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The non-engineer privilege - a reality check! ft. Dhruva Sareen (IIM-A)

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

This isn’t like any post we’ve done before. It’s not a story, it’s not an interview experience and it’s definitely not a guide on how to score well in the CAT exam.

The piece that follows comes from Dhruva Sareen, an incoming candidate at IIM Ahmedabad (c/o ’22).

To give you some background, Dhruva is a pass out from National Law University, Jodhpur (2017 batch), a XAT 99.96 percentiler, a prolific writer with publications in several journals and newspapers, a motivational speaker, a CFA L1 and who knows what else!

Dhruva shares some key takeaways from his 2-year journey as a non-engineer navigating through MBA entrance exams. He talks about the pitfalls, the highs, and the lows of the process with admirable self-awareness.

Important alert! - If you are a Chartered Accountant, Lawyer, Economics or Commerce graduate who wants to make it to the B-School of your dreams, don't forget to subscribe to The Unconventional MBA!

So without wasting any more time, let’s hear from the man himself!


Hello, folks!

I am quite confident that by the time you read about this journey of mine, you’d have read a multitude of extremely inspiring stories of very deserving and smart people!

I do not wish to be the bearer of bad news but everything that you have read about the intensity and unforgiving nature of the exams is still true and holds put for a non-engineer as much as for anyone else.

My story is a little different from others. It is probably longer. Quite certainly with more twists and turns. But, most importantly, it serves to tell you about the dark underbelly of the CAT preparation even for an average non-engineer.

Please note that the term ‘average’ does not refer to background, academic merit and intellectual aptitude. What it refers to is the frame of mind that one is in while prepping for an exam after having gone through what one previously thought was the peak in one’s life.

I have written CAT (and all the other allied exams) twice – 2018 and 2019. I messed up the first attempt due to my own overconfidence and inability to accept my shortcomings. I did decently in all the exams in my second attempt and converted each college that I was interviewed for. However, I write this not to glorify my fortitude. I write this to let you know what to actually expect and be emotionally prepared for the same.

I’ll be mentioning my full profile below. I’m also going to list out the institutes that I was vying to get into in 2018 and 2019. The reason is simple. I had been initially told that I have a reasonably decent profile for a non-engineer to get the calls and crack the interviews.

I was vulnerable and gullible - two things that made me lower my own aspirations and efforts to a level that I would never have dreamt of being comfortable with. I was overconfident of the non-engineer tag that I had. I acknowledge it now - I was wrong.

I want you to know that you cannot and should not rely on your non-engineer tag to get you through.

Academic Profile: 9/9/8 (Lawyer)

Work experience: 36 months (now)

I want you to know that there is no substitute for hard work and merit. It is important that you do not get swayed away by the diversity-narrative that the coaching centres and other well-wishers usually thrive on. I learnt it the hard way.

This has been my key takeaway from my two years of journey with the MBA exams. I’d rather not write about my test-taking strategy, mock analysis and quant funda(s) as my fellow peers have already provided some genuine and cogent advice on this blog [click here]. What you’ll find below are my learnings on the usually-unspoken facets of the journey.

Being a lawyer, I’d like to structure my other learnings in the form of commandments that I hope would work as yardsticks for your preparation process. Please take these with a pinch of salt as they are personal to me and may not be applicable for each reader.

1. You need to have two strong sections and one okay-okay section in CAT. That is the key to scoring well. You can refer to the appropriate strategies on this blog to determine what works for you best per your aptitude and expertise. But, in whichever case, do not aim for cut-off marks. No power in the world can predict the outcome of the extraordinary GDPI process. Aim for the 100th percentile.

2. Do not log on to pagalguy if you are touchy about your mock scores. It will hurt and potentially demoralize you as all rationality, usually, is dusted away under the carpet when you see someone scoring double the marks that you scored. Your mock scores really do not matter. What matters is whether you can attempt all the questions of each mock correctly once you are done with its analysis.

3. Unlearn and learn. As someone who has to read and interpret dense text for a living, it was very difficult to accept that my interpretation, inference, assumptions, etc. of a VARC passage were wrong. Learn to accept your shortcomings. You may be correct in your understanding; but, sadly, your unique understanding matters very little in the actual exam. Respect the process.

4. I messed up my CAT 2019 (too) relative to how I was scoring in my mocks. I learnt that life does not even go on snooze (let alone stop) because of a bad day. It is very important to pick yourself up and get moving for the next opportunity.

5. The process is tough for everybody. It’s okay to reach out and talk (not necessarily crib) to people about what you’re going through. I was fortunate to have people in my life who heard me out each time. They were enough to keep me going.

6. You would probably be called out and face some hate (online and otherwise) from individuals who could not reap the benefits of academic diversity. Be kind and try to understand their situation. Your choosing of a particular stream, after XII, was, in all probability, not an expansive ploy devised with long term objectives of securing those extra 5% marks. So, do not ride the high-horse.

I believe that it is very important for you (or anyone really) to deeply introspect why you want to do an MBA before you put on your armour to fight the MBA preparation battles. I genuinely do not want to make you fearful or be intimidated of the exam. That is not my intention at all.

However, in the last two years, I have come across a lot of individuals who realize that MBA was not their calling after having invested substantial amounts of time and resources in the initial adrenaline rush. Thus, my one-stop advice to you, prior to deciding on entering the MBA prep world, would be the following –

Think. Weigh your options. Do a SWOT analysis of your life. Seek affirmation in and of your abilities. And be truthful to yourself. (Lawyers mostly aren’t to anyone else.)

If you do all of the above, you would not need this blog post again to give you any insights.



To stay in the loop for more tips, tricks & experiences from amazing people like Dhruva, subscribe to this blog!

Interested in learning about how to approach the CAT? Check out our Strategise the CAT series here!

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