From Small Town India to the World's Best Business School
Updated: Nov 8, 2020
When we think of the prestige and history associated with Stanford University, it’s very easy to believe that the students who study there come from the most elite of backgrounds; and therefore that it’s probably out of the reach for most of us. If that’s something you’ve been thinking too, we’re here to change your mind.
We sat down with Chanchal Bhoorani to discuss her journey to joining Stanford with an 80% scholarship, while also receiving an admit from Wharton and a wait-list from MIT Sloan. This is her story, in her own words!
Coming from a small town in Rajasthan, I completed my undergraduate studies from IIT-BHU where I earned a B.Tech in Metallurgical Engineering. During my time in college, I was heavily involved in many technical activities and events, and also worked with a student run non-profit called Kaashi Utkarsh.
After graduation, I had the opportunity to explore a variety of roles working with some of India’s most exciting startups, namely Mu Sigma, Ola, and Zilingo. With the last two, I worked in product analyst and then product management roles.
So with everything going so well, many people often asked me why did I still want to do an MBA? Especially since I have always maintained that that I wasn’t amongst the crowd who were always very keen on giving their CAT and doing an MBA.
The answer for me was that I would only want to go for an MBA when I truly felt I needed it. And at the end of the day, it came down to a few key personal and professional reasons.
The first was that I’d always wanted to study abroad to get some truly global exposure, not just from a work perspective, but to make some close friends who have been raised differently, who have grown up in different circumstances, and have seen the world from a different point of view. Even if someone is working abroad, it’s difficult to make those sort of friends and connections, which is why I was keen to study abroad.
The other key reason was to build a global network since I am keen to start my own venture in the future. The level of exposure I would be able to get from a top international business school is very unique, and I don’t think I would have been able to build the type of network I wanted to without it.
I believe these reasons bring out one of the most pivotal parts of any study abroad experience in my opinion. While top schools undoubtedly have outstanding faculty and curriculum, most students would agree that their biggest takeaways are the ones they get from their peers. Seeing the world through a new lens, having spent your whole life only looking through one, completely changes our perspectives and makes us appreciate everything so much more!
While my eventual admits and scholarships were successful, my process to get there was far from ideal! I only found out about the Stanford Dhirubhai Fellowship a week before the deadline (which was also the week I was starting a new job at Zilingo), but luckily was able to get it done in time. My GMAT preparation and application work were also significantly delayed due to my work commitments and I only really started working on them in December (with deadlines in early January). It did work out in the end, but I really wouldn’t recommend anyone procrastinating as much as I did.
The one key piece of advice I’d like to give about your applications is to do your best to talk to recent alumni of the schools where you are applying. The information on the school website or blogs are available to everyone, and while these can be a good starting point, talking to students and alumni is the only way to get more key insights about the school. This extra effort can often be seen in your application and interviews, and helps you stand out as someone who is genuinely passionate and knowledgeable about the program they are applying to.
Another aspect of applying to the best programs in the world is that there really is no one size fits all approach. While I got positive responses from Stanford and Wharton, I didn’t even receive an interview call from Harvard. And similarly I’ve met people who received admits from Harvard but never got through to Stanford. At the end of the day, you do need a strong profile and positive stories to tell for any school, but getting an admit is very often a case of your fit with the school’s culture.
So if I had to sum up the biggest things I learnt through this long journey which I would like to share with other applicants, they would be:
Know your ‘Why’: Yes, you’ll have a great time and end up with a great job but that alone cannot dictate your decision to apply to a specific business school. Having a genuine motivation and direction amplifies not only your experience at the school, but also your chances of getting an admit.
One of my key beliefs and ambitions in life has always been creation of opportunities. This belief and drive was at the crux of my applications, and especially in my essay ‘What matters the most to you and why?’. The clarity I had was a vital part of the whole application and undoubtedly helped me put forward a strong case for a seat at these top schools.
There’s no magic formula: As was clear in my case, I was able to get an admit along with a prestigious scholarship for Stanford, and yet wasn’t even able to get an interview call for Harvard Business School. A strong GMAT/academic background, good work experience, strong personal stories are all helpful in your application journey, but it’s also very often just a case of whether you fit the school’s culture and beliefs.