With changing admission strategies, increase in the number of seats and institutions and hike in fees, B-school aspirants must pick and choose, if their MBA is to offer good returns.

In a nation of hundreds of small businesses, where a majority still believe the best way to learn how to run a business is by actually doing it, there is an emerging section that swears by the world of B-schools. A few days ago, the slow catiim.in website was choked to the brim with thousands of eager IIM applicants, all seeking to confirm their results. Now that the results of the Common Admission Test - 2012 have been declared, begins a battle for the most prestigious seats in IIMs and other reputed B-schools.

Changing admission strategies, increase in the number of seats and institutions and hike in fees are some aspects that will influence aspirants' decisions. The new IIMs have decided to give admission to more students this year. While IIM- Kozhikode will be increasing the number of seats, IIM-Calcutta is planning to hike its intake to 460. Most aspirants are busy strategising for the second round of admission commencing next week. “I was really looking forward to the entrepreneurship programme in IIM-B, but now I think I will opt for finance or computer management in IIM-A,” says Ashlesh Jain, a 99.7 percentile scorer, who missed the IIM- Bangalore call. While IIM-B is known to take in students only with high academic credentials, many other IIMs this year chose to go for candidates with a greater work experience or higher sectional cut-offs.

The IIMs that were inaugurated in 2010 will replace the group discussion (GD) stage of their admissions with a written essay test this year. “MBA, still remains elusive to a lot of students who are not comfortable in English. Now with writing, the criteria have become even more restrictive,” feels Sneha Raghavan, an aspirant from Chennai with 97 percentile. Incidentally, the IIMs' selection criteria of giving higher weightage to CAT scores has often been criticised as another reason for the skewed diversity in their classrooms. “The CAT paper leans heavily on quantitative skills and thus puts prospective students from arts background at a relative disadvantage,” says R. Gandhi, former professor, IIM Ahmedabad. The statistics seem to support his view. Ninetythree per cent of students graduating this year from IIM-B are from a technical background, while at IIM-A, engineers constitute 91 per cent of the student body. This is in sharp contrast to Harvard Business School which has 43 per cent students from humanities and social sciences and about 33 per cent from engineering and sciences.

“Institution such as Harvard have stopped admitting students on the basis of GMAT scores,” says Jayaraman K. Iyer, professor, Loyola Institute of Business Administration. “None of the management aptitude tests here is a good indicator for skills required to be a good manager. Despite their best efforts, B-schools' students still have similar scores. The GD and interviews are good tools to discern a candidate but good academic records and an excellent CAT score are often taken into account more,” he says. Most management tests, say experts, fail to capture the softer side of management, and there is no mechanism to tests skills such as leadership or business ethics in a candidate. “B- schools have created the demon themselves. If they choose to recruit a 75-80 percentiler, they go down in rankings and the move is seen as an attempt to dilute quality,” says Prof. Iyer. Many of the new IIMs, particularly those that have come out of the mentorship programmes of the older ones have initiated interesting programmes, including rural internships and skill-building but many seasoned CAT-takers feel it is better to go for the established B- schools. “Frankly, getting an MBA done from Delhi or Mumbai makes more sense than pursuing it in Ranchi,” says Shivam Sheth who secured 98.3 percentile.

A student would ideally need to spend nearly Rs. 13 lakh - 14 lakh in a good B-school, although some like FMS Delhi, charge only around Rs. 30,000. So is it worth the expenditure? “For the top schools it indeed is. But as you go down, it is necessary you conduct a Return on Investment test to see if it is in tune with what you spending.” says K. Ramnath, course director, Triumphant Institute of Management Education.

While the student needs to think beyond preparing for CAT alone, there are things that B schools need to do too, besides creating incubation centres to encourage entrepreneurs. “Fundamentally, B schools should focus on enhancing the learning abilities of the candidates. For most students, B-schools are now a place that guarantees a good placement, a pay package they can't get as engineers. They should realise a management school is not a training school, but a learning school,” says Prof. Iyer.

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