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Veena Viswanath


How difficult can an MBA application be?

Piece of cake, I thought to myself as I started the application process in 2008. I’ve always known since high school that an MBA was on the cards – the only question was when.

I had a handy checklist that I intended to check off in order:

1 Identify potential schools

2 Ace the GMAT

3 Write essays

4 Apply to said potential schools

How tough could it be?

After shortlisting my schools of choice, I turned my attention to taking the GMAT. I graduated from college in 2001 and after six years at a job that didn’t give my grey cells much of a workout, my maths was a bit rusty to say the least. I bought a multitude of books/CDs/practice tests to help me prepare for my first real exam since undergrad and spent the next three months ruing my high school tardiness. Who would’ve thought that loci and the two sides of the number line would return to haunt me in my late twenties?

After chickening out on my first test date, I took the GMAT plunge in late 2008 and landed a competitive score. Good grades, good job, respectable GMAT score – my application was progressing well.

Next were the essays. Admittedly, I didn’t take them seriously enough and in 2010 I applied to a top-five European school with essays that I breezed through in the two days leading to the round-three deadline. I discovered what a huge mistake this was when I received the much dreaded email – in MBA speak, I was ‘dinged without interview’. After a few days of wallowing in the ignominy of rejection, I put my MBA plans on hold.

Two years and a promotion later, the fact that I still didn’t have an MBA began to gnaw at me again. Many of my peers had graduated from elite business schools and had landed plum roles, leading to an existential crisis of sorts for me. I worked for an exciting company, but my career had begun to settle into comfortable nonchalance and boredom began to set in. I started working on my application to Insead, which was my original school of choice and fitted perfectly into my plans.

The essays gave me several sleepless nights as I suffered from relentless writer’s block. I’m verbose by nature and I found it particularly exacting to keep my usual dramatic, flowery sentences out of my essays, but at the same time retain the flavour of my writing and avoid sounding manufactured.

A friend helped out with rationalising the content and editing out the flyaways and I pushed my application in on the last day for round-two applications. I received an interview call early this year and the acceptance call a month later and it’s been a whirlwind since then.

Based on my experiences, my advice to future applicants is simple:

Plan ahead. Take the GMAT well in advance to allow for retakes if need be. Also have back-up schools ready if things don’t work out as planned.

Essays rule. Never underestimate the strength of solid, cohesive essays. Far too often, applicants tend to focus on an impossibly high GMAT score or outstanding extracurricular activities and while these aspects are undeniably important, great essays weave together the different elements of your application and tell the school the story of who you really are and what you can bring to the MBA table. This story in my opinion is the most important part of your application.

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