Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ivy league goes the IIM way - II

So Indian students with the right credentials and less or even no work experience have a decent chance of getting into a good US bschool. But as Suze Orman would say, "Can you afford it?" It can be tougher than you think. A recent grad shares his experience:

I graduated from a top-20 school (which isn't an Ivy League by the way, but then when we were talking Stanfords and GSBs, I guess a non-ivy isn't necessarily a deal breaker). My decision to pursue an MBA wasn't economically motivated - I was doing pretty well back home, and just wanted to try something else, and I didn't know what that something else was supposed to me.

Coming to America wasn't as regrettable as going in for an MBA was. The two years were real tough. The school didn't guarantee loans, and I mismanaged my funds. One of my loans didn't come through and I was stranded mid-way, having spent nearly 40,000 dollars at the end of the first year and with no money for the second year. I had to negotiate with school to allow me to continue, which they did but there were times when I had to choose between being able to pay my bills or buying groceries.

(And now that I started earning again, that strain is eased but the school has held my diploma till I pay of my dues - and that means no India trip for me for a long time).

I was the only one in my class who had never worked outside of India (and never earned foreign moolah) - so there weren't too many people who could relate to the situation. But even though I might be a one-off case, MBA is pretty expensive whatever way you look at it (an MBA costs you one half of what it costs you to buy an average home in America), and even if you get a loan, it's important to keep in mind that we, termed aliens for tax purposes won't get credits for the tuitions or the interests that we pay (unlike the citizens).

Getting an MBA could be a positive NPV venture but the initial cash outflows could create a BIG void. The second disadvantage that we aliens have is the (non) availability of work visas (there is no guarantee you would get one even though you might have a good job and you are ineligible for a lot of positions because of your visa status).

Apart from the high expense, the experience has been awesome. There were people from more than 30 different countries, and the age difference varied. In a class of nearly 165, there were 7 who had near zero work experience. They were either undergrads at the same institute and had developed good rapport with the admission staff/faculty, or had dabbed in entrepreneurship (e.g. one had started a gaming company, the other used to sell designer clothes), or were pursuing joint degrees (one was a medical student and another a law student).

I wouldn't know how would they have fared had they pursued job opportunities. Only one of them actively looked for jobs (and even though he had multiple job offers, most offers were a rung or two lower than what they would have been had he had some experience under his belt). Almost all the interviews I had were based on my work experience pre-MBA and so I believe it matters a lot. But younger people do tend to get higher salaries (younger = less than average age) though I don't have stats to prove that. And Indians tend to be among the younger lot.

The older guys didn't really care much about salaries (quite a few of them knew they would have to settle down with lower than their pre-MBA salaries because they were switching careers).

In short, MBA in the US is akin to a two year reality show. The stakes are high - and if you don't have sufficient assets to back your loans, one mistake could put you in debt for life. Work experience helps (the kinds where you have managed people or dealt with bureaucracy or been caught up fixing processes). And if you come straight from India, there is a lot of potential to learn and have fun at the same time.

"Whatever the reasons, the bottomline is, if you have a high GMAT score, great academics and something in your CV which stands out in terms of leadership skills or entrepreneurial experience, you should take a shot at top US bschools. Even as you take the CAT, XAT and all that."..Completely agree. Just one thing to add. Make an informed decision whatever school you choose to go to.

If you'd like to share your experience or advice on doing an MBA abroad, write to me at rashmi_b at


  1. I read both your posts on the Ivy League schools willing to take in ppl with negligible work ex..Though the signs are encouraging, cost still remains a huge factor. Moreover, whatever scholarships are available, come with certain conditionalities which limit post-MBA growth prospects.

    Nevertheless, the articles made a lot of sense. It would be really great if you could come up with an article mentioning some realistic options for freshers wanting to persue an MBA abroad.

  2. most of the top 15 b-schools have school guaranteed loans, and thats a major b-school-selection criterion for internationals,
    if you go to a school with your loans not in place its your fault, work visa thingie mentioned is also surreally false.. overall the BS factor in this post seems to very very high, would be interested in knowing which school did this person go to

  3. why only foreign institutes ,our very own indian B-schools are asking for such hefty amounts that an average middle class person has to take shelter in bank loans.The price stigma is still there with private B-schools.

  4. Rashmi ... really don't expect such vague & general stuff on your blog. I know you've not written this piece but whoever wrote that is one confused guy without any solid point of view.

    The icing was : "MBA in the US is like a 2 year reality show" ... come on give me a break !!!

  5. Please! .... there are more IIM grads per batch doing a second MBA in Ivy league schools (and LBS and INSEAD in Europe)than there are students with 'no' work ex.

    For someone trying to help prospective students make career decisions this is a pretty disturbing post.

    Rule no 1: never make (extreme) exceptions sound like the rule.

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