How I got into NTU (Nanyang) & HKUST MBA with scholarship: Saurabh’s Success Journey 

By Arvind Kumar

The MBA application journey can feel like navigating uncharted waters, but for Saurabh, it became a voyage of discovery, determination, and ultimately, success. In this debrief, Saurabh shares his journey of securing admission into two of Asia’s most prestigious MBA programs: HKUST and NTU (Nanyang). 

From his background to choosing the right business school, crafting his application strategy, rigorous interview preparation and Arvind (admitStreet’s) role in his success journey, Saurabh shares his insights and advice for prospective MBA students.

Over to Saurabh.

Background and Motivation

After graduating from BITS Pilani, I delved into the world of finance, starting with an internship at Nomura, which eventually transitioned into a full-time role. Over the years, I’ve honed my skills in derivative pricing and model building, gaining valuable insights into the financial industry.

I have three primary motivations for pursuing an MBA. Firstly, to transition into a role that involves more direct interaction with clients, particularly in sales and structuring trading.

Secondly, I believe an MBA will provide me with a comprehensive understanding of business operations, thereby supporting my long-term aspirations of assuming leadership positions where I can make impactful decisions.

Lastly, I perceive an international MBA as invaluable for gaining insight into diverse cultures and effectively navigating the dynamics of a workplace that involves stakeholders from around the world.

Choosing the right MBA program

I carefully selected four universities to apply to – HKUST, Nanyang Business School, London Business School, and ISB.

My decision-making was guided by two primary criteria. Firstly, I aimed to transition into a finance-related role post-MBA, leveraging my prior experience in the financial sector. Therefore, it was essential for me to target institutions where a significant % of the cohort pursued careers in finance upon graduation.

Secondly, I sought a diverse cohort that would offer varied perspectives, particularly from individuals with different professional backgrounds. 

Asia, and particularly, Hong Kong emerged as an attractive destination due to its status as a global financial hub. Consequently, HKUST stood out as a prominent choice, renowned for its excellence in academia and its strong ties to the finance industry. The university’s reputation, and Hong Kong’s prominence in finance, made it an obvious contender in my selection process.

Application Strategy

Getting into the MBA programs at NTU (Nanyang) Singapore and HKUST was no easy feat. Reflecting on my application journey, I can say it was a rollercoaster ride of preparation, strategy, and persistence. Here’s how I tackled it, and maybe my experience can offer some guidance to aspiring applicants.

Starting early was key. I dived into the application process months before the deadlines. For NTU, where the applications were on a rolling basis, I began as early as August. This early start gave me the flexibility to retake exams, such as the GRE, to improve my scores and refine my essays. Additionally, I made it a point to establish a connection with the admissions and marketing teams of both universities. Building these relationships also provided insights into what they valued in candidates.

With a bunch of essays to tackle, I adopted a meticulous approach, starting as early as June. The school’s emphasis on storytelling compelled me to delve deep into my past, from childhood memories to undergraduate experiences. Crafting a coherent narrative was crucial, as it provided insight into my journey rather than just listing achievements.

Moreover, the interviews played a pivotal role in the application process. By the time I faced the interviewers, they already knew me by name, thanks to the groundwork I had laid. These interactions were not just mere conversations but strategic discussions. I made sure to note down recurring themes or topics mentioned by the interviewers and incorporated them into my application essays. This demonstrated my genuine interest in the programs.

Both NTU and HKUST prioritized candidates’ profiles over standardized test scores. This prompted me to highlight my extracurricular activities and certifications, which showcased a holistic view of my capabilities. 

In hindsight, the MBA application journey was demanding but immensely rewarding. It taught me the importance of early preparation, strategic networking, and storytelling. To all prospective applicants, I encourage you to embark on this journey with determination and authenticity. Your story could be the key to unlocking the doors to your dream B-school.

Standing Out in MBA Applications

Securing admission into both NTU (Nanyang) Singapore and HKUST MBA programs, I realize that it wasn’t just my academic prowess or my CV that made the difference. It was the culmination of various experiences and angles within my application that truly helped me differentiate.

One aspect that made my application stand out was my extensive experience in handling global stakeholders. Having worked with individuals from Japan, to the United States and London, I was able to demonstrate a truly global perspective.

Moreover, I believe that certifications such as the CFA helped distinguish me from other applicants. By clearing multiple levels of the CFA exams, I was able to signal my commitment to professional development and readiness for post-MBA roles. 

Another key aspect of my application was my tenure at Nomura. With a strong presence in major financial hubs like Singapore, London, and Hong Kong, my pre-MBA experience showcased my ability to thrive in dynamic and fast-paced environments. 

Ultimately, it was the combination of these factors—global exposure, relevant certifications, and a solid pre-MBA background—that made my application stand out. Through my essays and interviews, I was able to convey not just my academic achievements but also my readiness to immerse myself in the vibrant cultures of these institutions and contribute positively to their academic communities.

While crafting my essays, I had multiple brainstorming sessions with Arvind to pick out key anecdotes that helped me grow personally and professionally and highlight who I am. Once we had the experiences that I wanted to share, we had to surmount the humongous task of giving them a proper structure. We had to review multiple iterations, tweaking it a bit every time to arrive at something I thought was perfect. In the end, it was all worth it, and our efforts paid off.

Importance of Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities played a crucial role in shaping my profile and ultimately securing these admissions. It’s interesting how universities like NTU and HKUST pay attention to these aspects. For example, NTU had an essay specifically focusing on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) topics, including sustainability initiatives. So, I’ll dive into how I presented my extracurriculars in my applications.

First off, I volunteered with an NGO dedicated to beach cleaning and environmental conservation. This experience was particularly meaningful to me as it aligned with my values of environmental stewardship. Spending time removing trash from beaches and participating in conservation efforts not only had a positive impact on the environment but also allowed me to showcase my commitment to social responsibility.

Additionally, I was involved with a non-profit organization aimed at providing education to underprivileged communities. This initiative was close to my heart, and I dedicated my time whenever possible to help teach and support those in need. Through these activities, I was able to demonstrate my dedication to social causes and my willingness to make a difference in people’s lives.

Overall, my extracurricular engagements played a crucial role in shaping my application and demonstrating my commitment to social responsibility, leadership, and making a positive impact on the world around me. I believe that showcasing these experiences helped me stand out as a candidate and ultimately contributed to my NTU and HKUST admits.

Interview Experiences

Starting with NTU, the interview panel consisted of three individuals, typically faculty members, including the dean of placement coordination and the dean of marketing, alongside the dean of admissions. My interaction with one of the marketing deans prior to the interview helped establish familiarity, making the interview feel less like a formal interrogation and more like a conversation.

The focus of the NTU interview was on understanding my motivation for pursuing an MBA and assessing my readiness for the job market post-graduation. Unlike in India, where universities often facilitate job placements, the onus was on me to build connections and secure opportunities. Questions revolved around my career aspirations and how I planned to bridge the gap between my current role and future goals. While the interview was thorough, it wasn’t designed to catch me off guard; rather, it aimed to gain deeper insights into my candidacy.

Moving on to HKUST, what stood out was the quick turnaround from application submission to interview, which left little time for extensive preparation. Despite the short notice, the interview experience was surprisingly relaxed, with the Dean of admissions conducting a blind interview focusing on understanding me as an individual. Questions delved into my personal values, leadership aspirations, and the steps I’d taken to transition into my desired role. Similar to NTU, there was an emphasis on self-awareness and clarity of career goals.

Reflecting on both experiences, it’s evident that networking played a crucial role. Attending events, engaging with university representatives and alumni, and doing exhaustive mock interviews with Arvind not only provided valuable insights but also helped establish rapport during the interview process. 

Working with admitStreet

Before I reached out to Arvind (admitStreet), I was trying to navigate the MBA application process on my own. While I had penned down some points for my essays, I realized they lacked depth and coherence. That’s when I decided to seek professional help. 

Working with Arvind not only refined my essays but also added substantial value to each piece of writing. Arvind helped me delve deeper into my narratives, transforming them from haphazard musings to compelling stories that truly showcased my strengths.

One of the most daunting aspects of the application process was the sheer number of essays and the depth required to craft strong ones. With Arvind’s guidance, I was able to organize my thoughts and present them in a coherent manner, making my application more appealing to admissions committees.

Another crucial aspect of the application process was reaching out to representatives/ alumni from various business schools. Arvind also facilitated this by connecting me with alumni from my target schools. This not only allowed me to gain insights into these schools but also helped me tailor my essays and prepare for interviews more effectively.

Speaking of interviews, Arvind left no stone unturned in preparing me for them. Through thorough mock interview sessions, we covered almost every possible question that could be asked. He helped me understand my profile inside out, enabling me to confidently address any weaknesses or concerns that the interviewers might have.

I’m extremely grateful for the efforts and time Arvind invested in me. He didn’t just provide pointers; he meticulously structured them, offering valuable feedback that proved instrumental in my success. Arvind’s dedication and attention to detail truly paid off, and I couldn’t have achieved this without him.

Advice for Prospective Students

I have 3 advice for students seeking to get into top MBA programs:

Starting Early

I can’t stress this enough: starting the MBA application journey as early as possible is crucial. The moment I decided to pursue an MBA, I dove right in. One thing I learned early on is to tackle standardized tests like the GRE and TOEFL first. It’s interesting to note that NTU and HKUST don’t require TOEFL for Indian applicants with English as their medium of instruction. By clearing these hurdles early, you can focus entirely on crafting compelling essays without distractions.

Seeking Insights from Alumni

Here’s a gem of advice: reach out to alums. They’re a treasure trove of insights into the programs you’re eyeing. Also, scheduling sessions with admissions committees is gold. It’s not just about gathering intel; it’s about leaving a lasting impression. This outreach can even become a talking point in your essays or interviews, especially if an alum conducts your interview.

Early Essay Preparation

Let me stress this: complete your essays well ahead of deadlines. Don’t procrastinate until the last minute. Trust me, there’s always something you’ll want to tweak or add. Applying early isn’t just about being proactive; it’s about giving yourself ample time for interview prep. These steps are all intertwined. Starting early allows you to engage with alumni, refine your essays, and submit polished applications well before deadlines loom large.

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