Posted on March 19, 2022

MBA at 41 – An Exceptional Tale of Perseverance, Sense of Duty, and Faith


Introduction: Mohamed Abdel Momen, a design and production engineer by degree, worked as a senior operational excellence senior consultant/ Project manager at Smart Consulting Egypt. With 12 years of work experience, he partnered with MER  (myEssayReview) for his application to a few US B- schools in 2015. Unfortunately, he could not apply for many reasons-i.e., GMAT, political/ financial issues, and family medical emergency. In the following three years, multiple factors–personal circumstances, political situations in Egypt and the US, and above all, GMAT score made it almost impossible for him to realize his MBA dream. Finally, in 2019, he was accepted into the RSM MBA program with a generous scholarship. However,  after three weeks of joining the program, he quit due to a family medical emergency. Nevertheless, Mohamed refused to give up on his dream, and he is now pursuing his MBA studies at RSM to fulfill his long-cherished dream.

Mohamed's professional accomplishments, clarity of professional goals, personal stories of perseverance, hard work, sense of commitment for family,  and above all, faith and positivity were instrumental in his success with a prestigious full-time MBA program at the age of 41 with his non-competitive GMAT.

We have been in touch with Mohamed all these years. So we requested him to share his extraordinary story with everyone. (Please note that we recorded this interview in December 2021)

And now presenting Mohamed…

Talking Points of the Conversation

  • His background           01:11
  • Challenges during the application process       02:25
  • Career goals      04:22
  • Factors that attributed to his success despite non-competitive GMAT    08:00
  • The most challenging aspect of the application journey     11:37
  • His preference for RSM     17:00
  • Insights into full-time MBA at 40+and advice for older candidates    21:10
  • Thoughts on MBA amid COVID    25:50
  • Interests and hobbies      29:12

Poonam: Hello Mohamed! I am happy to see you. How are you doing?

Mohamed: Hello Dr. Poonam. I am doing fine. Thank you. I am happy to see you, too.

Poonam: Congratulations on receiving admit offer from the Rotterdam School of Management. It must be an incredible feeling to get ready to begin your MBA at RSM finally.

Mohamed: Actually, it is hard to talk about my feelings, but I am very happy. I am satisfied that all the steps I took, my essays, and everything else fell in line. I managed to get into my desired school, Rotterdam, with your support. So I am excited, super excited.

Poonam: Of course. 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?

Mohamed: I am an Egyptian. I am a mechanical engineer by education from the production sector here in Egypt at a local university called Ain Shams University. After graduation, I started to work in different companies as an industrial engineer. I entered consulting about ten years ago, and I have been working in the consulting field as an operational excellence consulting consultant at Smart Consulting, Egypt. This is my resume in a nutshell.

Poonam: I have worked with hundreds of applicants in the past 10+ years, but your MBA application journey and the setbacks and hurdles you faced in the past 5-6 years are truly exceptional. Would you like to share your application journey with our viewers?

Mohamed: Sure, and thank you for this question, Dr. Poonam. My dream of doing an MBA started in 2013, and I faced many problems like my father's sickness. Then there was a political event in Egypt, followed by financial problems with the devaluation of the currency. All those years, I was delaying my MBA until I settled and became calm and was able to apply to Rotterdam School of Management. I had many universities/ schools in mind. Before Rotterdam, I targeted US schools, and we worked together to apply to multiple schools, and I even did pre-MBA interviews. However, after a few years, I shifted my mind to the Netherlands for many reasons.

Poonam: Yes, we worked together in 2015.

Mohammed: Yes. It was a successful journey. Because of you, I could discover many things about myself and had successful essays that helped me a lot in the Rotterdam School of Management. Thank you for that.

Poonam: You are welcome. I am glad it was helpful. Can you tell me about your career goals?

Mohammed: Sure, Doctor Poonam. For someone of my age, I had to be very specific. I want to thank you for my career goals because you made me dig deep into myself and bring the best out of me that helped me shape my career goals. My career goals are related to the consulting field only. I want to take my road map in consulting to another level. I lack finance and marketing skills, and an MBA will be helpful to build my new road map. But I need to be very precise to get what I want. Otherwise, I cannot achieve my career goals. I remember that we did a lot of iterations to specifically mention my career goals for the Ad Com, which helped me afterward in the interviews and Kira assessment's online questions. Thank you for that.

Poonam: What do you see yourself doing in the long- term?

Mohamad: My long-term goal is also related to consulting. I plan to start a consulting company and work as a network consultant with other people worldwide. Everyone will complete their part in a particular field and offer their services through countries and continents. When I noticed that other companies offered remote services through zoom during the pandemic, I updated my long-term goal.

Poonam: That's understandable. Mohamed, I have seen you struggle with the GMAT due to many unforeseen circumstances. You still got into a reputed MBA program with a below 600 GMAT score. The admission committee obviously looked beyond numbers and granted you admission. Would you please share with us the factors that attributed to your success?

Mohamed: Yes, I am happy to provide you, Dr. Poonam. This started with the essays for me. The essays were the cornerstone because I began to think about who I am and what I would like to do in the short-term and long term. As a person, I advise everyone to dig deep inside themselves to know more because sometimes it is in the subconscious mind. We have done many things, but sometimes we don't remember. So we need focus and calmness to figure that out and define the precise stories that form part of the essays. And then comes the interviews. I was subjected to too many interviews at Rotterdam School of Management because of my age, so they wanted to make sure that I fit in the program. Even the Vice President of the Ad Com interviewed me. So I was well-prepared with my answers which were genuine since they aligned with my essay content. So I consider that the essays and the interviews are the two cornerstones.

Poonam: That's right, your stories were convincing.

Mohammed: Oh yes, but you helped me with my personal and professional stories. You guided me with essays. Your questions made me think and rethink and brought out the best of me, and this is what I want to acknowledge Dr. Poonam. I use your methodology with other people and advise them to reflect deeply before taking any step in life. So I took it as a good lesson from you and applied it with others, and it has worked successfully with me and other mentees.

Poonam: I'm so glad to be part of your MBA journey, and I'm glad to see you succeed after so many years. So, looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the application journey? How did you approach that challenge?

Mohammed: I think selecting the schools which will be your good fit is the most challenging part. I think the case method teaching is not for me. I like the balance between the case method and the theory. Some schools like Harvard or Darden, which are purely case method teaching, are not for me, so I took them out of my list. Then I researched each school and tried to understand the pros and cons for my career, my short-term and long-term goals, even before shaping the precise plans. Then I went to those schools and connected with other students via chat and emails. So, I got more insights that helped me shorten the list until I selected the schools I wanted to apply to and started my application journey.

Poonam: Exactly. The concept of fit is fundamental, and I remember you had done extensive research on all the schools before you finalized your school list.

Mohammed: And my tip, Doctor Poonam, to prospective applicants is not to be overwhelmed with the rankings like Stanford, Wharton, Chicago Booth, etc. Every school has its power and its positive and negative things. So there are many schools where you can fit in and get the knowledge and experience you want.

Poonam: It's valuable advice to understand the school's culture and its offerings so you can determine if it is your good 'fit.'

Mohammed: Yes, and the culture is another thing, and thank you for bringing this up. I remember when I connected with other students,  I got a sense of the culture of every school from their insights, tips, and advice. And those conversations and chats and emails were constructive in eliminating some schools because I thought that I would not fit into their culture.

Poonam: Yes, I remember you have been very actively participating in GMAT Club conversations.

Mohammed:  Yes, I love this community of the GMAT club, and I am now the moderator of the Rotterdam School of Management in GMAT Club for this year. Yes, and I tried to convey the message to others and help them. Some of them sent personal messages asking for help, so I did zoom sessions to advise people on selecting the right MBA without forcing the Rotterdam School of Management on them. Everyone has their strengths, weaknesses, and short-term and long-term goals. So, I respect this, and again, I learned it from you. I told others to do self-reflection, know themselves better, and select a school where they will fit in. These are crucial aspects of MBA application.

Poonam: That is so true. So, Mohammed, after you moved from US B- schools to European B- schools, you applied only to RSM. How does RSM stand out for you? How is it the best fit for you?

Mohammed: I shifted my mind from USA B-schools to European B-schools since I was already quite old for applying to MBA programs. I started to think that work-life balance would be better in European B schools than American B-Schools lifestyle for many reasons. So, I started thinking of the business schools in European Union, especially in Germany, Netherlands, and Belgium, considering their economic conditions. Also, I believe that we should study in the country where we want to work, especially in the European Union as it is very vast. Each country has different lifestyles, economies, and industries that they are famous for. So, finally, I landed in the Netherlands with RSM. After a meeting with the Dean of Rotterdam School of Management here in Egypt for around 90 minutes (The meeting was scheduled for 30 minutes but went on for 90 minutes), I was convinced that Rotterdam is the best fit for me for many reasons. I would also like to mention that some Egyptian immigrants in the Netherlands referred me to their Dutch superiors asking about Rotterdam and Erasmus University and recommended it. Rotterdam School of Management is Mecca for management in the Netherlands and is the best reputed with guaranteed education.

Moreover, it is a comprehensive one-year program. And the program has a living project which means that you can show yourself to a company for recruitment, etc. In addition, RSM has specialized and advanced classes in finance, supply chain, and strategy, which incidentally are my focus, and it makes me a good fit. So, I like Rotterdam School of Management over the others in the Netherlands. Sure, there are other schools, but they don't offer the same quality education I am looking for.

Poonam: I understand. However, given your work experience of 18 years, you are a perfect candidate for the executive MBA program. But you chose to pursue a full-time MBA program. What advice do you have for those candidates who believe they have reached the end of the road when they hit 30?

Mohammed: This is a good question. After finishing my bachelor's degree here in Egypt, I had a plan. I thought I would go outside of Egypt for higher education. I'm not particularly eager to study EMBA in Egypt since the MBA here is not as reputed as those outside Egypt. So, this was my first thought. Honestly, it will be a full-time MBA program when I go outside of Egypt. And this will lead me to the country where I like to work from the education gate. It will sharpen my skills and knowledge, which I cannot find in Egypt. Education and growth should never stop after 30. We need to have a positive attitude, focused goals, and a desire to sharpen our skills at any age. This is my advice for people over 30.

Poonam: You believe that they should not feel disheartened if they are 32, 33, 34-years-old.

Mohammed: I think 32 and 33 do not matter. They are still young. I am 41, and I managed to go to a reputed school like the Rotterdam School of Management with a scholarship. I would have gotten more scholarships if I had applied early in the admissions cycle. I got  €4000, and the maximum is 10,000. I am happy that I  achieved acceptance and scholarships with my low GMAT score. So my advice is- don't lose hope or be sad about rejection from any MBA program. You can go to another MBA program. If you have the will, pursue your will and follow your dream.

Poonam: This is excellent advice about not getting disheartened after one rejection.

Mohammed: Keep trying. If I had lost hope, I wouldn't have been in any school now. And I can quote something from one of the movies in the 80s- 'no retreat, no surrender.'

Poonam: That's very true. You are a living example of that. Your 'never say die attitude is exemplary. Finally, we have been living in COVID world for the last two years. How do you think this pandemic might impact your MBA experience?

Mohammed: This is a profound question. I am trying to contemplate the answer to this question. I am cool with the effect of COVID on MBA, that is, remote or online education. But I value in-person classes since these classes have interactions, questions- answers, and the classroom's vibe. You cannot match in-person classes with online. I heard from some people that they didn't like online education because perhaps some professors were not prepared to present online courses, which affected the quality of education. If I talk about RSM, the Living Project should take place on a company site where students communicate with people, visit the company every day, and then make a presentation for the executives. An alumnus  I know had attended online classes during the pandemic. He said he could not gain much because there was no connection between the students, which affected the quality of the learning cycle.

Poonam: So, what have you heard from the  RSM? Are they starting in-person classes?

Mohammed: They are prepared for the online classes; the government imposed lockdown until the 14th of January. So, we are going to the introduction week online. We will get a new update on the 3rd of January wherein maybe they can open it for education since they care a lot in the Netherlands about opening the schools for classroom instruction. Many European countries and governments are against online or remote education.

Poonam: Yeah, let us hope for the best. I hope in-person classes commence soon.

Mohammed: Yes, I hope so.

Poonam: Mohammad, can you tell us something about your outside-of-work interests and hobbies?

Mohammed: Actually, during the pandemic, I walked a lot and practiced sports, mini sports. During the pandemic, I had to lose some weight, so I began to walk a lot every day, and it became a habit. It led me to think that I would bicycle to the university when I go to the Netherland.

Poonam: Oh yes, bicycles are pretty common in the Netherlands.

Mohammed: But I don't use it here in Egypt; still, I am willing to try something new and use it in the Netherlands. Moreover, I like traveling very much, and I have traveled to many countries like Japan, Singapore, Europe, and the US for leisure and for attending workshops and leisure. And in my spare time, I like to read Arabic novels and literature.

Poonam: Great. It was nice talking to you. Would you like to talk about something else that I haven't asked?

Mohammed: No, Dr. Poonam. You have touched every point in my journey. I wish I could help anyone with that advice and tips. I want to tell others to connect and build their network while searching for an MBA. I would also encourage them to study the country they want to live in because it is crucial to understand the new realities. For example, now, the UK is not part of the European Union so some financial institutions may move outside the UK, and some people may still think that it is part of the UK. So try to dig deep and read about the economy of the country you will live in. This is my advice for applicants, and I will stress it again: shape your goals precisely and have focus.

Poonam: Thank you so much for your valuable insights and for sharing your extraordinary story with us. It is a story of perseverance, incredibly hard work, unflinching faith in one's abilities and God.

Mohammed: And I want everyone to see the positive in himself, the surroundings, and life. Don't lose your positivity at all.

Poonam: I think your positivity and sense of duty were crucial to your success.

Mohammed:  Thank you,  Dr. Poonam, for your help during my journey, and I wish you success with your students to get into their dream schools.

Poonam: Thank you. It was my pleasure to be part of your MBA journey. I wish you good luck with your RSM experience and all your personal and professional endeavors in the future.

Mohammed: Thank you.

Poonam: Happy New Year to you. May the New Year bring all happiness, good health, peace, and prosperity to you.

Mohammed: Thank you, Dr. Poonam. I wish you a happy New Year to your family, the big family. I wish to speak to you again soon.

Poonam: Sure. Yes, stay in touch. Bye.

You can connect with Mohamed  via Linkedin

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