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Gaining Admits & Scholarships from Top MBA programs without GMAT or GRE

Updated: 3 days ago

Palak's journey to securing admissions at Vanderbilt Owen (with a Forte Foundation scholarship) and Georgetown McDonough was marked by strategic decisions and perseverance. After graduating from Delhi University in 2015 and holding a CPA, she accumulated nearly seven years of experience at KPMG, rising from an audit assistant to managing large teams for major financial services firms. Inspired by industry leaders, Palak sought to transition from auditing to strategic formulation, prompting her pursuit of an MBA. Seeking assistance for mock interviews with Vanderbilt Owen, she applied suggested strategies, ultimately securing admissions to both schools.

In our discussion, she shared insights into her application journey, career trajectory, application tactics, and advice for prospective candidates. Read her story below:

Introduction, Background & Why MBA?

My journey began with a Bachelor's in Commerce Honors from Delhi University's Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, an experience I cherish. Post-graduation, I landed a campus placement at KPMG in audit, steadily advancing from associate to assistant manager in six years and nine months. I seized the opportunity to work in the UK for six months, enriching my client-facing skills—an invaluable asset in my career. Pursuing my CPA three years into auditing, I found my passion in accounting, navigating the rigorous exams with determination. This journey affirmed my desire to transition to consulting, driving me to pursue further opportunities, including my aspiration to work in the US. As my career trajectory evolved, so did my interactions, paving the way for more focused roles and connections that shaped my professional growth.

My journey towards obtaining my CPA certification was fueled by a genuine passion for accounting and a desire to excel in my field. Starting my CPA journey about three years into my auditing career, I found myself immersed in a world of learning and growth. CPA, I realized, is tailored for those who truly love accounting—a sentiment that resonated with me as I tackled the challenging exams, persisting through multiple attempts to clear them. Moreover, a latent aspiration to work in the US motivated my pursuit of the CPA credential.

However, as I progressed in my career, taking on roles with increasing responsibilities, I found myself yearning for more than just executing accounting procedures. I wanted to be on the side of crafting strategies and making decisions. This realization dawned during my stint in London, where I had the opportunity to interact closely with CFOs and managing directors, sparking a desire to transition to strategic roles. Upon returning, I embarked on extensive research, which ultimately led me to the realization that pursuing an MBA was the pathway to attaining my goals. In 2019 and into 2020, my research culminated in the decision to pursue an MBA, marking the next chapter in my professional journey.

MBA Apprehensions Unveiled

I primarily harbored personal apprehensions rather than professional ones about pursuing an MBA. As a woman in my mid-twenties, I felt the weight of societal expectations, especially regarding marriage. Fortunately, my parents respected my decision to prioritize my career over societal norms. Their unwavering support bolstered my confidence in my capabilities, reassuring me that I could navigate the MBA journey with thorough research and goal-setting. Despite unforeseen delays, such as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I remained steadfast in my determination to pursue higher education. While I had initially anticipated starting my MBA sooner, I embraced the opportunity to commence at the age of 28, backed by the steadfast support of my family. Recognizing hard work and consistency as my strengths, I felt assured of my ability to overcome academic challenges and excel in my MBA program.

Top MBA Programs Without GMAT: Conquering GMAT Challenges & EA

Embarking on my MBA application journey with a CPA credential, I was confident, believing that conquering the GMAT would be a mere formality. However, this confidence soon gave way to a humbling realization of my overestimation. While I acknowledged the GMAT's reputation for difficulty, I underestimated the unique challenges it presented, falsely assuming that my rigorous CPA preparation would suffice. Furthermore, starting my GMAT studies later than advisable only compounded my struggles, leaving me feeling ill-prepared and disheartened.

In my quest for effective study resources, I explored various test preparation companies, each promising success. However, despite their reputable names, none seemed to align with my needs or expectations, leaving me disillusioned. This experience of grappling with GMAT preparation not only tested my academic abilities but also dented my confidence, leading me to question my readiness for the MBA journey.

Yet, amidst this struggle, a crucial realization emerged: the GMAT score was not the sole determinant of success in pursuing an MBA. Recognizing that excellence in the GMAT did not necessarily translate to success in the MBA program or subsequent career endeavors, I underwent a transformative shift in mindset. This shift liberated me from the fixation on GMAT scores and opened my eyes to alternative paths, such as considering the GRE or the Executive Assessment.

Exploring these alternatives, I discovered the Executive Assessment—a shorter, more focused exam offered by GMAC. While initially hesitant due to its relative novelty, I was intrigued by its overlap with the GMAT syllabus and its growing acceptance among top schools. Seeking clarity on its expectations, I reached out to schools and was happy by their responsiveness and insights. Armed with this knowledge, I approached the Executive Assessment with renewed diligence, leveraging my prior GMAT preparation and completing it on my first attempt.

From this experience, my advice to students is simple: choose the standardized exam that suits you best. Whether it's the GMAT, GRE, or Executive Assessment, focus on readiness for your MBA program, not just acing a test. 

Navigating School Selection with EA Score

With the Executive Assessment, I found myself primarily considering US schools, especially those offering full-time MBA programs. This prompted a reassessment of my goals to align them with the school's offerings. Fortunately, many prestigious institutions accepted the Executive Assessment, such as Columbia, even though I ultimately didn't apply there. I encourage others to explore this option if it aligns with their goals and circumstances, especially if balancing work and personal responsibilities makes the intensive GMAT preparation challenging. It's not about diminishing the importance of the GMAT but rather understanding your goals and choosing the best path forward, which may vary depending on your aspirations, such as mine, which didn't involve investment banking.

It became clear that the firms and career paths I was interested in didn't prioritize the GMAT as much. This realization simplified my decision-making process regarding school selection. By aligning my goals with each school's offerings, I could streamline my application choices more effectively. Factors such as location and the collaborative atmosphere of the institution also played a significant role in my decision-making. I valued a supportive environment over cutthroat competition, making it essential for me to find a school where students worked together rather than competed against each other.

Schools like Vanderbilt and Georgetown McDonough, known for their friendly and collaborative environments, aligned well with my values and aspirations. Through conversations with representatives from various schools, I gained insights into each institution's culture and ethos. This process allowed me to narrow down my choices to three or four schools that resonated most with me. Assessing the fit between my values and those of the schools I considered was crucial in my decision-making process. After all, choosing the right MBA program is not just about academic prestige but also about finding a community where I can thrive and grow personally and professionally. These interactions and considerations have been instrumental in shaping the trajectory of my life over the past two years, emphasizing the importance of making informed decisions that align with my goals and values.

MBA Application Roadmap

The first step I took in the application process was listing all the questions asked by the schools, giving me an idea of their expectations. Then, I sought a consultant's help, but being wary of additional expenses after the GMAT, I opted for Applicant Lab, an unconventional choice in India.

Over my seven-year tenure as an assistant manager, I've encountered a myriad of experiences, from navigating difficult client interactions to leading teams through various challenges. I've learned to leverage these stories by aligning them with the values prized by the schools I applied to. I believe a key factor in my success was my deep self-awareness, which guided me in crafting application strategies that truly reflected who I am and what I can offer. It's this understanding of myself that allowed me to present a compelling narrative that resonated with the schools' expectations and requirements.

Throughout the MBA application process, one of the most challenging aspects for me was engaging in conversations with people, particularly one-on-one interactions. In India, we often focus heavily on technical skills, but the importance of interpersonal communication and networking can sometimes be overlooked. Despite considering myself proficient in communication due to my corporate experience, I found it challenging to navigate small talk, understand others' perspectives, and build rapport, especially with admissions committee members.

Initially, I struggled with self-doubt, labeling myself as an introvert and fearing these interactions. However, I recognized that to achieve my goals, I needed to overcome this fear and step out of my comfort zone. It was a journey of personal growth, pushing myself to engage in conversations, reach out to students, and understand the value of networking in the application process. Preparation became key—I realized the importance of having questions ready, either written down or in a notes app, to guide the conversation effectively. This approach helped me navigate discussions with greater ease and confidence. While such networking practices may not be common in India, they are essential for many U.S. and European schools, highlighting the cultural differences in application processes.

I made the decision to pursue my full-time MBA at Vanderbilt University - Owen Graduate School of Management, eager to engage with their finance clubs and women’s business associations.

Mastering Mock Interview Prep with Management Masters

I sought mock interviews because I realized that excelling in my corporate career didn't automatically translate to effective communication in MBA interviews. Each setting has its own nuances, and I wanted to bridge this gap with experienced guidance. I'd been following Piyush's work on LinkedIn for about two years, and I found countless helpful tips in his posts, which is why I was thrilled to engage with Management Masters' mock interview prep. The experience was exceptional, thanks to his team's hard work and dedication. I felt confident and reassured throughout the process. 

In both my mock interviews, I was pleasantly surprised by the comfortable and accommodating nature of the interviewers, Harsh and Aniket. I assure you that you can trust them with your life. Although I initially felt confident, I struggled as the interview progressed. However, Harsh's constructive feedback proved to be invaluable. His advice was not just criticism, but it was also targeted and actionable, which helped me improve. I truly appreciated the precision and thoughtfulness in the feedback provided. Before attempting the second mock interview, I watched the recording twice to ensure that I was ready. Although I believed that I had done well, the next set of feedback surprised me even more. It was the real deal. The entire experience was truly transformative, thanks to their expertise and genuine dedication.

Watch The Video Interview

You can also watch the complete video interview below.

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