When I started my preparation of getting into the top B-Schools of the country, I never would have imagined that I would land up in IIM Ahmedabad. But the universe has a funny way of making things work, as it took me four years and 5 attempts at CAT to reach IIMA after I graduated in 2018 from Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi. Anyone reading this is advised to not go under the impression that this is what it takes to reach your dream B-School as you will find multiple examples of people clearing CAT and making into great colleges in the first attempt itself. For me, my journey of the last 4 years was about improving myself, discovering reasons for pursuing MBA, four not-so-serious attempts at CAT and one dedicated attempt to reach IIMA.
Profile of Sanjay Khan
Blue Bells Public School, Gurgaon
Class X : 9.6 CGPA
Blue Bells Public School, Gurgaon
class XII : 83% (Non-Medical)
Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi
Percentage – 78.46% (BTech in ECE)
Last worked: ZS Associates
CAT Percentile – 99.95
All IIMs (Except Indore), FMS, NITIE, MDI, IIT Bombay
IIM Ahmedabad, Calcutta, Kozhikode, All IIM CAP
IIM Ahmedabad PGP, Class of 2024
It all started in 2017 when I decided to give CAT as everyone around me was doing the same. I barely attended the coaching that I had joined and ended up getting around 90 percentile in my first attempt. Although I couldn’t get any calls, I did enjoy the process of prep since it involved Mathematics and English, two of my favorite subjects from school. Hence, I decided to give another shot at CAT in 2018 and delayed the joining of my first job at TCS. One mistake that I made in this phase was to not take any guidance and remain in this bubble of self-prep without reaching out to my peers for help. I ended up getting around ~90 percentile in the second attempt, and clearly it was bound to happen. As expected, I did not get any calls and eventually joined TCS.
Although people might give up after two failed attempts, the spark inside me never died and in the back of my mind I knew this was not the end. I balanced my prep with my job and ended up getting around ~96 percentile in my third attempt in 2019 and got calls from colleges like MDI, SP Jain, IIFT and new IIMs. These were some great opportunities and I could see myself finally joining a B-School. But destiny had something else planned, as I got a job opportunity at ZS Associates and this completely distracted me from my interview prep. The only thing that drove me at that time was to join ZS as I thought this to be an opportunity to push my limits to extents that even I couldn’t imagine. Although I did convert a few of the new IIMs, I was not ready to leave ZS since I had just joined there and I was already being pushed to grow by my amazing and extremely brilliant colleagues. The amount of growth in ZS made me think about the growth that I could achieve in a great B-School, and I did not let go of my dream of MBA. So I again ended up balancing my job with ZS for my fourth attempt at CAT in 2020. ZS, being a consulting company, is known for its notorious working hours. Still, I managed to give 1-2 hours every day along with 15 to 16 hours at my job by compromising with my sleep. To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend anyone to go through the grind that I was going through and would suggest to find alternatives; it is just that I was trying to make the best out of my situation and balance my job and my dreams. This is the attempt I felt I was better prepared than all my previous attempts, but this was the first CAT in COVID and the terrible management at my exam centre shattered my confidence and I went numb at so many moments during the exam. I felt so low after this attempt that the baggage of a pathetic CAT went into XAT and other management exams. And yes, I got ~82 percentile in my fourth attempt.
To put it bluntly, I don’t think I have been programmed to give up easily and after all those years full of highs and lows, I decided to give it my all for CAT 2021. 2021 was the year where I made some crucial decisions regarding my career and the growth that I was looking for and one of them was to leave my job at ZS to fully focus on CAT. I was advised by many people to not leave my job but my ambitions over-weighed everything else. I left my job in July 2021 and started my prep again with the blessings of my extremely supportive parents and my late grandfather whom we lost in COVID second wave.
One advantage of giving so many attempts was that I was already well-versed with many topics and I just had to work on my weaknesses, one of them being the art of giving an exam. To all the serious aspirants out there, one thing that is very important to ace an entrance exam like CAT is the mindset with which you go in this exam. A calm and composed mind will definitely win over a panicky one and in order to be in this state during the exam, one has to give a good amount of mocks and analyze mistakes and even the correct answers thoroughly. As I remember, I gave about 25-30 Career Launcher mocks after July and analyzed them with the help of my brilliant mentors at CL Sector 14 branch, Gurgaon including Shilpa Mam, Rajul Sir, Smitha Mam and Aritro sir along with the guidance and vide
o-based solutions of the founders of CL on the aspiration.ai page dashboard.
The advantage of giving so many mocks and analyzing them properly was that the CAT day felt like another mock attempt and I barely panicked during the exam (not even in the DI-LR section). I was sure about getting a good score but to my surprise I ended up getting 99.95 percentile in CAT and I finally started to see the fruits of my years of struggle. This score fetched me calls from all the IIMs (except Indore), FMS, NITIE, MDI, IIT Bombay, etc. For people thinking that getting this score guarantees one admission at any of the colleges, mind you the GD-PI preparation is a different ball game altogether.
GD-PI prep is mainly about knowing each aspect of your life in detail. This covers your reasons for pursuing an MBA, your job, internships, academics and hobbies, your city, state, etc. The list is not definite and you will find this prep to be unstructured and open-ended. But to be frank, I enjoyed this phase of my prep more than the preparation phase for CAT, since this is the time I actually looked back upon my various junctures of life and explored the reasons for actually doing MBA. I maintained a diary with all the notes related to ‘why MBA’, my past experiences, latest current affairs, details about my city, etc. and revised it before every interview. Again the support from CL through its online PDP material and many mock interviews cemented my prep and I was ready to face the challenge that was ahead.
My first interview was IIM Calcutta, which was a fairly decent interview and this was followed by many interviews until my IIM Ahmedabad interview on 15th March 2022. Every interview that I gave before IIMA solidified my confidence and provided me with a lot of insights including the possible questions that I could be asked. And when I finally gave my IIMA interview, I was extremely relaxed and calm throughout the process and I ended up giving almost all the answers with conviction.
And then came 5th May, 2022, the day that I had been waiting for all these years. I logged into my account on the IIMA results portal at around 6:12 p.m., and there it was: Congratulations! Sanjay Khan. My first reaction after seeing this was to thank Allah and my late grandfather for giving me this opportunity. My parents, friends and teachers went ecstatic over the news and it was a great moment to see them celebrate.
To conclude, my journey over the last couple of years has been full of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else as it has helped me grow as a person and stay humble. And to all the future aspirants, consistent efforts and perseverance will definitely reap you rewards. All you have to do is have patience and not give up. Good luck!