CAT – Why,When,What

From barely 30,000 aspirants, who took the CAT in the mid-to-late 90s, to around three lakh aspirants that are expected to appear for the test this year the CAT has come a long way. This number is further expected to increase in the coming years, now that the CAT has become a computer based exam.

In fact, in urban colleges today, preparing for the CAT has become something of a fad. However, while most management aspirants decide to appear for the CAT merely because everyone around them is taking it, for some others, the CAT is perceived as a route to redemption from the joblessness associated with a plain graduate degree, to the high profile, high flying career of a corporate executive. For these students, the CAT is not really perceived as a path they need to take to reach a particular predefined destination. If the only reason you are taking the CAT is because the career opportunities available after the IIMs and other B schools are the best that are available, then there is obviously something wrong there. This fact will make itself especially obvious, when the candidate makes it to the personality assessment / interview stage and is quizzed about his life goals.

In this context, as an individual student planning to appear for the CAT, you need to be sure that you’re taking the CAT for the right reasons.

You need to answer three very specific questions:

1) Why should I take the CAT?
2) When should I take it?
3) What should I do crack the CAT?

The answer to question 1 is really the answer to another question – why should I pursue management education in the first place? The CAT is essentially just a means to admission to the best Indian B schools.

When you’re considering applying to a top management program, the first thing you should do is outline your career goals for five, 10 to 20 years – where you’d like to be, what kind of work you’d really like to be doing, etc and then try to think about how you should go about it, and whether a management program will help you get there. This point might seem trivial to most 20 to 25 year olds, who are aspiring to pursue a career in management, but not surprisingly, this is one of the key questions that interviewers will pose to you, when they are attempting to test your suitability to their management program.

The first question an interviewer seeks an answer to is: Does the candidate know why he wants to pursue management? Even if this question is not posed explicitly in an interview, the interviewer still wants to gauge your motives for pursuing an MBA. If you answer this question with immature responses like. I want to study management because it is the best option I have or there is good money in management etc most interview panels will eliminate you without hesitation.

B schools look for guided missiles i.e. they want students who have made up their minds about who or what they want to become. Thus, you need to understand exactly what value addition you are hoping to gain from a management program before you decide to pursue it. Unfortunately, a majority of students who take the CAT (especially freshers) have not had the time to think about these issues, and hence, respond to this question with half baked, school boyish answer. However, if you are a fresher, and have worked out what you’d really like to be or do and exactly what you hope to gain from management education, your chances of making the cut could improve drastically.

When should I take the CAT?
Obviously, this question will arise only after you have determined how management education can help you achieve your goals, and what value addition you seek from pursuing a management program.

Management is not a getting out of college course.

Unlike graduation, which you must pursue immediately after class 12, management is not something you need to necessarily pursue right after completing graduation. Rushing into a management program is never the best approach.

Nevertheless, acquiring a reputed management qualification is one of the best ways to compete with the best of your generation. Typically, it is best to consider at least a two to three year window period before you take the CAT starting at the earliest, from your final year in college. When you are mapping out your CAT attempts, plan your approach thus: Define the lowest tier B school you would be willing to settle for and then give yourself three years to get into the B schools of your choice. So, if you are in your final year in college, and are taking the CAT this year for the first time, you should have CAT 2010 and CAT 2011 on your horizon. Moreover, you should have made up you’re your mind to only settle for the IIMs or only consider the top 10 B schools depending on what your aspirations are and whether they are feasible options. It is a given, however, that you should not permit the tempo or intensity of your preparations to be affected by the fact that you have given yourself three years.