Management From The French Shores: Pradhyumna Rao's ESSEC Admit

Management From The French Shores: Pradhyumna Rao's ESSEC Admit

Pradhyumna Rao, a remarkable persona with an aura of humility, a graduate of the Batch of 2019, Department of Civil Engineering has managed to bag an offer from the prestigious ESSEC Business School of France (ranked 3rd by the Financial Times, 2020) with a perfect combination of hard work and tenacity.

ESSEC (École Supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales) is a graduate school with programs ranging from Bachelor to PhD and a wide range of Masters's programs, including the Grande Ecole Masters in Management and Global MBA programs. It also offers executive education programs.

Team Monday Morning got a chance to catch up with Pradhyumna Rao to garner valuable insights on his ESSEC admit journey. Excerpts:

Photo of Mr. Pradhyumna Rao

Monday Morning (MM): You didn't get into a higher education based on engineering. When and how did you decide to go for a Management degree?

Pradhyumna Rao (PR): I don’t remember exactly when but it was around some time in my 5th semester I decided to pursue a Management degree, MBA to be precise.

After my second year, I took up an internship for a month with L&T and that was when I felt I wasn’t cut out for Civil Engineering. I wasn’t as passionate as I would have expected myself to be during the internship or through the course. Even with the onset of a new year, I would find my interests failing which put me in great distress about my future as a Civil engineer even after being part of a distinguished institute like NIT Rourkela. With this fleeting interest in Civil engineering, I found myself moved to analytics and consulting. I dived in depth by talking to people about what analysts or consultants do and how does one secure such a job. With my profile centred around leadership and extra-curricular activities majorly, I decided to work in Consulting and pursue MBA for my post graduation.

MM: Did you always aspire to go for the Management degree Abroad or you also weighed your options in Indian Management Schools?

PR: For as far as I remember, I always wanted to pursue my higher studies abroad for the international experience and a wider spectrum of opportunities. After I decided that I would be pursuing a management degree, my want to study abroad only strengthened.

It was in the summer before the final year when I started weighing in options to study In India. I wanted to study only in the top bracket Indian management schools; IIM A, B, C, I, K and L, ISB and XLRI. IIMs went out of consideration rather quickly as CAT and the entire procedure didn’t sit well with me, it simply wasn’t my cup of tea. With just two institutes matching what I wanted in India I actively started exploring options abroad and after reading about the different schools, programs and experiences being offered I decided to pursue my higher education outside India while still keeping ISB and XLRI in mind.

MM: How did you come to know about the MIM (Masters in Management) course? How is it different from the MBA (Master of Business Administration) course offered by IIMs or other business schools?

PR: In our sixth semester my friend and I got to talking about career and aspirations and instantly realized how our thought process and situations were quite similar. In the following summer before the final year, we were researching colleges and learnt more about MBA abroad and its requirements. While researching, we were rather shocked to see the program portfolio or the classroom portfolio. While the top schools required a strong GMAT/GRE score, the average classroom work experience stood at 5-6 years and the range from 2-10 for any MBA program. We saw our motivation fall rapidly and started reading up on the difference between MBA abroad and MBA in India. It was about this time my friend got to know about Masters in Management. We looked up the difference between a MIM and MBA and kept an open mind towards the program.

The most basic difference between the two is that MIM is a master’s degree curated for low work experience professionals (0-2 years of work experience) and MBA is designed to meet the needs of industry acquainted professionals (greater than 2 or 3 years of work experience). MIM is more suitable for those who majored in a non-business undergrad major and need a post-graduate degree in management with no work experience, for those who want to look for top tier entry-level jobs in management and for those who are on the lookout for better jobs with rudimentary business understanding and work experience.

MBA is for professionals with a fair understanding of the industry and is only looking to augment their business knowledge or for those who need superior and specialized business knowledge and experience to rise in the ranks of their current job. There are several articles on various websites highlighting the differences and similarities but these are the fundamental differences.

I would suggest to look up extensive articles available highlighting the differences between the programs on the internet after fundamentally understanding what sets them apart.

Coming to the scenario in India, firstly the IIMs. IIMs offer a two year Post Graduate Program degree (PGP degree) which is regarded equivalent to an MBA in India. They don’t offer any typical MBA specializations and are greatly preferred by low work experience professionals similar to a MIM. Even internationally, the two-year programs offered by IIMs are often listed as MIM programs. The one year PGP program being offered by a few IIMs are now being touted as MBA by global definitions. Secondly, Institutes such as ISB and XLRI offer full-time MBA degrees often with typical specializations. They also require a minimum of two-year work experience to start your degree while you may appear for their entrance exams and secure a seat in advance.

Difference between MBA and MIM

MM: Why did you choose ESSEC, France, as your destination for MIM? How did you come across it?

PR: While I had my goals set to be an MBA graduate after 3-4 years of work experience, things didn’t fall into place as I had hoped. Working with a highly reputed firm in Consulting, my experience personally and professionally didn’t live up to what I expected. I faced bottlenecks at work and unfortunately due to negative people experience I didn’t see my future with the company. Stuck amid a pandemic, I pulled myself together and decided to pursue a MIM degree and start afresh with 1 year of work experience in hand.

With MIM in mind, I started looking at the top-ranking colleges according to financial times. I came across a few leaders such as HEC Paris and London Business School (LBS) and was pleasantly surprised to see ESSEC in the top 3, ahead of LBS. Of the three colleges in my first list of priority, two were from Paris (France) and one from London (United Kingdom). Paris, needless to say, is a dream destination for anybody and presenting myself with an opportunity to study in one of the most liberal countries with a great scope of adventure got me pumped. The United Kingdom has been dealing with Brexit in a negative light and showed little promise concerning immigration laws and a stable economy. Naturally, France was the primary destination I was considering owing to the best colleges for MIM and it being a part of the EU.

I fell in love with ESSEC particular for the balance it exercises and believes in. There is a healthy balance between coursework and personality development and its USP being a flexible curriculum. The way one can mould and shape their coursework to suit their career trajectory is jaw-dropping. Moreover, they offer several chairs and speciality tracks that no other B-school offers. They have partnered with several large firms such as LVMH, Loreal and Accenture to specially curate coursework that is available only at ESSEC and offers real-time work cases and consequently the opportunity to work with them full-time post graduating. ESSEC also offers apprenticeship which is a 2-3 years contract with a company where you study a few days of the week and work full time the other few. As an apprentice, you will be entitled to a stipend that will help you cover your expenses (stay, travel, etc) while also receiving a full tuition fee waiver from the company. ESSEC is extremely receptive and warm to international students and as a whole is a just cosier and inclusive place to pursue your MIM from.

MM: Please tell us about the procedure for applying to ESSEC Business School, France? What was the eligibility?

PR: One can apply to ESSEC’s MIM program in any of the four rounds it offers. The earlier one applies the better are the chances. There are three stages in the entire process.

It starts with completing the application. It consists of several elements which have equal importance. Perhaps the most obvious is a management test score. ESSEC accepts both GRE and GMAT scores and there is no explicit preference of one over the other. While many opt to give GMAT exam for business schools, all schools now also accept GRE scores. ESSEC also accepts CAT scores for Indian students instead of GMAT or GRE scores. Give your GMAT/GRE score at least 3-4 weeks before the application deadline since the full report takes about a fortnight to be generated and another week or two to be shared with the school via the test-taking platform.

ESSEC also requires an English proficiency test score such as TOEFL/IELTS. There is a provision in place to bypass this requirement. If the medium of instruction during undergrad was English and is mentioned explicitly in any of the college documents, that document can be submitted as proof of English proficiency. For NITR students, this is mentioned in the provisional documents, on the conduct certificate to be precise.

Give an English proficiency exam to be on the safer end as all colleges might not have this provision. Take this exam too at least 3 weeks before the application deadline as report generation and sharing by the test-taking platform takes time

ESSEC also requires two Letter of Recommendations. The referees should have known the candidate for a considerable period and in significance. The most preferred set of referees is one college professor attesting to your academic abilities and one referee on the professional front backing your career and corporate experience. For final year students with no considerable work experience, both the referees can be college professors. The referees should be nominated on the ESSEC Application portal after which they will receive a form to fill out the recommendation at their given E-mail address. The professional E-mail IDs of the referee need to be provided and the candidate needs to ensure that the references are submitted before the deadline as ESSEC doesn’t follow up with the referees. Failing to get the recommendations before the deadline deems your application incomplete and is passed onto the next round.

Speak to your referees in advance and nominate them only after they agree to give a strong recommendation. Recommendation letters are extremely important and should be submitted before the deadline. Final year project/thesis guides are the most suitable to give a recommendation owing to a longer period of acquaintance. If you don’t share a healthy equation with the project guide please abstain from asking a recommendation from them.

ESSEC also requires three essays which are the core of the application. First is a Motivation letter of one page that highlights your motivation to join the course. This should be a one-page letter that conveys why you want to do a MIM degree from ESSEC and how it’s going to benefit your aspirations and ambitions tied with how your presence in the school will be invaluable. The other two are 400-word limit essays each answering questions centred around your life experiences giving them a taste of your personality.

Getting into ESSEC requires robust well-rounded essays that give a definite taste of the applicant’s personality. Make sure your essays and motivation letter tie up well together and you can take up any follow-up questions in the interviews based on what you have written in the Essays.

Lastly, a one-page resume which gives a brief of your achievements and experiences while having the gravitas. ESSEC also requires a grade card of your undergrad program from Semester 1. For current students, the latest grade card will suffice. There is no hard defined GPA cut off for admission. Once all the fields are completed successfully on the portal, the candidate needs to pay 100 Euros for application submission. The application is successful only after the payment is processed and received by the school.

Plan the application process to have at least 1 buffer day in the end. While the payment getaways are very swift and reliable, one is always better safe than sorry.

The admissibility results (eligibility for interview) are announced typically 3 weeks post the application deadline. 2 weeks post the admissibility results, interviews begin and span another two weeks. Interview details are usually shared a few days post admissibility results well in advance for the interview. Results of the interviews are the final step in the process and if cleared one receives the admit letter.

There are no pre-defined cut off scores in any management exam that guarantee admission into ESSEC. A strong score with weak essays and recommendations can yield disappointing results. Learning French is vital for living and studying in France but is not an eligibility criterion. The courses are taught in English and you are required to learn French only once you arrive in France but not for admission into a college.

Admission Procedure to ESSEC Business School, France

MM: You have got the admit from ESSEC after giving GRE. But most of the candidates choose GMAT as the exam of eligibility. How did you choose between GRE and GMAT?

PR: Yes, I gave GRE instead of GMAT as I found GRE to be easier than GMAT and more widely accepted (types of programs and schools).

While reading the classroom portfolio of all programs I observed business schools accepting GRE scores considerably. In any given classroom for any business program at least 20% of the class had been admitted on a GRE score. GMAT is still the most widely preferred management test score and naturally, I made my first pass at it while I was working with ZS Associates. I performed pretty disappointingly in the test and even while practising due to cognitive saturation and work exhaustion. This was followed by extensive work hours at the firm and the entire exam preparation went to a halt.

When I decided to re-focus on my applications considerable time had passed by and I was back to square one with GMAT preparation. While talking to a friend who faced similar problems with GMAT, he suggested me to give GRE as he found it easier. With nothing to lose and at square one, I gave an online demo /sample test of GMAT and GRE. I scored better in the GRE format and with little time and motivation in hand, I decided to give GRE as it seemed like I had a head start.

Another reason why I gave GRE is the aforementioned wider applicability. Along with MIM, I was also wandering over the possibility to pursue Masters in Business Analytics. Being a relatively new Masters in Science Program, many schools including Sloan School of Management (MIT) were accepting only GRE scores. This made for a stronger case to give GRE over GMAT.

MM: Did you give TOEFL or IELTS additionally along with GRE? How did you prepare for it?

PR: Yes I gave my IELTS exam as I had missed round 1 of almost all schools (owing to full-time work and GRE preparation) and had ample time in hand for the next round. I didn’t prepare for GRE and IELTS simultaneously. My focus was first on GRE and after giving the test I prepared for IELTS. I chose IELTS because it is being adapted into schools as widely as TOEFL and was cheaper than TOEFL. Although not required for ESSEC, I still took the test as I was planning to apply to other colleges which might have required an English proficiency test.

IELTS posts study material to your residential address after registering for the exam. This takes about 7 - 10 days and there isn’t a lot of preparation material available in advance for IELTS. I got in touch with a few seniors who had written the exam and they gladly shared the material in their possession. Having freshly prepared for GRE which centres around strong vocabulary, it came as a blessing for IELTS too regarding the speaking and written sections.

MM: Enlighten us about your preparation strategy for GRE. How did you strategize your preparation for every individual section?

PR: GRE is greatly dependent on vocabulary, unlike GMAT which needs strong grammatical skills. GRE consists of three sections; Verbal, Quantitative Aptitude (Quant), and Written. The verbal and quant sections are 170 marks each and together add up to the total 340 GRE score. The written section is graded on 6 points with 0.5 increments. This is shared in the official report but not accounted into the 340 score total.

For my preparation, I followed the Magoosh GRE platform and found it extremely useful. Their UI, teaching methods and question banks were extremely useful and provided a real-time feel of the exam. I spent ~45 days preparing for the exam, 5-6 hours a day each. Having worked for Monday Morning and Hourglass, and writing Client based E-mails at work, I was pretty confident about my writing skills and spent only 2 days before the exam learning how to frame my arguments. The writing section was my last priority.

Coming to Quant, I didn’t focus a lot on the concepts because we know most of them. I practised questions in sets of 20/25 on the Magoosh website and often scored 90%. I focused on concepts that I kept losing out on and eventually mastered them with the question bank on the platform. After every practice session, I would get a detailed report with the correct answers, time spent on each question and which topics I uncorrected frequently. This helped me harness my strengths and weaknesses and better prioritize my work sessions.

Coming to the Verbal section, I had a minimal vocabulary. Strengthening vocabulary was key to scoring in the verbal section and the Magoosh GRE app has about 500+ words to improve your vocabulary. They are rated into easy, medium and hard, and help you memorize and expand your mental dictionary. I made an excel sheet of all the words and their meanings to practice in one place and track daily progress. Even during practice exams I would note down the word if I didn’t know and google its meaning. I gathered and learnt ~900 words by the end. I would practice these words every day and highlight those that I would forget and stress on them the next day. I found this strategy very helpful and scored well on the section. I also identified strategies in the beginning itself on answering text completion questions such as amplification and negation. I tried my best in incorporating these strategies while practising so it becomes muscle memory I don’t spend extra time when I see the question. I also gave each question type a fixed time to not exceed the time limit. Comprehension questions needed more time for me so I allotted more time to those questions and compensated by spending lesser time on sentence equivalence questions. If I exceeded the time limit for any question, I would mark the most likely answers as there is no negative marking and return to them at the end if I had time to spare. This helped me answer every question on the actual exam which is a huge benefit.

MM: What was your process for writing the application essays, and what points does one need to keep in mind while writing one?

PR: I first finished the two 400 words essays which were pretty generic and asked about a certain instance in my life where I exhibited leadership and what a certain aspect meant to me personally. Then I focused on my motivation letter. I spent quality time on this highlighting all the experiences that helped me shape who I am and how they added up into me considering ESSEC for MIM.

The essays are a medium for the academic committee to understand who you are. We need to sell ourselves in a way that highlights our USPs, our thought process and qualities. MIM is made for low work professionals and fresh college graduates. The most common base to normalize the pool is in understanding the personality.

Every Business School believes in making leaders so it is very important to cast yourself as one to make an impact. Always back your statements with real-life experiences which resonate with qualities of leadership. In the heat of elevating yourself don’t oversell. If you can’t come up with examples to back you, it's just a generic statement that will seem like overkill.

Make multiple attempts at re-writing it and keep the essay as concise as possible. The committee needs to know more about you in a quantifiable manner and not superficially. Refrain from sharing instances that might negate what you might be selling. Keep a positive attitude and a grounding tone, make sure every essay ties up well with each other and is relevant to what is being asked.

MM: As you passed out from NIT Rourkela in the year 2019, you have been working full-time. How did you manage your time between preparing for exams like GRE and working full time in the company?

PR: I actually couldn’t balance both. After joining ZS Associates I tried preparing for GMAT for 3 months but it didn’t materialize into what I had hoped for. With increasing work pressure I kept preparation at bay for several months. While completing a year at the firm and in the midst of a pandemic I realized that I couldn’t accomplish my career goals as Masters is what I wanted to do and the work experience was just a supplement for it.

I quit my job after 14 months of working and spend the next few months on GRE preparation and Applications in their entirety.

MM: What role do you think NIT Rourkela has played in your achievement to get the admit?

PR: NIT Rourkela has been pivotal in shaping who I am today. I am indebted to the college for everything it had to offer. My every line of thought today comes from my engagement in the different opportunities NIT had to offer most importantly Hourglass, Toastmasters International – NIT Rourkela chapter followed by Monday Morning.

Hourglass is my everything and I can’t stress how important it has been in securing my ESSEC admit. I was lacking international experience on my profile majorly but the tag of being a Toastmaster and managing a Toastmasters International club made up for it. The brand of being a Toastmasters is so strong that a panellist on my interview panel was also a Toastmaster and we got to bonding over our experiences. Being a certified leader from Toastmasters meant I was a leader recognized by global means. Every leadership quality I was pitching was backed by the achievements of Hourglass in my capacity as its President and Member.

NITR also offers something no other NIT does, its people. I wouldn’t have been here today if it wasn’t for fellow NITians - Nikhil Vobbilisetty, Bhaavan, Ankita Behera, Sampoojya Choppalli, and so many people who motivated, supported and shed my inhibitions when I found myself questioning and at crossroads throughout. I also thank Amrutha Varshini, Krishna Sharath and Andrew Milton in extending their guidance and wisdom, and sharing valuable information and resources to make informed and prudent decisions. I remain solemnly in gratitude to my alma mater.

MM: Where would you like to see yourself after completing your degree at ESSEC Business School, France?

PR: I see myself as a Business Consultant at one of the top consulting companies. Every MIM class typically has 35% of the class taking up Consulting jobs and having worked in the industry I would like to be working with BCG, PwC etc.

Readers of this article are free to approach Mr. Pradhyumna Rao for any queries relating to the admission procedure.

Email ID – pradyumnarao1224@gmail.com , LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/pradhyumna-rao-436b876a

MM: What message would you like to give to the management enthusiasts who want to study abroad?

Go for it. You have everything at your end to realize your dreams into reality. The unknown can be scary but it's also exciting and promising. Every NIT Rourkela student has what it takes to be in the top schools of the world. Search for your inner confidence and translate your ambition into success because you can. Whatever management degree you are pursuing, just make sure you are interested in it and believe it can transform your life into something exemplary yet meaningful. Keep faith in who you are and what you want to be, nothing is stopping you. All the best!!

Team Monday Morning congratulates Pradhyumna Rao for his successful ventures and wishes him all the best for his future endeavours. 

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