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International MBA: The application process
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November 13, 2008

Part I: Why I did an MBA abroad
Part II: Where should I do my MBA?
Part III: Making the decision
Part IV: How much does it cost?

It is my first day of class...not just any class, but my MBA class! All around me there are men and women of every colour and size milling around the large purpose-built lecture hall chosen specially as the venue for our Orientation Talk today. My classmates, about 200 of them (maybe 300), come from over 30 countries around the world. The sounds of enthusiastic introductions, polite inquiries, and animated game planning to crack/ enjoy/ surmount the MBA expedition surround me. I gather myself and hurry to become part of the conversation...Trinnnggg! The alarm goes off. Jolted out of the dream sequence, I rouse myself awake.

This was the typical start to my day during the heady and exciting times of preparing for the MBA applications. A wishful start, one might say, but it was certainly a time of surreal dreams (tut-tut -- that's tautological, is it not?). Dreaming, interviewing (for information), posting (on discussion-forums), web-surfing, brochure-reading, emailing (for b-school inquiries), and (sigh) more dreaming. Such activities and the like filled most of my day when I had just conceived the plan of doing my MBA abroad. If the ocean of information seemed overwhelming, the number of things I needed to arrange in order to complete a single application was ever-increasing. There had to be some way to get around this.

My fellow applicants appear to be taking it all in their stride and being very altruistic too, while sharing their mantras for keeping things under control. In general, there were two tracks. One track began with taking the GMAT, the Graduate Management Aptitude Test (ie the absolute necessary condition for gaining admission to any international business school worth its salt), then led to the decision on which B-school to go to, and proceeded with the application process for each school. The second track began with the decision on the B-schools, then taking the GMAT, and proceeding with the application process.

Each track had its own merits. The former allowed one to process the GMAT results and target schools which had the highest probability of accepting the scores received. This meant that one could clearly define the line between priority and safety schools. A school was classified as a 'priority school' if one's GMAT score was at the lower end of the range of scores accepted at the school, and a 'safety school' if it fell towards the higher end of the range for the school.

Assuming that the GMAT was the key criterion for the AdCom's decision, or a deal-breaker at the least, this logic would ensure that one targeted schools very efficiently, and used one's resources optimally. It would also (probably) ensure that one suffered less heart-burn if rejected by a 'priority' school. Most applicants around me chose this route.

The other track was probably more ambitious in that, theoretically, it took for granted that one would get the GMAT score required for the schools selected. For this route to work well, one had to be reasonably sure of the probability of acceptance at the schools one defined as 'priority' or 'safety'. The merit of following this track was that one's efforts, for test-taking or otherwise, would be directed based on a specific goal (of getting into specific schools).

For instance, having understood that a school that one desires to go to requires a GMAT score between 650 and 720, one's preparation for the GMAT could be targeted at getting a 700+ score. Assuming that such efforts would pay off well, one reduced the chances of short-selling one's desire of going to a certain school. I eventually followed this track -- quite by chance, though.

The GMAT was, as it continues to be today, a rather expensive test to register for. As part of the fee, the GMAC, the Council that governs these tests, allows a candidate to have his/ her scores sent to five B-schools. Sending score reports to any additional schools would attract an additional fee for each additional school, an avoidable expense in my mind.

Though I had begun my prep for the MBA admissions with the test taking stage in mind, on realising the offer of value for money, I was determined to see to it that I did not have to resort to any additional score reports. For this to work, however, I had to make the decision on the schools before taking the test.

Having decided on the B-schools, I set aside time to focus on the test. I wanted to ensure that I did not have any distractions around the test date but I realised that there would be a lot of activities for the application that involved various lead times. A list of things I needed to get done would have looked like this:






Postage/ Courier (for sending transcripts and recommendations; while most schools had online application forms, a hard copy of the application was also required in some cases)


Phew! The whole exercise seemed like an MBA in itself! If one could manage this without getting stressed and without a glitch, then could there be a doubt whether he/ she could complete a management degree successfully?

It was obvious that the GMAT and TOEFL needed to be out of the way quickly. Since I was shooting for the first round of applications, with deadlines as early as mid-October for some schools, it made sense to have at least a couple of months clear after the test to complete all the other formalities. I registered for the tests in May for test dates in mid-August. In June I applied for a couple of weeks' leave from work for the test. Before I got deep into the momentum for test-taking, I made a tour of all my relevant alma maters and my prior workplaces to set the transcript and recommendation process in motion.

After the tests, both of which went well (93 percentile in GMAT, similar in TOEFL), I went back to the campuses and offices to follow up on the progress. By the end of September, the first four points on the list had been checked off. The tougher part began now. I believe I had become somewhat complacent about the essays by this time. But once I started to put some serious thought into it, I realised that I would have to pull up my socks on this, and quickly.

There were a total of 21 essays to get done for the four schools I planned to apply to in the first round, ranging from two to eight for a school. My first deadline was 1200 hrs GMT on November 1, for Oxford. While taking stock on October 30, I felt I was in good shape. But then on October 31, a brainwave struck -- I rethought the entire storyline for the main essay, which meant I had to rewrite a 2000-word essay for my most preferred school overnight! I believe I hit the 'Submit' button on my application at 0600 hrs IST, a whole 11 and a half hours ahead of the deadline! I suppose I managed it all right.

Looking back, what had me most worried was the number of trips back and forth to get my transcripts and recommendations through... funny, huh... because for most people, this would be peripheral at best. I guess the thought of running around town during working hours, in the hard-hitting showers that Mumbai's monsoon season brings, was slightly unpleasant.

For prospective students, however, I would only emphasise that attention to every aspect of the application will be important from the AdComs' point of view. One can never tell what might put off an application reviewer. While it is not possible to focus on everything, do take the time to plan the application cycle so that every aspect gets its due importance. After all, much like our Bollywood films, everyone likes a well-rounded story better than a half-baked one.

Part I: Why I did an MBA abroad
Part II: Where should I do my MBA?
Part III: Making the decision
Part IV: How much does it cost?

This article from is the fifth in a series of articles focussing on pursuing an MBA abroad. This article has been authored for by Maithilee Shirgaonkar, who has done her MBA from Said Business School, University Of Oxford. provides complete, comprehensive online preparation for CAT, XAT, FMS. In addition to solved papers of last three CATs, the user friendly website has free iCATs, puzzles, Question of the Day, Daily Vocabulary List, Interactive Learning Games and Ask-a-Doubt.

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