Posted on July 12, 2016

An Indian Software Engineer’s Journey to Booth


Ritika Gaur, a former MER student,  earned her bachelor's degree in Electronics and Engineering from Kurukshetra University. She started her professional career as a test analyst at Accenture, India, and in three years, she worked her way up to become a test lead at Accenture LLP in Chicago. To achieve her goal of becoming an IT Strategy consultant, she decided to pursue an MBA. She collaborated with MER  (myEssayReview) for her application to 4 top programs and received interview offers from three of them. She was accepted into her dream school Chicago Booth and will soon be heading there.

In an interview with Poonam, Ritika talks about:

  • Her background
  • Application strategy, planning, and preparation
  • Career Goals
  • Her preference for Chicago Booth over Ross and Kelley
  • Challenges during the application process
  • Application Tips for prospective applicants
  • Interests/ Hobbies

Poonam: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What do you do now?

Ritika: Of course! I am from the capital of India, Delhi. I describe myself as a traveler who is always on the move. I did my Electronics and Communication Engineering at Kurukshetra University and got a job at Accenture as a software engineer. I worked for Accenture for 6.5 years. I worked at an offshore Delivery center for Accenture in Chennai for 2.5 years. In 2012, I went to the US to work with a client, where I helped with the Quality assurance of new tools and software releases. I have recently joined Randstad. Thus, I have met many people from many different places and have constantly been making new connections. I have recently joined Randstad.

Poonam:  When did you start thinking about an MBA?

Ritika: Since I graduated from college, an MBA has been a lifelong dream for me. I had applied to Indian schools back in India, converted a couple of calls, and was wait-listed for a couple more. I guess the feeling of doing an MBA from one notch up each time was holding me back from accepting the offers I had received. Never in my dreams had I aspired to come onsite, let alone Booth! Maybe opportunities forgone translated into new avenues. After writing my GMAT, I was keen on shortlisting schools. Living near Chicago has given me ample opportunity to attend demo classes, research, and visit the campus for both Kellogg and Booth. So, finally, I took the plunge this year by starting at Booth.

Poonam:  What are your career goals?

Ritika: My experience as a Software analyst has helped me outline my goal of becoming an IT strategy consultant in my current company or at Deloitte. I want to create strategies and plans that define how IT should support an organization’s overall business strategy, identify more opportunities, optimize processes, and propose solutions. This will prepare me for my long-term goal of becoming a Practice Head for a business strategy where I will be responsible for growing business for clients, building practices in new niche markets, developing talent within my team, and managing the practice's profitability.

Poonam: When did you start preparing for your application? Could you please share your application strategy, planning, and preparation with our readers?

Ritika: I wanted to apply in Round 2 for all four schools, namely Ross, Kellogg, Kelley, and Booth. I wanted to start early as I am not at my best when procrastinating until the last minute. I am also a keen believer in doing exhaustive research before committing to any plan, so I  contacted you after looking at countless profiles of other consultants over the net. I wanted personalized attention, so I zeroed in on you! The amount of insight and value addition you did to my initial drafts was amazing!

Poonam:  Thank you, Ritika! Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the school admissions process? How did you approach that challenge? What would you advise other MBA applicants who are facing similar challenges?

Ritika: I am a perfectionist, which often works to my disadvantage. Letting go of the constant need to achieve a perfect score was a huge turning point for me. Some people think that the GMAT score is the single most crucial aspect of the MBA application. To those, I would say it is essential, but please do not get caught up in the number game. Each person, each profile is unique. Everyone brings different things to the table. If you are plateauing on your GMAT score, focus on things that could differentiate your profile from others. For example, community service and any initiative at work that displays your leadership skills would do the trick!

In addition, I cannot emphasize the importance of starting early. Make sure to plan things ahead for the application process. This priceless advice from Poonam and her constant reminders helped me immensely in chalking out my plan to perfection.

  1. Visit the schools, if possible. It is a massive bonus if you see things firsthand.
  2. Have all your stories on a piece of paper and then use those as per the questions asked in application essays. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses and work towards using them to your advantage.
  3. Do not leave essays to the last moment; they can make or break your candidature. I know of people scoring extremely well on GMAT and still unable to get a single call due to not-so-great essays. A great coach to frame and fine-tune your essays helps you get there. Personalized attention from Poonam helped me do that.
  4. Review your essays thoroughly before hitting the submit button. You do not want to be caught dead, misstating the name of the school you are applying to or any random silly mistake.
  5. Prepare for interviews if you feel the need to. Again, always be aware of where you stand and decide accordingly. I need to practice my stuff before doing the final thing, so I compiled a list of questions- generic ones as well as specific to each school and prepared off of it. You also suggested a few!  So I prepared those, and I was ready.

Poonam: You finally applied to three schools (Ross, Kelley, and Booth) and received interview invites from all three but accepted Booth's offer before you could interview with Kelly and Ross. Is that right?  How is Booth the best school for you?

Ritika: Yes, Poonam, I did not submit my application to Kellogg because the Kellogg deadline was pretty far, and I got Booth's decision within a week of the interview. I did not want to take any chance with my conversion for Booth. I did an interview with Ross, but I got an interview invite from Kelley after I accepted Booth's offer. Unfortunately, my Booth launch program was on the same day as Kelley's interview, so I could not attend that.

Booth is the best school for me because Booth MBA would help me achieve a higher position in the same industry as an IT strategy consultant without quitting my current job. It would help me complement what I am learning in a work environment and enable me to apply newly acquired skills and knowledge at work and vice versa. In addition, since I am currently working in Chicago, IL, a weekend program at Chicago will enable me to effectively manage my work during the week and school on the weekend. The resources at Booth are amazing, and the amount of flexibility it offers is baffling. Besides, the Booth network is also unique, and I am excited to be a part of it.

Poonam:  Do you have any admissions tips for applicants aiming for the top 20 MBA programs?

Ritika: Start Early!  Firstly, get your GMAT exam squared right away. Practice is the key. Mock exams and timed practice helped me a lot in my preparation. Also, I recommend studying in short bursts of 1-1.5 hours alternatively instead of long stretches to avoid burnout. Then, as I mentioned earlier, decide on schools based on your ‘fit,’ try to dig as much info as possible via the website, school visits, and talking to current students and recent alumni. Attend fairs if you can’t visit schools. This should give a fair idea of where to apply.

Please be aware that Essay writing is very time-consuming. It took around 3-4 months to finalize my essays. By doing this, I was able to turn in the first drafts of essays, which were decent and compelling, instead of some random gibberish hashed at the last moment. Also, finalizing your resume beforehand helps you jot down and streamline your career progression and highlights.

Recommendation letters: Always get your recommendation letters from people who can vouch for you and can provide details of things you do. Vague and generalized statements would do you more harm than good. You do not want to throw away this opportunity here to display who you are from your boss’s/peer’s perspective.

Poonam:  What is your favorite thing about Booth so far? If you could change one thing about the program, what would it be?

Ritika: The professors here are amazing! and the academic counselors are incredibly helpful in selecting courses for each quarter. It's too early for me to identify any shortcomings of the program in my first quarter, though!

Poonam: I understand that you joined a new job after accepting the Booth admission offer, and I am aware that you are married.  Could you please share some insights on how you are managing the demands of your new full-time job, family, and coursework at Booth? Also, do you have any time management tips for prospective students?

Ritika: Believe me, it is quite a feat you need to accomplish here. From an Indian women’s perspective, I can say that you will need to manage your time pretty well. I indeed can say it is an uphill task initially, but by the end of a couple of quarters, you will be a master of time management (that is what I have been hearing from my seniors!). In addition, it helps immensely if you have a helpful partner at home. You both need to be on the same page as to what entails your MBA journey. My husband has been amazingly supportive of everything so far. It’s always good to know that you have someone to count on by your side in the battles you are fighting! Prioritize! Prioritize and prioritize some more. Treat time as money and use it as judiciously as possible. Learn to say ‘no’ to things and people who fail to appreciate the fact that you are juggling so many things and ‘sap’ your time and energy away. Instead, surround yourself with people who motivate you and bring positivity to the table. Booth is a very rigorous and demanding program, both emotionally and mentally. At times you do feel overwhelmed by it. Don’t give up! Keep calm and march ahead (At least that is what I keep saying to myself anyway!). It will be worth all the blood and sweat at graduation!!!

Poonam: Well said. What are your favorite non-school books? What are your hobbies?

Ritika: I love The Monk who sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma, and I want to follow it to the T. I try to incorporate some of its principles into my daily routine,  but I need to do so much more for constant overhaul. Running and cooking bring sanity and calm to me. I love nothing in the world better than a good home-cooked meal and an exhilarating 40-minute jog/run.

Poonam: Robin Sharma is one of my favorite authors, too, and I also love The Monk, who sold his Ferrari. Thank you, Ritika, for sharing your story with us. It was a pleasure chatting with you. I am sure your valuable insights will be a helpful resource to prospective MBA candidates. Good luck with your Booth experience and your future career.

Click here for  Ritika’s testimonial of MER Services.

Click here for Ritika’s  GMAT Club Review.

Note: You can connect with Reetika via LinkedIn.

Related posts

A Reapplicant’s Journey to Chicago Booth

An Indian Electrical Engineer Makes It to Booth Despite Low GMAT

Since 2011, MER has helped applicants get accepted into the top 20 MBA programs worldwide. (MER owner Poonam is one of the top 5 most reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club.)

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