Fridays from the Frontline: Wait, How Did I Get to Oxford?
Each individual path to business school is unique, and the MBA application process often functions as the great equalizer for prospective students. In other words, applications are opportunities to showcase one’s originality within the established framework of your desired school’s culture.
Beyond the standard rigamarole of GMAT scores, securing undergrad transcripts, and getting up to speed on quant pre-reqs, assembling a knock-out personal statement and prepping for in-person interviews can be trying, even for the most seasoned professionals.
Wait, How Did I Get to Oxford?
by Nikita Pancholi, Oxford MBA ’20
A short guide on MBA applications.
With just two weeks left until I commence my Oxford MBA, I am taking some time to reflect on my life, both personally and professionally. I realised I have never really had time like this before. Come to think of it, since a young age we have been programmed to wake up, get ready and be somewhere – first school, then college, then a job and it never ends!!!
When I was leaving my job last month, a lot of people suggested that I MUST travel during this break because I will never get such free time again to satiate my wanderlust, but instead I chose to be home and spend time with my parents (I had been living away from home for ~6 years) and I don’t regret that decision for a second! Just the calmness of being home, getting up at my own time, sipping coffee while reading the newspaper and seeing how the day unfolds without any deadlines and meetings was a much-needed break before I start the MBA hustle soon.
During this time, a lot of aspiring MBA students have been reaching out to me with questions on the application process and my preparation. I thought I’d take some time to pen down my experience when it’s fresh so it can help anyone who is looking to apply to Oxford or any other MBA school.
(I have tried to distil my 6-month preparation and learnings in two pages below. Please note the content is based on my interactions and experience, so please take it with a pinch of salt.)
Step 1: Finalising school/s
While some people are lucky and know from Day 1 where they want to study, others may struggle to find the right school which would be a good fit for them. Being in the latter category, I took some time to filter my options. The criteria I used was:
- Geography (where do you want to study and probably remain post MBA)
- Cost (1 year v/s 2 year makes a huge difference on the pocket!)
- Class size (while some people prefer large classrooms with 600-800 students, others thrive in smaller batches)
While the above three were my broad filters, you can add other filters given your personal situation.
Along with personal preference, it is also important to learn about the school. This includes scanning through their website, attending information sessions and connecting with alumni and current students. Once you have all the information, you can align it with your personal expectations and finalise the school/s you want to apply to.
Step 2: Starting the application
MBA applications are not easy – there I said it!
Since more people are pursuing MBA nowadays, one may assume it is ‘doable’, but do not mistake doable with easy, especially if you’re working full-time. Writing essays and applications is a tedious process and requires considerable time and effort.
To get you started, there is a lot of content online (e.g. Poets & Quants, MBA crystal ball), which you can use for guidance. Some websites even include essay examples, which can be helpful in getting a sense of how successful candidates articulated their story through essays. Once you have worked on a draft, it will be useful to ask a close friend or colleague to review your essay since they can give you a more unbiased opinion and help you improve your application. A lot of people tend to ask successful applicants for their essays because, understandably, they want to see what kind of an essay made it to the next round. However, I will advise to be wary of this practice, primarily because there is a chance that someone’s essay will influence your own and the end result may not be as authentic as you would like it to be.
Finally, as cliched as it may sound, be yourself! Do take some time to reflect on your story i.e. your accomplishments, failures, strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you give examples of each trait that you highlight. For e.g. if you think communication is your strength, give an example of how did you use it effectively in a situation at work perhaps. Examples are highly appreciated in both essays and interviews.
I realised during my application process, that talking about my strengths does not come naturally to me. I’m sure a lot of other people struggle with it as well, so it is important to keep in mind that the admissions team doesn’t know you personally, so no matter how great a leader you were in your team, they won’t know unless you tell them!
Step 3: Interview
If you’re selected for an interview/s (congrats!), know that most of your preparation will stem from your essays and overall application, so go through that thoroughly (remember the emphasis on examples in point 2). One tip I’d like to add here is break down your answers in points so that it is easy to remember on the day and you are able to cover everything you want to communicate in your interview. You can also record your answers on your phone to some general questions (such as why MBA? Why now? Why this school?) and listen to them to see how you can improve. This will also help in being more confident for the interview.
After the interview, there is nothing in your control, so go out for a drink, meet all the friends and family that you neglected while you were in the application battleground and hope for the best!!
I hope this blog is helpful and wish you luck on your MBA journey. I will try to continue sharing my experience in-between the MBA terms as and when I find time, in the meanwhile, feel free to reach out to me on Linkedin if you have any questions about the Oxford MBA or general MBA application queries.