time management could have been a lot better. Ideally I would have loved to have started my classes in 2013 but my low GMAT score ensured that I had to go back to the drawing board for four months.

Any tips for would-be applicants?

Be candid about why you want to do an MBA. This will help you to target schools much better. Once you have a school in mind, do thorough research: attend MBA events, connect with alumni/professors and I cannot stress this enough – visit schools if you can. Also do not make a “one-fit-all” application. There must be a reason you want to go to a school, make sure it comes across in your essays.

Read Prakhar’s MBA blog from IIM Bangalore:

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