B-School Selection
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My MBA Journey: IIM-L

Recently, a colleague was asking my if I knew any fresh B-school graduates for some events and I told him that of late given that I am no longer actively teaching or running cities, most of my students are Eklavyas, who just read my blog and attend a few sessions, and not Pandavas!

Kaushik, was a student of mine back in my IMS Chennai days but as you will read from his post, we did not interact much. He got in touch with me whenever he had to make a big decision, which, if I am not wrong was once a year before or after each of his CAT attempts. In a way he was an Eklavya who occasionally spoke to me!

So, when Kaushik texted me a fortnight ago, with a DP that wasn’t his face, I had to figure out who he was and asked him to confirm if my hunch about his background and appearance were right! And thankfully, I was.

Kaushik had an exceptional academic profile, was a CA, worked in big-brand firm, so the MBA was a big decision for him since it had to make complete sense. Given this I thought it would make perfect sense for him to write down his experience of his time at IIM-L (given that my Palaeolithic-era experience no longer counts) as a non-binding gurudakshina 🙂

And added context for this post is also that given the huge rally behind the ABC or nothing war cry, L or another shot at ABC is primed to arouse peak FOMO!

After I read Kaushik’s post, I learnt three things — sad, bad, and glad — the name of the intra-institute sports contest was changed from Sikandar to Sangram (sad); the name of the management fest was hyphenated from Manfest to Manfest-Varchasva (bad — I remember hearing the word varchasva in Gangs of Wasseypur, if my memory serves me right); and name of the music band, of which I was a part, continues to be the same, 3.4 (glad)!

The Journey of a lifetime at IIM Lucknow

Tony is someone whom I admire. I call him by name rather than ‘sir’ because, one – he’s a friend who’s always there for you, and two – he’s young as ever. I pinged him a few days ago to give an update on where I was headed next, which is when he asked if I could pen down my experience at L. I was hesitant initially, but decided to go ahead since it was a transformational journey. It’s my first attempt at penning down any experience of mine. Apologies if it deviates from any accepted structure.

Disclaimer – My views are purely based on my two-year journey (2019-21) at IIML.

Why do I call it the journey of a lifetime? Because, I had almost decided to not take this up even a day before I left for Lucknow, to now being grateful for the wonderful journey at L. Our batch could emerge victorious despite these tough times during covid.

My tryst with CAT

Enrolled with IMS Chennai, but couldn’t attend more than 5 sessions owing to work commitments. All I knew that year was that it was a 3 hour test with three sections. Yet, walked in to give CAT’16 since I had registered. Unexpectedly scored 97.07%ile. Converted IIM Indore. But, wasn’t sure if I wanted to join. I am a CA, was working with a Big4 back then and was advised by a relative that it won’t make much difference by taking it up. Also, since it was my first attempt, Tony advised that I could try again. Next year, the story repeated. Busy with work, no prep, walked in and ended up with 96.47%ile. Again, IIM Indore shortlist, but didn’t appear for WAT-PI.

Quit my job in July’18 and enrolled in IMS Hyderabad. Slightly more serious this time. Yet, didn’t put in requisite efforts. Just attended the sessions, didn’t practice and attempted very few mocks resulting in additional pressure. Result – 92.98%ile. I was reflecting on the past few months when I could’ve prepared better. This score, I thought, was the end of everything. But, a surprising twist came up – IIML’s shortlist. The additional credit for being a CA with ~2.5 years of workex, and academic profile would’ve offset a low CAT score.

Two important lessons –

  1. Practice and speed are very critical
  2. Its very important to not reel under pressure. I’ve scored more when I knew nothing about CAT with no performance pressure

Before my WAT-PI process, I had almost made up my mind to pursue MBA from USA. So, walked in with no pressure for WAT-PI, while I was surrounded by extremely anxious candidates. Converted in the first list, but was still exploring the US MBA. One major hurdle for the US admit would be my break in service. So, eventually ended up going to Lucknow, albeit very reluctantly.

Enter IIM Lucknow

Travelled to the campus half-hearted, still unsure of whether it was the right decision. Found my way through the vast campus to my hostel room in one of the older hostels. My mind was prejudiced, with certain articles describing them as slums (just because they were older). From a dejected entry, this became one of my favourite hostels given its proximity to all major locations.

“Deadlines are sacrosanct” is a phrase that will constantly keep buzzing around in IIML, be it roll calls at 9:15 am or submissions. My hostel’s location for sure saved me from missing many classes and quizzes, when my peers had to rush from hostels far away.

One of the best things about IIML is the bonding between students across batches. From jittery intros during induction, they become your closest buddies almost instantly. You can cold call anyone to help you out at any time.

Life at IIML

The first term could be overwhelming for many, given we have to juggle between classes, placement prep, company sessions, assignments, quizzes, projects, events/activities, competitions, committee selections etc. But, eventually you get used to it and find time for everything you want to do. 

The key is to prioritize. I’ve seen people who had focused only on academics or sports/extra curriculars and others who managed to do various things. What and how much you want to do, is up to you. There’s no dearth of opportunities.

I was very meek, timid and silent initially. It is said that MBA is all about networking. So, I thought to make the best of the opportunities I have and participated in the selection process for becoming the class rep, thereby part of the admission mentorship team as well and got selected. Looking back, that would’ve probably been one of the best things that could’ve happened to me, enabling me to establish a strong bond with 60 future managers and leaders.

There are two things which I had strongly heard before joining. Here is my take on them –

“It is extremely essential to get through the committee selections. Else, your MBA will be doomed” –

While it is definitely great to get into a CCA, that’s not the end of everything if you don’t. Many haven’t been able to get into any CCA and yet, aced through their MBA.

“Summer placements will define your MBA”

It is definitely crucial and everyone should give their best. If you manage to crack your desired role in summers and get a PPO, it’s the ideal situation. Those who don’t land their desired role can either give up & rue the lost opportunity or work to fulfill their aspiration in finals.

I was largely indifferent to IB vs consulting during summers, although slightly inclined towards consult (a reason for me to pursue MBA). Converted a top IB during summers and went on to get placed in one of the top 3 global consulting firms in finals. It’s probably acceptable to explore your domain of interest during summers, while you are expected to have absolute clarity during finals.

You can build your profile a bit before summers though, by getting selected in CCAs, participating in competitions. However, your summer placements is largely dependent on what you’ve done pre-MBA. For final placements, it is largely about what all and how well you’ve been able to do during MBA. So, don’t get devastated if you don’t land the internship role you desire. You still have a great chance in finals, so long as you work towards it.

I’ve witnessed people switch from ops to marketing, marketing to finance/prodman etc. Its probably easier if you do your internship in the same domain as your target in finals, but you can always work towards your domain of interest even if your summers was in a different domain.

Also, before joining IIML, I’ve also been in your shoes, trying to garner a lot of information about the institute online. Like me, few of you might have come across some stuff written online in a negative taste about L’s placements. But, basis my experience, I can say that it isn’t true.

IIML for long has been known as a marketing campus. I’ve heard stories of how shortlisted students had to travel to another city to give their interviews for premier consulting firms and that there were limited opportunities in finance about two decades ago. But, the current situation is amazing. You have all premier firms across domains visiting the campus for placements.

From top tier consulting firms, investment banks, PE/VCs, banking, marketing companies to the best companies in prodman, ops, corp fin roles etc. you have them all. May be the number of PE/VCs and firms from a few other domains visiting could be slightly higher in ABC. But, IIML is not far behind.

IIML is known for is its academic rigour. I had also read stories of how toppers from undergrad ended up with low grades, and here I was, someone who had last experienced formal full time education 8 years ago. I was constantly fearing under-performance and failure even before going through the process.

Yes, you have many courses, quizzes, assignments, projects, mid-term / end-term examinations that come up once in 5 weeks and the attendance requirements are high. But, it is definitely manageable and not as tough as the perception built around it. Our apprehensions only worsen it for us.

I had a disastrous start, scoring the least across two sections in one of the first quizzes in a course in the first term. My fears started increasing. A senior managed to calm me down. Anyone could have a bad day. I didn’t build any further expectations of scoring well. The first term results were declared, and I managed to perform decently well. Stood 2nd in my section and amongst the top ~30/480+ in the institute.

I then realized that it’s the overall performance across various components that matters and one bad component need not ruin everything. I’ve had a few bad quizzes across both years, but ended up securing Institute Rank 5 at the end of 2 years and IR 1 in term 3 standalone. So, do not let your fears define your journey.

After the stressful first term, it’s time to pursue your passion and that’s when the selection process starts for clubs. Again, I failed to make the cut here. Nevertheless, kept moving on.

Then came the Student Council elections. Before L, I was introverted, timid, hesitant, pessimistic and was also carrying additional baggage in my mind as I was told that I was too good to attend b-school. I could have never imagined myself talking to so many people, campaigning door-to-door, addressing the batch etc. 

But, the few months I had spent at L taught me a lesson – it is ok to try and fail, rather than not trying itself owing to the fear of failure. That’s when I started developing this approach to make any decision – “What is the worst that could happen if I fail at this?” In the current instance, I’d end up in the same situation before the election. So, why not give it a shot instead.

These experiences pull you out of your comfort zone and help overcome your inhibitions. I won and was elected as the President of Student Council. This is by far my best experience at L – the kind of work, the exposure that it gave me amidst challenging covid times was amazing, and above all, the 8 of us in the Council became a family. From navigating through the transition from offline to online mode, to planning & executing the onboarding of batch during covid times was a memorable experience.

I’ve participated in a few case competitions and have been fortunate to taste success. I still remember my first national win. One of my besties had registered for a corporate case competition in Term 1 and had also made the submission for Round-1. I wasn’t even aware of this. We got selected for the national finals, competed with students from all the premier MBA colleges in India and won it eventually (we did work together for the final round though :p).

All good things have to come to an end

Reminiscing all the fun, cherished memories and experiences, it all came to a closure one fine day. The entire batch was capturing memories of the last of everything – night mess, party, exam, class, game etc. Having built strong friendships, a great network, it was time to bid adieu to IIML two months ago as we had completed our MBA. 2 years felt like a split second. I’ll be ever grateful for everything that IIML has given me.

All of us will need a support system through this journey. You’ll find yours along the way. Apart from my friends, faculty, parents, I had a very strong support system in my brother Harish. I dedicate my best allrounder medal to him. If not for him, I can’t imagine how many quizzes and classes I’d have missed. Despite staying in USA, he managed to wake me up every single day in the morning. There have been days when he had to make 20-25 calls to wake me up :p

Closing remarks

There could be many things you may desire in life. But, life will also present you opportunities in the most unexpected ways. It is up to you to make the best of it. Trust the process and cherish the experience. From thinking that it had all ended after CAT’18, to getting a SL from IIML with 92.98 %ile to converting in the first list, winning elections, being IR5, winning the best allrounder medal, converting great companies in summers and finals – I could never imagine this.

In hindsight, what if I had decided to not pursue MBA at IIML and instead tried giving GMAT or give CAT again in pursuit of ABC? What if I had gone abroad, invested significant money and got caught up due to covid. I don’t have an answer to any of this. There was every possibility of me failing again and not getting into any of these, or getting to these places and not performing as well as in L.

IIML, for me, has opened up the same path as what ABC would’ve offered. Probably a better one as well, who knows. I have had learnings for life and have overcome many inhibitions of mine. All thanks to IIML.

You need to experience every phase of this beautiful journey. If not for anything, it’ll still impart learnings, both professional and personal, that will aid you in life.

If you are contemplating on waiting for a year to get into ABC vs accepting an admit from L, also consider the fact that placement opportunities are very similar across ABCL. Also, there is a possibility that you might be pitted against extremely stronger profiles competing for the same role at say IIMA for instance, and you could thereby stand a better chance of converting the same great role at L as compared to A. Don’t overthink and complicate life. Take relevant inputs from your mentors and make an informed decision.

At the end of the day, whichever institute you eventually go to, own it and unite with it. Whatever you do, wherever you go, you’ll be carrying the brand with you. Infact, it’s the alumni who can build the brand of any institute further.

A generic view about anything in life – Nothing is perfect. You can choose to work towards getting the best out of what’s available and find a solution by owning up, or stand away and decide to just keep worrying & complaining about something not being right. The choice is yours.


  1. Sathvik Kappala says

    Before reading this blog, I, like many other aspirants was nervous about joining IIM Lucknow due to all the negetive reviews posted online. Through my reply to your comment on another article, I was thinking of suggesting you to write something about your experience at IIM L to enlighten us about the the reality. But you, Tony sir did one better. Being the Dronacharya that you are, like always, managed to read our minds and with this article helped clear the dust. Now that the air is clear, we, your Ekalavyas and Arjunas would have no trouble in aiming at the bird’s eye!
    I also would like to extend my thanks to super senior Kaushik for his elaborate and exquisite write up reminiscing his journey. It indeed made me thrilled about getting into this campus. Thanks a lot both of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad it was useful, Sathvik. Once you meet enough students on a daily basis, it does not take too much mind-reading 🙂


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