How I Landed An IIM Lucknow Admit With Zero Preparation And Rejected It
I write today about a very interesting experience I have had the pleasure of living a few months ago. It led to moments of surprise, joy, excitement as well as confusion and frustration.
It all starts with a friend of mine planting the idea of taking the CAT 2017. Having belled the CAT in 2016 and scored a seat at the all too prestigious IIM Bangalore, she was convinced that I would thrive at a B-school campus. Apparently, I had the requisite aptitude and attitude (I personally believe she was really just talking about my appetite and love for alcohol and partying). Also, with the added advantage of being a CA in days when many of the top IIMs are obsessing over diversity, it seemed like a great opportunity to her, one I should not miss out on.
Anyway, so she had been recommending I sign up for the dreaded exam and appear albeit with no or maybe minimal studies. I knew a lot of close friends studying for years and not managing to get those formidable percentiles you need to get a seat at the top schools. I was, thus, naturally quite dismissive of the idea of simply signing up for a test for which people pour their blood, sweat and tears into. Besides, it was September and I didn’t even know the syllabus. To add to it, I had moved to a new role at work and was extremely busy with a budget season and the frustration it entails. The thought was never taken seriously and receded to an irrelevant corner in my mind.
On the Sunday afternoon of 17th September (3 days before the deadline for registration), I was performing the Sunday afternoon sermon of our generation, basically, binge-watching Netflix. Being the restless mind I am, I was also checking my phone and going from one web link to another till something about careers / MBA / IIM opened up on Quora.
Some interesting insights by gifted Quorans got me hooked for a while when I realized I could still register for the CAT and just experience the exam. Having paid huge fees to register for CFA & CIMA exams before, the humble ~2k CAT registration fee seemed like a fair sum to spend even if just for the experience. So that was it. On a whim, I went to the CAT 2017 website and signed up for the test.
Life as usual resumed and I was staring at Excel sheets all day again. Around the same time, I was starting to grow increasingly negative about my job. As luck would have it, I got a call from a consultant for an opportunity with a company I personally admired for a role which also seemed exciting. I decided to take it forward and in the week after Diwali, interviewed them and things worked out. I soon accepted the offer and put in my papers.
On 25th Nov, a Saturday, I was visiting some relatives which I don’t do often and get one too many scoldings for. I had a heavy lunch, the kinds you have when you visit your Nani which obviously had to be followed by siesta time. I woke up late in the afternoon and opened that app which defines our modern social lives – WhatsApp. A couple of friends who knew of my registering had wished me luck. That’s when I remembered the CAT was the next day. I quickly figured out what documents need to be carried to the exam hall and on the way back home, got the requisite printouts. I slept offsetting an alarm for early morning.
I woke up to an alarm on early Sunday morning and experienced the traumatic feeling all weekday workers would. I was in two minds about going as the bed and wintery morning made a very good case for sleeping in and not writing an exam I didn’t even know the pattern or syllabus of. Somehow, FOMO got the better of me and I got out of bed. I took an Ola Share to the exam center in Navi Mumbai and ended up travelling with a jumpy young Sardar boy who kept telling me about how ‘the CAT is a tough scene bro, I just want NM’. The cab driver wished us luck as he dropped us off. I felt completely out of place as I reached the venue where so many candidates were prepping and praying for a ticket to a better life.
In the classroom, there was an anxious atmosphere as we were made to sit at makeshift cubicles. I went on attempting the questions, leaving the ones I had no clue about unanswered. I found the Verbal section quite simple, DILR extremely tough and Quant decent (skipped the geometry part completely having studied it last 8 years ago). Having ticked off the experience, I headed home to a chilled out Sunday.
Fast forward to 8th Jan. I’m counting my days of notice period and looking forward to starting off a new job in 2 weeks. I get a ping from someone asking how much I scored on the CAT. I go excavating for ID & password details in my email and after doing the usual reset password etc, log in to see the results. I’m joking with my colleagues about whether it will be a 60 or 70. To my absolute bewilderment, I end up getting a 95.7 largely due to a 99+ in Verbal. Knowing that a close friend of mine had gotten into IIM B at a 94.something last year, this result takes the living daylights out of me. As the day progresses, the top 3 IIMs release their shortlists and I don’t make it to either. A sudden shock of happiness turns into a feeling of just closely missing out on something big. Imagine if I studied a little, what if I did some geometry at least, etc. I try to find out about other schools and realize I had ticked LKI as well in the form. A couple of days later, I get an L shortlist!
With the kind of charm and glamour the IIM brand carries, people all around me were excited and told me how big this opportunity was. I myself was so grateful for two things – 1. Not being an engineer and 2. Not sleeping that Sunday morning.
However, the fact that I would be starting a new job soon and that the career or monetary gain from going to L vs working was a thin difference kept me skeptical. I decided to not count my chickens before they hatch and focus on first getting an admit by cracking the interview before I think and decide. I registered for a weekend workshop with TIME.
By then, I had started off with my new job. A lot of the reasons which had made me move from a subsidiary of a huge MNC to an Indian MNC seemed to be actualized and that made me happy. After attending 3-4 weekend workshops, I stopped attending and lost interest in the whole process. I decided to just show up for the interview, again just for the experience. My interview was in a hotel in Andheri in Mumbai. I managed to skip work that day and went. The hotel was filled with young suited up people. We were summoned to write the WAT essays and I wrote a fairly convincing one. The topic had something to do with why India doesn’t progress and I wrote saying it’s untrue that India hasn’t progressed, especially since we have successfully sustained democracy while also doing fairly well on economic parameters. After the WAT, began the personal interviews. I was the last to be interviewed by my panel. Being my talkative self, I made a few acquaintances there as I waited my turn. Being there for the experience only also helped since I was quite calm while a lot of others around me were stressed and anxious. My panel consisted of two male professors aged around 50-55. They both seemed to be from engineering backgrounds. My ‘Why MBA’ answer structured around CA->Industry->MBA->Consulting convinced them. They then got into asking me some accounting questions which I still don’t believe make any sense. One professor who seemed to be the senior amongst the two (since the other asked the hotel attendant to bring “chhas with chutki bhar namak for saab kyunki inko acidity hai”) asked me something like “are unencumbered securities part of free reserves?”(??). Anyway, after 3-4 questions, they were done. I was pretty sure that I had tanked the interview and went home.
28th April, Saturday night. A couple of friends come over for dinner. One of them who’d also written the CAT tells me L results had come a few minutes ago. I check and get a prompt saying either you’ve not made the list or entered invalid credentials. I assume I haven’t made it and we chill till late night. After they’re gone, I just try logging in again and end up getting through to see an admit letter! What follows is congratulatory messages and calls. And then a week full of confusion.
All said and done, even with a good job, a good salary and a decent life, even though you have other plans in life, when life throws at you an admit to India’s fourth-best B-school, with literally zero effort, you can’t just let it go. It’s just extremely tough to have that kind of conviction. In the week that was, I reached out and spoke to mentors, seniors, friends and family. Even with all the diversified sampling, the house is literally always divided 50:50. The pros – IIM tag, college life, shot at consulting, foreign semester. Cons – monetary cost (ROI calculations are screwed up considering current job & level of L placements), “consulting itna desperately karna hai kya?”, disrupting life, missing out on a shot at a foreign MBA, etc.
Anyway, finally, you’ve got to make a gut decision. And I made mine. I rejected IIM L. I like where I am at in life currently – I work for one of the top consumer goods companies in India within their finance function where I get to work on a wide variety of issues and with people from across functions. I think the stuff I learn on the job every day is more valuable than the lessons I would have learnt in a classroom. On the personal front, I love working close by from home, shuffling between Mumbai and Pune on weekends to meet family and friends, dancing salsa after work, drinking at Hoppipola and having ice cream at Naturals. IIM-L just didn’t seem worth the disruption, probably because it was handed out to me too easily. I may not do an MBA ever and maybe I’ll regret missing out on the fun and learning at school but taking up this admit without a strong rationale just seemed inappropriate. But this experience was a lot of learning – about myself, about careers, about life, about FOMO, about how being a non-engineer is a blessing! I also really hope someone who genuinely worked for this got my seat.
Onwards and upwards!
Based on my experience, I would like to leave future CAT aspirants or those on the fence with two thoughts –
1. Firstly, GEMs, I feel terribly bad for you guys. The odds are stacked up against you just too much. For those who fight those odds and get in, I have utmost respect. But please don’t make a decision to write the CAT without a plan B. The way this exam and selection process seems to work, there’s a huge role for luck / fate to play out (as you can clearly see in my case).
2. Those who are on the fence about writing the exam / think they haven’t studied enough / aren’t smart enough, just shut up and study what you can and take the exam. The CAT clearly doesn’t just test what you’ve studied in the last one year but what and how you’ve learnt throughout your school life.