MBA at 28 in India with Strategy Consulting Background | Q&A with ISB Grad turned MBA Admissions Consultant

Is it possible to get into strategy consulting in India without an MBA?

Does it make sense to go for an MBA at the age of 28 in India?

How to get into ISB?

How is student life at ISB?

Is ISB PGP worth it? 

Let’s find out what an ISB graduate turned MBA admissions consultant has to say to those questions!

It’s almost a no-brainer these days that the brand name of the business school matters a lot when it comes to placements and salaries. Established in 2001, ISB is still very young when compared to top international brands like Harvard, Stanford et al., or our desi brands like IIMs. But, it has become very popular and highly sought-after among MBA applicants.

Be it international rankings, faculty members’ profiles, international partnerships, research infrastructure, alumni network, and providing an actual boost to your career, ISB has been very popular at all fronts.

ISB admissions are pretty selective. According to various sources, the acceptance rate at ISB at around 15 – 23%. MBA admissions consulting services are becoming very popular for the folks aiming at ISB. If you check the internet, the market is getting saturated with ISB grads turned MBA admissions consultants. But, as an MBA applicant, you are not always sure about the past track record and scope of work & flexibility.

On Stoodnt, we have interviewed MBA admissions consultants who are also alumni of top schools like Harvard, INSEAD, Yale, etc, in the past. We also published an interview with Manish Gupta (IIT & ISB alumnus and the Chief Consulting Officer at MBA Crystal Ball), who talked about career guidance, study abroad, and MBA admissions consulting.

Best Admission Consultant for ISB IIM

For this post, we have Abhishek Chawla from the ISB class of 2016. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Financial & Investment Analysis (BFIA) from Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business (Delhi University) and has worked in Strategy Consulting across Financial Services, Private Equity, and Automotive sectors.

He is also the co-founder of Strategy4GMAT, one of the best admission consultants for ISB. Apart from ISB, they have also helped applicants crack admissions at top international B-schools such as NYU Stern, Cornell, Ross, NUS, Nanyang (NTU), and other Indian executive MBA programs such as IIM A PGPX and IIM B EPGP.

MBA at 28 in India with Strategy & Consulting Background

Q&A with Abhishek Chawla, MBA Admissions Consultant & Co-founder, Strategy4GMAT

Q1. What was your motivation behind starting Strategy4GMAT (S4G)? How did you come up with the idea of getting into GMAT prep and admissions consulting?

Abhishek: S4G was started in the ISB student village (ISB term for a dorm room). The motivation was to provide end-to-end MBA admissions support including (a) helping GMAT takers improve their score without additional prep with the help of a personalized strategy, (b) help MBA aspirants with first-hand knowledge of the MBA admissions process and (c) make MBA admissions consulting more affordable.

Q2. Could you please tell our readers how they can get into Strategy Consulting jobs after graduation (without an MBA)?

Abhishek: To get into Strategy Consulting without an MBA might be difficult in India. However, some of the top firms such as McKinsey, BCG, and Bain and the big 4 firms do hire from some top undergraduate colleges such as top IITs, SRCC, Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, LSR, St. Stephens, etc.

If you are not from these colleges but still want to get into Strategy Consulting, going for an MBA would make it a lot easier for you.

Q3. Why did you opt for an MBA? How did you come to the decision that an MBA would be the right step for you?

Abhishek: Pre-MBA, I had started with a boutique advisory firm and then moved to the Strategy team of a global Investment Bank. Overall, I worked for 7 years before I decided to go for an MBA.

An MBA was always on the cards but the opportunities in my pre-MBA career led me to postpone my decision. It was tough to decide on an MBA since I was in a very good role (normally available only to MBA graduates) and was also drawing a handsome salary.

However, when I took a long-term view (I still had > 30 years to go) it became clear that an MBA would help me hone my skills and personality traits, develop my leadership potential and enhance my business acumen.

Q4. Could you please share your MBA application journey (GMAT prep, school shortlisting, MBA essays, recommendations, interview, etc.)?

Abhishek: Sure. I had always been very good with Maths and English since school (scored > 95 in both in my boards) so it was not a challenge. I referred to the Official Guide and forums such as GMAT Club for practice. I consistently scored > 720 in my mock exams.

However, I got the shock of my life when I scored a mere 660 on the final GMAT exam. I reflected on my strengths and weaknesses, tweaked my test-taking Strategy (focusing better on timing, etc.), and then retook the test, scoring 740 (97 percentile) this time. This was probably when the thought of helping other GMAT test-takers with quality advice occurred to me and I decided to do something in this space going forward.

School selection was easy since I always wanted to stay and work in India. I had to choose between ISB PGP and IIM A PGPX but then decided to go for ISB given the diversity of its class, the alumni network, the faculty, and the Consulting focus of the school to name a few. I must add that IIM A PGPX is also a wonderful program with great faculty, class profile, and exposure but I thought that ISB PGP was better suited for me.

I worked with one of the best Delhi-based MBA admissions consulting firm. However, the lack of personal attention and low-quality advice about ISB admissions (which I later found out wrong) led me to abandon the consulting with them in between and then apply on my own. That was probably another motivator for me to get into MBA admissions consulting so that no one in the future has to go through the pain I went through, especially at a career-defining juncture.

I asked my Vice-President for a recommendation to which he agreed and helped support my application. Some of my friends, including Manan (who had graduated from ISB before me and is my Co-Founder at S4G) took my interview and helped me prepare for the D-day. Since I had already interacted with a few ISB alumni in an interview setting, facing alumni in the ISB interview panel seemed easy to me.

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Q5. Could you please share a few tips on how students should prepare about getting into ISB?

Abhishek: Absolutely! Getting into ISB is no mean feat. The earlier you start preparing and building your profile, the better. ISB looks for leadership as a key trait so ensure that you lead teams – whether its at work, at an NGO, at a social club for even in sport.

ISB also values diversity so don’t think that if you don’t come from a corporate background it would go against you. A typical class at ISB has students from all sorts of backgrounds including media, medicine, journalism, social sector, defense, etc.

For the application process, I think students should research the school well and understand how they would be able to contribute to the class at ISB. In addition, knowing details about the curriculum, the faculty, the alumni, etc. Some of our blog posts also cover such topics, which ISB aspirants can read to get insights about the school.

Q6. What are your thoughts on the ISB MBA program? How was your overall experience at ISB?

Abhishek: Spending one year of my life at ISB was truly a great experience. It helped me broaden my horizons and develop skills such as marketing, negotiation, competitive strategy, etc. It was at ISB that someone like me, coming from an Investment Bank, started getting excited about start-ups and decided to do something in the higher education space.

At the same time, ISB was also a humbling experience since I was always surrounded by some of the brightest minds in the country, helping me realize that despite all my achievement I had a long way to go!

The ISB MBA program is definitely one of the better MBA programs, not only in India but across the globe. Its case-based teaching, world-class faculty, a strong alumni network, and a diverse cohort really helped me shape into a much better professional and an even better person.

Warning: its almost 2 years of curriculum packaged into 1 (640 hours of teaching at ISB vs. ~700 hours at the top 2 years MBA programs globally), so it is very rigorous and demanding!

Q7. When you look back, what do you think – how effective was the MBA and how the ISB experience shaped your post-MBA career journey?

Abhishek: MBA helped me develop my knowledge base and business acumen, especially in areas such as strategy, marketing, and negotiation helped me become a top-performer wherever I went. ISB is the reason that a Financial services Strategy guy became an Internet business guy / Entrepreneur. Hence, one year at ISB was truly my “year of transformation”.

Q8. What would be your advice for the folks who are considering studying an MBA?

Abhishek: An MBA offers you a variety of opportunities. Be clear on what your goals are and focus on achieving them. Everyone comes to B-school with their own objectives so don’t compete, rather focus on learning from one another and achieving your own objectives.

Q9. Any career advice for the folks on how to decide MBA in India vs MBA abroad and 1-year MBA vs 2-year MBA?

Abhishek: I think the biggest factor should be the geography (unless you are considering the top 10-15 MBA programs globally). If you want to work/live in a particular country, then go to a B-school in that country.

Don’t think too much about 1 year vs. 2 year MBA, focus on the school, the faculty, and the network. In the long-term, one year here or there won’t matter! But what you learned and whom you connected with, will!

Q10. There are many other MBA admissions consultants in India. How do you plan to add more value to the MBA applicants and what makes S4G unique?

Abhishek: S4G is arguably the only team in the industry with all top B school / ISB alumni. Hence, they have been there, done that! They have been in the applicant’s shoes before so they understand their concerns well. They have been through the admissions process so they understand how a profile would be evaluated. Our team has also been on the other side of the table (evaluating applications and taking real interviews) so they can put that hat on! And, they have also seen life post-MBA so they know what matters and what does not.

Given our first-hand experience, I think we are able to provide honest and trustworthy advice to applicants which helps us differentiate from the rest.

Additionally, the unique model of “owning the application” by offering unlimited consulting hours and reviews for a fixed-fee helps us align our success to our clients’ success. This is also reflected in our results – 94% interview calls and 86% final admits.

Q11. Your thoughts on the COVID-19 scenario? How is it going to impact MBA admissions and the job market for MBA graduates in India? 

Abhishek: I think in the short-term there might be certain challenges in some sectors that are hit by the COVID situation (e.g. travel, hospitality, food & beverage, etc.) while some others would benefit (e.g. healthcare, technology, education, etc.). However, in the medium-term, things will be fine. I have witnessed the global recession of 2008-09 but the global economy was only growing from 2010 to 2020.

I think it’s a good time to go for an MBA – you apply in 2020, start your program in 2021 and graduate in 2022 or 2023. Going by the 2008-09 example I gave, you will enter the market at a time when the worst would be behind you and things would only be looking up from there!

I think the Indian economy is pretty resilient. While the rate of growth would decline, we would still be growing (vs. a recession in many developed economies). By 2022, I think we should be back on track and growing at a healthy pace.

Q12. Is it worth to opt for MS / MBA in 2021 in India or abroad? Is that going to help them to stand out in the competitive job market? 

Abhishek: Why not? Education never hurts. Going for an MBA / MS would only add to one’s chances of getting better opportunities in the market. It’s a competitive world out here and “survival of the fittest” still holds true!

Q13. What are the sectors that MBA grads should target during the COVID crisis? 

Abhishek: Sectors such as technology, pharma, healthcare, and education would benefit during the COVID crisis. FMCG, media, and entertainment (e.g. OTT platforms and gaming) are some of the others that would be able to weather the storm. Hence these could be potential target sectors for fresh MBA graduates.


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