Harvard MBA Vibha Kagzi is the founder of education consultancy, ReachIvy. The Mumbai-based company, set up in 2011, helps aspiring students get accepted into the Ivy League and other top-ranked universities globally. Vibha comes from a traditional and conservative Marwari family but does not fail to assert her individuality and independence. She has pushed against societal limitations and attained her dreams. She now helps students forge their own exciting paths.

We speak to her about her entrepreneurial journey, education systems in India and abroad, what makes a candidate Ivy League material, and whether an Ivy League university really translates into a booming career.

What prompted you to start ReachIvy?

When I decided to go abroad for my undergraduate studies, I was lost. I had been a high achiever, and had pursued a range of activities that my school offered. But when I decided to apply to colleges abroad, I found that there was a lack of access to guidance. I visited a few counsellors and was disappointed with their lack of expertise.

A strong and diverse profile, work experience, community impact are all important parts of one’s application. Oftentimes, it is less about where you worked than what impact you had there

At that point, I realised that there is a strong void in the market. My choice of Carnegie Melon was random, and a lucky one. However, when it came to applying for an MBA, I knew I wanted to do proper research and crack a top school. After graduating from Carnegie Melon, I made sure that the steps I took aligned with my goals. I worked at BlackRock, a hedge fund, and with my family business. I took the GMAT, met people from different fields, solicited inputs from friends and managed to demystify a seemingly impossible process.

Even when I got admitted to Harvard Business School, I knew I would work in the education sector. I spent my summer internships in the education space, and on returning to India, set up ReachIvy.

We have helped over a 1,000 students.

What does it take for a student to get into an Ivy league?

Unlike the Indian application process where the focus is on academic brilliance, academics is not the only component of an application abroad. A strong and diverse profile, work experience, community impact are all important parts of one’s application. Oftentimes, it is less about where you worked than what impact you had there.

What does an Ivy League education, or an education abroad give you that you can’t get in India?

There is a high benchmark for quality in top universities abroad. You are in a classroom with high achievers from all over the world, and that cultural diversity is remarkable. The exposure to other cultures makes you not only appreciate your own culture more, but also makes you think about the faults in it, and how there are different ways to think.

The global network you build will help you personally and professionally.

Academically, you build systematic frameworks to think about problems.

And if you graduate from a top university, you build credibility for life.

Entrepreneurship is another big one. Starting your own organisation becomes easier because you have the resources from your university. Universities sometimes even provide funding for early stage organisations

Even if you don’t go to a top university abroad, the next rung is still very good. You still get amazing facilities, and a global network. I have seen the best colleges here, and the campuses are worn down, the classrooms have nowhere near the kind of technology the ones abroad have.

With the job scene so difficult abroad, how does a foreign education set you apart if you choose to come back to India? Does it really?

It depends on the kind of firm you choose to work. After spending time there, you might come back and be culturally disoriented — that transition needs to be thought through. Lots of alumni, who come back, go work with others who have studied abroad, as opposed to in a very generic company.

There are some companies exclusively looking at people from top schools. In private equity and venture capital especially, there is a glass ceiling for those who have not received their MBA from a top school.

Large international companies are setting up in India. Lots of my friends from HBS are working with Amazon, Google and Facebook.

Entrepreneurship is another big one. Starting your own organisation becomes easier because you have the resources from your university. Universities sometimes even provide funding for early stage organisations.

Going abroad is expensive. What about funding and is going really worth it?

Funding is a big component. You have to look at it as a-long term investment. You can’t calculate a 3-year ROI. You will see a return on your investment in 10-15 years. Realistically, it will take you 3-5 years to pay back your student loans. But once your loans are paid, your education has put you on a higher trajectory, and you will see an upward swing in savings.

What can parents do to avoid turning putting too much pressure on kids nowadays, while also allowing them to succeed? What is the balance?

The parental pressure issue has been going on for generations. And now with more competitiveness at an early stage, pressure seems to be mounting up. We advise parents to assess their child’s strength and weakness, and try and harness his or her strengths.

If your child is not geared towards engineering, figure out his or her natural inclination and work towards that.

I am a big believer in India. I love my country. I am hopeful that the education system picks up. Right now, it is very grade-based. I feel that if our evaluation system became more holistic, parental pressure will decrease, children will take up more activities

You should also have realistic and time-bound action plans. There is a premium in starting early. If you create a systematic timetable for the child, they will not feel inundated.

Support the child without questioning their abilities.

How can we increase soft skills training in India?

This kind of training should be inducted in the curriculum as early as school, and should be made a mandatory grade-based subject. Soft skills is a problem. We hire from IITs and find we sometimes have to dismiss some employees because they are not able to communicate well.

I am a big believer in India. I love my country. I am hopeful that the education system picks up. Right now, it is very grade-based. I feel that if our evaluation system became more holistic, parental pressure will decrease, children will take up more activities. For example, the time a child invests in playing the piano will not be considered unworthy. These are things that are important for personal development.

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