Darden diaries 1: To “B” or to not “B”

M.B.A. ; Three small letters, one big concept.

Growing up in India, one is expected to be at the two big “eyes”. The IITs and the IIMs- the Ivy League equivalents of engineering and management institutions in the country. I say engineering because, it is the default option for a student in India who got good grades in high school and didn’t quite yet figure out what his/her passion in life was. (No wonder every single Indian student at Darden has an engineering undergrad.) So you struggle hard to get into an IIT but if that doesn’t work out, you work for a couple of years in a software firm and try getting into the IIMs. If even that doesn’t work out, five years go by in gaining ‘experience’ in various industries – for profit, non profit, entrepreneurial ventures etc (remember you still don’t really know what it is that you want to do) and you still don’t really know why you wanted to do an MBA in the first place.

You give the GMAT for fun and get a score good enough to apply at a top 10 global B-school is when you think; after all everyone should do an MBA once in their life! For some say that it is the last lap of education you must complete (unless you are the PHD types). Also apparently in some sense after an MBA one gets a sense of “being settled” in life. On questioning all my friends who have an MBA about this feeling of settlement, the response I got was that between 6 am flights on a Monday morning, endless client calls, sales figures, proposal decks, and almost no time to spend their hard earned money, they didn’t really know what that meant anymore.

So the big question remained -To “B” or to not “B”?

After months of research on inconveniently skewed rankings on different global business websites year after year, spending too many hours on “poets and quant” (I still don’t know why it is called that) and finally making a list of 2 “dream”, 2 “might get into” and 1 “will get into” schools, starts the uncomfortable application process. I say uncomfortable because each application takes months and months of introspection, reflection and prodding into “Why an MBA?, long term goals, short term goals etc”. A person who knows, or at least thinks he knows, the precise answers to all these is blessed. Asking everyone else who is still trying to define their purpose on earth is simply a crime. Anyway with intense digging you find, that deep down, there is a vague dream you want to nurture and hope that the admissions committee doesn’t think you are absolutely crazy to want to nurture it. Then begins the wait…You try every waking and sleeping minute to not think about the outcome. Inevitably that’s all you can think about.

Finally a couple of admits and a wait-list! Now you curse the seeming boon of choices! Then you wish you had none. Then of course there is the ever overwhelming argument of the one year Vs two year, a new country Vs home city, seemingly less risky Vs the risk of not taking risks, to make. Finally you follow your instincts and decide to go to the school that ‘feels’ like the best fit.

A few months of VISA applications and way too many photocopies later, you finally arrive in the land of opportunities! A royal Polo match at the plush vineyard in the fairy-tale like mountains of Virginia, the land of lovers they call it, among wine and cheese and strawberries is where you meet your classmates informally! It is only then you suddenly feel like Dorothy in the wizard of Oz telling yourself that you are not in Kansas anymore.

Your classmates, by any measure would have done far cooler things, traveled to and from far away magical lands and would have been on incredible journeys of their own. As they relate their story to you, you wonder whether you truly deserve to be there in the first place, among this stellar bunch of wall street investment bankers, white house advisers, US marines, Ivy league undergraduates, prestigious scholarship holders, sporting gold medalists and jet-setting consultants saving a few million dollars for their previous client. But as you start relating your journey of being a teacher in an under-resourced government school in India, the challenges you faced, the lessons u learnt and the hopes and dreams you have for yourself and your country; you realize that they are equally engaged in what you are saying. And suddenly you feel like you belong.

So, from the looks of it, apart from the beautiful campus, sprawling lawns, historic buildings, Thomas Jefferson’s legacy, exceptional faculty, amazing student apartments, fabulous firms that come to recruit and even more fabulous pay packages, top class infrastructure, case study method, learning teams, job treks, networking events, case interview preps, high points, low points, cold calls, break-downs, late nighters, all nighters, parties, more parties, cultural exchange, a plethora of extracurricular clubs to choose from, the endless running and biking trails, and the enriching first coffee; the best thing that we all will take away from these two years – friends for life!

With the last free weekend on campus here at Darden, University of Virginia, I feel that I am ready to finally “B”!


  1. This is an amazing post and I identified with almost every part of it (I’m blessed enough to know exactly what I want to do). But only an Indian can understand and admire some of the points in your post.

    Thank you for sharing!


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