Monthly Archives: September 2012

And the winner is… Part II

In the first part of this article I wrote about the sections of the application which required imagination and creativity – your essays, interview, and recommendations. This part is about those sections of the application which are more or less set in stone.

Remember, everything is evaluated by application readers who read thousands of applications a year. While you cannot change your educational qualifications, GMAT scores, or work experience, you can polish and present them in the best possible light. You need to be creative in how you present these facts to the admissions committee and there is no part of the application you can afford to take lightly.

Quantify Your Experiences

I’ve come across countless essays (pun intended) where applicants write vaguely about their experiences. This is unfortunate, because such essays rarely make an impact on admissions committees. Instead of writing “my efforts were appreciated by senior management”, frame it in a way that is more descriptive and packs more punch like” my work made the operation more efficient and impacted the bottom line 15% and my efforts were recognized by senior management with a 10% pay hike”

In the case of work experience, the quality and value of your contribution to the organization is more important than working in brand name organizations. Even if you work someplace which is not well known, chances are, someone from your organization has applied to the same MBA programme in the past. Hence, the application readers are aware of your employers – in rare cases they are not; there are enough Indian students on campus whom they can ask. Here again, the essays are the best way to highlight quality.

Generally most top ten schools expect at least 3 years of post-qualification work experience, the average being around 5 years. Internships and part-time experience while working towards a degree are not considered full-time work experience. Only in the case of CA’s and medical doctors are exceptions made.

Most applicants worry that their university was tougher in grading relative to others. However, admissions departments worldwide have received transcripts from every conceivable institution in India. Hence, they’ll have a pretty fair idea of the quality of your institution in comparison to others, and thus, normalize your grades. This is also why it is not necessary for you to convert your scores to GPA.

The GMAT score is just another measure and does not carry extra weightage in the evaluation. A high GMAT score is not a must if your academics and work experience is of high quality. Consistency is what they look for; hence, a consistently good performer will outshine those who are brilliant in patches. Most schools are quite happy with GMAT scores of 650 to 700. If your performance has not been consistent, then a high GMAT can to some extent compensate for the inconsistency.

I once had an applicant who wanted to conceal his DUI record in the US in his application. I advised against this. Be aware that you are applying to B-Schools in a post-9/11 America and homeland security does background checks on international applicants! The student ended up writing a very nice essay about how the experience turned him into a better person and won the respect of the admissions committee.

Also, changing your personality to suit what you think the admissions committee is looking for is not a good idea – it is easy to spot – especially since admissions committees keep records of all student interactions. If during a phone call you told them you were interested in Finance and Accounting, or on a campus tour you tell them it’s your dream to work for the Big Four, they will be very sceptical when your application arrives and you have suddenly become an entrepreneur interested in information technology for rural markets. It’s wise to be honest, clear and straightforward. You cannot get away with exaggeration, inconsistency, and being economical with the truth!

Overall, your application should be easy to read, explanatory and paint a true and clear picture of yourself, your achievements, and plans for the future. And most importantly – it should present you in the best possible light. And let me re-emphasize, give credit to others when due, and try not to come off as the lone ranger.

The author Vinoo Urs was formerly at ISB, Fuqua (Duke), and IIM-Bangalore. He is currently the Director of Admissions at the MYRA School of Business.

And the winner is…

MBA applicants from India are four to five times more likely to be turned down for admission to US B-Schools than applicants from other countries. The current state of the US economy makes placing international students especially difficult and most Indian applicants have similar profiles (IT or Engineering) making it tough to differentiate!

In this bleak admissions climate – it is critical to stand out from the crowd. Of course, there are some parts of the application, which are set in stone (work experience, profile, academics). But based on my experiences working at the world’s most respected B-Schools – I can tell you that it’s the intangibles that make all the difference.


You should apply to schools that fit your personality and intellectual interests.

In the early years of ISB, I learned the craft of admissions from the Director of Admissions at Kellogg. It was fascinating. One day, we were reading through a particularly impressive application when one of the application readers abruptly tossed it in the reject pile. Seeing the look of confusion on my face, Dipak Jain (former Dean of Kellogg and current Dean of INSEAD) remarked, “Nope! That guy has sharp elbows!” – implying that the applicant was a competitive go-getter who pushes his way through the crowd.

While that applicant wasn’t the best fit for team-work-oriented Kellogg, a school known for Marketing, he probably would’ve been a better fit at Wharton or Booth, schools known for Finance and being number-driven.


B-school essays are difficult to write. The reasons being, most schools want applications from those who are genuinely interested and are prepared to make that effort. But sometimes applicants get a little carried away.

Once at ISB, an applicant wrote about how he enjoyed cleaning dishes. In truly beautiful language he described the soap, scrubbing, and solitude. However, I had no idea what this had to do with joining the ISB programme and hence — reject.

But there was another problem with his essay – it used “I” way too much. Applicants should highlight collaborative experiences and share credit with others – and do so in a crisp, clean, and passionate way.

Also, don’t overdo the social work bit. Don’t sound like Mother Theresa, the admissions readers can intuitively spot embellishment!

In recent years, some schools have an optional additional essay. This is a trap! Use it only if what you are saying is completely new and cannot be said logically in the other essays. NEVER say you are submitting the additional essay because you ran out of words in the regular essay.


Choose your recommenders carefully and ensure that they will write positively about you. At ISB, I received a recommendation which stated “the applicant works entirely to his own satisfaction!” Generally, alumni recommendations are given weightage – but only if the person is relevant. Just because your brother’s wife’s friend’s acquaintance is an alumni doesn’t mean he’ll be a good recommender.

One recommendation should be from your immediate supervisor. I’ve noticed that Indian applicants feel that a recommendation from the CEO of their company or a celebrity is a winner. Unless that person regularly supervises you and evaluates your work – it won’t help at all.

The second recommendation could be from a person who knows you well, and can assess you both personally and professionally.


Most people think that the purpose of the interview is to discuss achievements, intellectual interests and take the admission decision. Wrong.

The real purpose of the interview is to evaluate social skills. Sometimes the interviewer will have read your application beforehand (ISB) and sometimes it could be blind (Fuqua) – but in either case, the main objective is to see whether you have the social competence to succeed in the business world. Use the opportunity to emphasize your interest in the school as your first choice.

Keep in mind that once the admissions process starts, constant enquiries are not appreciated – no school wants stalkers!

Finally, in these difficult times, it is wise to also apply to business schools in Asia and India. India is a good option to consider, as it is emerging, costs less, and the quality is high.

The author Vinoo Urs was formerly at ISB, Fuqua (Duke), and IIM-Bangalore. He is currently the Director of Admissions at the MYRA School of Business.