Some aspirations, some hard work, some focus, some preparation, some guidance & a little bit of luck! My Journey from a small college town in India to Harvard Business School M.B.A. program
It had been more than a month and I had not heard back from the Harvard Business School admissions office on the final decision after my interview. I had a great interview in Dallas with a Harvard Business School Alumni, and I came out feeling positive and optimistic from the discussions. Each day I would check my home answering machine, multiple times from work, and run to open the mail as soon as I would get back from work.
Finally, I could not take any more of the anxiety and called the admissions office to find out why I had not yet heard back from them. The phone on the other end rang, my heartbeat raced like an F-1 car racing on the track as I waited from someone to pick it up. “Hello, this is Harvard Business School admissions office, how may I help you?” The lady on the other end listened patiently to my request and told me to wait so she could check on the status of my application.
I still remember those 30 seconds I had to wait. It seemed like an eternity. She came back and said, “I looked at your file and a decision is not yet made.” “Does this mean I am on the waitlist or is my application not strong enough, ” I wondered. She continued on to the next sentence before other ideas could cross my mind. “ You were interviewed by one of our experienced Alumni and he is very well regarded here at the admissions office. Unfortunately, he injured his hand after the interview so we are waiting for a written response from him. I know you are anxious to hear back from us, just give us one more week, as we should be getting his feedback soon. You are in good hands”.
The final call came a week later with a voicemail on my answering machine at home. I listened to it feeling joyful, a feeling of pride as I played the message a few times, “Dear Ajay, this is XXX calling from the Harvard Business School admissions office. We have some good news to share with you. Please call us back at this number.” I had done it! My hard work, my belief that I could get admitted to the top MBA College, had finally paid off.
A few years back if someone would have told me I would get into Harvard Business School for an MBA, I would not have paid much attention to it and maybe would have even laughed at them. I grew up in an upper middle-class family in India and had been a top student at school. Just like millions of middle-class students out there, I had the desire, passion, and commitment to work hard to create a strong future for myself. However, I would never think I could make it to a top business school in the world, as it seemed a distant dream and a school that was out of my reach.
After my high school education in India from a boarding school, I joined Electronics & Communication Engg. Program at IIT Roorkee (or Univ. of Roorkee). The university was the oldest engineering institute in India, highly competitive in admissions and one of the finest in the country.
As I had made it to this prestigious engineering institute, I decided to enjoy my time. Grades were important but not the only thing I cared about. During those undergraduate years, my goal was always to balance, enjoy, learn and make the best of what we had. In terms of academic performance, there were a few good semesters and a few not so good semesters. At the end of the day, I made sure I had fun while maintaining my grades.
I am glad I did maintain a balance as those grades, as having good grades and being an honor student definitely helped me as I applied for my graduate studies to U.S. universities and later to the top MBA colleges in the U.S. One advice I give to students as they enter their college years is to enjoy their time, have fun but also maintain their grades. Good grades always help you in the job search as well as in the application for higher studies.
After my Undergraduate studies, like many other students from IIT, I applied to U.S. colleges for M.S and came to the U.S. My father was a big influencer in this decision as he had come to the U.S. in 1960s and returned back to India to teach at a university. He was instrumental in helping me pursue higher studies in the U.S. From his own experience, my father firmly believed the U.S. offered the best platform for higher education, learning and personal development. He himself had seen the benefits, less so monetary, and made sure his children had the same opportunity. My parents had worked hard; saved enough to make sure they could send each one of their children to U.S. for higher education.
The next phase of my studies took me to Texas, U.S.A. I joined Univ. of Texas at Austin to pursue my M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engg. Program. U.T. Austin had a wonderful program, a good reputation and hundreds of International students in the graduate studies. Plus, my older brother had graduated from U.T. Austin, lived in Austin and was there to guide me and help me as I settled down.
The next two years of my life was a lot of hard work, with days filled with 12-15 hours of studies, few hours of part-time work and having some fun when you had time over the weekend. Overall, these two years played a defining role in my personal and professional growth as they taught me how to adjust, learn, earn, compete and become independent. It was a steep learning curve but worth every penny of effort. I graduated with flying colors from U.T Austin with major in chip design and software engineering. A key to success I learned at U.T Austin is to join a good university for education, never give up, even when you have a tough road ahead. Just put your head down and double down on your hard work.
After graduating from U.T Austin, I joined a smaller, growing Semiconductor Company called Crystal Semiconductor, a subsidiary of Cirrus Logic, in Austin. At Crystal, I had the opportunity to be part of a design team working on the next generation of products. Being a small company, each one of us on the team had the unique opportunity to do a number of things, take on a leadership role and test out creative ideas.
It was a perfect platform for me to shine, take leadership roles and be a change agent. This was my first job ever but I was not shy of putting forth new ideas or trying new things. Now free of evening studies, this new phase of life also gave me enough time to involve in extra-curricular activities outside work. In some of these community activities, I was a just a community service participant and in a few of them, I was active as a leader.
I always had the aspiration to do an M.B.A. after working for a few years in the industry. Although I enjoyed my job as a design engineer working on cutting edge of technology, still I felt like I wanted to be part of the financial services industry.
I loved trading stocks, investing and giving investment advice to my friends. Somewhere back in my heart, I had the desire of opening my own business at some point in my career. Definitely switching job industry required me to do an MBA. Opening my own venture did not require one but an MBA would have helped.
After my older brother got into Harvard Business School, I also made the decision to go for an MBA. With his guidance and help, I shortlisted my colleges, got his advice on how to prepare for the application and focused my effort towards the application. His advice, guidance, and support were instrumental in helping me get admitted to HBS and other business schools.
As I look back on my own college journey, the guidance and counseling I got from my dad and my older siblings were an important factor in my career path and success. If it was not for their guidance, I am not sure I would have applied to the top graduate programs and colleges such as Harvard and Univ. of Texas. This was a major factor for me to start Stoodnt in early 2016. Stoodnt is a platform for us to make sure every student around the world, especially from emerging countries, have the opportunity to get good advice, career and college counseling as they plan their future.
My journey and story are not different than hundreds of thousands of other students who have studied at the top colleges. However, it is worth sharing with other aspiring students who may have the desire to do an M.B.A. from one of the top colleges.
A few takeaways from my own experience and journey:
– Dream big and work hard to achieve it. Don’t sell yourself short by thinking you cannot do it. If others can do it, you can too!
– If you are planning of applying to a good M.B.A. school, show consistency in your performance, including your grades and scores. You don’t need to be the top student in everything but good scores and grades do matter.
– Top M.B.A. schools are looking for next generation leaders, whether in business, community or other areas of interest. Don’t give up leadership opportunities at your college, work or extra-curricular activities. Take them on and show others you have the “leader” in you and every school wants to admit strong students, future leaders, innovators and change agents.
– Don’t be shy of telling your story; what you have achieved in your life, what you bring and what you aspire to do. If you cannot present your story well, others would never know how good you are and what you want to do. Each one of us has our strengths, achievements and a story about us, just share it!
– Prepare well and put all your effort in achieving your dream and aspirations. Just don’t leave it to luck!
Stay tuned for my next blog on my experience at HBS and my journey post HBS to Stoodnt…..
Author: Ajay Singh
Ajay is the co-founder of Stoodnt and spent 20+ years in senior leadership roles with companies such as American Express, Cendant and Intel prior to starting Stoodnt. He has a M.B.A. from Harvard, M.S. in Computer Engineering from U.T. Austin and B.Tech from I.I.T Roorkee (India).
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