A soccer fan who won over the AdCom at Cornell with a GMAT 710
In Conversation with Vishnu Nair who scored a 710 on the GMAT and bagged an admit to SC Johnson Graduate School of Management.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m an electrical engineer from Mumbai University. I graduated in 2006 and worked with TCS for 2 years. I was in testing and did not find the work very interesting. I think I did my first MBA primarily because everyone was doing it. I gave the MBA CET exam and got 99.92 %. I missed out on Jamnalal Bajaj Institute by one mark. I got into Sydenham Institute of Management Studies, Research and Entrepreneurship Education. I did not know there was such a big difference between the top schools and the schools in the next tier. I used to interact with HRs of different companies as part of the placement committee in Sydenham and that’s when I realised that you really need to go to a top B-school to make a mark.
Soon after that, I got into Welspun Group, the largest pipe manufacturers in India, where I was recruited as a Brand Manager. When I joined, the company was going through a rough patch and decided to put me in the steel division where my role was business development manager.
My interest was always to be in marketing, but unfortunately in Welspun, I was more into business development. In B2B companies, there aren’t many customer- facing marketing roles. I decided that I had to pivot my career. So, I spoke to a few career consultants back then and they told me that the only way to get into FMCG marketing would be through an advertising company. So I had to make a transition from my Welspun experience. I went to Lodha and worked in Corporate Sales because that was the closest to the role I was already in. Lodha was a very good learning experience, though very difficult in terms of work culture. But that taught me a lot about people and handling sales.
Eventually I moved to the Times of India Group. At that point of time, I didn’t think of doing an MBA again but the idea was to interact with advertising agencies and brand managers when I was working directly with Times. This gave me exposure to companies and agencies. My plan was to eventually move into agencies and then into the FMCG market.
When I was working with Times, I met with an IIM- C alumnus by chance. He used to teach GMAT to students and in a random discussion I had with him, he listed down the programs that are available if you’re looking for FMCG Marketing. He told me that the ideal way to make the career shift I wanted, was to go to a top B-school first.
How did you hear about CrackVerbal?
The reason I took Verbal-only classes was because my Quant score was always above 50. I joined this class in Mumbai and realised that most of these people who were giving the GMAT had not decided the date of the exam. This made me feel that they weren’t serious about it and I didn’t want to be in a class where the students weren’t serious about their preparation. So I stopped attending those classes and looked online for any help I could find with Verbal. My wife helped me during the entire journey. She found CrackVerbal and spoke to Arun and I decided to take up CrackVerbal’s online course.
How did you go about with your GMAT Prep?
Initially I made a mistake. Since I was performing well on Quant, I thought that even if I don’t practice, I would get around 49 on the test. I did actually get a 49 on the test. The unfortunate thing is that I never got to improve upon it.
What I realised is that if you can increase your score by even one point in both the Quant and the Verbal sections, it can make a huge difference.
I always thought I knew English well enough, but then I gave my first GMAT exam and ended up getting a 28 or 29 on Verbal! That’s when I realised I had no idea what was happening in the GMAT. I put in a lot of effort to understand how they frame those questions. It took me a month to realize that no matter how difficult the questions were, the type of questions were fixed. Once you identify the patterns of such questions, you search for similar questions over the internet and in forums.
When I was getting closer to the exam day, I realised that I need to be strong in at least 2 sections of Verbal to get closer to the score that I wanted. I really focused on SC grammar. I spent a lot of time solving grammar questions. I must have done a 1000 questions in grammar. I put in a lot of effort in CR even though I found it to be easiest among the 3 because the question patterns were very similar. By the time my exam approached, my practice scores were 650 – 720- 710.
How did you manage your preparation with work?
I used to study while travelling home from work. I dedicated a good amount of time during weekends for my preparation and gave at least one test every week to get a feel of the actual exam. One of the most important things I did after every exam was to analyse where I went wrong. I was very disciplined when it came to studying for the GMAT.
What material did you use?
When I was preparing I was told a lot of things by different people. That made me purchase everything that was available. There are different styles of teaching for each of the books. It’s what suits you the best. Towards the end, I used Manhattan for critical reasoning- it was one of the best resources I’ve found. I loved the way they designed their book. I referred to Kaplan specifically for grammar and I did almost all the questions in OG for grammar.
For Quant, I didn’t use any specific material. I just practiced a set of questions from different places and memorized the formulae. I think if you’re thorough with the Math you learnt in school, you’re good to go.
What schools did you apply to?
Kellogg, Wharton, Harvard, Stanford and Cornell. Kellogg and Cornell had a 1-year programme.
What made you choose a one-year program over a 2-year program?
The biggest investment I thought about was the time. I had to spend only one year here. The big roadblock here is that you don’t have a summer internship, but it depends on what career you’re choosing. If you’re looking at consulting or supply chain role, then 1 year is not a bad idea at all. Of course if you’re looking to change your career, ideally a 2 year programme is better. Consulting companies don’t really care if you’re in a one-year program or 2-year program. They just want people who have good work experience to join.
How was your application experience?
My score was 710. When I was applying to Kellogg, CrackVerbal helped me realize that there was a special structure for each college in terms of problem, action and results. When you write an essay for the first time you might end up thinking it’s a fantastic essay only to realise it doesn’t even come close to the format you’re expecting. So read the essay, analyse it and pick out errors. In my engagement with CrackVerbal, there were 5-6 iterations of the essays, but by the end of it I was sure that my essay was really decent.
How did you crack the admit to Cornell?
The students who get into Harvard and Stanford are exceptional. The fact that I wanted to apply to top schools such as those kept me dreaming. For Cornell, the process is very interesting. They have a table of contents as one of their essays. It’s one of the best essay prompts I’ve ever seen because they give you that space to be as creative as possible. You can only write the name of the chapter and one line about the chapter- how it forms a part of your life. Since I’m a soccer fan, I created a table of contents to resemble a football field. I placed all the chapters like players on the field and every position had a reason. The goalkeeper was my primary education – something that’s the basic defence in your career. I made it really interesting so that it would catch their attention. There are 1000 essays that come to them and almost all of them talk about how great you are, so you have to stand out. I got waitlisted, probably because I was applying for marketing and because I had not done my homework with regard to placements in marketing here.
How was your interview process?
My interview was brilliant. I felt like I was driving the interview the way I wanted to. Towards the end, I was asked the question, “what is your dream company?” I told them it was P&G. The fact that it doesn’t sponsor international candidates is something I did not know and it showed badly on my side. Then he asked, “if not for P&G what is your plan B?” But I was very consistent with my answer that I would join P&G.
I was waitlisted because they weren’t sure if they could help me since companies like P&G wouldn’t sponsor me. I had a month to show that I was working on my profile. I got an additional recommendation from a client in Bombay. I also got awarded by the CEO of my company in an annual celebration after 2 weeks, so I could send that to Cornell as well. Close to getting the final result, I wrote to the admissions committee, giving them my plan B, and mentioned that if Cornell doesn’t happen, I have everything planned ahead but I want Cornell to be part of my story. I soon got a mail saying that I was admitted.
How did you finance your MBA?
Colleges like Cornell, Kellogg and Harvard have loans sanctioned from banks that they have tie-ups with. I didn’t know about it until I came here. Until then, I thought I could finance myself with a little help from family and friends so that I could borrow and repay later. I came to know that there were various options I could explore. Since you’re a student from Cornell, these financial institutions believe that your track record must be good. So they trust you and give you 100 % tuition loan at 4% interest. You can choose to take 100% or just a portion of that. It’s a sensible decision to take 100% because you get 8-9 months after you graduate to start repaying your loan. People don’t pay it off at one go. The interest is so low that you can take 15-20 years to pay it completely.
You need a good amount of money when you come to the US for your personal expenses like stay, food, travel etc. If you use that money for your education, you might end up starving yourself.
Did you apply to any scholarships?
In my opinion, an Indian has less chances of getting a scholarship in the US. Because in any B-school, you have tons of Indians who apply and get through. I know a friend from Bangladesh who came here and got a scholarship because she was the first Bangladeshi in years who came to Cornell. Scholarships make sense for those countries that have a small number of people going abroad to study. India was in that place years back I suppose.
I did apply to the Tata Scholarship, but I guess I didn’t get it because I only had a 710 on the GMAT.
How is the experience so far at Cornell?
I just have 2 months left. My 10 months here were amazing. It’s a beautiful and pristine campus – almost like Hogwarts. Cornell has around 10-15 schools and they’ll have an increased ranking soon because of the new campuses that are being opened, which means that the scale for GMAT scores will also go up soon.
They’ve got the highest placements of all the Ivy League schools in the Investment Banking domain. The one thing I love is that SC Johnson is a small school – it has around 360 students in total, so you end up knowing everyone. The access to resources is unbelievable – its above par when it comes to international standards. Most of my classmates were Indians who were IIM and IIT graduates. When you deal with such people, you automatically raise your standards.
What is your GMAT Mantra for MBA aspirants out there?
Even if you mess up all the fun you have on Saturdays and Sundays, if you give enough time for your GMAT preparation, it’ll be worth it in the end.
Thank you so much for your time Vishnu, I hope you enjoy your last 2 months at Cornell! 🙂
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