In Conversation with Swati Kathuriya who scored a 700 on the GMAT and bagged admits to Kelley and Oxford…
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I did my B.Tech in Noida and then worked in Infosys, Bangalore . I wanted to move into the consulting field, so I joined Deloitte. Over there, I dealt with business intelligence under analytics. After that, I moved to Oracle Global Business Unit since I wanted to understand the retail domain within the analytics world. Post that, I joined a start-up. I have been working there since 1.5 years and I lead the analytics practice from the India office.
Wow! That’s a lot of diverse roles you’ve got there! J Why the shift from Infosys to Deloitte?
I was into software in Infosys, working for the income tax department of India, which was our client. However, I realized early on that I wanted to understand the world of consulting. Therefore, I moved to the analytics wing of Deloitte.
What was your motivation behind an MBA?
I had around 7 years of experience and I was at a point where I wanted to fast-track my career. I didn’t exactly want to move away from an IT role but I wanted to work from a more strategic point of view. I was into analytics development then; I wanted to understand how senior managers took decisions regarding what type of reports were required to improve production. I realised I needed business knowledge in order to figure that out. That was the reason I decided to do an MBA.
How did you go about your GMAT preparation?
The first thing I did was take the GMAT practice test to figure out which areas I needed to focus more on. I realised that my Math is pretty strong and that Verbal was my weak area. I searched online for coaching centres that were more focussed on Verbal training. I came across really good reviews online about CrackVerbal and also the name sounded quite appealing, so I joined them. After joining, I got an idea of how to prepare for the GMAT.
I gave around one mock test a week to build my stamina for the four-hour test!
Once my coaching was over in July, I booked a test slot for September, gave the test and scored a 700!
That’s a great score! Looks like you booked your test date within 2 months of starting your preparation. Were you confident about your performance when you booked your date?
I know myself and I know there wouldn’t be a day when I would be completely satisfied with whatever training I’ve done so far. I realised that I needed to take the test because I wanted to apply in round 1 of all the colleges. I booked the slot for September so that I’d have enough time to apply to R1!
What was particularly tough for you in GMAT Verbal and how did you overcome it?
All the 3 sections- SC, RC and CR were pretty difficult for me. To prepare better, I requested for a change in my office timings. I knew I couldn’t study after work so I decided to take a noon shift, so that I could study in the morning. I knew that eventually the spark would go off and I wouldn’t be able to wake up early in the morning. So I made a schedule of studying from 9am to 1 pm and going to office an hour after that. I devoted my morning hours to all the sections.
For RC, the ideal method varies from person to person. Some people prefer reading the first 2 paras and then scribbling notes. Some prefer scribbling while reading itself. I did various passages for RC and then figured out the best technique for myself.
For SC and CR, I totally followed the strategies CrackVerbal gave me. I practiced questions from OG and used the CrackVerbal material to prepare.
How was the day of the GMAT exam?
It was very different from the mocks that I gave. I felt like I fell short of time, but managed to complete the exam. I guess if you practice enough, you won’t have this experience. If the exam is for 4 hours, try and complete the mocks in 3 hours 15 minutes, so that you’re well prepared.
During the break, I ate a chocolate and drank Redbull since I was habituated to this during my mocks as well!
How did you go about your application process?
I took CrackVerbal’s help for applications as well. I targeted different schools. I didn’t get a call from LBS even though I had a 700 on the GMAT since my profile wasn’t up to the level that LBS looks for. I got calls from Kelley and Oxford.
I also took help from CrackVerbal for my interviews as well. When I gave my first mock, I was pretty bad at it. Through the mock, I learnt techniques to prepare for my actual interviews. I followed that and prepared well. I interviewed with SAID and Kelley and converted both of them to admits. I finally decided to join SAID Business School.
What was your criteria behind selecting B-schools?
For both SAID and Kelley, there were different criteria. Kelley has a very good MBA in analytics. Since analytics was one of my strong areas, I wanted to leverage my past experience and that’s why I targeted Kelley. The only disadvantage was that an MBA in Kelley was a 2-year program and I wasn’t eager to invest 2 years there. SAID on the other hand, had the Oxford brand. I wanted a brand attached to my resume. Within SAID, I found a really good programme in analytics that I could apply to. Since it was a one year program, I chose it over Kelley.
What did you highlight in your essays?
Every school tries to see how much research you’ve done. Even before applying I had attended a corporate chat session with an Oxford alumnus. I highlighted that in my essay. They were focused on that key point and wanted to know if I really met him. So, they asked questions on the session, what I understood from it, why did I choose Oxford and so on.
Each school wants to see how much you’re interested in their school. They prefer you over other candidates if they know you’ve gone out of your way to learn more about the school.
The common questions are ‘Why MBA?’ and ‘Why at this point of time?’
How was your interview experience like?
My interview was taken by the HOD of Oxford. She was quite friendly. It was pleasant and she mostly asked questions out of my application. I’ve heard that you get questioned on current affairs in your interviews, but I didn’t face that. Since I’ve mentioned quite a lot about analytics in my application and also because there was research happening around ‘Big data’ at Oxford at that point of time, I was pretty sure that she would ask me questions on that. Since I researched a lot on the school and read every page of their website, I realised that this research that they were doing would enable them to give back to the society. I prepared my answers based on these facts and so I was able to make my way through.
You have to see what you’ve written in your application, do your research on the B-school website, correlate the two and think about the questions they could ask you.
Wow! That is some insightful advice. How was your CrackVerbal experience?
The application services were really helpful. As I mentioned before, each one has to do their own research and frame their applications according to their own personality. However, when CrackVerbal worked on my application, they framed my ideas and sentences in such a beautiful manner that it had a very different value attached to it. The way it was structured was beautiful.
We may not be writers, we may not know how to present our ideas in the right format, and that’s where CrackVerbal comes in.
The brainstorming sessions helped me with my B-school selection. I could cut down my B-school list with these sessions and choose schools that would be the right fit for me.
After my first mock interview, they gave me a clear idea on my weak points so that I could prepare accordingly. Their feedback helped and I was able to regain my confidence for the second mock and did fairly well in it.
How do you plan to finance your MBA?
I’m a saver! So I’ve got a lot of savings. I also got a Prodigy loan, where they lend you the tuition fees. In some cases, they don’t fully cover it- like in my case. If you apply earlier, there are more chances of full coverage of your tuition fees. Apart from that, you will need a lot of money for your personal expenses.
Since I wasn’t aware of the Prodigy loan earlier on, I planned on how to sort out my finances much earlier. I knew that the earlier the better, because if I kept thinking about how to finance my MBA at a later stage, I wouldn’t be able to prepare well for the GMAT. Luckily I got the Prodigy loan as well, so that helped.
Do you have any words of wisdom for other MBA aspirants?
You need to be really persistent with your GMAT prep. People tend to lose focus and drop out. Be very clear whether you want to do an MBA or not. You should know yourself well enough to plan your day accordingly and know well in advance whether you would be able to achieve it. Figure out what time of the day your brain works fastest and set it aside for preparation.
For GMAT, I think CrackVerbal strategies are more than enough to help you ace Verbal because their methods are sorted out, so you don’t have to work that hard to get a magical score.
For your applications, it always best to take help if you don’t write as well because it’s difficult to frame sentences. After CrackVerbal worked on my essays, I found a tremendous difference. The content may be the same, but there’s a huge impact that comes with the way its structured.
Mock interviews will definitely help. Record them and play it back to understand how you can improve on your tone, speed, content etc.
That was some valuable guidance Swati! Thanks for your time and all the best with your future! J