We got an opportunity to interview, Gazal Kalra who has been awarded the Dhirubhai Reliance Fellowship and Fulbright-Nehru fellowship. She will leave in August for her dual program of MBA at Stanford and MPA at Harvard Kennedy School. Following are the highlights of our discussion.

MBAfusion: What was your GMAT score? How did you prepare for the exam?

Gazal: I had scored a 760 and prepared for about 3 months along with full-time work. I would devote about 1-1.5 hours during the weekdays and about 4 hours during the weekends when I would practice concentrating on a test for 4 hours. I had started by taking the GMATPrep test and identified Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning as the areas which were game changers. I would suggest that you take one GMATPrep Test in the beginning. Analyze your performance in this test to exactly figure out the sections and topics you had a difficulty in answering. A list of areas to focus on will help you immensely in your preparation as you would be able to increase your score with these focused efforts.

Official Guide and Princeton were the books that I had referred to. I started with Princeton and focused on learning the concepts. Official guide then helped me practice more and more questions. I had followed this up with referring to section specific books. I would strongly recommend PowerScore Sentence Correction Bible and Critical Reasoning. Manhattan Sentence Correction guide and Section-specific practice sets in Mathematics were the other reference materials.

GMATPrep and a few other online exams were the key tests that I took.

MBAfusion: How did you research on your schools?

Gazal: I was keen on exploring the joint-degree programs as I was looking at a mix of exposure to public and business administration. Class profile, class size, faculty student ratio were the key factors I looked into in addition to faculty and school philosophy. Interactions with students and Admission directors made me realize that Stanford’s MBA program and Harvard’s Kennedy program were the ideal fit to my aspirations.

I applied to Stanford and Kennedy School only. This helped me to focus on my application efforts and work towards building a very effective application despite time constraints due to a crazy schedule.

MBAfusion: How did you build your story?

Gazal: I already had a broad storyline in my mind – career aspirations, long term goals, and short term goals, how MBA fits in the picture and how my educational and professional background would compliment this. I invested a lot of time upfront in thinking my story through before putting it finally on paper. Once your story is on paper in the form of essays and you send it out for reviews, the feedback that you receive is more in terms of language, grammar, flow etc. I also used some of the frameworks that I found on http://www.adammarkus.com/ The tools were really helpful in thinking through the story

Once I started writing my essays, they had to go through only 2-3 iterations before coming out in their final shape. Making an initial effort on the thinking part really paid off well in my case.

MBAfusion: How did you get your story and essays reviewed?

Gazal: I had discussed my story with two of my friends, one is a colleague and the other one had already received an admission offer from Wharton.

My essays were reviewed by 5 people – a B-School student, a B-school graduate, a colleague, somebody who was experienced in looking at essays and an English expert. These reviews helped me immensely in terms of making my story effective, getting different perspectives and using the right expressions.

MBAfusion: How did you choose your recommender?

Gazal: Stanford requires a peer review. So, I took this recommendation from my colleague at Public Health Foundation of India. All schools require a recommendation from current supervisor so there is not much option there. The third recommendation was something that I had to think about a lot. I finally took one from a McKinsey partner I had worked with. Since I had done 6 studies at McKinsey, choosing a right recommender from McKinsey was a challenge. Preparing a matrix comprising of the Qualities and Institutions/Organizations I had worked for helped me a lot. I ticked each Quality ( which were also elaborated in my essays)  – such as entrepreneurship, leadership etc. – against the name of the institution which could comment better on the particular attribute based on the projects that I had done. Once I had this matrix, it helped me in deciding which people I would ask for recommendation.

I believe it is important to choose a recommender who believes in you and your success. Additionally, make sure that whatever you have written in your essays gets validated through examples / incidents in your recommendation. It is one thing for the recommender to say “He is a fantastic leader. He is a great communicator” versus “I was amazed by his leadership capabilities when he took charge of this project and lead from the front, managing a group of 25 senior managers etc.” Recommenders can give life you your qualities.

MBAfusion: How did you prepare for your interview?

Gazal: I had less than a week for my preparation. Going through my app (essays, resume, online app etc.) and preparing standard questions helped me a lot in preparing. I did not write down the answers of any of the questions but had just prepared the key points in my mind.

About Gazal

Gazal Kalra did her B Tech from IIT Delhi and is a Reliance Dhirubhai Fellow and a Fulbright-Nehru fellow. She will be joining a dual program of MBA at Stanford and MPA at Harvard Kennedy School.

She is currently working as a Parliamentary Associate to a young Indian parliamentarian, also a renowned industrialist – Mr. Naveen Jindal.  Before this she spent two years at McKinsey & Co. in its Delhi, Mumbai & Singapore offices, where she worked across corporate, non-profit and public sector. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of impact and the complexity of issues faced by the Indian government, she left the suave corporate world to work directly with the Member of Parliament. She also founded the Entrepreneurship Development Cell (EDC) at IITD with the vision to foster the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation amongst the students on campus.



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