MBA Admissions Consulting: Q&A with Ajay Singh, Harvard Alum and Co-founder, Stoodnt

Over the next few weeks, I will be covering interviews with Alumni from top B-Schools, leading MBA Admissions Consultants and MBA Prep-Coaches. In the first part of the series, we have Ajay Singh, Co-Founder & Chairman of Stoodnt, Inc. In this post, Ajay talks about tips on B-School selection, how to use various international MBA rankings, GMAT preparation strategy, MBA essays, MBA interview prep, post-MBA careers & jobs, MBA job market in the US, and MBA admissions consulting.

Ajay is a Harvard Alum. Earlier, he did his MS in Computer Engg. from the University of Texas at Austin and B. Tech in E&C from I.I.T Roorkee.

Ajay is currently working with BCD Travel (Vice-President Global Payments Strategy & Products). Previously (before starting Stoodnt), he has worked for a number of global companies like American Express, Cendant, Intel, and Booz Allen in senior leadership and management positions. You might also like to read Ajay’s MBA admission journey – from IIT-Roorkee to Harvard Business School.

Ajay has counseled, guided and mentored students to top engineering and business colleges such as Harvard, Stanford, U.T Austin, Texas A&M, UCLA, Purdue, U. of Washington at Seattle, Cambridge, ISB, IIT, etc.

MBA Admissions Consulting: Behind the Scenes

Q&A with Ajay Singh (MBA, Harvard Business School)

1. What were the big challenges when you launched your independent venture after working for established brands?

Ajay: One of the biggest challenges we faced was developing the solution we can try and test in the marketplace in the shortest period of time. Secondly, we also had to think about building the team out and see how to move forward given we were doing an Edtech platform and both of us (the co-founders) were not the hardcore software developers.

2. What was the primary motivation behind launching Stoodnt?

Ajay: The primary motivation was to solve the needs, pain points of students & parents (primarily in South East Asian countries like India) around careers, colleges and how to get admitted to a good college.

We felt we were fortunate to have guidance from our family members, friends, mentor, colleagues, and environment that had helped shape our careers – something 90%+ students and young professionals lack. We believed guidance is as important as hard work & luck in helping students and young professionals develop, grow and be successful.

3. Over the last decade, what are the big developments that have impacted the Business Education (MBA) industry in the US?

Ajay: With the digital and mobile transformation taking place around the world, more and more business executives are expected to understand technology, digital services and how to leverage technology, data, and talent to adapt and provide solutions, services that can be scaled to bring value to customers and the business.

4. Is a regular MBA still as popular as back in the 1980s or 2000s? Don’t programs like MS Business Analytics, MiM, MS Finance or MS Data Science and MOOCs & Online MBA programs pose a threat?

Ajay: MBA is still popular though other programs are gaining popularity too. MBA is an applied degree and getting an MBA from a reputable institute is not just about gaining technical knowledge, but also developing a network that you can leverage and build upon during your career.

Related Articles:

MBA vs MS Business Analytics – How to Choose the Right Program

MBA vs MiM – What’s Best for You

5. According to you, is a regular MBA from a top-10 B-School worth the $100,000 price tag? How should applicants go about funding/financing the MBA?

Ajay: MBA from a top school is absolutely worth it as it is less about investment. MBA should always be about investing in learning, developing in yourself, building your network and engaging with the powerful alumni network.

In the long run, an MBA from a top business school pays off in hard and soft benefits. The best way to finance an MBA is through savings, loans, and scholarships. The loans can be huge but easily paid off if there is even an increase of $20-25K in a professional’s compensation post MBA.

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6. What are your personal thoughts on MBA rankings? How should the applicants use the rankings? 

Ajay: Students should not pay too much attention to the MBA rankings. It is just a medium for any organization to stack the schools and get the buzz around their own organization or media brand. Every school offers something unique to students, hence each student should think about what they want to focus on during MBA and what school may be the best fit.

For example, if you are an entrepreneur and want to be in silicon valley, maybe Stanford is the best school for you. If you want to learn more about leadership & General Management, no other school comes close to what Harvard can offer. Same can be said about some of the quant heavy schools like Wharton, Chicago, etc.

International applicants should use these rankings to get an idea about the school. However, they should focus more on what they want to pursue, location, total budget, and their chances of admission. Rankings are just to get a directional view and information, but should not dictate where to apply.

7. Indian applicants are more likely to get rejected from top b-schools due to multiple factors (e.g. failing to stand out in the crowd). Most of them put too much effort than needed on the GMAT score and ignore the other components of the application. What would be your advice?

Ajay: Yes, we have observed International students focusing too much on the GMAT score than creating their own unique story to the school. Since MBA is an applied degree, schools are looking to graduate future leaders, entrepreneurs, general managers, etc. Hence, they want to admit students who have the drive, passion, aspiration and academic rigor to become a successful leader in their career.

Applicants should focus on building their profile and story to show admission teams they have the DNA and everything else to be an avid learner, strong community contributor and a potential change agent and a leader.

8. Any advice/tips on GMAT preparation for busy working professionals?

Ajay: The best way to prepare for GMAT is to focus on it for a few weeks. Success in GMAT is a mix of test-taking techniques, mastery of the basic concepts and definitely having a strong background in English comprehension (reading and writing).

Most of the international students are strong in quantitative, reasoning sections but struggle in English comprehension. To prepare for the English section, they should focus on reading and structured writing, something that requires a longer time frame than just a few weeks of practice.

9. What should applicants be doing 6-9 months and more before they apply?

Ajay: Applicants should focus on building a profile, their own unique story they want to share with the colleges. Successful profile building requires a few years of work, professional development and getting data points that can be successfully shared through essays, LORs, etc.

10. What are the key differentiators between a 2-year and a 1-year program? Are there specific considerations that should tilt the decision either ways?

Ajay: 2-year programs give students more time to know their classmates, do more projects and get some time to think through on what they may want to do on career front post-graduation. 1-year programs are more for students who do not want to take 2 years off from their professional career or may want to limit the budget on spending. Many top colleges do not offer the 1-year program as they believe it to be too high pressured and not bringing the development and learning they want to offer.

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11. How should candidates assess why and when they should do a full-time regular MBA?

Ajay: This is one of the most important questions every MBA aspirant or applicant should try to answer. Getting an MBA is not an answer to fast professional growth or a quick rich scheme.

If an applicant is not sure why they want to pursue an MBA, we would suggest they stop thinking about it. MBA is more for students or professionals who want to either change their career or they believe it may help fill a gap in a particular area where they lack understanding of concepts (finance/accounting) or if they are not sure what career to follow.

An MBA may help them go into areas like consulting where they can take some more time to work on projects, industries, etc. before deciding what to do in their careers.

12. What is the most important thing that applicants can keep in mind while working on their MBA essays?

Ajay: The top thing applicants should keep during the writing of their essays is to use the essay prompt/question to show the admission team more about “who” they are and less about “what” they have accomplished. Every prompt is an opportunity to share the story on “You”.

13. Any tips for MBA interviews?

Ajay: An interview is just one of the component of a candidate’s total application file. Schools use the interview to test a candidate’s communication skills, confidence and the story they have told in their application. An applicant may ace the interview but still get a reject if their other pieces of applications do not stand out. Hence, it is about the comprehensive review and not just about one thing (GMAT score, GPA, Interview, Essay, Experience, etc.).

14. The US is definitely the most sought-after MBA destination as the majority of top B-Schools are located in the US. But, with the tightening of the immigration rules, international students are looking elsewhere (Canada, Asia, Europe, etc.). What are your thoughts on this?

Ajay: The US still offers the most options and some of the best B-school programs in the world. B-school brands have value and it is touch for other International schools to replace some of the B-school brands and alumni networks built over the last 50-75 years.

For instance, INSEAD is a wonderful business school but may not come close to Harvard’s B-School brand and reputation.

Visas for International students are getting tough in each and every country, but the USA is still the most diverse, immigration friendly country among many other nations.  Jobs for MBA students has always been a challenge for International students but many graduates find a job if they are ready to push hard, be street smart and take on the challenge.

15. Do you see anything changing in the next few years to stop the confidence of international students from eroding?

Ajay: Not much will change too soon and things may even get worse if the economy deteriorates. The best thing for International students would be to focus their MBA towards some of the quantitative areas (Information Management, Risk Management, Analytics) so they can position appropriately.

Additionally, international students should also choose schools carefully. For example, elite universities have a strong alumni network and that always helps students in their job hunt and placement.

16. Apart from consulting and technology, which other industries are good bets for international students who want to work in the U.S.?

Ajay: Some of the other areas are Risk, Analytics, Digital Marketing, Information Management, Quantitative Trading for MBA students.

Related Article: Best Industries to Work For MBA Graduates in India

17. Admission consulting is gaining popularity in India slowly. How should applicants approach admissions consulting and how should they find the right consultant for themselves?

Ajay: The goal of admission consultants is to guide, help students in the careers and the admissions process.

No admission consultant can change a student’s GPA, test scores, professional experience, LOR or Interview. They cannot guarantee admission, just provide quality guidance tailored to each and every applicant’s profile, background and aspiration on how an applicant should strengthen their profile, select colleges, write their story/essays to bring the best out there and how to prepare for an Interview.

Prior to selecting an admission guidance counselor, the applicant should look at the counselor profile, experience to see if they will be able to provide quality insights and guidance. If a counselor has not studied at a top college or has not worked in the destination country, or relevant industry, s/he might not guide an applicant about careers, jobs, what to do and not to do.

Want to have a consultation with Ajay? Sign up for a 1:1 session here

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