Viswanaath Gowri Sanker
Big thanks to Arun for helping with my SOPs for Columbia. He really guided me through the process and helped me without charging, although he normally does.
Before applying to your colleges, what was your previous work profile like?
I did my Undergraduate from IIT Madras in Aerospace, which was my major. My minor was in Operations Research.
What was your work profile like?
I had worked with a couple of banks. I worked with HSBC and Capital One in the Data Analytics division.
When did you decide to apply for an MS and why did you feel this was the next step?
I always wanted to pursue my higher studies. For a couple years I tried hard for my CAT. After my CAT, I realized I hadn’t done as well to get into a top IIM so I decided to apply for an MS program in the US. I wasn’t 100% sure about doing an MS in the US, and I wanted a broader range of choices.
What kind of schools were you looking at when you thought of applying?
I had two options – Finance and Operations Research. Since I was looking at Finance or Business Analytics, I looked into the upcoming trends in Business Analytics. So I chose schools near the East Coast as they would be ideal for this domain and are well known. Columbia, University of Chicago and CMU were the schools I applied to. My backups were UT Austin and Cincinnati. I had applied to 4 schools for Business Analytics and 2 for Finance i.e. Columbia and University of Chicago which are the top schools for this specialization
Being in the financial hub, they seem to be good choices. Was location a big factor?
Yes it was a very important factor. I didn’t have much time as I decided to apply only in December, so my choices were restricted as I had to make a quick decision. I picked the East Coast and the schools which were the best in the business. I had spoken to a couple of friends and went with this.
So the first step was to take the GMAT, how did you prepare for it? How did you manage work and studying?
I wanted to give my GMAT last year and I had joined CrackVerbal. I attended classes and I suddenly decided to postpone my GMAT to sometime later. I thought I would write it a year or 2 down the line. But when I realized my CAT wasn’t going to work, I decided that I would like to do the GMAT. I then spoke to Arun and he said that I was doing quite well in class and I can give my GMAT.
I gave the 2 diagnostic tests and I got a 720 and a 730 respectively, which I thought were good scores but not the ones I wanted. I picked my GMAT exam date within the next 15 days. I was simultaneously prepping for CAT. I did a 15 days crash course, sort of; gave my GMAT and ended up with 710. I did it in a hurry, it was probably not the score I would have wanted but the scores were decent enough for a GMAT program.
So after CAT and GMAT you decided to go with your GMAT scores? Applying for an MS is not the same as an MBA, what was your next step in the application process?
After completing my GMAT, I spoke to Arun about my MBA and how difficult or easy it is to get into a B-School. Arun mentioned that there are MS programs which I could look at. To my surprise I found good programs on the schools’ websites, especially in Finance which were well suited to me.
I had read a lot of papers by Microsoft and did some research, so I figured that Data Analytics and Finance will be high in terms of jobs and the scope in the next 10 years was very good. Since I had already worked in Data Analytics, I decided to stick to it, but I also wanted to do an MS in Finance. Fortunately, both programs were accepting GMAT scores.
Also earlier in college I had given a GRE, the scores of which are still valid, so based on that I applied to the schools, it was around 310. With this I went ahead and applied for Business Analytics.
For an MS program as well, you would need an SOP and recommendations, how did you go about writing them?
For my SOP, I had applied to 6 schools and I wrote 6 different SOPs. They each had a particular requirement so I wrote one for each. CMU and North Western for instance, needed specific essays for specific questions, so it had to be individual for each school.
For Columbia I mentioned my SRM certification and how I’d like to work in Management. I also described some of the Professors’ work at Columbia and spoke of how I would like to be a part of that.
For University of Chicago, it was again related to Finance, I spoke of my education here as I felt it was more apt. However, for my applications to Business Analytics courses, I spoke of my professional experience.
So how did you go about choosing your recommendations for the programs?
Again I had just 15 days to complete my applications, so I chose three Professors I had studied under. One was my project guide who I had worked closely with and she was happy to give me recommendations. The second was a Mathematics Professor as this is important for Finance related courses, and the third was an Operations Research Professor.
I also got three recommendations from work – one from the Director of Capital One, one Senior Manager and finally, one from a Senior Associate. I again submitted my recommendations based on the school I was applying to.
Columbia I thought would never come, so I was more relaxed and didn’t put in much effort into choosing my recommendation. I actually applied an Operations Research (OR) formula to pick which recommendation goes to which school! It was based on probability and I’m not sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing.
So you had a dream school and a safe school?
Yes, I chose my recommendations based on which school I considered my dream and which I considered a safe bet.
After your essays and recommendations were there any interviews?
Yes I had them with almost all schools – Columbia, North Western, UT Austin etc. For CMU, I had to submit a video SOP.
Who took the interview?
For Columbia they were senior students. For UT Austin there was a Program Head/Director. For North Western it was the Program Director and Alumni.
Was it a stress interview or a casual one?
The stress was to find out if you were really interested in the program or not, and whether you knew about the program or you’re applying just for the sake of it, but it was fun. Columbia – their questions ended in 5 minutes and I ended up asking questions for 15 minutes! It was a lot of fun.
So your final choice is going to be Columbia?
Yes again Arun needs to be thanked for it, he and a lot of other people helped me choose it.
For Columbia something funny happened – I applied for the Finance program and so the interview was under the Industrial Engineering department and OR, they offered me an MS in Operations Research. I had applied for Finance and got offered this!
For somebody with comparatively less work experience, and thinking of an MBA or an MS abroad – what words of advice would you give them?
Be conscious of what divisions you want. Ask yourself what you want to do. If you are not sure about an MBA then I advise you to do an MS as it gives the same exposure but with less cost and you’re still in a tech field. With less work ex it is a better option. It is not a business program but it has a broader range. Also be honest with yourself and give it your best shot. Don’t underestimate yourself!
A lot of students struggle with this, after 2-3 years of work experience they don’t know whether to wait or apply so I think this would help them.
You should ask yourself if you’re happy with your job and should I do something better? Then an MS is the right choice that is if studying will help you get there.
Where do you see yourself a few years down the line, now that your college is set?
I’ve left my options open. I’ve left it to the program. A lot of people work with investment banking firms etc. after the program, so that’s a possibility. The Data Analytics option is always open too. OR is flexible that way. Though I applied to Finance, I think OR is really flexible so I want to go there and figure out my options. I think I will allow time to decide after going there.
A big thanks to Arun especially for helping with my SOPs for Columbia. He really guided me through the process and helped me without charging, although he normally does.