Standing Apart from a Highly Competitive MBA Applicant Group

Three admissions consultants analyze the chances of an Indian male who wants to go into nonprofit management

This is the fourth in a series of profiles on the winners of FIND MBA’s recent MBA application advice contest, where three top MBA application consultants analyze the chances of MBA applicants. Read the first installments herehere, and here.

Pulkit Sharma, from India, has a very diverse skillset: he’s worked as a flight steward as well as a business strategist for a manufacturing firm, and he’s done an internship in product design for a furniture design firm. In total he has about 5.5 years of work experience, although some of that was done before he completed his bachelor’s degree.

Sharma’s GMAT score is 720 and he’s looking to do his MBA either in India—at the Indian School of Business—or internationally, at a school like INSEAD, LBS, IMD Business School, the National University of Singapore or Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, among others on his list.

His main career goal is to transition into working for nonprofit organizations.

Three admissions consultants recently analyzed his chances and made some suggestions, based on his profile.

Work experience

Compared to some other MBA applicants from India, Sharma has quite a diverse range of work experience, which might help set him apart. “The fact that he was a furniture designer and an international flight steward makes his profile more distinctive, more interesting,” says Dollaya Chaibongsai, managing director of The MBA Exchange.

The main issue with having such a diverse background is that it might be challenging to tie the experiences into a coherent story when applying to MBA programs.

Indeed, all three admissions consultants advised that Sharma use his application essays to develop a story that ties together his previous work experience with his post-MBA goal of working in nonprofit organizations. “Where has he gotten the experience that will help him with his career goal?” asks Stacy Blackman.

“Where has he gotten the inspiration for his career goal? Where does this come from?”

A main concern with regard to Sharma’s work experience is that some of it—about 2.5 years as a flight steward—took place before he received his bachelor’s degree. “That definitely counts against him,” says Duncan Chapple. “Most schools will look only at post-baccalaureate work experience, because that's the kind of work experience that's useful.”

Even so, Dollaya Chaibongsai says that it might be useful for Sharma to mention it during the application process.

“I believe that can be beneficial, but the rigor and relevance of those jobs determine how much value it adds to his candidacy,” Chaibongsai says. “The key is to convey how those experiences relate and add value to his current and post-MBA career.”

GMAT score

All three admissions consultants considered Sharma’s 720 a strong GMAT score, with some caveats. "Being an Indian male, although not an engineer, puts him in a very competitive pool," of many applicants who have strong GMAT scores, says Stacy Blackman.

A balanced score—where the verbal and quantitative scores are similar—might help set Sharma apart from other candidates from India, especially those who have strong quantitative skills but whose verbal skills are lacking. A strong verbal score would help in this sense.

“A 720 can be solid and a 720 can be not as good,” depending on how balanced the score is, according to Dollaya Chaibongsai.

“If the verbal percentile is less than 80, then I would also be really curious if he had taken the TOEFL."

School selection

Sharma is looking at a range of schools all over the world. Besides the schools listed above, he’s also considering IE Business School in Spain, the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School, and Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

“These schools don't have anything in common,” says Duncan Chapple. “I can't take seriously anybody who says that they want to be either at ISB or IMD, because these are totally different schools.

Chapple suggests that Sharma re-focus his school choice, with an emphasis on the schools that will help him meet his goals. “Obviously, if he wants to build a nonprofit, the idea that Yale is not on his list, for example, is quite exceptional.”

Likewise, Stacy Blackman advises that Sharma should hone his focus on the schools he really wants to get into, and then develop his admissions essays based on each individual school.

“He should have a story for each school, for what he wants to get out of that specific school, “Blackman says.

“Out of that set, research all of them and pick four or five.”


Participating Admissions Consultants:

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