Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Prep and The Story - Part 1

Starting this week, we bring you a series of profiles of 1st year students with an unconventional background who discuss their experiences before and after admission at Chicago Booth...

This week we have an international student - Shriya Lall. Before Chicago, Shriya was an entrepreneur in India, running her own fashion accessories firm and exporting across the world. Besides business interests, she was also instrumental in founding Aastha, an organization that promotes welfare of street children and is also an exponent of an Indian classical dance, Kathak.

What was your background before business school?
Before Booth, I was an exporter of fashion accessories in New Delhi, India. I started my own firm that manufactured bags and belts and exported them to fashion houses in Europe. I started the business right after undergrad and have been running it for the last 5 years.

What motivated you to pursue an MBA?
While my business was challenging and exciting, I felt that my management exposure was getting limited. I’d been working in the same job/ industry for over 5 years and was getting a sense of stagnation. I wanted to explore further opportunities as well as interact with people from diverse backgrounds to find my niche. Being an entrepreneur was great, but the exposure that I’ve received in just my first quarter at Booth has been phenomenal, to say the least.

How did you prepare for the admissions process?
GMAT - I used The Official Guide for GMAT and The Princeton Review. I took a lot of tests, as many as I could find, including the Kaplan tests. I would recommend doing a few tests, finding out weaknesses and specifically focusing on them. I also read the explanations of the test answers to understand my mistakes. I studied for an average of 4 hours a day for 2 months before my exam.

Essays - I took advice from a lot of friends who had already applied. I asked them to review my essays and share their feedback. I also looked at quite a few websites that explained the questions and the logic behind them.

School research - I found alums and 2nd year students to be the best resources. I spent a lot of time researching the websites of the schools to get in-depth information about them. I researched courses, professors as well as student groups and other extracurricular activities offered. Some of the websites that helped me were and

How has your school experience been so far?
The experience has been awesome – I’ve had the opportunity to meet with people from 6 different continents and over 30 different countries and have attended the lectures of some of the finest professors in the country. I also think that I was fortunate to be here at such a defining time in both American history as well as the school’s history. I feel that I have experienced more in the last 3 months than I had in the last 10 years.

What has surprised you the most about B-school till now?
The pace of life - everything happens super-fast and before you know it, one quarter is over and you are heading into the new year!

What kind of activities are you involved in outside of classes?
I am involved in a number of student groups. I am a member of the South Asia Business Group and organized the entertainment for the annual Diwali party. I am also on the committee for the India Leadership Summit that will be held in May next year. I am involved with the Business Solutions Group and currently working on a customer perception project for a client. This nonprofit consulting experience gives me a chance to experience consulting before deciding about choosing it as a full-time career choice. I am also a part of the DSAC through which I help answer questions that prospective students might have about the application process and the school in general. I even set up my own student group called the Family Business Group for students who come from family businesses. Outside of these, I am also a participatory member in EVP, MCG and the CWIB Groups.

How was the transition from work back to school?
After working for 5 years, it takes some time to get back to studying. I think Chicago Booth makes this transition very easy by providing a lot of support. We have great Academic Services and Career Services teams who are always open to answering your questions and helping you adjust. I think it takes a few months to get used to the transition but sometimes you are just too busy to even think about it!

How was relocating to a new country?
Moving to a new country is always hard. You have to adjust to a number of things as well as get used to living without your family. You had to get used to fending for yourself, find accommodations, open bank accounts and pay bills. You have to make new friends and learn how to balance you school work with your social life. Coming from a relatively protected life, it was a huge adjustment. I think what helped me was the fact that there are so many other Indian students who are going through the same set of issues – that’s a great support system! We all figured out how to do these things together and helped others whenever one had a problem.

What advice would you have for applicants with a similar background?
Try to bring out your unique skills in the application. Research the school well and be ready to answer all school specific questions. If possible, visit the school or speak to students and try to get a feel for the school.

Want to discuss this topic some more? Head on over to the Chicago Booth Discussion Forums