One of the most competitive MBA applicant pools year-in and year-out is the vast crop of talented applicants originating from the subcontinent of India. Every year, top business schools are flooded with qualified Indian applicants that present a bevy of challenging decisions for admissions committees around the world. If you’re a member of the Indian applicant pool, it is important to understand how the admission committee will view you – having a good handle on this can help a smart applicant properly strategize on producing a “winning” application.
With so many candidates and so few spots available, it is more important than ever for Indian applicants to create an admissions package that stands out from the masses. But how is this done?
Let’s discuss some different ways the typical Indian candidate can create an application package that stands out from the competition.
The Indian applicant pool is known for being predominantly populated by one of the country’s biggest industries: the IT industry is by far the biggest pipeline of MBA talent coming out of India. This fact feeds into the reputation of the “homogeneous” Indian applicant, and “homogeneous” is rarely ever a good buzzword when it comes to gaining admission into business school.
For many application-ready candidates, this is a tough area to stand out in. But there are still some things to do for those candidates in the early stages of planning for their MBA, or those already in the midst of application season. For those in the early stages, this can involve pursuing industries that align with an area of interest, particularly if that is outside of the IT industry.
For those already within their target industry, taking on leadership opportunities in an existing role or exploring development in other areas or functions of your current job can present a strong growth trajectory. Whatever stage you are in as a candidate, the key here is to showcase yourself as a high-potential future leader with the flexibility to succeed in multiple work functions and industries.
This one is pretty simple – with so many applicants flooding the business school pipeline; it is critical for a competitive Indian applicant to achieve a strong score on the GMAT. What is a strong score, you may ask?
Many Indian applicants come in with above-average GMAT scores, which makes this aspect of the admissions process particularly competitive. With so many high-performing applicants coming from this region, admitted candidates often report GMAT scores that exceed school averages.
Generally, you will want to aim for around +20 points above the average score for your target program, with anything above that, of course, being increasingly more beneficial for your application.
Education is another fairly competitive area that is pretty unique in comparison to the typical structure favored by U.S. educators. Coming from a nation with a unique ranking system and some high-profile colleges, this is an area where international Indian candidates can try and stand out. Another common item on the transcript of the Indian MBA applicant can actually be an MBA. It is not uncommon for candidates to pursue a second Western MBA after already completing one in-country, so if this is you, make sure to have a clear rationale on why a second MBA is necessary.
A common knock against the Indian applicant is the non-data portion of the application process. A lot of focus tends to go into the GMAT, and not enough on other more nuanced elements of the application. This reputation feeds into the “homogeneous” reputation of the Indian applicant, as the opportunity to differentiate is often missed.
Undergraduate engagement is important, but continued engagement is also key. The focus in this area should be on leadership within these activities and not just participation. Don’t be afraid to leverage these experiences for other areas of your application as well – your ability to share highlights and impact from your engagements will go a long way in establishing these as meaningful experiences in your application.
Be interesting! Too many essays are bland responses focused on writing what the candidate feels the AdComm wants to hear. Breakthrough essays will be introspective and passionate responses that provide a unique insight into a candidate’s personal and professional background and goals. Avoid generic responses and use language that builds a narrative that cannot otherwise be gleaned from a resume or transcript.
Understanding the perception of your applicant pool is a key first step in creating a strategy to differentiate your profile from the masses. Use these tips as a starting point to creating a breakthrough application that showcases you as a unique candidate.
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Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more of his articles here.