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Deferred MBA Admit to Columbia - Here's how he did it!

Professionals from all walks of life aspire to study at a top global MBA program to gain new skills, meet extraordinary people and transform their careers. However, the competition for these programs, combined with the demands of a full-time career, can cause significant uncertainty during the application period.

But what if you were assured of a place at some of the best MBA programs in the world, before you even graduated from college? Incredible as it may sound, this is a very real possibility with Deferred MBA programs!

CBS is among one of the best business schools, offering an MBA program ranked #2 in the world. At the same time, it offers deferred admits through its Deferred Enrollment Program to high-potential candidates from around the world - making them eligible to join the CBS MBA after gaining 2 to 5 years of work experience.

Candidates apply during their final year in college, or during a subsequent graduate program. When reviewing applications the admissions committee looks at their academic background, any work experience or internships that they have, and their engagement in activities outside the classroom.

We caught up with Nawaz, who worked with us to apply to some of the highly-selective Deferred MBA programs around the world. Nawaz received an admit from Columbia, and has recently graduated from IIT Bhubaneshwar.

Below is Nawaz's Deferred MBA application journey, in his own words.

Could you give a brief background about yourself?

I recently graduated from IIT Bhubaneswar with a dual degree in Mechanical Engineering. During my time there, I was an active part of the literary society and the football team and served in multiple leadership roles. I represented my college at various Inter-IIT & Inter-College competitions. I also set up an informal business club to generate interest and awareness on campus about non-core non-tech opportunities and mentored students for such roles.

I realized early on that mechanical engineering wasn't my cup of tea and found myself drawn towards finance, trading and investing in particular.

I did a total of five internships, three in finance, two of which were in the corporate advisory/risk management team of a Big-4 and one in a boutique quantitative asset management firm as a quant developer/researcher.

Out of college, I’ll be joining a prop trading firm as an analyst.

What prompted you to apply for Deferred MBA programs?

For someone captivated by the markets like me, working and experiencing life on wall street has always been my dream. I was very clear on the need for a top MBA a few years down the line to develop my business acumen, improve my leadership skills and help me make the desired transitions, both in terms of career and geography.

The Deferred MBA programs helped me take a crack at some of the top B-Schools in the world without any work-ex and would give me the flexibility to start my MBA after working for two to five years. Also, being able to tap into the network of a top school even before starting my MBA had me sold.

How did you prepare for GRE? Could you share some resources that helped you in your prep? Also, any tips for aspirants on how they can ace GRE?

My first course of action was to go through the official ETS GRE Guides. They helped me acquaint myself with the exam pattern, the types of questions I could expect, the level of difficulty and so on.

I was confident with my quant, so I didn't prep much for that; however, I still made silly mistakes while giving the practice tests or practising problems. So even if you're confident in your quant abilities, it becomes crucial to practice as much as possible to avoid those mistakes in the exam. I primarily used the Manhattan GRE 5lb book to practice questions.

For verbal & AWA prep, I went through Magoosh video lessons and practised words using Barrons 333 high-frequency word list and the Magoosh Vocab builder app available on the play store.

Apart from this, I took as many practice tests as I could. Used Barrons & McGraw Hills' six practice test books and the two free practise tests you get when signing up for the GRE. After each test, I would always go over the number and type of questions I had got wrong, try solving more questions of that type from the Manhattan 5lb book, and repeat this process for the subsequent practice tests. This really helped me narrow down and reduce my mistakes.

I gave the GRE 1-1.5 months at max and tried spending a couple of hours every day, spending most of the time working on the verbal section and vocabulary-building bits of it.

At the end of it, I was able to get a 332 (Quant-170 & Verbal-162) on my first attempt and was satisfied with it and decided not to retake the test.

One thing I learned through the application process, at least wrt the GMAT / GRE scores, is that if you're applying as part of an overrepresented applicant pool, you need to aim for scores at least a few points higher than the average score mentioned on the school website.

In the end, remember that your score is only one aspect of your entire application, not the entire application itself. Please don't spend too long stressing over it if you don't hit your desired scores. Instead, work on better presenting your story to AdCom.

How did you decide which schools to apply to?

Post-MBA, I will primarily be looking to break into investment management on wall street, so I combed through the finance departments at various schools, their offerings, and their placement records in finance and investment management in particular.

At the end of my research, I shortlisted Wharton, Chicago Booth, Columbia & MIT Sloan, all of which were solid schools for finance. I also decided to shoot my shot at Harvard & Stanford (for no particular reason except that they were Harvard & Stanford).

I would advise reviewing the schools' offerings, their strengths and how well they align with YOUR goals and not blindly go by rankings. Do reach out to current students and get a better sense of the school culture and your fit.

Why did you feel the need for working with a consultant? Why did you choose to work with Management Masters?

I only had one shot at the deferred MBA applications, and if I screwed it up, I would have to work for at least 3-4 years, build a solid profile and try applying for the regular intake. I didn't really want to take this chance and wanted to put my best foot forward this time itself, which is why working with a consultant seemed to be a good idea.

I chose to work with MM primarily because of my initial interactions with Piyush. I really liked the way the first profile evaluation call went and felt he was the right person to go ahead with. Piyush came off as really friendly and genuinely invested in wanting to help you craft your best application. That, coupled with the more "affordable" price point compared to a few other MBA consultants I spoke with, had me sold.

Considering this, I decided to work with Piyush for Wharton, Columbia & Chicago Booth.

How did you approach your application and essays? How did working with us help you in the essay-building process?

The essays required a lot of introspection, and I had to really spend time and delve into my life experiences up to that point, my goals and motivations, what mattered to me and why.

Calls with Piyush were extremely helpful in helping me figure out my story, structure my thoughts and pen them down. Piyush was readily available whenever I struggled with an essay question or faced writer's block. While he obviously didn't write the essay for me, he really helped me understand what AdComs are looking for in the essay and the type of experiences I could share.

The initial drafts took the longest to frame because I tried making every word seem perfect. Piyush was again helpful in getting me out of this zone and making me understand that the first drafts will NEVER be flawless, so instead, work on getting the content out there first. Solid advice I would give to everyone working on their essays; focus on the content first. The language won't really matter if there's no content in the first place.

Over the course of multiple drafts and edits, I could really see the difference between the first draft and the end product, and it was quite the improvement.

How did you prepare for your interview?

I received interview invites from Booth & Columbia. I signed up for two mock interviews with MM, one taken by Piyush and another by Eswar (Kellogg MBA). The mock interviews helped me understand the mistakes I was making and how I could better frame my answers. The advice I received helped me better present myself and my story during the actual interviews.

I also went through multiple interview debriefs on Clear Admit and GMAT club and an extensive list of questions Piyush sent over. I tried having at least one or two stories for each behavioural question at the top of my head, so I didn't go completely blank during the interview.

Also, go through your entire application and essays multiple times before your interviews and ensure you have your story straight. The interviewers take extensive notes, and it might be a problem if what you say differs from what you've written.

How was the overall application process for you?

The overall application process was highly intensive and tiring. Working on the applications and essays required a lot of introspection, and I spent quite a few hours mulling over each essay. Even though I started at least a few months before the deadlines, I found it difficult to stay on top of the essay deadlines I had set with Piyush.

The applications were extremely comprehensive, and each element, from your resume to test scores to essays and recommendations, could be thought of as cogs.

Your job is to reduce the friction between the different cogs and present a cohesive application that genuinely describes you, all your achievements, motivations and aspirations and your journey so far. 

Working with Piyush helped me do that better than I would have on my own.

What would you advise candidates applying for Deferred MBA programs?

Start as early as possible. Extensively research your target schools, and make an effort to get to know the school, the program and all the offerings by talking with the current students. Your research will really show up in your applications and in the interview stage.

Also, as a deferred applicant, be extra-clear on the "Why MBA" and why you're applying now instead of waiting for a few years.


Piyush Ranjan is the Founder of Management Masters. He has helped multiple candidates get admits from some of the best schools around the world, including the likes of Wharton, Kellogg, London Business School, INSEAD, HEC Paris, Booth, Duke Fuqua, Darden, Haas, Tuck, Cambridge, Cornell, Indian School of Business and others.

If you are looking for help with your applications, connect with us.


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