Posted on May 31, 2018

Indian Applicant’s Journey to Oxford & ISB at Thirty


MER student  Arjun Bardan is an electrical engineer by degree. He worked with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)  for ten years ( four years in India and six years in the USA). Arjun enjoyed his stint with TCS in different roles, from Quality Assurance to a Developer to a product owner. Lastly, as a Project Manager, he managed almost $4 million for an insurance client. Stagnation in his career after ten years of work experience propelled him to pursue an MBA. He secured a seat in two prestigious business schools he applied to-ISB and Oxford, SAID. He was accepted into 2 top MBA programs– ISB and Oxford Said. Arjun decided in favor of Oxford Said Business School.

In this candid conversation with Poonam, Arjun talks about:

  • His background
  • Career aspirations
  • Application strategy, planning, and preparation
  • Challenges during the application process
  • His ‘fit' with the Oxford Said MBA program
  • Interests and hobbies
  • Insights into older candidates' chances  for MBA programs

Poonam: Congratulations on admit offers from 2 good programs- ISB and Oxford, Said. How does it feel?

Arjun: Thank you, Poonam. It feels great when all the effort that you have put in finally takes a shape and you are recognized. It has been a long process, and I am glad that everything finally paid off. This is going to be the beginning of a new chapter in my life. I am happy and excited and am looking forward to the challenge.

Poonam: Sure. 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?

Arjun: I am originally from Kolkata, India. I completed my Bachelor’s from the West Bengal University of Technology with a specialization in Electrical Engineering. Post undergrad, I joined Tata Consultancy Services, and I have worked for it for 10 years. Out of those 10 years, I have worked for 4 years in Chennai, India, and 6 years in the USA. I was based out in Indianapolis for the first few years and then in New Hampshire and the Greater Boston area. As a Project Manager of a large-scale transformation project, I was managing a team of 20. Now I am back in India until I join the program.

Poonam: Good. When did you start thinking about an MBA? Why now?

Arjun: MBA was on my mind for quite some time. People around me always told me that I should go into management, and I also felt that I will be able to do the kind of work that I want to if I pursue that path. But when you have a full-time job with a big responsibility of managing a team, it is not easy to balance work and study for GMAT. But I am glad that I made the decision, and I stuck to it. To be honest, the real inspiration is my wife. She has been the biggest force pushing me literally to take GMAT, helped me get into a study routine by taking care of several household activities. She supported and motivated me when I had a low GMAT score and through this entire admission phase as well. I am grateful.

Why MBA now?  I know I have 10 years of work experience, which is considered higher than average experience when it comes to MBA. But I believe that there is no right age for an MBA. It all depends on when you are ready for it and what your post MBA career goals are. I think my international experience, as well as my experience of managing and leading teams through crisis situations, have taken me a step further, and an MBA from here will empower me to be a global manager and allow me to shape the society around me in a way I want to.

Poonam:  What are your career goals?

Arjun: My career goals are in the lines of Product Management or Operations/Supply Chain Management. I am still trying to keep the options open, and if that doesn’t work, my second choice would be management consulting.

Poonam: You were accepted into one European program –Oxford Said and one Indian Program- ISB. After some deliberation, you finally chose Oxford. How is Oxford the best school for you? How are you a better fit for Oxford?

Arjun: Yes, choosing between Oxford and ISB was one of the hardest decisions of my life. Hands down, ISB is the best B-school in India, whereas Oxford is one of the top European schools and is recognized across the globe. There were many factors that went into my decision making. First, Oxford has a global Student Body, whereas ISB will primarily have the Indian Student Body. So, I have more to gain from Oxford. Secondly, I will take pride in carrying the brand value of Oxford, not just an MBA.

Moreover, the quality of education at ISB is no doubt very good, but I think Oxford is one step above and is the best school for me because my goals of transforming the society align very well with the goal of Said Business School. I am certain that by studying at Oxford and by interacting with such a diverse and global student body, I will be equipped with skills to make better decisions as a manager and lead a diverse international team. At the same time, I aim to continue my volunteering activities in a more organized way in my post MBA career and contribute to society in a more significant manner.

Poonam: I remember you discussed the issue of global hunger and malnutrition in your essay about a global problem.

Arjun: Yes, I did. Thank you for helping me shape that essay so well. Initially, I thought that this problem is prevalent in India only, but after having lived in the US, I realized how huge this problem is. I think we need to pay more attention to it. I was asked about the possible solution to this global issue in the Oxford interview, and I said that I feel concerned about the amount of wastage of food in restaurants and office campaigns, and we need to stop it.

Poonam: I agree. Could you please share your application strategy, planning, and preparation with our readers?

Arjun: To begin with, I did my research and shortlisted 4-5 schools. I was concentrated only on 1-year programs, so I focused on European and Indian schools. Out of the 4 schools that I applied to, one was my dream school where I had a long shot, and one I kept as a fallback option in the worst-case scenario. I think it is very important to know and understand the essence of each school, why the school is the best fit for me, and how can I contribute to the school and its community. I read up all the information available on the school’s website, read student blogs, talked to current MBA students and a couple of alumni as well. These things helped me to understand the essence of the school.

Secondly, I had to self-introspect a lot to bring the best out of myself into the application. This is exactly where a great admission consultant guides you. It is important to showcase your strengths and, at the same time, acknowledge your weaknesses, choose your recommenders wisely and highlight all your significant achievements in a 1-page resume.

Lastly and most importantly, discipline is very important. Sometimes we get too emotional after failure, but we need to get going. I was very disciplined and never missed any deadlines.

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

Arjun: For me, the most challenging aspect was how I fit into the school’s vision and how the school can empower me to fulfill my career goals. It took me some time and a lot of research to figure these two things out. So, I had to do a lot of groundwork before I shortlisted my schools and started working on the application essays.

As I mentioned in my answer to the previous question, if you are applying to a particular school, you should reach out to at least one or two current students and alumni, and it will help you understand if the school fits your criteria. I don’t think it is the right strategy to go only by rankings; instead of visiting the campus on an open day, attending webinars or 1:1 meetings with the admission consultants really helps you figure things out.

Poonam: True. I am sure it has been an arduous journey. What advice do you have for the prospective applicants to these schools?

Arjun: I think patience is the key here. It is really a long process. By the time you apply, you need to wait for a month or so to get the interview call, and if you are selected for the interview, you need to prepare for the interview, and once the interview is done, you probably need to wait for three weeks or so for the result. If you are not selected for the interview, then you wait for the result of the other school you applied to. I have a few key suggestions for the prospective applicants. First, if you are applying to 5 or 6 schools, then choose two schools where you just want to give a shot (dream schools), choose 2 schools where you think you can get in (reach schools). You should also have 1-2 backup schools (safe schools). Doing the groundwork is very important.

Secondly, I remember you advised me that, and I also recommend that we should not rush to submit the application. Some of the essays may look very straightforward, but they are not. You really need to present yourself in the best possible way since there are thousands of applicants applying for a spot. You must present the best version of yourself. You might have a very strong profile with a stellar GMAT score, but if you are not able to present yourself in the right way and cannot show how you can contribute to the school, then you may not be able to make it. Regarding the GMAT score, I would say that the GMAT score is not the only criterion for admission. Sometimes people with low GMAT scores think that a particular school is not for them. This is far from the truth. I have seen people with a score of 650 get into Oxford, and some people with a 740 score get rejected. GMAT, though very important, is just one aspect of the whole application process. Treat each part of the application with equal importance, whether it is the essay or the letter of recommendation, or the resume. A resume is very important because most of the schools will ask for a one-page resume, and showcasing the achievements and the extra-curricular activities on that one page is very critical. Your resume should be able to catch the attention of someone who is reading hundreds of resumes or applications. 

Poonam: True. The focus should be on the achievements and the impact you have made on your organization.

Arjun: The other part is the application. For Oxford, there were very difficult questions in the application. There were questions like what your career goals are, what have you done, what research have you done, what are you going to do before you join the program to improve your chances. I found them as difficult as essay questions. Although people just talk about essays and letters of recommendation, you need to spend an equal amount of time on the application form as well.

Poonam: I fully agree. Those questions in the application form were as good as full essays.

Arjun: Absolutely. Another thing that I would advise to prospective applicants is that once you finish the application, just sleep on it for a couple of weeks or days, think about what you have written, and then come back to it if you want to make a change. Do not rush to submit the application right after finishing it. Please give yourself a sufficient amount of time. Read and re-read your essays, resume, and other key parts of your application. Have a friend or your partner do proofreading. The key is how you can stand out from the crowd. The school will read 200-300 applications in a day, so try to distinguish yourself from the rest by showing your achievements and extra-curricular activities in a way that it brings out the best version of yourself on paper. This waiting before submission gives you a fresh perspective on the whole application. Working with a great admission consultant and doing self-introspection helps here.

Poonam: Very valuable advice. I am sure that the prospective applicants will benefit from this. Let us talk about something other than the application.  What are your favorite non-school books? What are your hobbies?

Arjun: To be honest, I am not much of an avid reader. My favorite book is Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. That book left a deep impact on me.

I enjoy a variety of activities outside of my work, and most of them stem from my love of exploration and familiarizing myself with different communities and cultures. As you are aware, I have been volunteering for a long time. As a CSR champion at TCS, I regularly volunteer in food banks and local thrift stores and participate in philanthropic causes of different kinds. As a member of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), I contribute to the well-being of rescued animals through donations, fundraising in my organization, and raising awareness of animal cruelty. My passion for volunteering also brought me to Bangla-o-Biswa, a non-profit organization whose mission is to uphold the Indian culture and tradition in Boston, where I have served as the General Secretary since 2015. We are a team of 8, and we plan and organize 4-5 cultural events annually involving 500+ guests. I think it has been a very humbling experience of trying to make a difference to the community in my own small way.

I also have a great passion for photography and cinema. I participate in photo walks and am an avid movie follower. I have been exposed to the unique cultures of various nations, all through their cinema. I am more interested in the film-making process, and I consider myself a student of cinema. I  attended 3-4 film festivals when I was in the US. At home, I like to bring my creative mind to the kitchen, where I try my hand at different cuisines. It works as a great stress buster and strengthens my bond with my family. I am also a part of the local soccer team in my town, where we play regularly throughout the summer, another community bond that I greatly enjoy. I am a big fan of Manchester United and Leo Messi.

Poonam: Great! Is there anything else that I haven’t asked that you would like to share with the readers?

Arjun: There is one thing I will like to mention. Do most people face a question about the right experience for an MBA? I was really concerned about my age when I was applying and researching for an MBA.  I have 10 years of work experience, which is not an ideal experience for an MBA applicant. Now I can say that experience matters, but no school will reject you only because you have more years of experience than others have. I have seen people going to Oxford and INSEAD with 13 years of experience. It all depends on the different aspects of your profile, your work experience, what you have done in those years, and how you can bring all that on paper in your application and/or during your interview. There are people who have reached out to me asking if 33 or 35 is the right age or not. I tell them it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the quality of your experience and how you can bring that out in your application.

Poonam: True. Your story should make sense to the Ad Com. Ten or twelve years of experience should not discourage you from applying. If your story is effective and convincing, you can make it. Last year, I worked with a client who got into UNC Kenan Flagler with 15 years of work experience.

Arjun: Absolutely. There is no right age for doing an MBA. I cannot stress this fact enough.

Poonam: Thank you, Arjun, for sharing your story with us. I am sure your feedback will be helpful to those who are new to the process.

Arjun: I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for your valuable support with my essays.

Poonam: It was my pleasure. Good luck with your Oxford experience and your post-Oxford professional career. I hope you have a great time at Oxford.

You can connect with Arjun via LinkedIn.

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

Do you have questions about your application? E-mail Poonam at or sign up here for a free consultation.