Indian Engineer Gets $20,000 Scholarship to Harvard MBA
Updated: Jul 31, 2023
Sahil is an Indian engineer now based abroad. That’s an over-represented group in the MBA world. He had a 3.5 GPA in his undergrad, below the average class profile for an M7 business school.
He’s also an incoming MBA candidate for Harvard Business School’s Class of 2024, with a $20,000 scholarship.
So how did Sahil convert a tech background into an admit (and scholarship) at HBS? He sat down with us in an interview to discuss his application process, how he bagged a coveted scholarship, and what comes after the admit.
Sahil grew up in Vancouver, Canada, where he went to university at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, a school renowned for engineering in Canada and its rigorous 12-month internship program. He then interned at Google in the Bay Area, which led to a full-time offer as a junior engineer. From there, he transitioned to a mid-level role, where he actively sought leadership responsibilities through mentorship while he worked on his core project - designing software used in phones worldwide. In his application, he used this experience to establish clear career goals and an authentic narrative that distinguished his application from other candidates from over-represented groups.
Sahil’s professional background was strong but his academics were less so. His undergrad grade, an 82% average on the Canadian scale, was below the HBS class average. He took the GMAT three times, the first time without studying at all! He used his 640 score to benchmark his performance and understand his areas of improvement. Six months of practice later, he got a 700, but this wasn’t up to his expectations either. Another 2 weeks of intense study landed him a score of 750. This was above the class average for HBS and compensated for his lower undergrad score.
What the HBS Application Process Looks Like
HBS’s application process is similar to that of most business schools. The main difference lies with its notoriously open-ended HBS essay, sitting at 900 words. For Sahil, the challenge was to choose between the highlights of his profile - his extracurriculars, post-MBA goals, and stories from his career at Google. He wanted to understand the best way to represent his story and journey while picking something to really expand on for 900 words.
Over several weeks, Sahil worked with Sam to develop 8 different narratives that could work. But boiling them down into one clear, concise narrative was a challenge. With such an open-ended prompt, it’s easy to ramble on! But once we had found that narrative, Sahil’s impressive life stories fell into place in 900 words quite naturally.
Learn how to use this structure in our HBS Essay Analysis.
The HBS Interview
When Sahil was invited to interview with HBS, he was (understandably) nervous. He chose the in-person interview option, as it would allow him to visit the campus and interact with other MBA candidates. With help from Sam and the team (all our clients get 3 mock interviews with different members of the team), he practiced interview questions, maintaining his composure, and prepared questions to ask his interviewer. Three mock interviews later, Sahil went into his HBS interview with a lot more confidence than he’d started out with.
Then, a curveball. Sahil’s carefully-crafted game plan went out the window when his interviewer picked a specific, profound line from his essay and prodded him about it. With the HBS interview being non-blind, Sahil knew that the interviewer would have read all his application material and could ask about any of it. Nevertheless, the super specific question threw him off base. If he’d started answering right away, he knew would run the risk of rambling. That’s when his practice kicked in; what worked in that moment was to just take some time to prepare and respond intelligently.
After the interview, on his flight back home, Sahil mentioned this part of the experience in his post-interview reflection. He wrote honestly about how the question had thrown him off, but he was intrigued by the depth of the process. Addressing this specifically in his reflection worked well, as HBS values self-aware applicants who take ownership, even in challenging circumstances.
Working with a Consultant
Sahil started his application process after taking the GMAT, as he wanted a clear idea of the schools that were within his reach and those that weren’t. He also needed to manage his work schedule and prepare to write application essays, nine years after he had written his last college essay.
Realizing that a consultant could help him structure his application, Sahil reached out to several consultants, and found Sam. Over time, the trust and personal connection he built with Sam helped him develop an authentic narrative.
For Sahil, hiring a consultant helped him challenge himself. Having a structure to work with and timelines to follow were key to keeping him motivated. Live Zoom sessions where he was challenged at every step of his goals and motivations forced him to introspect, which ultimately led to compelling stories that showcased his strengths, values, and vulnerabilities.
Getting a Scholarship
Sahil received one of the highest academic achievements in MBA-land: a merit-based scholarship from HBS. When he started applying for financial aid, Sahil realized that he didn’t qualify for need-based scholarships given his professional background. Digging a little deeper into HBS’s financial aid options revealed an award for Canadian applicants, The John H. McArthur Canadian Fellowship.
Sahil’s extensive application work (our working document reached over 80 pages in length!) meant that he had many more interesting experiences and stories to talk about. He used that material for his scholarship application and asked Sam to review his essays.
The rest is history. Sahil received $20,000 in scholarship funding, spread over 2 years of the MBA program.
After the Admit
After receiving his HBS offer, Sahil attended HBS’s Admitted Student Weekend (ASW). It was enriching to step onto campus and meet people from diverse backgrounds. These included a professional volleyball player, a UCLA sprinter, private equity professionals, consultants, and a bevy of driven people that he would be studying with.
What Sahil found to be different about HBS through his ASW experience was the focus on academics. The case-study heavy method gives students the opportunity to engage deeply with the practical aspects of the HBS learning experience. With the number of cases to read for each class, as well as opportunities to collaborate with the class on case preparation, students learn to manage their time and participate actively in the classroom.
Advice for MBA Applicants
Looking back on his application journey, Sahil has a few strong pieces of advice for anyone looking to kickstart their MBA applications:
• GMAT: “I know most people struggle with the verbal aspect compared to the quant aspect, and I was super overconfident on the quant aspect. Hey, I come from a tech engineering background. I work on complex stuff based off of complex math every day. But it’s not so simple, especially after you've been removed from that world for so long. So start the GMAT early.” Don’t take the test for granted, and commit to it. Make use of online resources, like Target Test Prep or GMAT Club, to help you practice.
• Don’t go in blind: “Apart from the GMAT, it's important that you have the backbone of your application ready before you're ready to apply”. This means gathering your professional and extracurricular work and keeping the data on them updated. Set apart some time in advance to write down what you’ve done over the course of your schooling and career.
• The HBS essay: For HBS applicants specifically, Sahil says: “It’s important how you start the application as well as how you end the application. Open with a punchy, powerful anecdote, and then end by referring to it.” Having a cohesive structure will help
you fit your story within a frame and give it a timeline to work with
Note: Applicant's name has been changed for privacy.
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