Posted on March 13, 2022

A Filipino Candidate Got into 3 Japanese B-Schools, including Hitotsubashi ICS, with Japanese National Scholarship



Cheska Galve, a Certified Public Accountant, worked for five years at SGV & Co. (a member firm of Ernst & Young), the Philippines’ top audit and professional services firm. Later, she worked at Manila Polo Club, Inc. as chief accountant. Cheska aspires to become a bilingual finance professional with extensive experience in Japanese business practices. Hence, she targeted three business schools in Japan: Hitotsubashi ICS, Waseda, and NUCB. She partnered with MER for her application for these schools and received admit offers from all. Cheska has also received the Japanese government's prestigious national scholarship ( MEXT), which includes a full tuition fee, matriculation fee, a monthly stipend of JPY 147,000, and entire flight costs. Cheska will be heading to her dream school, Hitotsubashi ICS in August 2022.

In a friendly conversation with Poonam, Cheska shares her academic and professional journey leading up to three top business schools in Japan along with the prestigious Japanese national scholarship.

Talking Points of the Conversation

  • Her background
  • Her preference for business schools in Japan over those in Europe or US
  • Planning for MBA
  • Career Goals
  • Planning for GMAT
  • Application strategy, planning, preparation
  • Challenges during the application process
  • Her preference for ICS over NUCB and Waseda
  • Interests and hobbies
  • Thoughts on impact of Covid-19 on MBA experience
  • Interview Tips

And now presenting Cheska……..

Poonam: Congratulations on receiving admit offers from all the three schools you applied to with a nomination for a national scholarship. How does it feel?

Cheska: It has been a few months already since I received the good news, but until now, it is as if I am still dreaming. It’s an indescribable feeling, but it is a mixture of joy, gratefulness, and excitement. I am very lucky to have received a nomination for a government scholarship on top of all three admit offers. I now look forward to the next phase of my career journey.

Poonam: Please tell our viewers about your academic and professional background. Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What do you do now?

Cheska: I live in Metro Manila, Philippines. I took my Bachelor of Science in Accountancy degree at the University of Santo Tomas, a top university in my country and considered one of the best in the accounting field. Soon after graduation, I became a certified public accountant (CPA). I started my career with SGV & Co., the largest audit firm in the Philippines, and worked there for nearly five years on different audit engagements.

Currently, I am an accounting manager at Manila Polo Club, one of the most prestigious membership sports clubs in the country. I have been with the club for more than two and a half years. I oversee various functions of Finance, mainly financial reporting and tax compliance.

Poonam: This is the first time I have assisted an applicant for business schools in Japan. People are usually interested in US, European, Canadian, or Asian business schools. So can you please share with our readers your preference for Japanese business schools?

Cheska: Indeed, the biggest names in MBA programs are mostly in the West. But I decided to apply for business schools in Japan because their programs are much more closely aligned with my career goals of pursuing a career in Japan. On top of core MBA courses, I wanted to learn more about Japanese business and economy, do internships with Japanese companies, and improve my Japanese language skills. I won’t be able to do these activities anywhere else, so it only made sense for me to pursue my MBA in Japan.

Ultimately, choosing an MBA program isn’t just about the rank or the name; the program should help you get to where you want to be in the future.

Poonam: I totally agree with you. It should be a good fit for you. When did you start thinking about MBA? Why now?

Cheska: I started thinking about getting an MBA when I learned that audit firms and multinational companies are looking for CPAs with Japanese language skills. I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to combine my accounting profession and my passion for the Japanese language. But at my current state, I cannot make the transition yet and join the Japanese team of such companies because I lack Japanese work experience in Japan. So I need to develop a skill set that will help me succeed in the Japanese environment. Also, my work experience so far has been centered on rules such as accounting standards and tax regulations, so I’d like to take advantage of the MBA program to expand and build on skills in risk management, business strategy, and decision making.

Since I have accumulated nearly nine years of progressive and meaningful career experience and attained a pre-advanced level of Japanese proficiency, I believe that I am more than ready to take the challenges of an MBA in Japan to pursue my career goals.

Poonam: What are your career goals?

Cheska:  After my MBA, I plan to work at an audit firm in Japan for three to five years and gain first-hand experience collaborating with different Japanese clients on financial advisory or audit engagements. Given the opportunity, I would like to work with clients with subsidiaries in the Philippines to better understand the challenges faced by these companies and the working dynamics between the finance teams in Japan and the Philippine offices.

In the long term, I plan to return to the Philippines and join the Japanese division of an audit firm. I hope to leverage my experience studying and working in Japan to act as a bridge between the Philippine audit team and the Japanese clients.

Poonam:  Sounds great. Can you tell us about your GMAT prep? What challenges did you face, and what suggestions do you have for the prospective GMAT takers?

Cheska: The GMAT was a difficult part of the application process because it has been quite a long since I studied verbal and quantitative concepts in university. On top of that, I have a demanding workload at my job which means I cannot devote as much time as I would like to prepare for the GMAT. Before completing and arranging the other document requirements, it is best to take the GMAT as your first step in application because it takes the most time. Then, for the review, always set aside a few hours of study every day. I find consistent studying more effective than studying for long hours only on weekends.

Although I was not able to attain a 700 score, my score was still above the average for the schools I applied to. That is why I made sure to strengthen other aspects of my application such as the CV and essays. The GMAT is one of the critical components of application; however, a high score does not guarantee admission. It’s always important to look at your profile as a whole.

Poonam: I am aware that it took you almost a year from the application prep stage to receiving your application decisions. It has been a long and stressful journey for you. Can you share your application strategy, planning, and preparation with our readers?

Cheska: Yes, it took a long time. Although the application rounds of the MBA programs open in August or September, I started my preparation as early as January. I did this in anticipation of my work and study timeline for the year. I was planning to take the pre-advanced level of the Japanese language proficiency test in July 2021, so I thought I needed more time on my reviews starting in April. Additionally, our finance team’s busiest time of the year is year-end reporting, which runs from late June to early October, and this period coincides with the Round 1 applications.

An MBA is a life-changing decision, so I didn’t want to submit a sloppy application package just because I was “too busy.” Of course, I wanted my best foot forward and present myself as a strong candidate. I am glad I started early because our busy season ended up being more stressful than I expected. I strongly advise thinking about your schedules and commitments at work, then considering how you would fit your MBA applications in your timeline.

Poonam: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the school admission process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?

Cheska: I think writing essays is the most challenging aspect. The three schools I applied to only had a few similar themes; most of them were entirely different. Even the required length for the goals essay varied significantly among them. Before writing my essays, I had a tough time putting my thoughts into words. I had an idea of what I wanted to do during my MBA and in my future career, but it was not concrete or clear enough. Plus, I tend to write wordy sentences, so meeting the word limit requirement made essay writing increasingly difficult.

Fortunately, you assisted me throughout the process. With the brainstorming questionnaires, video consultations, and subsequent revisions of my essay drafts, you helped me shape my MBA goals and clearly define my career path. Thus, we could produce essays that gave the schools a clear insight into who I am as a person and what I want to pursue in life.

On top of the essays, I was given great advice on my resume and recommendation letters. All these elements are essential for the Ad Com to evaluate my application. Having your support helped me strengthen my application profile significantly, and I was able to secure a seat in all MBA programs I applied to.

Poonam: You were accepted into all the three schools you applied to, but ICS was always your dream school. How is ICS the best school for you?

Cheska: Hitotsubashi University is a renowned and prestigious national university in Japan, and it is considered one of the best when it comes to business, economics, and law. Its English business school, ICS, was number 1 in Japan for the 2022 QS MBA rankings. I know that an MBA from this Number 1 university will immensely help me develop the skills I need to work in Japan and build a strong network. In addition, ICS offers courses centered on Japanese business and economy and electives on building essential skills for Japanese business, such as CV writing, mock interviews, presentations, and Japanese cultural business practices. Such courses are unique to ICS.

Finally, the customizable second year allows students to pursue one or more credit-based internships. Internships in other programs are only limited to just one. I wanted to experience as much as I can working in a Japanese environment before I graduate, so I am happy that ICS offers that opportunity.

Poonam:  You have passed 4 levels of the Japanese language proficiency test? I am curious to know when you fell in love with the language and decided to master it?

Cheska: I started learning Japanese in 2018 because I love traveling to Japan every year. It was initially a hobby to learn some basic travel phrases. Studying it every weekend was also a good change of pace, and it gave me a breather from my work. As I continued studying Japanese, I became even more engrossed in it. Doing consistently well in exams encouraged me to go further and see how far I can go in Japanese. Within three years, I could reach N2, the second-highest level of the JLPT, despite having a demanding full-time job. I hope to attain N1, the highest and most difficult level of Japanese proficiency while pursuing my MBA at ICS.

I certainly believe that Japanese language proficiency is an excellent investment, especially for working in Japan.

Poonam: Can you tell us about your other interests and hobbies?

Cheska: I love to travel. I always look forward to seeing new places and experiencing other cultures, either abroad or locally. Of course, Japan is my personal favorite. I would love to see all prefectures of Japan.

I am also fascinated with classical music. Although I have no musical background, I truly appreciate and enjoy classical music, so I listen to it every day. Before the pandemic, I regularly attended the monthly concerts of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra during their concert seasons.

Poonam: Fantastic. Finally, we have been living in COVID world for the last two years. How do you think this pandemic might impact your MBA experience?

Cheska: I have heard the feedback of some current students of ICS regarding the impact of COVID on their MBA experience. ICS seamlessly transitioned into an online format, and then subsequently into a hybrid arrangement when COVID cases were declining. I was surprised to learn of the highly positive feedback of students on the online and hybrid format of classes. It allowed them to communicate with each other more freely using the chat and video meeting tools.

Living in a time of uncertainty might be challenging, but it is a great opportunity to demonstrate adaptability, develop creativity and problem-solving skills, improve teamwork, and showcase leadership qualities. It still adds value to an MBA program.

Poonam: I concur with you. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Is there anything else you think I should have asked?

Cheska: Yes, I would like to share my interview experience. I think it will help prospective applicants too.

It is crucial to review your application documents, especially your essays, and have a solid and clear idea of your MBA goals and career plans. Then, practice mock interviews with a friend who could give you constructive feedback. In all my interviews, I was asked only about two or three FAQs, and the rest of the questions were centered on my individual profile. The professors who interviewed me wanted to know me better beyond the documents that I submitted for application, so it is difficult to predict what they would ask next. So I believe simply memorizing interview responses won’t be effective. But if you know yourself very well and can communicate clearly and with confidence, you should be able to answer such unique questions easily.

Poonam: Thank you for your insights. It was a pleasure being a part of your MBA journey. I wish you good luck with your ICS experience and continued success in your career.

You can connect with Cheska via LinkedIn

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