Ashpi graduated from National University of Singapore MBA Program and is currently working with E&Y Mumbai. We got an opportunity to interact with her and understand her approach to the MBA application process.

Following are the highlights from our conversation.

MBAfusion: How did you go about taking your GMAT?

Ashpi: My application to B-schools was a 2-month effort – Mid Dec to Mid Feb – right from starting GMAT preparation to completing my final interview. I prepared for about 2 weeks for my GMAT.

MBAfusion: That was a pretty short time. How did you manage the preparations?

Ashpi: Well, I could see that the 2-week preparation would not have been significant with my day job. So I took a 10-day leave and dedicated 7-8 hours daily for GMAT preparation. In the initial tests, I realized that Quant section was definitely not an issue but the Verbal Section was. Sentence Correction was the biggest hurdle though. I had referred to Official Guide, glanced through Wren & Martin and had taken a bunch of reference materials on Sentence Correction from my friends. Official Guide was the most helpful though.

MBAfusion: Which were the tests that you took? How many?

Ashpi: I used to take one full-length test (4-5 hours) daily. GMATPrepPrinceton and Kaplan were the tests that I took. Princeton and Kaplanwere definitely tougher compared to GMATPrep. I took care that my test timings matched to the scheduled time of the GMAT, so as to condition myself.

I scored 650.

MBAfusion: That would have been a set-back.

Ashpi: Yes it was. The average score was around 680. But I had strong faith in my work achievements, extracurriculars, storyline and the recommendations. So I decided to go ahead with the application process.

MBAfusion: So by January you were done with your GMAT. Then what?

Ashpi: School selection. I was quite clear that I wanted to stay in Asia with the exception of London School of Economics where I applied due to my fascination for economics. Hence I had to choose between the popular Asian schools – NUS, ISB, HKUST and CEIBS. ISB was eliminated as the deadlines were over.NUS appealed to me as it had an interesting pace yourself MBA program and the Singapore factor.

MBAfusion: How many days did you have for your B-School app preparation?

Ashpi: I had about 15 days to build my story, write the essays and submit the necessary documents.

MBAfusion: How did you build your story?

Ashpi: I thought of a storyline connecting my background, short term goals and long term goals. I discussed my ideas with friends and family members until I had a polished final version. Speaking to NUS alumni gave me an insider view of NUS and strong pointers on what specific aspects of the application to highlight. What differentiated my story was that it was strong, not made up and completely heartfelt.

I was working at PwC and was part of their Process Consulting team. I had joined at a point when the team was very lean and I had got an opportunity to handle high-level roles and responsibilities, though limited to processes and systems of the client’s business. I wanted to progress beyond systems and processes and move to the next level. So moving into Management Consulting was a natural progression for me. MBA was a key enabler and NUS would have given me the right platform in terms of professional network, employment opportunities and international exposure.

Apart from the story line, I had a strong undergrad, good extra-curriculars and was actively involved in social initiatives. These factors definitely strengthened my application.

MBAfusion: NUS is known for changing the essays every year making it difficult to get advice from alumni and students. How did you go about writing your essays then?

Ashpi: The goals essay forms a part of the essays albeit in different forms every year. For that, I was ready with my story line. The question I was bowled over by was, “What are you passionate about? How will your fellow students benefit from this passion?”I had to spend a lot of time to get it right.

Eventually I wrote about my passion for creation and improvement. Sounds somewhat abstract, but I tied it up with my long term goal of entrepreneurship and how I am passionate about creating something new. I then backed it up by giving examples from my past and how I plan to carry forward the same passion and experience to my future. Management consulting was a short term goal.

My friends and family members helped me out with my essay reviews. I had 2 rounds of reviews for my essays. I had defined the core messages to be sent across through my essays and I was very convinced of them. Hence I rejected any feedback that would go tangential to the core message. I must say the major value-add by the reviewers was in terms of making the message clearer through improving the flow and the language.

MBAfusion: And was the word limit a challenge?

Ashpi: Not really. I believe my ability to be articulate in delivering my messages is my strength. And it helped me a lot in writing laconic essays.

MBAfusion: Whom did you take your recommendations from?

Ashpi: I had to submit three recommendations, which I took from seniors to whom I had reported at one point in time or the other. It also included the Associate Director at PwC. This recommendation was a high point in my resume. Working in a small team gave me visibility and the opportunity to work directly with him.

MBAfusion: When was the interview scheduled?

Ashpi: The interview was in February and was a telephonic one. It was a crazy experience – only a 5-minute interview with questions on Why NUS? Why MBA? And why not ISB?

I was very well prepared to answer all these questions. To answer Why NUS and Why MBA, I just highlighted the pointers I mentioned in my essays. “Why not ISB?” was majorly answered by highlighting the core strengths of NUS like its international exposure, interesting courses like private equity and technoprenuership, excellent faculty and infrastructure, good exchange tie ups etc. Also the virtues of being located in Singapore, which is a developed economy in Asia, financial hub, melting pot of cultures and has very friendly visa norms.

MBAfusion: Amazing. So I think, they had already made up their mind on getting you in.

Ashpi: At that point in time, I thought that either I had screwed badly or had done very well. It became clear when the result turned out to be positive in March.

MBAfusion: Any specific message for our aspiring MBA applicants?

Ashpi: I believe that my story of natural progression from process consulting to management consulting backed by strong recommendations on my achievements did it for me. My 2 cents to aspiring applicants would be:

  1. Why MBA and Why us : Be sure why you want to do an MBA and thoroughly research how the school will help you attain your goals ( career , location preference and field )
  2. Convincing storyline: Build a good story, back it up with your past actions and future plans and be thoroughly convinced in your interview. Also highlight how the school you are applying to will help achieve your goals.
  3. Why you: Most schools do not appreciate career switchers, as they are difficult to place and lower the salary averages. Make sure you project yourself as an asset to the school.

About Ashpi

Ashpi Gupta graduated from University of Mumbai and did her MBA from National University of Singapore.

What distinguishes Ashpi’s MBA app effort is its focus – two months, 2 schools, well-thought story-line, strong background and effective back-up to her stories. She effectively put the leadership opportunities given to her at PwC’s entrepreneurial environment, thanks to the newly formed division, and distinguished herself in the competitive pool of IT applicants. She had admission offers from London School of Economics and NUS, the two schools she applied to.

Ashpi currently works as an Associate at Ernst & Young, Mumbai. At NUS, she did her summer internship at Merill Lynch (Asia Pacific) and went to IE (Madrid) under a 3-month exchange program. Before NUS she had worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers.


© 2011, MBAfusion. All rights reserved.